What is your energy philosophy?

People seem to like to infer motives. (Perhaps it’s an inherent evolutionary trait, allowing anticipation of your prey’s or predator’s next move?) I find that a lot of people get me wrong about my position on energy and sustainability — often deliberately so, I suspect. So here’s a post to clarify my position, and allow you to let others know about your philosophy (in the comments below).

Consider this a personal view, but one I would justify as being informed by extensive reading, talking and thinking. It doesn’t mean I’m right, just that I’ve made the effort to properly contemplate. I think that’s all you can ask of anyone — you, or the people you’re debating!

General philosophy: Anthropogenic climate change is a very urgent problem — probably the most serious one now facing humanity. We must solve it: there is no choice here and hiding our heads in the denial sandpit is pointless. We must also deal with other issues of global sustainability, especially clearance and degradation of tropical landscapes, overfishing, fragmentation of natural habitats within urban-agricultural areas, and chronic pollution from fossil fuel combustion. Most of these problems have common solutions, centred on the need for abundant clean and sustainable energy (not less), ‘techno-fixes’, stabilisation of population, provision of viable economic and agricultural systems, and a functioning, realistic and pragmatic society. We need to use all practical, cost-effective and timely options at our disposal.

Climate change: Human activity, via the burning of fossil fuels and also through agricultural and forestry changes, is almost exclusively (>95 %) responsible for the substantial global warming witness in the last 3-5 decades (+0.5C). It is also mostly (>70%) responsible for the warming since 1910 (+0.8C in the last 100 years). The most likely trajectory for the next 40 years (through to 2050) is an additional +1.2C (to +2C compared to pre-industrial), and a further +3C by 2100. There is some (low) probability that feedbacks in the climate system will double the 2100 estimate (or more) — much as I’d like to, I cannot dismiss this possibility. Sea level rise by 2100 will be > 1 m, and will continue for centuries thereafter (probably >10 m by 2300). Some of this may be avoidable, but I doubt it — especially the +1.2C warming between now and 2050 and the ongoing sea level rise. We’re just too far committed to a fossil-fuel-intensive pathway now and for the next few decades, and it will take substantial time to ‘turn the ship around’. There is plenty of hurt on the way — we can adapt to some of it, but many impacts will be difficult to ameliorate.

Peak fossil fuels: We are depleting accessible supplies of coal, oil and gas substantially, and peak global production of traditional sources will almost certainly arrive within the next few decades — probably sooner rather than later (although locally, they will continue to be abundant, e.g. coal in Australia). This will increase extraction and processing costs, which will in turn spur increasing exploitation of unconventional supplies, including underground gasified coal, coal seam methane, fracked shale gas, tar sands and Arctic hydrocarbons. It may be that demand will outstrip supply by about 2030, after which there will be an increasingly compelling reason to manufacture synthetic fuels such as ammonia, methanol and (I hope), serious investigation of boron as an energy carrier. Carbon prices will accelerate this decision. Peak fossil fuels will not, in and of itself, lead to significant greenhouse gas abatement this century. Too little, too late.

Exponential growth: Nothing can grow forever — obviously. As a scientist who’s done research into regulation of natural populations, I appreciate the concepts of carrying capacity, birth-death balances, overshoot, and so on. However, I do not think it likely that the global human enterprise will ‘crash and burn’. There is a lot of inertia — and resilience — in our society, which frankly hasn’t been tested seriously since 1939. But it will get a good run over the next few decades. I suspect that growth in the next 50 to 100 years (I dare not look further than that) will increasingly shift to areas of the economy that are not dependent on — or at least reaching the limits of — primary natural resources. Areas of ongoing expansion might include knowledge systems, cyberspace, mineral resources, energy intensification, and so on. Most of the world’s fisheries will be exhausted, and perhaps 50 % of today’s tropical forests will be gone by 2050. About 10% of species will be extinct by then, and perhaps twice that percentage will be ecologically dysfunctional (and most of these committed to future extinction, once lags have played out). Mainstream ideas around a steady-state economy will gain traction in the coming decades (see Footnote), but will take many years, more national defaulting, and considerable soul searching, to achieve — if ever. Growth forever might be possible, if we make the break to outer space (I’m only half joking here).

Geoengineering: We will need to do this. The most plausible option is stratospheric aerosol seeding using high-flying aircraft, and an international agreement on this will be reached by 2040. The most attractive option is CO2-drawdown via enhanced weathering. I think we will do both, on a large scale, by around 2050.

GM crops and nanotech: Essential for adapting our agricultural production to climate change, lower fertilizer inputs, pesticide resistance and the need for increased productivity to meet rising population demands (increasing human population size [until around mid-century, topping out at 9 billion], and more kilojoules per person). Benefits of GM seem to far outweigh the risks, and a scientific approach should be taken to testing, deployment and monitoring. In a related matter, sea water desalination will be needed on a large scale. For desal, I also think the benefits generally outweigh the impacts, provided the energy inputs come from zero-carbon sources like nuclear, wave and solar.

Energy: My primary focus is to advocate for a decarbonisation of the global energy supply — encompassing electricity, transport fuels and industrial uses. To this end, I support a rational (science-, engineering- and economic-based) deployment of nuclear fission, fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage, and various renewable energy technologies. I see costs and benefits for each choice, and I judge them primarily on the basis of carbon intensity, cost, sustainability, dispatchability, scalability, timeliness and risk. Landscape impacts, visual amenity etc. are a fairly low consideration for me, on balance. I would like to emphasise here that I am NOT a ‘pro-nuclear advocate’ (as some like to label me) in a way that I see all things nuclear as good and other options as bad. No — I simply see nuclear fission as ticking more boxes than any other current technology — and Generation IV nuclear especially so. However, if some improved form of solar, or geothermal, or whatever, can do better than nuclear on the balance of these criteria in the future, then I’ll switch my principle support to them. No problem — whatever works best, overall. By 2050, my best guess is that 40 % of global final energy will come from traditional fossil fuels, 35 % from nuclear fission, and 25 % from some mix of biomass, hydro technosolar renewables, and fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage. I will flesh this out a bit in a future post.

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Where do you stand? (I’ve probably missed stuff — feel free to propose areas of global significance that I’ve overlooked).

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Endnote: This post was partly motived by a recent essay from George Monbiot, called Out of the Ashes. In it, he argues that now, 2011, is the time to start planning for a new economy, not dependent on growth. Whether you agree or not, I recommend you read it — it has a lot of useful material for underpinning an informed opinion on this matter.

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Footnote: You may have noticed on the BNC left sidebar that I now have a Facebook page for the site. If you’re so inclined, “Like” it! BraveNewClimate on Facebook

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189 Comments

  1. You didn’t mention this, but: Although it would be decades before the payoff, I think it is short-sighted for our country to pull back on space exploration. There may be water and minerals to be mined (by robots) on asteroids and comets. I’d also like to think that solar energy will be more feasible as time passes and innovations continue.

    So far, I haven’t seen proof that GM crops reduce the need for pesticides, and we have not yet determined the effects of nanotech on our health and environment, or the effect of GM farming on the diversity of our seed supply.

  2. I have a machine as a philosophy. It’s called the Tripe System. http://www.environmentalfisherman. Track-Pipes carry compressed air as a fuel, and hydrogen, and lots of things, natural gas, broadband, water, sewer, many conduits in the pipes. The Tripe is also a new two hundred year design for rail and monorail systems. Commodity pricing for compressed air will be the norm, and air will be everywhere. Conversions from hydrogen to electricity, along with more efficient electrical systems and downsizing etc. this will work. 11 pages, illustrated, the machine is my philosophy largely, but the economics are there too. Offshore wind and wave horsepower, my specialty, will go into the pipes, no losses with bottled energy, like a water system. Distance is not a factor. Geothermal, solar load the pipes too. We’re hung up on electrical. Let’s center of finding that common denominator between the old and new. Tripe, that’s the job.

  3. Cooool….a new genre of science fiction: “Pipe Punk”. William Gibson would be proud :)

    Personally, and there aspects of “open thread” here, so, there is something of a combination of all of them. But it starts from my socialist philosophy that states that scarcity is the cause of social dislocation; war, barbarism, economic crisis and climate change. Scarcity is based on class society, simply put, haves and have nots and the political system that insures there will be haves and have nots.

    To eliminate scarcity (beyond by own philosophy on this) means an *exponential* and *planned* growth of the forces of production. We seen this happening on a haphazard, response-to-global-trade, on a national basis as countries in Asia rush to industrialize to sell commodities to Europe and the US.

    To eliminate this insane anarchy of production, we need planning, agreements and so on to bring developing countries productive forces up from what they are now to something approaching Brazil, Chile and some of the more ‘advanced underdeveloped’ countries. To get 2 to 3 billion people with out a “light swtich” and to get advanced countries off of FF, we need to MORE energy not less.

    My philsophy says we need abundence to solve the social needs and desires of 7 billion people. I believe it can be done with a lot of local control, national and international planning but all of it is predicated, at least from a tech POV, on a truly massive development of energy.

  4. My energy philosophy is simple; Give me cheap gas and plenty of it. I want more and more fossil fuels and I want it cheap cheap cheap. Wahoo!

    If you want to build wind turbines and solar panals on your property knock yourself out. Just stay out of my way.

    Cheers

  5. HAving been rather thoroughly through all the energy options, quite independently of Brave New Climate, I come (reluctantly) to much the same conclusion: only mostly nuclear can provide the energy for the foreseeable future.

  6. Much of the current unrest in the world appears to be a result of factors like food/energy prices,
    lack of jobs, debt fuelled economies, environmental degradation, climate change etc.
    This needless suffering can be greatly reduced by exploiting scientific knowledge
    to leverage abundant natural resources (like air and sea) in a sustainable way, generating
    vast employment to build the required infrastructure to secure a reasonable future for our children.
    Economic growth is really tied to knowledge not resources, and need not be reduced to zero for a sustainable future.

    As readers of this blog are well aware, nuclear energy must ultimately become a major part of
    the solution to energy scarcity and reduced climate change.
    We know that all the energy we could ever want is in the rocks and sea water in the form of natural uranium and thorium,
    and can be used with negligible impacts to the environment.

    What about humanity’s ecological footprint?
    Can we use the abundant clean nuclear energy available to us to reduce our footprint in the face of population growth.
    It’s well known that one of the most effective ways to reduce population growth is to raise the standard of living of the poor
    especially when coupled with the emancipation of women. This implies the use of more not less energy which we have a solution for, but
    what of land/resource use? How can we feed all these people as we raise standards of living.
    This problem of land use will only be exacerbated by dilute renewable energy technologies like wind, solar and biomass.
    For example, is it possible to shift bulk food production to industrial scale manufacturing with a minimal
    footprint compared to traditional agriculture?

    We could use zero carbon energy (i.e. nuclear) to synthesize small/simple organic molecules
    (e.g. glucose, ammonia etc) from CO2 and N2 in the air and H2O from seawater desalination.
    This could be done at or near the sites of nuclear power plants.
    Desalination and ammonia production are well in hand and are already done on a industrial scale with reasonable efficiency.
    Extracting CO2 from the air is the most energy intensive part of this solution since its concentration is so low
    compared with that of N2 in air.
    From thermodynamics we can estimate the minimum amount of energy required as approximately -k*T*log(p)
    per molecule of CO2, were p is the concentration of CO2. We can already do this by modifying a cooling tower
    and using a hydroxide to capture the CO2 from that air as cools the plant at about twice this minimum energy expended.
    Much of the extra energy required can come form the plants waste heat.

    Some portion of this organic molecule stream can be diverted to feed GM/synthetic bacteria (e.g. Craig Venter’s work) to build
    complex organic material like proteins/fats/starch/vitamins etc.
    These organic materials can be combined to produce feed for animals/fish-farms, and synthetic bulk carbs like flour for
    human consumption. Some of these materials (like ammonia and H2O) would also support traditional/GM agriculture for foods that
    cannot be produced synthetically (e.g. vegetables etc) as well as more intensive urban agriculture approaches like food towers.

    This should dramatically reduce our ecological footprint since the efficiency with which we can synthesize simple organic
    molecules should be considerably higher than natural plants. A plant has to build very complex structures for it’s own survival,
    as well as food for humans and must be fertilized/irrigated and protected with pesticides and herbicides.
    This requires an enormous quantity of resources and land use for relatively little output.
    We just have to build simple carbs/nitogen-componds and let bacteria handle the complex stuff.
    This would also help secure some portion of our food supply from the vagaries impending climate change.

    I’m optimistic that these problems can be solved (hopefully in ways much better than I just described) and the only
    really scarce resources required will be knowledge and will.

  7. At age 73, I remain a registered professional control systems engineer (CA, CS-400). One would think I would have had enough of energy by now.

    My energy philosophy has evolved to “Energy Abundance with Carbon Conservation.”

    ENERGY ABUNDANCE: People who live with electricity have life spans twice that of people who live without electricity. Two billion people around the world still do not have any electricity . . . the world must consume more energy, not less.

    Prosperity depends upon energy. Population size is far more stable in countries where the average per capita energy rate is 2,000 Watts or more – Canada is 11,000 Watts, Ghana, 533 Watts.

    CARBON CONSERVATION: Humans survive and thrive by feeding on energy from the “fresh” carbon of plants and animals. Modern economic societies survive and thrive by feeding on energy from “ancient” carbon. Neither humans nor societies can starve themselves strong.

    GLOBAL WARMING TIP from an old engineer: We have to expand our nuclear thinking beyond power plants to include all large sources of heat. The world’s really big fires burn 24/7/365 silent, hidden, unnoticed in big boilers in every town everywhere. Just look for tall smokestacks in your town.

