Thursday, August 14, 2014

Encounters with Jerry Olsen

This is a reposting of a 2010 post.  I kinw Jerry Olsen during my involvement withn the ORNL-NSF Environmental Studies Program in 1970-71.  My most important memory of Jerry from that time, was of his briefing to Environmental Study researchers on CO2 and the prospects for Anthropogenic Global Warming.  Jerry had made numerous predictions that during the next 35 years had come to pass, so when Al Gore's movie appeared in 2006, it fell on very well prepared soil.  Not only had I learned of the AGW problem 35 years before Al Gore's movie, I also knew about ORNL's solution to the problem posed by energy demand.

In October, 2010, Becky, her mother and I went to see the movie Ghost Bird. Before the movie started a gentleman introduced himself to us. It was Jerry Olsen., who I had mentioned in Nuclear Green posts I told Jerry that he was mentioned in Nuclear Green. I believe that Jerry had played a role in 1971 by alerting Alvin Weinberg and the rest of the ORNL staff, which included me at the time, about the relationship of CO2 emissions to a potential global climate change. Jerry acknowledged that Alvin Weinberg had credited him with alerting Weinberg to the CO2 AGW issue, but he stopped short of claiming credit for it. My recollection is that Jerry was the first person to alert me to the problem of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). I told Jerry on Thursday, that he was a celebrity because of his pioneering communications on the issue.

Jerry was a credible scientist. No one in 1971 thought that Jerry was bullshitting about CO2 and global climate change, and scientists who viewed science as the judicious determination of facts, scientists like my father, George Parker, and Alvin Weinberg were quickly convinced that CO2 emissions from energy related sources were a major hazard to the future well being of people on the earth.

This was back before global warming became political. Almost everything that is written on Global Warming denial now focuses on Republican denial. In fact there is a second school of global warming denial, that is even more irrational. This school does not deny the CO2/Anthropogenic Global Warming link, but denies that we have to stop using fossil fuels in order to prevent AGW. This school denies the danger of AGW, arguing that the most effective tool to prevent global warming is too dangerous to use. This school, warns of the dangers of burning fossil fuels, yet at the same time conspires with coal, oil and natural gas companies to support continued fossil fuels use through back door arguments, such as the notion that burning fossil fuels won't hurt if we burn them efficiently, or burning fossil fuels won't cause climate harm if they are used to back up renewables.

In reality supposedly pro-environmental groups such as Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund, the Sierra Club, the Friends of the Earth, The Natural Resources Defense Council, and numerous other groups, supported energy policies which in practice were highly favorable to the continued use of coal, oil and natural gas as energy sources. Anti-nuclear spokes persons such as Amory Lovins, and Ralph Nader, greatly exaggerated the risks of nuclear power, while ignoring the disastrous consequences of backing fossil fuels instead of nuclear power.

In 1976 Amory Lovins foresaw that a soft path to post carbon energy. Lovins believed that in the short run coal use would expand as if filled roles which also could be performed by nuclear power, but in the course of a generation soft path energy sources would replace more and more fossil fuels, and by 2010 over half of all energy used to power the United States would come from soft path sources. In fact in 2010 over 90% of American energy still comes from hard path sources.

in a December 1976 Energy Policy review of Amory Lovins book, "NON-NUCLEAR FUTURES: The case for an ethical energy strategy," Alvin Weinberg pointed out the greatest single environmental flaw of Lovins' argument, his failure to identify CO2 emissions from energy as a major environmental issue, and his willingness to accept carbon emitting coal as a substitute for nuclear energy. Weinberg wrote,
the authors regard net energy analysis as a convenient device for casting nuclear power in an unfavorable light, a feat they attempt to accomplish by ignoring significant comparisons, - nuclear and non-nuclear of the same doubling time and relative effects of heat release and CO2 release.
In response to Lovins recommendation of a coal burning bridge between the period when nuclear power was considered acceptable and the time when all energy would come from renewable resources, Weinberg asked,
Can we really ignore CO2 during the coal burning fission free bridge?
Lovins countered that he
worried about the climate effect of the release of CO2
but that nuclear power would not prevent CO2 emissions from high coal use. Clearly then Lovins offered a Faustian bargain with his anti-nuclear energy scheme. In 2010, long after a process which Lovins forecasted would have begun to shift human society from fossil fuels to soft path energy sources such as renewables, coal use for energy continues to rise. If Lovins worried in 1976 about the climate effects of CO2 emissions, he did not worry enough. In 2010 American coal use continued to rise rather than fall as Lovins had forecasted. In addition, Chinese coal used, much of it burned to produce energy for the production of goods destined for the United States, increased dramatically during the last decade. Lovins has never acknowledged that his 1976 soft path forecast proved in 2010 to be utterly wrong, and that his recommendation of a coal burning fission free bridge, has set the world firmly on the road to environmental disaster.

