Sunday, June 26, 2011
Let's Get Real About Going Green
Homemade California rolls - still eating with Fukushima in mind.
On Saturdays post (June 26) from the Charles H. Smith blog (Oftwominds), has a guest post by Kevin Mercadante, who Charles referred to as a fellow blogger. The post is very interesting to me as it summarizes most of the arguments for renewable energy production, particularly wind and solar. He didn’t present anything I would consider new information on the subject, but he did put it all together into a comprehensive argument. However, he did leave out some of what I would consider very important details.
At the same time, the latest posting by the Archdruid from June 22nd also talks more on this subject. Greer has been hitting on this subject for quite awhile now. This particular posting is a rather scathing rebuttal to the renewable energy advocates.
I am going to summarize some of the problems with Kevin’s advocacy.
I am assuming that Kevin is speaking from the position of keeping society running pretty much the way it has been for the last 100 years; Continuous growth, plentiful and cheap energy availability and the life styles that enables. He never addresses the availability of raw material to make this happen and does not address the “gorilla in the room” of total energy in vs total energy out (TEITEO), also called EROI (energy return on investment) involved in any system where one form of energy is converted into another form.
Most of the studies I have seen compare alternate energy systems to oil and its conversion to another form of energy. At this point in time, the studies indicate that the extraction ratio for oil varies anywhere from maybe 1.5 to 1 ratio to 40 to 1 ratio, from a low of tar sands to easily available sweet crude. (That ratio is a reflection of how much oil it takes to pump oil to the wellhead from a reservoir.) As the availability of the easily available sweet crude diminishes, the over all ratios also decrease. As the technology now stands, it appears that the conversion ratios for wind and solar vary from about -3to 1 up to +3 to 1 ratios for TEITEO, (how much energy it takes to generate the output). It would seem rather obvious to me that some huge technological breakthrough would have to occur to do this conversion from oil and also keep our present standard of living. Even if the ratio for alternative electrical production went up 10 to 1 we would still have a decrease in the standard of living. In other words, at our present state of technology, it is a pipe dream to expect no decrease in standard of living arrangements if oil production declines or becomes prohibitively expensive. We simply do not have any technology at the present to make up that difference. We also must keep in mind that generation of electricity is not a cure-all anyway. An example is plastics, no other way to make them other than with petroleum products.
Now lets examine what happens if we have some kind of wild ass technological breakthrough that does makeup the difference. Right off the top, we got a scalability problem. Individual home units have to be either cheap enough to make it available to nearly every household in the world and work flawlessly, or, it has to be able to be up-scalable to the extent to run the majority of the electrical grids in the world. The other problem concerning the grid is that a whole bunch of new infrastructure would have to be put up; alternative wind and solar generation is not going to be located where the infrastructure is currently located. It’s a big investment problems: not insurmountable, but a problem.
Looking at increasing wind energy, take a look at this study linked from Archdruid. Remember I talked about this a couple of years ago.
Solar conversion to electricity has another set of problems, not only with efficiency but also the availability of raw material to make it happen.
This is my often-repeated conclusion’s.
Sustainable growth is an oxymoron on a planet with finite resources.
Unless we want to try and negate some of our “laws of physics”, conversion of one form of energy to another always incurs losses and involves consequences we neither understand nor can we adequately predict.
Oil supplies are not infinite, despite the abiotic advocates, With the worlds present and ever increasing use of oil, the replenishment rate of availability simply isn’t there to either claim sustainability or infinite supply.
There is simply no currently known energy source to replace it on a worldwide basis. Therefore standards of living WILL go down, if not tomorrow, then sometime in the near future. If the effort was going to be made to substitute for oil, it should have been started 50 years ago, and that is assuming there is a solution.
Since our society and most of western culture runs mostly on oil and the oil companies are the primary controllers of the political systems in western society, there is no incentive to make a change.
Going to individual systems to provide electrical power is not going to work for most people in this world. The problem of cost and availability of the materials and the gearing up of the manufacturing infrastructure to supply a system of this nature are insurmountable within any kind of time frame to ameliorate a reduction in amount or high price of oil, it appears to me. Plus, I rather suspect that such an effort is politically a non-starter at this time. Yes, individuals can either put up the large amount of capital to produce their own electricity or cobble up and experiment at low cost for themselves and as a consequence, decrease their use of this energy drastically.
Neither wind nor sun produced energy is flexible enough to be used everywhere. The cities, where the majority of people in this world reside, are not going to become giant wind and/or solar farms.
Whatever amount of reserves of energy in the form of oil and gas that exists within the boarders of the US, its extraction cost is going up, its environmental damage will increase, and it will be put on the international market to be sold to the highest bidder.
Even if we developed some kind of substitute for oil and what it represents in living standards, that only means a further increase in world population and a subsequent increase in demand for energy consumption, which implies exponential growth which is impossible to maintain. World population increase that we have seen in the last 100 years was only possible with the use of oil. Take that away, or limit it severely and population has to go down, not up, until we reach some kind of environmental equilibrium. Since it appears to me that “green” energy supplies cannot possibly fill the gap of oil decreasing in availability, something has to give. Sadly, this seems to be ignored by the advocates of supposedly sustainable energy production.
All of these conclusions are based on the assumption that oil will not be readily available at its now relatively low cost and that “green” energy is not cost/benefit doable. We will only know this after the fact, which will then be too late to take effective counter action.
As a side note, Freeacre and I have been introduced to the idea that the tilt of the earth on its axis has increased enough that the sun no longer rises in the east south east and sets in the west south west in the northern hemisphere. Now it is slightly north in both cases. This will, of course, affect the intensity of different types of energy entering earths atmosphere. This certainly has the ability to affect weather patterns and intensity. No wonder our garden isn’t doing near as well this year and could explain the weather anomalies that are so obvious.
Hmmm, does this mean I need to relocate the greenhouse?