    The stationary boilers that power modern societies cause about 2/3 of all Global Warming. In general, the technology already exists to safely and economically replace all large stationary fossil fuel boilers – say, those over 5 megaWatts thermal – with nuclear fueled boilers of similar size. Sub-megaW(t) fossil fuel boilers can be replaced with nuclear powered electrical boilers.

    Electricity generation accounts for about 35% of all Global Warming and the 1,200 mega-sized members of the world’s 30,000 member fossil fuel power plant community account for 85% of electricity’s contribution to Global Warming. This fact tells us which power plants should be the first to be converted from fossil boilers to nuclear boilers.

    Switching to nuclear heat will both minimize further Global Warming and preserve the remaining carbon reserves for those applications where electricity simply will not suffice – such as chemicals and plastics.

    Jim Holm

    http://www.coal2nuclear.com

  8. Interesting read, and @Dino Rosati I thought that was interesting too. I am far more settled in these matters than I was a few years ago. I caught the tail end of a lecture at Adelaide Uni from Don Clifton the other week that got me thinking again though. He was exploring the I=PAT notion, Impact = Population*Affluence/Technology. It would appear that the T we seem to love to depend on will need to be very, very big indeed to head off some pretty horrible impacts. Dino Rosati seems to love a big T, and it makes for a cool read but just how fast can we role this stuff out? Much like renewables, it’s the pace of implementation that matters as much as the possibility.

    I broadly agree with Barry’s position on most of the matters he chose to focus on but wouldn’t regard them as 100% fixed yet. However, in terms of my effectiveness in making the world a more sustainable place, it has been pretty helpful to develop sufficient conviction in a couple of key areas (climate must be stabilised, plentiful clean energy is a requirement) that I am not hamstrung from action by feeling I need an answer to every problem in the world before I do a single damn thing about any of them. That’s known as despair in my head, and it gets me nowhere.

  9. General philosophy: As a Process Control Engineer, who’s dotty doctoral supervisor was fond of saying “we engineers solve all the problems and then the accountants put them back in again”, left me with a highly pessimistic outlook as money is the manipulator.

    Climate change: Unequivocal. Current question; is it likely as bad as is predicted or WORSE. I have a 34″ yacht handy.

    Peak fossil fuels: In a presentation, Kjell Aleklett sighs and says (paraphrasing) “we’re just going to have to let them ‘run out’ of [oil, gas, coal] unfortunately, they won’t stop”. Then you understand what he means when Exxon see the ice-free Arctic as an opportunity to exploit the area!

    Exponential growth: Understanding sustainability is our greatest test. We’re running out of intelligence, water, potassium and helium among other things.

    Geoengineering: We will have to do this. The CWM (Conservative White Males) who oppose AGW will be on board because it likely involves deploying massive, energy wasteful technology essentially like airborne SUVs that spray things. If they have guns as well, even better. They can clean up the mess.

    GM crops and nanotech: Nanotech no probs; keep it off your skin, don’t eat it. The current GM crop proponents see it as an industry to control the plant cycle. Monsanto will rule you. Chemical use promises are not proving true, with seriously resistant weeds already appearing. Lesson? You won’t beat nature if you’re aiming to make money as priority number one.

    Energy: I’m curious to see what the Germans will do, they may go backwards first to go forward. The plan is due at the end of the year or early next year, no? Replacement coal is likely to be supercritical and with CHP plus have the approach of the Chinese; old plant retired for each new one commissioned, so emissions do fall.

    In Australia, I hold out hope that we won’t need nuclear power with CSP w/storage, geothermal (money needed), wind and PV being our alternatives. Prices are falling pretty rapidly really. It’s politically more palatable and big money is getting involved; Areva, BP, superfunds, investment capital organisations people on the street have never heard of. We may use some gas top-up on the way through during the transition.

    The vested interests will fight like hell to retain the existing system until it collapses; regardless of the approach, this will be the expensive bit, not the cost of new supply. Privatising electricity in Australia will eventually be seen as a mistake; it should have remained a public utility/good. We could at least vote to end fossil fuel use early as privatisation has been no protection from rising prices.

    We’ve mobilised some private capital for a power result with home PV. It should have just been mandatory to have a system for every new home or home that changes hands. Then there is still a huge untapped “resource” of efficiency. Just head out to the new suburbs and see all the new houses in Australia without solar hot water, you KNOW we aren’t trying that hard.

    Having said that, I can understand the approach of the Chinese, in India and perhaps even Indonesia but I expect their operation of nuclear with be fraught.

  10. Barry – thanks for summarizing your position. I haven’t spent anywhere near as much effort on working through my own. I certainly agree with all your points and am essentially taking them as my starting point, though I’m a little more worried about a civilization crash than you seem to be. That worry is through intuition more than any actual analysis. Ugo Bardi on Cassandra’s Legacy has just posted The Seneca effect: why decline is faster than growth in which he models systems that show the effect. (Bardi’s a curiosity to me – he seems to dismiss nuclear fission entirely. I haven’t looked deeply enough on his site to find out why.)

    In my own thinking I try to use the expression “long term” rather than “sustainable” or “renewable”. Both of the latter two, IMO, make people think only of wind and solar energy. I want to discuss what we want and where we’re going, rather than technologies that might or might not help get us there.

    Charles Barton on Nuclear Green recently reposted the 1959 Alvin Weinberg paper ENERGY as an ultimate raw material, or problems of burning the sea and burning the rocks. Weinberg begins

    My purpose in these remarks is to speculate on the role of energy in the “Asymptotic State of Humanity”—that is, the state toward which we are moving, inexorably, because man’s urge to multiply is limitless whereas his resources are finite.

    I think this one needs to be read and discussed widely. It’s time to model and discuss asymptotic states; I’d like one that features nonzero human population, long term stability, rich biological systems on Earth, and societal vision and goals that will spread us, our descendants, and life out into the cosmos. (That’s just me, you understand. ; D )

    52 years later Weinberg has the right us why we haven’t done anything about all of this? Let’s not have our grandchildren asking us the same. We can’t leave it at Oliver Hardy saying to Stan Laurel, “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”

  11. @Decarbonise SA, point well taken.
    If the current state of US politics and European economics is anything to go by, we’re in for a rough ride.
    It’s going to be a while before we start to turn this ship around,
    but at least the technologies we need to accomplish this daunting task are near to hand.
    I’m still optimistic of our long term prospects, as for the short term … not so much.

  12. My energy philosophy is:

    Get rid of as much fuel fossil energy as fast as possible, and never mind the risks and costs of doing so.

    Venus syndrome uncontrollable runaway global meltdown will kill anybody on the planet if it happens.

    There is no cost and no risk worth even mentioning compared to that.

    That is still true if the effects are milder, like 70 meter sea level rise and the Sahara extending into Italy.

    All sources of carbon free energy need to be deployed at full speed. There is not one single solution, and bashing some carbon free source because you like another one better is only helping fossil fuel.

  13. Pingback: Energy philosophy | Lenz Blog

  14. Karl-Friedrich Lenz, on 1 September 2011 at 10:02 AM — The various low (fossil) carbon sources have different costs and enviornmental consequences; neither is a matter to be ignored.

    For example, it appears to me that where wind power is installed, CCGTs are sure to follow. This is, unfortunately, an environmental consequence of wind power which is widely ignored.

  15. @David Benson

    All these small differences don’t matter compared with the risks of global meltdown.

    If you fire your gas turbine with hydrogen made when there is more wind energy than demand, there is no carbon cost. If you use fossil gas, you still save carbon with every watt generated by wind.

  16. Karl-Friedrich Lenz, on 1 September 2011 at 11:25 AM said: If you fire your gas turbine with hydrogen made when there is more wind energy than demand, there is no carbon cost.
    Work out actual feasiblity [this might work!] and the LCOE.

    If you use fossil gas, you still save carbon with every watt generated by wind. Yes, but not much. Only about 27% around here.

  17. Some very good comments & thoughts here.

    I broadly agree with Barry’s post above, however I think I’m a lot more pessimistic than he is. :-(

    I disagree regarding stability of the “global human enterprise”. I think when some of the major impacts of climate change start to arrive, that it *will* “crash & burn” – as a global economy, that is. Some of the likely impacts will be devastating to some national economies – what’s the cost of, say, 1m of sea level rise resulting in coastal cities flooding on every spring tide?

    Add in heat waves & droughts that might cut global food production by 30-40% in any given year, combined with 20-30% more people, and the economic costs will bankrupt nearly every government on the planet. I fear famines like the current one in the Horn of Africa will become common, and wars will be fought over access to water & food.

    Is it avoidable? I think that yes, it is, with enough effort in the right directions. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll see that effort until it’s far too late – the political & ideological blinkers seem far too firmly attached.

    Technological approaches (such as the accelerated weathering for sequestration of atmospheric CO2) could help fix the problem, but I have grave doubts that any government will be able to afford it when it becomes obviously necessary, as they’ll be spending every cent they’ve got (and more!) trying to adapt to the changes that are already locked in.

    Just look at Hurricane Irene. Estimated total damages are approaching the $10 billion mark, and that was just a Category 1 hurricane. With the other 9 billion-dollar weather-related disasters the US has seen so far this year, it’s getting expensive even for them, and it’s barely started.

    All this doesn’t make me feel too good for my daughter’s long-term future, but at least we’re lucky enough to have been born in a first-world country, where people have the luxury of spending inordinate amounts of time & effort complaining about the ‘cost of living’, talking on their $700 phone while driving their SUV home to their McMansion with the 60″ plasma connected to a pay-TV subscription that costs more than what half the world’s population earn in a month.

  18. Great post Barry. This sort of orientation really helps progress the debate.

    I have recently been engaging the antinuclear crowd in Glen Innes through facebook. The response was quite hostile, as might be expected. Simple arguments about energy, cost and climate involving numbers just went *whoosh* straight past people and got zero traction. So instead I wrote a piece about my motivations that broadly touched on the same issues as you give here, and a fair chunk of hostility just evaporated. While people weren’t agreeing with me, they were at least more prepared to engage and thereby to listen.

    Interestingly, of all the comments I put on this group’s facebook page, the only one they chose to delete was that one. Apparently the most challenging point I made was that we were working from the same motivations.

  19. I agree with pretty much all of this post, but don’t think the GM crops and nanotech belong on the list.

    I understand why they’re there – they have been demonised by the usual suspects, in my opinion in an attempt to diversify their businesses with new product line extensions to sell alongside their already very successful Antinuclear Fear (TM) products. Genetic Modification Malarky (TM) and Nanotechnology Nuttiness (TM) currently have modest market share but perhaps may one day become solid stand alone businesses.

    But saying you support genetically modified crops is no more than saying you support farming. Its just another agricultural technology among many that are more frightening. Supporting nanotechnology is the same as saying you support materials science. Or medicine. Or computers. Or chemistry. Nanotechnology is just what we used to call chemistry, and a few other allied sciences.

    So we should farm better. And make better batteries. And smarter tablets, both the medicines and computer types. And it shouldn’t be contentious to say this.

  20. @David B. Benson

    Enertrag (a leading German wind power company) is working it out right now:

    http://k.lenz.name/LB/?p=4093

    I don’t know about LCOE, but it makes sense for the wind power operator to use the energy somehow if they can’t sell the electricity.

    And the point of my philosophy is that I don’t care ever so much about cost in the first place. It is always a bargain compared to the costs of global meltdown.

  21. Karl-Friedrich Lenz, on 1 September 2011 at 12:41 PM — You ought to fix your page to read

    kWh for kilowat-hours, a measure of energy

    rather what you have which is a rate of change of power. Then you might care to read what Joe Romm has written about hydrogen. Its one thing to store and burn it in an industrial setting, but the stuff has too many hazards to use as-is in automobiles, etc.

    And unfortunately, one does have to consider the costs as whatever solutions you propose have to be acceptable to decision-makers (who always care about economics in at least the broader sense).

  22. Thanks everyone for the feedback.

    Podargus, I don’t consider the need for geoengineering, my guess at the extend of global warming, forecast lack of short-term action on fossil fuel abatement etc. as overly optimistic. Perhaps you could outline a few key reasons what aspects you are more pessimistic about, and the underpinning evidence. Even covering one of your argued gaping holes in a little more detail would be helpful as a way of gauging the reasoning behind your pessimism.

  23. Margaret Manzi: The Space Elevator company LiftPort.com went broke. I lost a little money. We have to fix GW first because the Space Elevator won’t be ready to lift soon enough to save us and Mars is too dead to be brought back to life in time to save anybody anyway. So I am taking a time out from Space Elevator work to work on GW. We will get back to space elevators when the time is right.

    We could build a “generation ship” Orion class starship, but it would take a century to reach the Centauri cluster.

    I expect to be stuck here on Earth until the work on Gw is done. After that, we will conquer the solar system.

    Human evolution has been driven by climate change before. It will again, first by causing a population crash from 7 Billion down to 700,000 or so.

  24. Climate change is a very serious threat.

    As a reasonable policy/economic response to this threat, by 2020 a moderate, harmonized carbon tax will cover most of the world’s CO2 emissions.

    By 2050, in response to this economic signal, and through relentless technological innovation, net emissions of CO2 will have turned negative and CO2 levels will be falling.

    I’ll guess a mix, in 2050, of 35% nuclear, 35% solar (mostly distributed) and other renewables, and 30% fossil fuels/biomass with CCS.

  25. If the world is not harmonised on carbon restraint by 2020 can some countries punish those who don’t? I think they can. For example if Chindia makes all the steel by then Australia should put a carbon tariff on it. If they don’t like it they can get their coal and iron ore someplace else.