Neither Lovins nor Ralph Nader ever considered the possibility that the consequences of burning fossil fuels might be worse than the consequences of nuclear production of electricity. They are. The casualty rate fro the entire nuclear fuel power cycle is far lower than the casualty rate for fossil fuels. Even in terms of radiation exposure, the public is exposed to far more radiation from fossil fuel related sources, than from Nuclear Power Plants. And of course NPPs emit no more CO2 than wind generators do. In fact, high CO2 emissions from the Solar PV production process make Solar PVs a worse source of CO2 than nuclear plants are. Thus NPPs can play an important role in CO2 mittigation.

Renewables are expensive, it costs more by the kWh to produce electricity from solar or wind than it costs to produce electricity from new nuclear plants. Renewable based future energy acknowledge that there will be a very large gap between expected future energy production from renewable resources and the current level of consumer energy demand. How will that gap be filled, if not by nuclear energy? Not to worry, the renewable energy planners tell us, the gap will be filled by increased energy efficiency which will greatly diminish consumer energy needs. in May of 2009, the Economist noted:
Almost all blueprints for tackling global warming assume that energy efficiency will have a huge role to play. Nicholas Stern devoted a whole chapter to it in the report he wrote on climate change for the British government. In the greenest of futures mapped out by the International Energy Agency, a think-tank financed by rich countries, greater efficiency accounts for two-thirds of emissions averted. The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), the research arm of the consultancy, thinks that energy efficiency could get the world halfway towards the goal, espoused by many scientists, of keeping the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere below 550 parts per million.
The Economist also notes that America has become more energy efficient since 1973 a year in which we spent 12% of our gross domestic product on energy. Recently that figure has fallen to 7%. Of course some of that decline in energy use was due to the transfer of energy intensive industries (and jobs) to other countries. Green experts like Amory Lovins insists that an enormous amount of energy use savings that could be accomplished through greater energy efficiency.
Because so much can be done with just technical efficiency, there's a great deal of flexibility -- in how and where people live, what houses look like, how we get around, what our settlement patterns are. For example, it's very straightforward to have uncompromised, normal-sized family cars achieving upwards of 100 miles a gallon, with improved safety and excellent economics. We know how to triple the efficiency of trucks, and we can probably do even better on planes, I think by a factor of six or so better than now.
According to Lovins incredible energy savings that practically pay for themselves as soon as they are installed are available for the American home.
My own house uses 1 percent the normal amount of space- and water-heating energy, and 10 percent the normal amount of electricity. The efficiency upgrades took ten months to pay for themselves in 1983. But if we were building the house now, we'd be able to save another two-thirds of the remaining electricity, and it would probably cost even less to build.
Quite obviously Lovins does not spend much time watching plasma TV's. Lovins doesn't have time to watch TV because it takes all of his time to dream up such bullshit. As a householder I did my own home energy efficiency program in the 1980's and 90's. And while my wife and I were able to effect substantial energy savings we never came close to the energy reduction Lovins claims to have realized. Nor did the energy efficiencies pay for themselves in anything like 10 months.

If my readers are wondering about energy savings investments, solar water heaters would be high on my list for many localities. But there are areas of the country where a cloudy climate makes solar hot water heaters a bad investment, even with tax and power company subsidies. Solar hot water heaters would be a good investment in Snowmass, Colorado, but 10 months is not to believed. Lovins heated the water with the assistance of a second system, one while relied on a lot of bullshit to supplement heat from the sun. A payback period of 10 years would not be unusual for a solar hot water heater. But in some cloudy localities it might take 30 years. The solar heating project in a cloudy community might never pay for itself. Thus when the eco-cheerleaders at Treehugger want to put solar hot water heaters on every roof, they reveal themselves to be exceedingly ill informed. Local climate factors play a far bigger role that Amory Lovins allows in determining the payback time for energy saving technology.