    I think there will be a scramble for remaining fossil fuels 2030-2050. If the world is still on 15 TW by 2050 (for 9 not 7 bn people) I doubt fossil fuels can be as high as 40%. It has to be either 3rd-4th generation nuclear or industrial collapse. I personally depend heavily on solar and biomass but I think they will always be minor.

  26. John Newlands: I think that when China / India wake up to the consequences of climate change on their countries, you might find that they are the ones imposing tariffs on others for high emissions. Both are working very hard to develop non-fossil energy sources – I think China’s current 2015 target is 100GW (nameplate) of non-hydro renewables [ref], and we’re all well aware of the effort they’re putting into nuclear – don’t they have something like 15-20GW under construction, with about 10 times that planned?

  27. I have similar views to Barry on energy, but think the food supply is fundamentally broken so we will see far more “horn of Africa” problems in the future. There is already chronic undernutrition in many countries which doesn’t get headlines.

    So consequently I place more emphasis on food problems.

    I think GM is a distracting search for a silver bullet solution to what are political and social issues. We can easily feed 9 billion now, but we choose not to. I’ve just spent a month in Switzerland which provided a picturesque example. It could easily feed itself but chooses instead to waste vast areas of perfectly good well watered farmland producing grass for hay instead of cereals for food which it imports because it can outbid any hungry country which might really need those cereals. The same criticism could be leveled at many countries with slight differences in detail.

    Not that I have any in principle objection to GM, other than it promises far more than it has ever delivered as a food supply enhancer. GM promises a silver bullet but hasn’t delivered.

    Nuclear IS already a silver bullet but we are too irrational on the whole to recognise it.

  28. I see Kurzweil now thinks the ‘singularity’ (techno nirvana) will occur in 2045. Gives us something to cling on to as opposed to living in huts and eating boiled weeds.

    I think China and India are having an each way bet on decarbonising. If it happens it happens otherwise burn baby burn. Both countries may have 1bn too many people to achieve a universal middle class. I propose a sincerity test… if they are genuine they won’t mind paying carbon tax on the coal and LNG we provide them.

  29. Barry Brook,on 1 September 2011 at 2:40 PM

    I have moved on but,at this stage, I am still reading the blog – must be a masochist.
    However,seeing you asked,I will point to a few of the holes.

    General philosophy – As we have overshot by a large number our sustainable population in Australia and globally it is not sufficient to merely stabilize population.The last I heard from you that level was around 10 billion.It could be any number to infinity depending on the outlook of the proposer.
    The fact is that we need to reduce our population level,hopefully in an orderly fashion.Otherwise it will be done for us in a most disorderly fashion.

    Climate change – I’ve got no argument about the effects you describe but they may be a bit on the conservative side – who knows.
    But “turning the ship around”can be done in a relatively short time frame if the will is there.Taking a half hearted,pseudo pragmatic approach to this doesn’t advance the cause one bit.

    Peak fossil fuels – “Coal abundant in Australia” – sure,and that’s a big part of the problem.The psychology of prior investment and all that.
    Until we cut coal down to size in Australia we won’t acheive one damned thing in reducing pollution.

    Exponential growth – “growth forever might be possible if we make the break into outer space” – Get real,Earth is the only home we will ever have.Treat it with respect.

    Geoengineering – As if the the half smart monkeys haven’t done enough damage already.

    GM crops – We’ve been selectively breeding plants and animals for a long time.The technology that is being used today in such a cavalier fashion will almost certainly have unforeseen outcomes,some of them not so favourable, I suspect.

    Energy – “Not a pronuclear advocate” – you should be,as it is the only proven technology which can reduce our use of fossil fuels relatively quickly.Having 2 bob each way is not an option in this race.

    I’m happy to hear you are reading Monbiot.There are a number of other authors,scientists,theologists,economists sociologists,philosophers,poets etc who have had the same ideas long past.Seems like they’ve been shouting into your “outer space”.

  30. @David B. Benson

    Thanks for the kw/h hint, I fixed that.

    In the present context (my philosophy) the only “decision-maker” is me.

    But I do actually make an argument about cost. It is just slightly different than usual. I compare costs of not kicking out fossil fuel (=global meltdown) to costs of low carbon energy. 10 billion euro a year for feed-in tariffs in Germany is a bargain if you look at it that way.

  31. My largest disagreement with Barry is probably that I don’t believe in peak fossil fuels as a serious threat. There is a ridiculously large amount of low grade resources and technology is improving much faster than linearly.

    Failure to me looks like taking the peak oil ‘cliff’ of the peak-oil doomers, mirroring it around the y-axis and extending the time scale on the x-axis.

    Even worse than unconventional oil is ‘unconventional coal’. There are vast resources of coal that are by no means practical to dig out of the ground; but with underground coal gasification they are quite easily recovered.

  32. When we, on this site, discuss the various components of climate change, we share an awareness of things being bad, getting worse, and accelerating into exponential decay. We share an awareness of unsustainable strain on the environment leading to an almost certain catastrophic collapse at some unpredicted point in the future.

    However that collective awareness may be because we’re deaf to any signs that a turnaround can be gentle. For example, while we speak of the growth of emissions per capita, we make uneasy references to runaway population growth, unwilling to speak of seemingly inevitable population collapse.

    However restraints on population is something which is certainly well discussed in both India and China. Their various programs of population control have had varying degrees of success, which the rest of us could learn from. That would require us to be open to the possibility of a controlled decline in the burden on the environment.

    Sure, we can hope that the accelerating rate of climatic disasters will eventually mobilise world opinion. The BNC community is ready with solutions to rescue the greenhouse. However, we also may need our own cage rattled before we listen to solutions that lead to a tolerable rate of decline in world population.

  33. Podargus, thanks for sharing your viewpoint.

    1. GF: I don’t disagree that human population size has to ultimately decrease — but there is a lot of demographic momentum. Probably won’t be below 6 billion until well after 2100, barring significant catastrophe (= lots of people dying). I don’t wish this to occur, so the transition must be a result of increasingly lower birth rates, correlated with higher education and health levels, etc.

    2. CC – your statement of ‘the will’ is empty. How?

    3. Peak – No disagreement on coal.

    4. Outer Space – just your humble opinion. I happen to think you are wrong.

    5. GeoE – you don’t elaborate on which is better, GeoE or substantial CC.

    6. GM – unfavourable effects will probably occur, sure, but I suspect the benefits will outweigh the risks.

    7. Energy – you didn’t understand my point. I’m a pro-whatever-works-best advocate. That happens to be nuclear fission (for now). But it’s not about nuclear, it’s about efficient decarbonisation.

    Overall, I found your critique to be rather shallow and unjustified. But as an opinion, you are of course quite welcome to it!

  34. Soylent, I agree that this is probably my weakest point. I have a hunch that peak fossil fuels is not a big an issue as ‘cliff’ers make out, but that conventional oil/gas peaks will be a strong motivator to move to the super-abundant unconventionals — this is what must be checked. So we are probably in pretty close agreement on balance.

  35. Karl, please explain to me how a false solution such as PV in Germany that locks Germany into using 80% fossil backup, will help with your goal of preventing the Venus syndrome?

    If all countries do what Germany is doing, CO2 emissions will rise rapidly.

    False solutions are dangerous. If we are indeed starving, then we must let go of the pie in the sky so we can focus on the sandwhich lying on the floor.

    My energy philosopy is that of David Mackay: make a plan that adds up. What Germany is doing does not add up, even with a large increase in money throwing.

  36. Interesting post. I broadly agree, with the following observations:-
    Entrenched commercial interests will probably resist change until it is too late. This goes across the spectrum of industries. GM foods are a good example, where almost all have been designed to cement market share rather than improve productivity. I don’t see this changing in time to avoid a major food shortage.
    Unless we put research effort and seed money into sustainable farming, Gen 4 nuclear, energy storage, geoengineering and many others we risk being caught short if feedbacks are worse than expected, or if multiple problems happen together, which is after all the way most civilizations have failed.
    My best bet on the catalyst for change is a financial meltdown; strangely, I suspect the sooner it happens the better, as we still have resources to throw at the problem, and the less co2 history we have to counteract. Not optimistic Jan.
    Energy efficiency and a reversion to home veggie patches, chooks etc always gets ignored or derided, but it can make a very significant difference, and is fun. We live a fully “convenienced” lifestyle on 7KwHr/day of solar PV in the Australian bush, and we supply almost all of our fruit and veg, eggs etc from the property and many of the other day to day needs from the local (rural) area. While we don’t travel for work, our transport emissions, while small by Australian standards, is our major element.
    I don’t see us being able to sustain the current massive overuse of transport, both to simultaneously import and export similar goods, to ship local goods to distribution centres and then almost back again, or to spend hours per day stuck in traffic getting to and from work. This surely has to change.

  37. Great post. I agree with pretty much everything, though I don’t share your enthusiasm for the likelihood of Homo sapiens ever expanding its range into outer space (though I am curious to know what you’ve read to lead you to this assessment?)

    Rapid, global civilisational “crash and burn” scenarios don’t seem very likely (large bolide collisions, supervolcano eruptions or a near-Earth supernova perhaps excepted). It’s the gradual, ongoing and worsening conditions for many in the world that appears far more likely – and sadly, many of those who will feel the pain the most are those who are least responsible for it (as is often the case now). It’s likely we are going to witness a large increase in the frequency of resource wars and starvation epidemics by 2050 (and thereon) as population grows, resources run short and (perhaps most importantly) species go extinct en masse.

    The one thing I agree fundamentally on is that we are going to need far more energy to solve or ameliorate the world’s largest problems – definitely not less.

  38. Finrod, on 1 September 2011 at 8:43 AM said:
    Some of us have arrived at all these conclusions independently of Stewart Brand.

    I’ve read this and other blogs for years, so I’m aware of that. I just noticed the convergence with Brand’s book and this essay and assume that Professor Brook probably enjoys the agreement.

    I do think we should be happy that Brand has come to these conclusions. He is quite influential, particularly in some circles, and his support is important.

  39. @Cyril R

    I noticed from previous posts in other threads that you don’t seem to be much of a fan of solar energy.

    We agree that the plan needs to add up, and that David McKay has some interesting things to say.

    If you rule out solar, that makes it so much more difficult to have a plan that adds up. That’s 68 kWh per day you need to find somewhere else in his model.

  40. I want to argue something here that I on occasion have seen written. The idea that Australia is somehow “overpopulated”. This is not a serious contention. It is looking at the biology and geology (not to mention hydrology) is a thoroughly static…ney, ‘stagnant’ way.

    I actually think Australia can support, *easily* a population quite larger than it is now. Let’s face it we are talking one compound: h20. If we can increase water on the island continent, your population could come close to that of the US in the 1950, or abut 180,000,000. Would anyone *want that*? No, of course not, but that is not my point.

    Barry mentioned geo-engineering. The idea, touted by the Greens, that *any* irrigation projects are bad; that no water from the north, NONE, should be shipped south, or, that nuclear desalination would be crime has got to go amount our crowd.

    It has been established that the greening of arid areas causes a general *decrease* in local temperatures. The Arkansas-Oklahoma water works from the Arkansas River basin area lowered temperatures there *on average* 10F. Areas that have been regularly irrigated by your Snowy Mountain project show the same thing.

    So if we set our sights on some sort of large desal/irrigation projects the actually ‘carrying capacity’ looks quite different.

  41. David Mackay barely considers economics, and does not tell you explicitly that PV in Germany is not there 89% of the time. He looks at average energy flows, but that hides major problems. Its one of the few flaws in his thinking.

    In order to produce 68 kWh per day from PV in Germany you need 25 kWp which costs 75,000 euros. And even then you’ve got no power at night, very little in winter, very little in the morning and evening, and very little when its cloudy. Which is, drumroll please, 89% of the time, on average. 1000 Watts of PV produces 110 Watts on average. Dreadful.

    What’s more likely, you think? Germany building a 100,000 dollar per capita battery or just burn some natural gas and coal when it’s not sunny? Burn natural gas and coal of course. It just so happens that Germany has a fairly constant electric demand. So you need power, about 70-80% of the time. Solar is not there almost all of that time. So you burn natural gas and coal. Maybe 20% solar, and then the rest *has* to be flexible fossil. Adding unreliable marginal wind makes it worse, you end up with low capacity credits, having to dump much of your wind and/or solar output, and still burn 60-70% fossil.

    You can never do just one thing Karl. Building unreliable solar installations has consequences. Its fossil with a whiff of solar and wind, or nuclear with very little fossil. Those are the options.

    I’m not opposed to solar. I’m opposed to investing large sums in marginal energy technologies (which is what 11% capacity factor non-dispatchable power is) and in the process become so complacent with the effort as to shut down nuclear plants, our single biggest solution to the CO2 problem. This is Germany’s reality. I challenge this dangerous fantasy.

    Had Germany spent the 100 billion dollar it will spend on total on its PV program (total contract feed-in cost for all systems so far) on nuclear plants it would have eliminated all coal plants.

    In stead it uses just as much coal as when it started its solar program in the 80s and 90s.

    That’s a terrible opportunity cost. Especially if you factor in the complacency those solar panels have brought about, including closing down nuclear plants.

  42. To Barry Brook and others of a like mind –

    “It would be some consolation for the feebleness of ourselves and our works if all things should perish as slowly as they come into being; but as it is, increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.”

    Luceus Anneaus Seneca

    Interesting recent article on the Seneca Effect by Ugo Bardi on The Oil Drum http://www.theoildrum.com/node/8317#more

    A cursory reading of even recent history would reveal that hubris is also the road to ruin.

  43. Agree with Cyril R that Solar in Germany doesnt make much sense. But in Australia it has serious potential at the very least to replace peaking supplies, as the cuts in the various FITs show. Now what we need is storage….

  44. I pretty much agree with you, Barry. In addition to replacing coal now, we should increase research on traveling wave, molten salt, and any other nuclear that looks promising. The only solar that looks like it could be used for baseline is concentrated solar thermal with heat storage, and that so far looks expensive. It doesn’t look good for Alaska, either.

    Olivine and serpentine carbon dioxide capture looks good, but taking ten years instead of a few days to react looks more practical. This may be the only way to offset the continued emissions from steel making and concrete, if they cannot be replaced. Spraying sulfur into the air to stay cool is scary, though.

  45. @Cyril K.

    To people who want to shut down nuclear because they think 100% renewable is easily done, I say: “Great. Prove it. We will shut down nuclear plants once your promise is true.”

    To people who bash solar because they think 100% nuclear is the cheaper solution, I say: “Great. Prove it. We will stop investing in solar once your nuclear power station fleet is providing all we need.”

    I assume we can easily agree that under present political circumstances there is no way Germany is going 100% nuclear any time soon. That does not mean I agree with that policy, just to be clear.

    Something like 10 billion euro a year feed-in tariff cost is a “large sum” compared to my pocket money. Compared to Germany’s GDP of 2.5 trillion euro (2010), not so much. And, again, compared to the cost of global meltdown, a bargain.

  46. @harrywr2 quotes me as saying that “peak oil” is misleading fiction. That’s right. In particular it panders to the argument that we are running out of non-renewables and therefore must install renewables.

    He also points out that even Reuters publish such concepts as peak coal in China. Yes, they probably do. They’re in the business of selling newspapers. Harry didn’t actually say if he believed it, so I don’t need to be tactful when dismissing it as ignorant hogwash.

    However readers, what do you say? Tell us something of your own energy philosophy, and if referring to unfamiliar facts, perhaps point to a link that we would respect.

  47. Roger Clifton, on 2 September 2011 at 8:27 AM said:

    Harry didn’t actually say if he believed it, so I don’t need to be tactful when dismissing it as ignorant hogwash.

    I’ll be much clearer. In most of the world, the point at which generating electricity from coal is the cheapest method of producing electricity has passed.

    Peak ‘anything’ occurs when the price of producing a good exceeds the price of a substitute good.

    Even in the US Southeast, producing electricity from coal is no longer the cheapest method of electricity production.

    If we plug the delivered price of coal in the US Southeast into the DOE levelized cost estimates($4/MMbtu – $80/ton rather then the US Average of $2.24/MMBtu) coal is no longer competitive in the US Southeast. We end up with an O&M cost around $40+/Mwh rather then $23.

    http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/aeo/pdf/2016levelized_costs_aeo2010.pdf

    Most of the world is paying $125+/tonne for thermal coal which works out to be about $6/MMBtu. An O&M cost for coal of $60+/MWh.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-08-26/european-thermal-coal-for-next-year-declines-for-second-day.html

    The Chinese aret building 100GW of windmills by 2015.

    http://gigaom.com/cleantech/china-the-next-big-grid-storage-market/

    Maybe they are doing that because they are ‘responsible environmental stewards’ or because it’s cheaper then burning coal.

    If I plug the price the Chinese are paying for Australian Thermal coal delivered to China into the US DOE levelized cost estimates, wind and nuclear are cheaper then burning coal in China. The same is true for Europe.

  48. @harryr, thank you for your detailed comment. It would be good to believe that the price of nuclear has dropped permanently below the price of coal. I am under the impression that the current high price of coal is because the expansion of supply is struggling to meet the expansion of demand. Inside China, the railways are already loaded with the traffic of the increased economic activity, effectively overpricing the transport of indigenous coal. However they have plenty of sedimentary basins, and thus plenty of coal resource.

    Back to the theme of philosophy, my impression of the usage of the term “peak oil” is more to do with fear than responsible economics. When I hear the term “peak oil”, I have come to expect that somebody is trying to sell me equipment for collecting renewables, electric vehicles, inner-city land, natural fibre clothing, yet more increases in the subsidies for grid-destabilising backyard electricity or a brand-new religion for rescuing you and me from the doom due to all the other sinners.

    I’ve also heard “peak oil” used in justification for raising the price of fuel. Since everyone else is using the term for doom-mongering, it should not have surprised me to hear it used to promote conversion to nuclear. However, it remains a distraction from the number one environmental worry: our energy supply’s gaseous waste.

  49. Energy in the fishing (and aquaculture) and farming industries are big considerations to me philosophically. I’m a dyed in the wool organic food nut, no gm crap policies for me. In fact if we were smart we’d subsidize the organic by taxing the gm foods, the pesticides, and the herbicides, and especially taxation of bad soils would be good for the food systems, which are, as a practical matter, a part of the health care systems. We can if we want tie up lots of carbon up in the soils. Soil sterility along with the fossil based fertilizers and various anti life treatments, not in my policy book. Scallops, fish, lobster can be landed in great tonnage, using much less fuel but we’re not trending there at all. We’re not engaged to deploy any of the pilot systems we should be. As in our energy systems the planners and deal makers have too much dinosaur experience, consequently can’t see the forest, as too many trees are in the way.

    Commercial fishing systems is my area. Unfortunately we have very bad systems, locally, nationally, an internationally. There’s so many vested interests and conflicts of interests in fishing and farming, and as in oil and utilities, such as Enron, to our dismay money spent in politics is power. http://www.environmentalfisherman.com is my web page. are social programs first, and not production systems. These systems years ago grandfathered people into the system, which has been socially corrosive, very anti-equal opportunity policy. My fisheries policy is called the Market Quota System which is a poundage fee based system where by the harvests are taxed and then that’s reinvested back into habitat and stock assets. The meat of the MQS is taxes on all externalized negatives, such as bad fishing methods, fish kills etc. and especially upstream pollution, which can raise hell with fishery production. How are we to tackle energy systems reform if simple fishing and farming are too much for us?

  50. I just realised there is a fundamental difference between fishing quotas (or taxicab licences) and renewable energy targets. Left to the market there would more fishing and less renewable energy. With fish the product has willing buyers with renewable energy the buyer has to take a percentage under threat of a fine.

    Of course acquaculture can use warm outlet water from thermal plant eg at Eraring NSW http://www.aquabait.com.au/case_study_in_aquaculture.phtml
    Can’t say if this is efficient, humane or sustainable.

  51. How may wars has the USA been in in the last two hundred years? Nuke may be good, but if they turn bad, for any number of reasons, the negatives can not be lived with. I would like to see the Navy tasked with owning and operating one hundred small, one hundred medium, and one hundred large capacity nukes. These should be mobile units, rail based, or ship based. I think this is sound nuclear philosophy, but if I’m wrong, then, Armageddon. No big deal. That’s why I like wind and wave. I like geothermal, and I like solar. We all do. I like a system, that I invented, to transport and store all the horsepower these great sustainable energy productive systems can make. These beloved sustainable energy systems are largely unusable without the tripe. But with the tripe we can put them anywhere, and scale them way up. Design specific solutions to sustainable energy storage and shipment are few indeed. Why is that? What are we looking for? Do we need energy storage and shipment for our new sustainable solar, wind, wave, geothermal? Is pneumatics, 8,000 psi compressed air, a science fiction project, or yankee smarts? And hydrogen? These things go into pipes. You decide which is best based on fantasy not engineering. It is philosophy. I believe in a machine, but a simple one, that solves the energy crisis while not producing any energy or horsepower. Try the tripe.

  52. John Newlands, Thanks for the link on the new sea worm farm. My experience in aquaculture is with fishery design encompassing public aquaculture. That means we tax the landings, and then invest in things like eelgrass cultivation, which supports scallop beds and striped bass. We use crews from marine labs to do fishery management, instead of industry lobby folks who contain no good judgement in production matters, we raise tiny baby scallops and let them go, under controlled areas, and mother nature raises them. I worked in a hatchery for a couple years. Private aquaculture raises animals up to market size, let’s say the oyster farm, whereas public aquaculture style means a more efficient system of cooperative production along with fishery systems, which are many. So public aquaculture would spread cultch, or shell on public grounds, and seed the grounds, with baby, or seed oysters, and protect same, from predators etc. and tax the landings, for a cash flow. Worms or nematodes are among the most abundant forms of life on the planet.
    MODERATOR
    If you wish to continue this discussion you should move to the Open Thread as it has now become definitely off topic here after moving away from philosophies into techniques. Please re-post in the Open Thread – we do not have the facility to move comments between threads. I will delete the comment on this thread after your re-post but future off topic comments, as per BNC policy, will be deleted without warning.

  53. Energy efficiency in fishery and farming systems are of major concern, and both are on topic in the main article I’m commenting on. Energy philosophy is a good topic. But it’s deep.
    MODERATOR
    Stick to energy philosophy and you are on topic but wander off into fishery practices and procedures and you are not.

  54. This appears to be planet of the techno-cornucopians.

    Climate Change is real and is clearly caused by fossil fuel burning. The addition of feedback effects such as the clathrate gun hypothesis makes continued burning of fossil fuels the equivalent to species suicide. If fossil fuels were free it is still too costly to burn them.

    Exponential growth: we’re already well past the biological carrying capacity of the planet. Topsoil loss exceeds replacement, fossil aquifers are beginning to tap out, fisheries are depleted and not provided with rest for recovery. Grain production is not keeping pace with consumption on a global basis. A human die-off is inevitable; we just don’t know the date.

    Geoengineering: The only geoengineering proposal that yields more energy than it costs is biochar production and fertilization of marginal lands. The rest of the proposals are on par with flying cars.

    GM crops: the first wave of GM crops are now being attacked by the first wave of GM resistant bugs, bacteria and fungi. GM crops are a genetic bottleneck that can be exploited by evolving biota faster than labs can diversify the seed strains. The widespread use of GM crops begs famine.

    Nanotech: still science fiction hand waving as regards to self assembling anything.

    Energy: Solar, wind and conservation strategies are deployable at speeds orders of magnitude faster than nuclear power plants. Of the three conservation will have to take the bulk of the load. Learning to do more with less. Nuclear power is simply not something that humans have the moral or ethical capacity to handle safely. Somebody, somewhere ALWAYS cuts costs or overlooks some safety requirement and plants melt themselves into scrap or become otherwise unrepairable.

    The human race was given a great wad of seed money and we blew it on fast cars and jet trips to the tropics. Now it’s too late to change our minds.

  55. Pangolin, you say solar wind and conservation are faster deployable than nuclear.

    After 19 years France got to 75% nuclear. They use much less fossil fuel in electric generation today.

    In a similar period Germany got to 10% wind and solar and uses more fossil fuel in electric generation despite serious conservation and 100 billion in guaranteed subsidies.

    http://glmory.blogspot.com/2008/08/electricity-in-germany-denmark-and.html

    here’s the effect of conservation:

    http://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/figures/total-energy-intensity-in-the-eu-25-during-1990-2004-1990-100/image_preview

    Yes we can and are getting more efficient, and no it will not remove the need to produce more energy. The above is just for Europe, if you factor in China – who has even better energy efficiency improvements but also a higher absolute growth in energy – you end up with a big increase in demand even with the best of energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is worth doing, but we need nuclear. It takes a long time to build a nuclear plant, yes, but switching to wind and solar takes a century.

  56. @Cyril R.

    Germany already got to over 20 percent first half of 2011, and 3.5% solar (that’s over 300 percent increase in two years time).

    Solar took off only about a couple of years ago as a consequence of the 2004 feed-in tariff reform, and it is just simple common sense that putting some modules on your roof can be done much faster than building a nuclear power plant.

  57. Wow, 300 percent increase! Still nothing, its 3.5 percent of total. Wind and solar combined are at a pathetic 10-11 percent. After a greater effort (financially) than France. You must include hydroelectric and biogas to get to that 20% total renewables, and these can’t grow much (also I’m in favor of these energy sources as they are not marginal).

    The question is not can we provide x percent by solar, the question is how does Germany kick the fossil fuel habit. Solar is marginal, not being there 89% of the time so you can’t rely on this. However you can rely on Russian gas imports to help Germany out. At a ‘special price’ of course.

    You seem to be avoiding the main issue, which is opportunity costs and self-delusion fantasies of the Germans. You can never do just one thing. Putting solar on roofs means burning fossil at night, in the winter – when demand in Germany is highest due to coldness and darkness – during cloudy events – much of the time also by the way in Germany – and during the evening and morning. Gee but that is 89% of the time. Solar in Germany is marginal and adds up only to a costly fossil fuel lock in. This does not solve our fossil fuel addiction, it makes it worse by letting people believe in false marginal solutions.

    The problem with solar isn’t the technology, its the resource. The panels are reliable and can get cheaper. The marginal nature of the resource does not change. Battery energy storage costs barely change at all and are prohibitively expensive now and almost certain in the future. Even if they do get cheap it makes more sense to use them in high turnover baseload applications such as storing excess coal or nuclear baseload plant capacity.

  58. Pangolin,

    “Techno-cornucopian”–sounds good to me.

    You say that humans have exceeded the planet’s carrying capacity, and that die-offs are inevitable. Presumably you think this will happen even with rapid deployment of solar, etc.

    Luckily, we can do better. In the main post “Risk Perception…” of 20 August 2011, Finrod asserts “…the near unlimited potential of nuclear power technology to sustain our global civilization, at well above the style to which the wealthy nations have become accustomed, for such an immense time-scale it beggars the imagination, and its potential to do this with miniscule environmental impact.”

    Or for a more comprehensive treatment, see the excellent post “For climate’s sake, nuclear power is not an ‘option’, it is a ‘necessity’. (I’ll give the link in a separate comment below.)