There are other factors that may differ within localities that can effect the value of efficiency. For example, in hot climates shade trees have a cooling effect on buildings, but if you have shade trees, the shade effects the efficiency of solar hot water heaters. While ground source heat pumps are more efficient than air source heat pumps, they are far more expensive to install, and far more expensive to repair.

In addition, unanticipated factors may negatively impact on energy efficiency. For example, the clay soil of North Texas expands during rainy periods and contracts in dry weather. The soil movement can damage home foundations, and this in turn can damaged the effectiveness of home insulation. Thus investments in home energy efficiency might in Dallas include foundation repairs. Doubling home insulation might not pay for itself if the shifting foundation has unseated double pane windows, allowing drafts to enter the home at numerous points. Even repairing the windows might not help, since the next time the foundation shifts, the windows would become unseated again. Repaired foundations can and do shift with new soil movement.

The fact that anyone gives the slightest amount of credence to Lovins energy efficiency argument, represents the triumph of hope over fact and logic. People believe Lovins because it is comforting to do so. As long as they do, politicians do not have to confront the public with unpopular energy choices. Thus Amory Lovins is a hero to every politician who wants to avoid uncomfortable energy related issues. Lovins is not a hero to people who are deeply concerned about the energy future, and for people who have high regard for rigorous standards for truth.

But if Amory Lovins is wrong that efficiency will fill the energy supply gap, then renewable based solutions that rely on energy efficiency to fill the gap between energy demand, and a renewables based energy supply, are likely to fail badly, and to leave society in deep trouble.

The entire renewables, energy efficiency paradigm is built on an intellectual foundation laid by Amory Lovins. Given the importance of Amory Lovins energy theories, relatively little scholarly analysis has been directed toward assessing it. Alvin Weinberg offers deep and telling criticisms of Lovins, often without direct references to Lovins texts. There was a considerable dialogue between Weinberg and Lovins and the mention of Weinberg's name in "The Road not Taken" does not fully indicate the true extent of Weinberg's influence on Lovins. It is Lovins latgely unacknowledged dependency on Weinberg, that makes Weinbery's criticism so telling.

Vaclav Smil should be mentioned among the other scholars who have paid attention to Lovins. Smil's comments on Lovins contain no small expression of accademic sarcasm:
Amory has become a celebrity after wholesaling his fairy-tale of “soft” decentralized small-scale energies as THE solution (with its deep countercultural, Berkeleyish appeal), and it is the first law of celebrity-hood that, right or wrong, coherent or not, you retain the status. Combine that with the just-noted mass scientific ignorance of the population and with Amory’s sleek offerings of no-pain solutions (nothing will cost anything, or as he famously put it, “abating climate change for fun and profit”) and you have new believers signing up every time he speaks. By the way, by this time we all should have been driving nothing but Lovinsian hypercars (something like 200 mpg, made like new Boeing 787s solely from carbon composites) whose conceptual design he launched more than a decade ago; have you seen any?
Smil attributes to Lovins numerous failed predictions including:
1. Renewables will take huge swaths of the overall energy market. (1976)
2. Electricity consumption will fall. (1984)
3. Cellulosic ethanol will solve our oil import needs. (repeatedly)
4. Efficiency will lower consumption. (repeatedly)
Smil, of course, knows all about Jevons and his famous energy efficiency paradox, the paradox which Lovins ignored in "The Road Not Taken."

Thus we have a second type of denial that impacts our ability to deal effectively with climate change. The first type of denial, the denial of the threat that climate change due to CO2 emissions, by the political right. The second type of denial, practiced by some self styled members of the political left, denies the unique potential of nuclear power to mitigate climate change and claims that we can continue to use fossil fuels, while at the same time preventing Anthropogenic Global Warming. The intellectually dubious claims about energy made by Amory Lovins, including his attack on nuclear power, have become major obstacles to mitigation of AGW.

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