    You say that humans do not have the moral or ethical capacity to use nuclear. But actually, if we want to avoid millions of deaths, we do not have the moral or ethical luxury not to use it.

  59. @Cyril K.

    The main issue in Germany is that renewable is the only non fossil source in town. I disagree with that, but I am in a minority position of only about 3% of Germans who want to increase nuclear. That’s democracy.

    Germany will go to at least 80 percent of renewable electricity by 2050. Shutting the nuclear plants down after that happens would be the better policy, but relying only on renewable will speed up things even more in that sector.

  60. K-F L:

    “Germany will go to at least 80 percent of renewable electricity by 2050. Shutting the nuclear plants down after that happens would be the better policy, but relying only on renewable will speed up things even more in that sector.”

    Karl continues to avoid considering the rapid and sustained growth of fossil fuelled power stations in Germany. Hoping to achieve a few more percent solar is fine and understandable, even if at a usorious cost.

    His attempts to ignore the fact that 20% (plus or minus a bit) of additional FF power is coming purely because the nuclear power industry is being destroyed wilfully as an environmental fashion statement lack perspective and do not address the biggest single environmental problem over which Germans have clear control.

    Destruction of the nuclear power industry is only a bad thing – it far outweighs the good things to which he repeatedly refers and will undo even the most optimistic but unfundable of clean energy dreams, wind and solar. Along the way, the cost will bankrupt the strongest nation in Europe and reduce the german economy to the equal of Greece.

    I see no reason to paint closure of the 22 German nuclear power plants and outlawing of replacements as other than what it is, an absolutely disastrous decision on many levels.

    Klauss, Germany will certainly not achieve that dream and will go broke if it keeps trying to. What’s the cost so far? 100 billion euros? For 3%? Where can the additional 3300 billion euros come from? Where will the steel, concrete, aluminium and rare elements come from? How many new transmission lines will be constructed through German national parks, just to stand still?

    I truly wish that the German plan could be made to work, but it is beyond hope.

    Ditto for Japan’s aspirations for a nuclear free future. Exactly the same.

  61. A little philosophising might help us check our paradigms occasionally. The BNC site has shown that we should challenge the dominant paradigm of slow neutron reactors. But there are other standard assumptions that could leave us stuck in the mud for lack of review.

    Perhaps we can do things with nukes that cannot be done with classical power stations. For example, you cannot ask miners to drag their mines down to the coast because it is more thermally efficient to provide them with power near a copious supply of seawater. Instead, you ask them, how much are you willing to pay for a water-free design?

    “Down with the grid”? One only has to look at the population distribution of any developed country to see that industries have travelled to where the infrastructure is. Nuclear power plants allow us the liberation of taking the power to where the industry is potential. With strategic siting of power supplies, we reduce the need for a copper-wired grid. That’s good when all other power sources (except diesel) require vast tonnages of copper, especially large-scale renewables which will be typically sited remote from their consumers.

    Our criterions (okay, “criteria” if you want to be pedantic) need regular review. Perhaps we only need nuclear plants which are cost efficient from the consumer’s point of view. That might mean smaller, autonomous, uranium-hungry units. They might not use steam turbines. They may not even produce electricity, but some other desired product such as process heat, thermolysis, hydrolysis, hydrogen, desalination, defrost or district heating.

    For countries which do not have a power grid spanning the country, remote consumers need to start small. Small NP units are easier to make passive cooling, especially if they already have heat exchangers for an air turbine. For similar reasons, they are easier to make autonomous, that is, have no manpower on site. (Perhaps on remote monitoring.)

    Can we make nukes transportable? Units small enough to be trucked could conceivably be designed to be transported from one job to another. Consumers could then upgrade to a bigger unit, trading their old unit to smaller consumers elsewhere. Miners could rehabilitate their sites, taking their nukes with them.

    Perhaps we need to rethink how capital is assured for a power venture. Small NPP units are easier to raise capital for. When the first unit produces income, subsequent units get more willing investors, for a system in production long before reaching the full capacity of a big unit – which probably couldnt get its gigabucks of capital to even begin.

  62. Roger, coal fired power stations are not built 660MW or 1000MW chunks because they are cheaper on a per-generating-unit basis, but because they are more efficient on a kWh basis.

    By all means, construct smaller NPP’s where the load is small, such as for a remote minesite, but I expect that the maths will demonstrate that an 880MW NPP will cost much less than 22 x 40MW NPP’s, to say nothing about the cost of staffing 22 small plants Vs 1 large one and the land area required for 22 Vs 1.

    I still hope for Australia and Australians to see the light and to start building two fleets of NPP’s: The first being a string of 500 MW capacity to replace the existing brown coal monsters in SA and Vic, followed closely by a start on a string of 880 or even 1100MW units for real grunt to replace and supplement the black coal units in the Lithgow and Hunter areas in NSW, perhaps also in Victoria. The idea is to avoid having to rebuild our high voltage transmission systems, which already tie up more dollars than the power stations themselves.

    The eventual goal would be about 10 x 500MW plus 20 x 880MW for a total of 22.6GW, or 27GW if 1100MW units are used in the second phase.

    These 30 units could be constructed at a leisurely pace within in 20 years, for about the same cost as Germany has already blown on wind and solar. That would be the single best thing that we could do to help Australia’s manufacturing industry, for which reliable, cheap and abundant energy is essential.

    France has done it, why not Australia?

  63. Karl, as long as you accept the false solutions fantasy of the Germans, you won’t solve the Venus syndrome – you will increase risk of it through fossil lock in.

    I’m sorry you didn’t read my previous posts very well.

  64. @John Bennetts >”[one big] 880MW NPP will cost much less than 22 x 40MW NPP’s, to say nothing about the cost of staffing 22 small plants [etc]”

    Of course John is right. It would be most efficient to replace heavy duty units in a heavy duty grid with nukes of similar size. However, expansion of demand across the grid may justify a rethink of where to put the generating capacity. And that is one scenario where smaller nukes may provide lower total cost (per kilowatt hour, of course), particularly counting the cost of upgrading the voltage on UHT lines and step down lines in an already existing big grid. Another scenario is inland.

    Recently, I toured the dry lands of the eastern US. The main sign of life off the road were the frequent high voltage transmission lines, and the occasional railroad with trains carrying, among other things, coal and fuel. Quite possibly, the flow of chemical energy was travelling in the opposite direction to at least some of the electric energy. It struck me that both could be replaced with nukes at the sites of demand. A big ‘un for Las Vegas and a little ‘un for Mesquite (NV), sort of thing. Certainly the little one being certified for Galena, Alaska will be a taste of the distant future.

    Australia is even more wide open (let alone Namibia etc). If you scrape off the E ,SE and SW coastal plains, there are only small grids, well separated. Small grids deserve small nukes. In places as big as Broken Hill , there are probably already available middle sized nukes competitive with gas+pipeline costs. Smaller towns and mines would benefit from small nukes, at least for their reliability compared to diesel.

    Well yes, currently small nukes can’t compete with gas, not if the local pipeline has already been paid for. But when we are talking philosophically, we can imagine a future where a worldwide mentality has shifted into a value calculation that favours small nukes, mass produced nukes. And nukes that can do other things than generate electricity, too.

  65. “[,,,]and it is just simple common sense that putting some modules on your roof can be done much faster than building a nuclear power plant.”

    Then your common sense is seriously defective.

    There is no magical unicorn that craps out highly pure slabs of crystalline silicon. Somebody actually has to make it.

    In Germany the average solar irradiance is ~110 W/m^2. A crystalline solar PV is ~10% efficient. You will need to make ~100 square kilometers of solar panels to replace a single 1.4 GWe nuclear reactor(assuming a modest 80% capacity factor).

    If you manage to do all this you will now produce as much average electricity as a 1.4 GWe nuclear power plant, but it will come in short ~8 hour bursts around noon. You will have a massive surfeit of electricity during sunny summer days and massive deficits during the long, cold winter.

    To remedy this situation you will require massive installation of grid energy storage and massive application of overbuild and diversification of energy sources. Or you can just burn vast quantities of natural gas and coal to make up the balance(most of the energy).

  66. @John Bennetts

    I agree completely that the decision to phase out nuclear in Germany is misguided. It is quite selfish of the present generation of Germans not to accept the remote radiation risks and burden future generations with the absolutely sure additional global meltdown problems resulting from that cowardice. It is also quite lacking in gratitude for the efforts of prior generations who developed and deployed that safe and cheap and carbon free energy source in the first place, while all this generation needs to do is keep them running.

    However, I don’t call the shots in Germany. A majority of cowardly selfish ingrates does.

    At 12 billion per year feed-in tariff costs won’t bankrupt Germany. The foolish decision to bail out other Euro nations might do that. Actually renewable energy lowers electricity costs over the merit-order effect and saves Germany about 2 billion euros a year in fossil fuel costs, a sum that will only rise with more renewable percentage.

  67. @roger clifton “With strategic siting of power supplies, we reduce the need for a copper-wired grid. That’s good when all other power sources (except diesel) require vast tonnages of copper, especially large-scale renewables which will be typically sited remote from their consumers.”

    Power lines are made of aluminium and reinforced with steel. Aluminium has a lower resistivity to weight ratio and it is cheaper than copper.

    Most of the copper in the electrical grid is situated near the producer and near the end user.(home electrical wiring, burried cables and low-voltage cables used in the “last mile” and various substation transformers, generators etc.).

  68. A 12 billion per year feed in tariff that distracts from the real problem and delays real solutions is going make things worse, not better.

    As someone else has coined it, it is ‘how to not reduce emissions at vast cost’.

    Marginal energy sources that are more expensive than the marginal production cost (coal 2 cents per kWh) do not reduce prices they increase it. This is a minor point. The major point is the complacency and naivety that solar and wind induce. That is far more risky for the ‘venus syndrome’.

    I’d like to point to an excellent energy paper (philosophy if you will) from nuclear engineer Bill Hannahan:

    http://www.coal2nuclear.com/energy_facts.htm

    He explains the problems with wind and solar very well.

  69. I believe Merkel has said that they will not let Germany’s gross g-CO2 emissions rise, that they intend to lower further their industry carbon intensity.

    In the first instance they appear to be replacing old coal plant with larger (more efficient) CHP-type designs. Secondly, it seems they are committed to only purchasing exported wind (or nuclear), clearly there is a sort-of irony in that. Thirdly, if short-term industry and generation efficiency does not meet those targets they will purchase carbon offsets.

    The complete detail of the rest of the plan is currently lacking (from our pov), but I’d rather the German nation set out on this path than many others.

  70. Terry Krieg’s ‘Ockham’s Razor’ gig on Radio National this morning was well presented. At the end, Robyn Williams offered a challenge to those who disagree with Terry’s figures to post comments. By 9:45 there were 2 in favour and 1 against.

  71. Merkel has indeed declared that Germany’s emissions will not rise subsequent to their nuclear closure, and in this proclamation she will enjoy the same success as King Canute’s tidal ambitions, for similar reasons.

  72. As others have suggested here, if nuclear plants are closed they will be replaced either by fossil fuels or renewables that would otherwise have replaced fossil. Either way, emissions rise. Of course those that are able to do basic energy analysis realise that it will be fossil or nuclear; renewables are too marginal (wind, solar) and those who are not marginal are too limited in supply (hydro, geothermal. biogas).

  73. Cyril R., on 3 September 2011 at 10:43 PM said:

    A 12 billion per year feed in tariff that distracts from the real problem and delays real solutions is going make things worse, not better.

    As someone else has coined it, it is ‘how to not reduce emissions at vast cost’.

    Marginal energy sources that are more expensive than the marginal production cost (coal 2 cents per kWh) do not reduce prices they increase it.
    The world price for thermal coal has been increasing over the last decade, so as power generators have to negotiate new long term supply contracts, we will see wind and nuclear reducing emissions at a lower cost than continuing to burn coal. I think this explains China’s push to expand hydro, wind , nuclear and solar. Brown coal is a different matter because of the problems of shipping, only a modest carbon tax will shut down brown coal pollution.
    At $129/tonne, thats 6-7cents/kWh just for the fuel.Importers have to pay another 1-2 cents/kWh for transport.

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business-old/mining-energy/xstrata-sets-benchmark-price-with-japan-for-thermal-coal/story-e6frg9e6-1226032002360

  74. @harrywr2, on 2 September
    While you are always concise, you sure nailed the concept of “peak oil (coal)” in this one:

    Peak ‘anything’ occurs when the price of producing a good exceeds the price of a substitute good.

    On your China comments:

    (…) The Chinese are building 100GW of windmills by 2015.

    A speculation: another factor in China’s strategy may be supply chain leveling. While LCOE is important, speed of delivery of new generation is also critical – it will probably be 20 years before China’s ability to install new generation catches up with demand growth. So ramping up the wind supply chain creates a growing stream of new generation capacity that does not conflict with the new-coal-plant supply chain. Do any of us really know what the wind vs. coal LCOE will turn out to be? Obviously future coal prices. But also, what is the true economic life of the wind turbines, maintenance, and the true life cycle costs of the new transmission required to connect windy regions to where the demand is?

  75. Curious that negative population growth plays almost no role in determining folks energy philosophy here. Not only are critical resources being used up but the capital to do all these wonderful technological things that many of you have in mind is simply not going to be there, as we all are going to be grabbing it for basic survival purposes.

    Anybody want to tell me what won’t improve with less people? Anybody want to tell me what won’t get worse with more people?

    Roughly 200,000 people added to the planet each day that need to be fed, watered, provided with waste disposal, housed, educated, provided with medical care, energy, eventually a job. What are you offering that is up to such a challenge?

    Along with lowering our carbon foot print and recycling what we put out there I see no way we can keep a lower population target out of the equation if we want to be on a liveable planet with adequate energy for all. We are already in overshoot with critical resources and it would seem increasing tillable land is near an end and we are approaching a fresh water crisis.

    What say you?

    PS. My impression is there is some confusion about this peak oil business. I think it means you reach a point when the economics have you discovering new sources at the same level that you are retiring old sources. My impression is overall we are almost there and shortly after peak the drop on balance of useable fossil fuel is precipitous.

  76. Pingback: China: coal plant shutdowns due to coal prices « SeekerBlog

  77. @David M – “Anybody want to tell me what won’t improve with less people? Anybody want to tell me what won’t get worse with more people?”

    Human capital. Our most precious resource and without which all other scarce resources are useless. Oil is just a toxic goop that occassionaly seeps up to the surface and poisons the water supply until you figure out how to make asphalt, oil lamps, oil furnaces, internal combustion engines, gas turbines…

    All other resources, including energy, are secondary. We don’t need neodymium if we can figure out how to cheaply make a special form of iron nitride(Fe16N2), which is a much better magnet. We don’t need so many rare earths for LEDs and fluorescent lights if we can make “artificial atoms”(quantum dots) from abundant zinc oxide. We don’t need inferior copper if we can cheaply make CNT quantum wires.

    We will need a lot of energy, but we don’t need oil, coal and gas. We are positively swimming in energy that is available for the taking; there’s more energy available in uranium, thorium, deuterium, lithium and sunshine than we know what to do with it; it just happens to be a form we don’t like; just like oil, coal and gas happened to be unusable forms of energy not many centuries ago.

    An aging population where the shrinking productive slice of the population is forced to waste an increasing amount of resources taking care of the elderly would be extraordinarily bad.

    @David M – “I think it means you reach a point when the economics have you discovering new sources at the same level that you are retiring old sources. My impression is overall we are almost there and shortly after peak the drop on balance of useable fossil fuel is precipitous.”

    I think you are dead wrong and that if we don’t abandon oil because we find something better the decline will be ridiculously slow.

    There is a “resource-pyramid”. The high-grade resource is a tiny little tip at the top of the pyramid and is long gone for oil . We’ve been working our way slowly down this pyramid and we’re getting ridiculously good at accessing the vast resources nearer the bottom of the pyramid as we go along.

    Almost every graph of oil discovery by peak oilers will contain back-dating of reserve growth to the discovery date of the oil field(power-law size distribution => on average oil fields are larger than you have reason to estimate because a few of them turn out to be gigantic. Improvements in drilling and secondary, tertiary recovery technology allows extraction of more of the original oil in place); this is an attempt to obfuscate ongoing and future reserve growth. Most of them also ignore unconventional oil; it wasn’t long ago that deep-sea oil was unconventional and it won’t be long until tar sands and oil shales are conventional oil.

    In the US the decline rate has been 1.4%/year average for 39 years since the peak. When the world peaks, the decline rate will be even slower; the world is a bigger, more diverse place and when the US peaked you could just go drill oil some place easier, where as when the world peaks the price shoots up and we proceed further down the pyramid.

    A slow squeeze extending a century or two into the future is what failure will look like.

  78. This is my energy philosophy for the US:

    1)Nuclear power
    2)CCNG @ 60% cycle eta (gas turbine w/ steam bottoming plant)
    3)CCNG @ 70 % cycle eta if you include solar heat recovery (not PV) which uses the same steam turbine.
    4) EV’s

    On a world wide basis , since CHINA is a focal point, I would think they need to continue to do as much Nuclear as possible (and I think they are). Their neighbors in Japan fueled their whole industrial revolution on nuclear and did a great job.
    Hopefully China does the same.

    Meanwhile, I will get a Volt (you know it’s GM) (I already have my solar panels in) so I can drive a car that drives like a Mercedes but can run on either electric or gas as a backup.

    GSB

  79. @David M – “Anybody want to tell me what won’t improve with less people? Anybody want to tell me what won’t get worse with more people?”

    Soylent: “Human capital. Our most precious resource and without which all other scarce resources are useless.”

    We’re overstocked with human capital. We have a “too many cooks spoil the broth problem.”

    My point stands. Once again, what problem is made better by producing more people when you already have 7 billion and growing?
    ———————————————-
    You’re probably right about the fossil fuel thing extending out due to more sophisticated extractive technology. Still with off shore and all it would seem you are getting into greater cost and spill potential and I think the public is going to demand oil and coal companies pick up more of the environmental and human costs of their externalities. And the tar sands business is kicking up quite a reaction. It also remains my impression that with all the extraction we have done we are drawing from a considerably smaller energy resource base even with the expanding exploitable potential of the rest.
    —————————————————
    There are so many limits and danger zones we are hitting. Acidification of the ocean is one and the related killing of edible marine life. How far do you think fish farms and green houses can take us? You kill off the major biosphere system and the subsystems will die. And nothing contributes more directly to that problem than overpopulation driving the need for fossil fuel, using up our resource base, making ultimately every nation too poor to provide the capital to do the R&D and construction to respond to the general environmental challenges and making us stressed and crazy enough so we can’t think straight. We can’t afford enough nukes to provide for 200,000 new folks every day.

    In my view either we get a handle on the overpopulation problem in very short order or expect catastrophe no matter what energy policy we pursue.

  80. Professor Brook,

    I have been a, hitherto, silent follower of this site, probably contributing substantially to the nearly 3million hits. This is partly because I feel I need more technical expertise to make a useful contribution.

    However, I would like to make some comments on my philosophy as to where we are. I agree ( if I’m not taking you too far) that if we have not reached the tipping point, then we are very close to it.
    We do not have the luxury of waiting for renewables to save us; and anyway (while you say these things are not such a high priority for you), I do not want to see the landscape covered with wind farms, solar farms or any of these hugely area/habitat-consuming systems operating. I have spent too much of my life trying to preserve habitat, ecological systems and landscapes to accept those energy systems now destroying them. I am causing some grief to my conservation colleagues with my views.

    From what I learn, most of the renewables will not cut the mustard in saving us from the impacts of climate change.

    I consider, after quite a lot of reading, that the compact size of nuclear power generation, with the benefits of reduced mining impact (compared with coal, for example), doing something about the present amount of nuclear “waste”, and making the world safer from the nuclear proliferation problem, that we have to embrace the nuclear option.

    Peak oil is a problem because we rely on oil for much more than fuel, and if we run out of it, then there are many things other than fuel that we will have to go without.

    I recall that after spending many years of my life fighting for the environment, my father told me I was “wasting my time”. When I asked what he meant, he told me I should be doing something about the population. Well, that was too hard for me, but I acknowledged what he said, and got on with trying to save a little bit of the world. Either the population problem will solve itself (through catastrophe) or we will provide the energy needs without destroying the environment across the landscape. And to me, that means, going nuclear.

    A few years ago, I was an anti-nuclear person, but I was living with ideas that were 40-50 years old. I hope that we can move on. And this site is contributing mightily to that.

    Could I pose a question: are there any statistics on health effects on those who lived in nuclear submarines for example? They must have been as close to nuclear reactors as anyone.

  81. Pb. “I recall that after spending many years of my life fighting for the environment, my father told me I was “wasting my time”. When I asked what he meant, he told me I should be doing something about the population. Well, that was too hard for me, but I acknowledged what he said, and got on with trying to save a little bit of the world. Either the population problem will solve itself (through catastrophe) or we will provide the energy needs without destroying the environment across the landscape. And to me, that means, going nuclear.”

    Your father may be wiser than you give him credit. There is a little problem that comes before convenient human catastrophe. It’s the me or nuclear question. Once a choice between expenditure on nuclear power and food is front and center guess which will be the favored option? And nuclear perhaps unfortunately is one major accident away from being taken off the table for a country. Consider Japan. The cost of nukes is huge, the need for security and regular monitoring substantial and that’s not even considering the effects of accidents or sabotage.and the IFRs unproven and in any case many billions and years away from coming on line if they work out.

    It appears now that China with it’s accumulated surpluses is the only country expanding nuclear in a serious way(Correct me if I’m wrong) and I understand even they are concentrating more on the low end cheap nuke plants to save money, the ones that are less insured against accidents. With the population expanding and inevitably competing for resources, putting aside a lot of money for nukes really doesn’t seem in the cards into the future. I don’t see it going much of anywhere in the US.

    However there is a solution that is low cost, safe and highly effective. You guessed it, lowering the population, particularly I might add in the more carbon intensive and generally polluting industrial states. That shows you are serious. Every other solution including nuclear if it doesn’t attach itself to negative population growth is simply nonserious because population growth will eventually eat the lunch of any system you apply.

    If you can link negative population with nuclear then I wish you good luck. But then again if people really got the centrallity of overpopulation to the problem they would probably also get the idea of community living around environmentally friendly local energy systems.

  82. David M, to modify a Twainism: Everyone talks about population reduction, but no one says how they intend to achieve it.

    Who stops having children? Who dies? How fast? What implementation policy? How to deal with the recalcitrants?

    The fact is, ‘we must focus on population’ is, in and of itself, a banal truism with no actionable merit to recommend it. Of course we must, but that is a slow and inexorable process carrying with it a huge burden of demographic momentum that can only be hastened by death and misery on a massive scale. To try and argue that population reduction should be the primary focus of our efforts over the coming decades is at best an ill-thought-out motherhood statement and at worse a catastrophically certain pathway to failure, if climate change mitigation is your goal.

  83. Steve Darden, on 4 September 2011 at 9:20 PM said:

    While LCOE is important, speed of delivery of new generation is also critical – it will probably be 20 years before China’s ability to install new generation catches up with demand growth. So ramping up the wind supply chain creates a growing stream of new generation capacity that does not conflict with the new-coal-plant supply chain

    The Chinese are rationing coal at their existing coal fired plants.
    Figure #10

    http://www.netl.doe.gov/coal/refshelf/ncp.pdf

    The Chinese can build 80 GW of coal fired plant in a year if they want to.

    January 2007 China was the first month that China was net coal importer.

    http://www.industryweek.com/articles/china_becomes_net_importer_of_coal_13657.aspx

    In 2009 China was a net coal importer for the year

    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/bizchina/2010-02/23/content_9490004.htm

    To make matters worse, Indonesia, the worlds largest steam coal exporter decided to stop honoring long term contracts at knock down prices this year.

    http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/regulation-flares-indonesian-coal-prices/443212/

    India and China account for 2/3rds of Asian coal reserves, neither can meet their domestic needs without imports. They are also #3 and #5 in terms of largest reserves in the world.

    Page 30 of BP 2011 energy review has a table of benchmark prices.

    http://www.bp.com/liveassets/bp_internet/globalbp/globalbp_uk_english/reports_and_publications/statistical_energy_review_2011/STAGING/local_assets/pdf/coal_section_2011.pdf

    Coal prices declined from 1990-2000 then reversed and continue to climb. Electricity generation projects always have long lead times and are based on ‘Best Available Information’ at the time of the decision.

  84. @david M “We’re overstocked with human capital. We have a “too many cooks spoil the broth problem.””

    There’s no lack of science, engineering, retrofitting and upgrading of infrastructure to be done. There is no too-many-cooks problem because science and engineering is an “embarrasingly parallel problem”; there’s a ridiculous number of potential problems to explore(can’t solve problems before you correctly identify them, the better you understand all their mechanics the easier it is to solve them) and a ridiculous number of potential solutions to known problems.

    To pay for all this you need some form of economic base to pay for it. A rapidly shrinking population has an inverted population pyramid with a lot of unproductive retired people at the “base” and a small productive work force spending much of their resources on supporting the “base”. That’s a fragile, dying society that cannot cope with anything.

    “My point stands. Once again, what problem is made better by producing more people when you already have 7 billion and growing?”

    Having a large number of people allows you to proceed further with specialization and economies of scale/volume. Scaling a solution up and applying it for 7 billion people is less than 7 times the work load of applying it for 1 billion people, with 7 times more people available for the time consuming and often rather luck/diversity based R&D phase and 7 times more people to do the work.

    Cities are extraordinarily resource efficient on a per capita basis for any given level of GDP. To support a nuclear plant you need to have a fairly large gathering of fairly wealthy people; if you have a million agrarian poor scattered over a million square kilometers you cannot make any good use of a nuclear plant. Instead you will end up with a bunch of “decentralized micropower”(in Amory Lovins’ parlance), mostly biomass heating and cooking(with the associated robbing of net primary production from nature and food uses, deforestation and massive death toll from particulate pollution) and oil and diesel generators for electricity.

    We’re not going to evacuate most countries, so having a large number of people is probably required in order to get most of them into cities.

    Having fewer people doesn’t proportionately decrease pollution, environmental degradation or resource consumption. With less people, there’s less incentive to not pollute and use resources efficiently.

    With 500 million people, well, hey why not use leaded gas and no catalytic converter in a car that gets 15 MPG? The atmosphere is big, right? The incentive to do something comes from the realisation that it is a somewhat urgent problem. Nature doesn’t care if you burn all the coal in 200 years or 500 years.

  85. I don’t buy the notion that for every baby that is born, someone must quickly die in order to avoid an “undesirable” increase in population. Nor do I believe that we can calculate the maximum acceptable future population, since we only have today’s technology.

    The solar system is filled with an almost inexhaustible supply of mineral resources. The asteroid belt alone has a whole planet’s worth, already chopped up into low-gravity pieces. But only an energy rich society can have access to these resources.

    It’s easy to say water is (or will be) a problem. But that is only because we use a very water-intensive process to produce food. Food is just a special form of chemical fuel. We can certainly make food for livestock (and impoverished people) from nuclear produced hydrogen via a chemical or biological process.

    If we live (and harvest energy) sustainably, then large increases in human population are much less of a threat to the survival of humanity than the low birth rates from which many western countries suffer. If we are not careful, we could breed ourselves to extinction.

  86. India and China account for 2/3rds of Asian coal reserves, neither can meet their domestic needs without imports.

    This suggests Australia could have more influence on global CO2 by putting the squeeze on coal imports by those countries, as opposed to a lightweight carbon tax at home. Sure China and India could source coal elsewhere but with more difficulty. Despite the Australian government’s climate change talk new coal mines, rail tracks and loading ports are in a construction rush; example Wiggins Island.

    In my opinion coal exports need to be carbon taxed 2012-2015 then capped thereafter consistent with the govt’s stated principles. By 2015 Australia’s emissions are supposed to be around 530 Mt CO2e (halfway between 580 and 480), a cut from now of 50 Mt but one estimate is that CO2 from exported coal will be over 700 Mt. Cut coal exports 10% and we’ll reduce global CO2 by more.

    I think the signs are on the wall that coal is going to get expensive; for example Japan now paying $125/t for thermal coal. The make-or-break period could be around 2015-2035. With or without an enforced coal slowdown or recession I doubt we will be getting 40% of our electricity from it by 2050; it will be too expensive.

  87. @ Jim Holm:
    Correct.
    Worrying about increasing population is entirely futile. The determinants of population growth are primarily development, prosperity, high energy availability and reliability and security. Societies which have all four tend strongly to decrease their birth rates to or below the replacement rate and societies which lack even one of the four tend to breed above the replacement rate.

    Message: Work towards stable, prosperous, safe and energy-rich (ie not energy constrained) outcomes and the population issue solves itself.

    The precursors thus include education, food, health, energy. Advocating small families, in the absense of strong progress towards the social conditions which result in stable or slowly decreasing populations, is bound to fail.

    Sorry, Moderator, if this is trending off topic, but my primary reason for posting this is to rebut any notion that energy philosophy is somehow disconnected from the secondary, consequential, yet very desirable outcome, of population growth restraint. India, Africa, China and South America will continue to add to the world’s stock of people until they no longer are subject to the social circumstances which promote large families. Without massively improved energy supplies in these nations, fertility will remain at current levels.

    The source, quantity, security and reliability of that energy is essential to the subject of this thread “What is your energy philosophy?”. To consider population reduction as the answer is to misunderstand the question.
    MODERATOR
    I am moderating this thread rather as a philosophical open thread so I judge you are not off topicwith this comment.

  88. @ John Newlands:
    Taxing or curtailing Australia’s coal exports? Not so easy.
    Think: World Trade Agreement. Retaliation e a huge negative.

    Think Constitution. If the Federal Government takes property off somebody, it has to pay for it. Taking the coal export rights off miners would start a bigger fight than the battle regarding immigration that the government just spectacularly lost.

    If only it was as simple as just turning off one of the many possible coal taps, of which Australia is but one.

  89. JB point taken but coal exports are growing not static so Big Coal is having quiet laugh at the low carbon movement. It’s like the vacuum cleaner salesman with one foot in the door who is intimidating the housewife into buying. In this case Big Coal is putting it over our federal government.

    Upthread harrywr2 points out Indonesia is having a rethink about selling thermal coal too cheaply. I believe India’s steel industry would have to rely on South Africa if there was less coking coal coming out of Australia, but our export facilities are the biggest and getting bigger.

    I propose a solution to the question of compensation; ask India, China and others if they would mind paying carbon tax on our coal as part of the climate change effort. Note they can get the tax back for green programs. It won’t look good for them if they decline. We could then justify protecting our steel industry.

  90. Peter Morgan, thanks for your comment, I appreciate hearing about your journey. In answer to your question:

    are there any statistics on health effects on those who lived in nuclear submarines for example? They must have been as close to nuclear reactors as anyone.

    Yes, there are some famous studies. For instance:

    Nuclear shipyard worker study (1980–1988): a large cohort exposed to low-dose-rate gamma radiation, International Journal of Low Radiation,1: 463 – 478 (2005)
    Abstract:
    This paper is a summary of the 1991 Final Report of the Nuclear Shipyard Worker Study (NSWS), a very comprehensive study of occupational radiation exposure in the US. The NSWS compared three cohorts: a high-dose cohort of 27,872 nuclear workers, a low dose cohort of 10,348 workers, and a control cohort of 32,510 unexposed shipyard workers. The cohorts were matched by ages and job categories. Although the NSWS was designed to search for adverse effects of occupational low dose-rate gamma radiation, few risks were found. The high-dose workers demonstrated significantly lower circulatory, respiratory, and all-cause mortality than did unexposed workers. Mortality from all cancers combined was also lower in the exposed cohort. The NSWS results are compared to a study of British radiologists. We recommend extension of NSWS data from 1981 to 2001 to get a more complete picture of the health effects of 60Co radiation to the high-dose cohort compared to the controls.

  91. My energy philosophy is informed by my understanding of what energy means to the process of life. The directed transformation of energy into useful work is very nearly a definition of the activity of life. More energy means more life. Less energy means less life. This is true for biological organisms ranging in complexity from the simplest virus or bacteria up to the most powerful biological entity so far known on Earth, the modern human nation-state. Historians have rightly used figures on the consumption of modern energy sources as a measure of the vigour and capability of states through history, just as paleontologists debate the metabolic status of ancient animals to deduce their energy consumption, and thereby their behaviour, and their place in the story of the development of life.

    The extinction of the dinosaurs holds many lessons for our species, and one of the most crucial deals with energy and its relation to life. In order to appreciate that lesson we need to know how the dinosaurs used energy; whether they were cold blooded like reptiles, or had a more advanced metabolism like modern warm-blooded birds. If the dinosaurs were cold blooded, like lizards or crocodiles, then their extinction and replacement by the mammals is the story of the evolutionary triumph of animals with more advanced energy utilisation over those with less capable equipment. Warm-blooded animals can maintain body temperature at the optimum for energy utilisation and power output at all times, making them more capable than cold-blooded animals, all else being equal. It’s no suprise that warm-bloods dominate over cold-bloods, so perhaps the rise of the mammals following the age of dinosaurs is the point when this evolutionary coup was carried out.

    On the other hand if, as many paleontologists suspect, the dinosaurs were themselves warm-blooded and their extinction resulted from one or more cataclysmic events striking the biosphere, an entirely different and perhaps more pertinent lesson might be drawn. There is evidence that high metabolism was developed by the proto-mammalian reptiles which followed the Coal Age and eclipsed low-metabolism ancient reptiles such as Dimetrodon. The protomammals show signs of warm-bloodedness, and the dinosaurs which rose to displace them in all main ecological niches show even more signs of warm-bloodedness. The balance of evidence at the moment seems to be that the extinction of the dinosaurs was a result of a catastrophic asteroid or comet impact. This makes more sense if the dinosaurs were warm-blooded, becuase a global catastrophic event which disrupted the biosphere would hit large high-powered warm-bloods much harder than cold-bloods or small warm-bloods. A small warm-blooded animal might be lucky enough to get by scavenging the meager food available after the disaster, and cold-bloods can survive for long periods between meals, but a large warm-blooded animal needs a constant high-power food supply, or it must starve. A constant food supply needs a steady environment with not too many exceptional events disrupting the established flow of things. While crocodiles can survive on intemittent power sources, lions cannot, and apparently velociraptors couldn’t either.

    So perhaps the lesson we most need to draw from this incident is that complex, advanced entities specialised for a high-power survival strategy cannot afford prolonged periods of energy starvation. To be forced to go without power for prolonged periods will reduce the level of complexity our society can reach, thereby impoverishing us and threatening our survival. The more advanced industrial and communications functions will be truncated by energy shortages until we can no longer rely on those services, and the population must suffer the consequences. It is far, far better to have a large, reliable power source which can be easily scaled up as needed and which can enable options lesser power systems cannot.

  92. Barry Brook, “The fact is, ‘we must focus on population’ is, in and of itself, a banal truism with no actionable merit to recommend it. Of course we must, but that is a slow and inexorable process carrying with it a huge burden of demographic momentum that can only be hastened by death and misery on a massive scale. To try and argue that population reduction should be the primary focus of our efforts over the coming decades is at best an ill-thought-out motherhood statement and at worse a catastrophically certain pathway to failure, if climate change mitigation is your goal.”

    Population is not actionable? Surely you are aware of family planning clinics and how when they are brought to a community and women are educated, taught birth control and receive medical support women choose to have less children. It seems to me the main thing holding things up are religious and cultural attitudes and that could be said about attitudes toward slavery at one time which had a much bigger economic motive to boot.

    I see a world far more ready to take on the relatively small investment and relatively high benefit of addressing population than the relatively high investment and relatively modest benefit of nuclear which in addition has major PR problems thrown in for obvious reasons.

    I’m not in principle against nuclear power and have argued with one trick pony antinuke fanatics who don’t get that fossil fuel power is much worse, but that is a lot of money to steam water. I read a university study on Joe Romm’s site Climate Progress that estimated it would cost 6 to 8 trillion dollars to build and refurbish 1000 nuclear plants over a period of now to 2050. I think they were contemplating pretty powerful advanced reactors. That would according to the study substitute for something like 10% of the coal fired plants that would otherwise be built. That’s a solution?

    I’ll take my chances with putting that money into family planning clinics and other approaches that encourage a lower birth rate and less destructive environmental practices and of course less carbon based energy use.

    As for folks who keep pushing the meme that higher living standards lead to a lower birthrate I’d like them to consider the reverse logic. Lowering the population for a given resource area raises the living standards for those left. That would seem to be a far more sustainable approach than having material goods chasing a growing population.

  93. Lowering the population for a given resource area raises the living standards for those left. That would seem to be a far more sustainable approach than having material goods chasing a growing population.

    Thats certainly true. This was the strategy pursued in the Rwandan genocide. I suppose its sustainable, but its an approach I’d like to avoid.

  94. Barry Brook and Peter Morgan:

    I think that any studies of the health effects of radiation exposure of US Navy submariners (who would be the ones that live near naval reactors) would be classified and therefore not available to the public. I used to work for the company that designed the reactors for the US Navy. While I don’t have any direct knowledge of their exposures, it was usually believed by our organization that the typical sailor’s exposure while on the sub would be lower than if he spent the same time at the shore, since his exposure to cosmic rays is less, due to being shielded by the water around him.

  95. David M, on 6 September 2011 at 12:04 PM — My (amateur) study sees a strong desire for a ‘good’ life [which doesn't imply having lots of money per se]. One aspect is certainly educating children, with girls’ education being the stronger need. But schools need light and homes need some light, not a lot, for studying if nothing else. So there is a strong desire for electricity.

    One way to provide reliable, on-demand, electric power is by nuclear power plants (NPPs). My study of current costs strongly suggest that (in 2010 dollars), one can readily build at the cost of less than US$4 billion per gigawatt (GW) nameplate capacity. Indeed, a consortium of South Korean companies is building right now in the United Arab Emerates for US$3.8 billion/GW.

    But round up to the US$4 billion/GW figure. Then providing 1000 GW requires around US$4 trillion, which from your comment should be spread over 40 years; a mere US$100 billion/year. To put that figure in perspective, a recent Mother Jones article adds up the US expenditures related to the military and finds US$1200 billion/year. So a mere 8% of that suffices for your NPP plan.

    For my own part, I’d consider something more like US$600 billion/year for some years to come, figuring that NPPs are vastly more worthwhile that such a bloated military budget.

  96. Jim Holm: “I link nuclear and population here on my web site:

    http://www.coal2nuclear.com/electricity_prosperity_population.htm

    Yeah, the higher the GDP the lower the number of children per woman. How does that work out in terms of carbon footprint and how many immigrants come in to service their richer clients? I understand born in America citizens give birth below replacement but with immigration, legal and illegal, and their children we are well above replacement, adding 3 million a year. That’s a lot of folks pushed into the higher energy use stream. Add to that a lot of the growing energy use in poor countries is employed to satisfy the consumer appetites of folks in rich countries.

    I’d say that kind of compromises your GDP/Pop. graph a bit don’t you think? A little more simplicity in life style along with less energy use by the richer folks would seem to be in order. That’s a model to the world they could feel good about, instead of promoting mass consumption with high energy use.

  97. @ David M:

    A little more simplicity in life style along with less energy use by the richer folks would seem to be in order. That’s a model to the world they could feel good about, instead of promoting mass consumption with high energy use.

    Tinkering with marginal issues such as the frugality or otherwise of domestic and commercial electric power consumption is a dangerous distraction from the real issues we need to confront in order to provide the great increases in energy generation needed in the next few decades to provide continued supplies of water, fertiliser, fuel and construction material, not to mention power for geoengineering, should that prove necessary.

  98. David M, you never answered my basic questions. Let’s look at one extreme example.

    This year, about 50 million people will die: http://www.worldometers.info/

    The world population is about 7 billion. So, if everyone on the planet stopped reproducing, now and forever, how long would it take for the human population to drop below, say, 1 billion?

    50 million out of 7 billion is a mortality rate of 0.71% per year. Since everyone in this scenario would henceforth be aging, let’s say that the average mortality increases thereafter at a relative rate of 5% per year. So, in the year 2020 the mortality rate is 1.1%, by 2040 it is 2.9% and by 2060 it is 7.8% per year (i.e. 10 times higher than our 2011 rate). Under such (simplified) demographic assumptions, when would we cross the 1 billion mark? About 2065.

    So, with the extreme measure of complete sterilization of the human population worldwide, the global population would still not reach anything even approaching a ‘low-tech sustainable’ number (e.g. low-energy-use agrarian society) within the next 50 years.

    Did you ever do these sort of numbers to justify what you were saying?

    Sorry, it’s a technological solution, or we’re stuffed. Demographic transitions will just take too long, unless global warfare and genocide are the modus operandi. As I said, the only way to hasten population decline is through mass deaths. I might do a post on this soon, where I work through this non-solution in a bit more detail.

  99. “Lowering the population for a given resource area raises the living standards for those left. That would seem to be a far more sustainable approach than having material goods chasing a growing population.”

    John Morgan. “Thats certainly true. This was the strategy pursued in the Rwandan genocide. I suppose its sustainable, but its an approach I’d like to avoid.”

    I bet you win a lot of arguments with that approach. Try Japan unless you are addicted to the idea that human beings are only capable of responding to population overload with genocide.

  100. @ David M:

    “A little more simplicity in life style along with less energy use by the richer folks would seem to be in order. That’s a model to the world they could feel good about, instead of promoting mass consumption with high energy use.”

    Finrod: “Tinkering with marginal issues such as the frugality or otherwise of domestic and commercial electric power consumption is a dangerous distraction from the real issues we need to confront”

    Getting folks to cut down their energy use by a half and even more is a dangerous distraction? Efficient use of energy is a distraction? I guess folks like Amory Lovins have just been wasting their time.

    Finrod: “in order to provide the great increases in energy generation needed in the next few decades to provide continued supplies of water, fertiliser, fuel and construction material, not to mention power for geoengineering, should that prove necessary.”

    So it’s all about more.

  101. That’s right, David M. All this nonsense about energy efficiency and Lovinsesque ‘negawatts’ ignores the rather stark reality that the areas where the efficiencies are being proposed are not our major sources of CO2, and that the underdeveloped world’s peoples’ basic energy needs as their countries develop will expand greatly, even if they don’t reach current western standards of consumption. We need to plan for the extra infrastructure unless it’s our intent to let several billion people starve.

  102. I hope I am not deluding myself in thinking that mass deaths on the scale of hundreds of millions will not be caused by the hand of man. Not directly, anyway.

    Both history and the fossil record are punctuated by disasters. Climate change is certain to bring us disasters with increasing frequency. The scale of human loss in each catastrophe can indeed be far greater than it has ever been before, if only because far greater numbers of humans are here than ever before.

    We don’t need to know the details of the nasty surprises ahead of us. Certainly in terms of diseases, every one which is anticipated will certainly get defences raised against it. The plagues of the future will probably be surprises.

    If we are to bequeath a world that is robust to our absence, we should be thinking of installing systems, particularly autonomous systems, that require little skilled maintenance. Here again, a world of mass produced, autonomous, small nukes makes the best promise of survival of an energy-using civilisation, declining only in numbers.

  103. David M, if you want to lower the population rate faster than natural mortality allows, then you are indeed talking degrees of unpleasantness that I don’t want to encounter.

    The Rwandan genocide was precisely an attempt to raise the living standards of a given resource area by lowering the population, as you put it.

    Try Japan unless you are addicted to the idea that human beings are only capable of responding to population overload with genocide.

    I’m addicted to the idea that populations are determined by an arithmetic of births and deaths, and no human ingenuity can alter that. If you want to reduce the population faster than Barry’s example of total sterilization, then the only way that happens is an increase in the rate of deaths. If you just want to match Barry’s example but without global sterilization, then you need to increase the rate of deaths.

    I’m afraid I don’t know what point you are making about Japan.

  104. “David M, you never answered my basic questions.”

    Sorry, I took them as being rhetorical. My general point was lowering population was a sine qua non for any solution to work. I’m trying to establish certain premises and then discuss the specifics. I certainly have no precision solutions.

    BB.

    “Let’s look at one extreme example.

    This year, about 50 million people will die: http://www.worldometers.info/

    The world population is about 7 billion. So, if everyone on the planet stopped reproducing, now and forever, how long would it take for the human population to drop below, say, 1 billion?

    50 million out of 7 billion is a mortality rate of 0.71% per year. Since everyone in this scenario would henceforth be aging, let’s say that the average mortality increases thereafter at a relative rate of 5% per year. So, in the year 2020 the mortality rate is 1.1%, by 2040 it is 2.9% and by 2060 it is 7.8% per year (i.e. 10 times higher than our 2011 rate). Under such (simplified) demographic assumptions, when would we cross the 1 billion mark? About 2065.

    So, with the extreme measure of complete sterilization of the human population worldwide, the global population would still not reach anything even approaching a ‘low-tech sustainable’ number (e.g. low-energy-use agrarian society) within the next 50 years.

    Did you ever do these sort of numbers to justify what you were saying?”

    Nope but your numbers are interesting. How about trying it for one child per couple average and perhaps we have something to work with. You give it roughly 55 years to get down to a billion. Since I don’t know the math I will for discussions sake double that and make it 2020 when we pass the billion mark. I realize for an initial period there will be a bump up.

    I’m going to throw in a few social changes that I think will provide some additional downside. More emphasis on natural death and a generally more clinical level of healthcare but widespread. A more permissive attitude toward suicide. An acceptance of less infrastructure and a society that is less risk averse. So we would probably have a somewhat lower life expectancy. Since I expect some biosphere breakdown this is just being realistic. Folks can add on their own, just keep it reasonably civilized.

    Once we establish we are moving in the right direction population wise my feeling is there will be an enormous relief and release of positive energy. People will wake up every morning with the knowledge that they are sharing a planet with less people and Mother Earth is being given a break and can now fulfill her more nurturing function. Compare that with the 200,000 new folks a day we experience now and the feeling of suffocating that entails with food riots and mass starvation daily. It will be a different and better world I believe and we will able to move ahead to an even better future with hope and in my view toward more self-sustaining communities, a modern version of our ancestral way of life.

    Sorry, it’s a technological solution, or we’re stuffed.

    One thing I’ve noticed in these commentaries is nearly everything is seen in strictly technological terms and oddly that takes folks to a strange unreality. You have responded to none of my points for instance.

    With the costs how can you even come close to supplying a world of our size and growth with even a significant fraction of the energy they need at the cost that would be involved?

    How do you make the compelling case for spending billions on nukes with all the various other demands on private and public capital?

    How do you deal with the inherent negative public image of nuclear power with meltdowns and Hiroshima looming in the background and earthquakes and floods wrecking havoc? What other technology other than nuclear is put in peril by an extended power blackout.

    Your little demographic journey is far easier to address than the kind of challenges your “Nukes will save us” belief will require.

    PS. First off Barry I appreciate the opportunity to comment here and I hope you are not offended by anything I said. I’m just trying to offer my personal perspective, not beat anybody down.

    Second how does one do that yellow quote thing?
    MODERATOR
    You can get information on formatting your comments on the BNC About page under the heading Notes from the drop-down list

  105. David M said:

    More emphasis on natural death and a generally more clinical level of healthcare but widespread. A more permissive attitude toward suicide. An acceptance of less infrastructure and a society that is less risk averse. So we would probably have a somewhat lower life expectancy. Since I expect some biosphere breakdown this is just being realistic.

    So here we have it. Population reduction will be enforced by a ‘passive’ genocide policy involving the witholding of medical care and the degradation of agriculture until the masses are reduced to a starvation diet.

  106. JM: “I’m afraid I don’t know what point you are making about Japan.”

    They have a dropping population and they have managed it without genocide, need I say.
    (Deleted personal opinion on another’s motives/rationale, as per BNC Comments Policy)

  107. @ David M:

    They have a dropping population and they have managed it without genocide, need I say.

    Most of the industrialised world has achived the same thing. Such population increases as still occur are due to immigration (which by introducing more people to a high energy economy also cuts the immigrants’ demographic impact).

    With clean nuclear power to tun our civilisation, there’s simply no need for your ghastly Revolution of Lowered Expectations.

  108. “David M said:

    More emphasis on natural death and a generally more clinical level of healthcare but widespread. A more permissive attitude toward suicide. An acceptance of less infrastructure and a society that is less risk averse. So we would probably have a somewhat lower life expectancy. Since I expect some biosphere breakdown this is just being realistic.”

    finrod: “So here we have it. Population reduction will be enforced by a ‘passive’ genocide policy involving the witholding of medical care and the degradation of agriculture until the masses are reduced to a starvation diet.”

    Wow, folks are really moving into the fantasy zone. (deleted personal opinion)
    Genocide is an act of commission. Everything I recommend simply recognizes harder times are coming and we need to be realistic about what we as a society can do and at the same time expand the personal options.
    (deleted personal comment)

  109. Finrod: “With clean nuclear power to tun our civilisation, there’s simply no need for your ghastly Revolution of Lowered Expectations.”

    This is the kind of incredible unreality that I am seeing with this tech religion. I hope you are picking up on this Barry.

    Nukes are going to save us all.
    (deleted personal comment)
    MODERATOR
    As per BNC Comments Policy, please keep the discussion civil and attack the argument not the person making it.

  110. Genocide is an act of commission. Everything I recommend simply recognizes harder times are coming and we need to be realistic about what we as a society can do and at the same time expand the personal options.

    There’s hard times coming, all right. People are certainly going to die early and poorly over the next few decades who might otherwise have lived reasonable lives because of the choices our society is making right now, and has already made over the past four decades with energy policy. Some of us are working to ameliorate this building catastrophe. Others are committed to making it worse than it needs to be. (deleted personal opinion on others’s actions/motives)

  111. David M, I presume you mean 2120? However, this date is a long way from reality. To properly answer your question of what the numbers would be if the birth rate declined from current level of 2.5 per woman to 1, I would need to run an age-structured demographic model – which I may do for the BNC post. But for a brief back-of-the-envelope, let’s consider this:

    Let’s say fertility rate (globally) drops from its present value of 0.0171 to 0.00684 (the equivalent of 1 child per woman) by 2030. In this case, there would be a constant supply of younger people, so the mortality increase I projected above would not be so steep – perhaps no more than a doubling over the next century as the demographics gradually skewed more and more towards the older generation (e.g. a new equilibrium might be reached in 2080 at 0.0141). Under this assumption, the 1 billion mark would be crossed in the year 2328.

    Clearly, there is a big difference between total sterilization and reduction in fertility to 1 child per woman. These things are inevitably not linear.

    I think you would agree that even if we could heroically convince to world to follow the 1 child per couple policy within the next 20 years, waiting around until the 24th century for population to return to moderately sustainable levels is not tenable.

    For quoting and other formatting, see here: http://bravenewclimate.com/about/bnc-formatting-guidelines/ I’ve fixed your other post.

  112. Finrod, tone it down please, and try to rephrase in a more Socratic way.

    Is it not permitted now to point out the consequences of people’s stated positions? Why was the content of my comment deleted? David should not be shielded from knowledge of the consequences of what he is advocating.

  113. Having only just come on to the blog this afternoon I am playing catch up with these comments and Barry is beating me to some of them, as with the last one. Please calm down and follow the basic rule of courtesy on BNC – attack the argument not the person making it.

  114. Ten hours and 30 comments back, I discussed population in the light of food, education, security, energy and more.

    It seems to me that this discussion is polarising, with the few emerging as being in favour of everything short of genocide in order to preserve their little bit of the planet.

    I simply cannot buy suicide as a rational response to population stress.

    What I can contemplate includes the combined futures of the 70 or so very bright young Year 11 High School students who attended a Governor’s Reception yesterday; students with well above maths and science and personality scores, who are representative of those who my generation will hand the world to.

    I cannot contemplate advising these smart, bright, young potential scientists, medico, engineers and so forth that, because this world is full, they must contemplate suicide/euthenasia, in the interests of those who remain.

    I do hope that they develop skills and knowledge and social expectations which enable the very large human population of this world to at least not make the population problem any worse than it must be.

    I expect them to work towards those sub-goals that I have listed, to improve their societies, not to tear at their foundations. I cannot conceive of them choosing a brutal world of agrarian or sub-agrarian existence, insecurity, resource wars, climate collapse and then ending their shortened lives by their own hands.

    Please, David M, tell me that you don’t really mean what you have written.

  115. @ David M

    With the costs how can you even come close to supplying a world of our size and growth with even a significant fraction of the energy they need at the cost that would be involved?

    How do you make the compelling case for spending billions on nukes with all the various other demands on private and public capital?

    Here is a good article on costs:

    “The cost of ending global warming – a calculation”

    I don’t think anyone in their right mind would claim this is an easy feat – but it makes a hell of a lot more sense than trying to reduce population to solve the climate, biodiversity et al. crises, as this feat would be nigh on impossible to achieve.

    On a pragmatic note – wouldn’t it be better to advocate a position of population stabilisation by mid-century – at, say, 9 billion people – which puts much less of a burden on the world to implement technological solutions to many of our problems? E.g. providing 9 billion people with fresh water, food, sanitation and energy, without completely ruining the planet, would be much easier than providing that for 12 billion. Just a thought…

  116. “Barry Brook, on 6 September 2011 at 4:52 PM said:

    David M, I presume you mean 2120? However, this date is a long way from reality. To properly answer your question of what the numbers would be if the birth rate declined from current level of 2.5 per woman to 1, I would need to run an age-structured demographic model – which I may do for the BNC post. But for a brief back-of-the-envelope, let’s consider this:

    Let’s say fertility rate (globally) drops from its present value of 0.0171 to 0.00684 (the equivalent of 1 child per woman) by 2030. In this case, there would be a constant supply of younger people, so the mortality increase I projected above would not be so steep – perhaps no more than a doubling over the next century as the demographics gradually skewed more and more towards the older generation (e.g. a new equilibrium might be reached in 2080 at 0.0141). Under this assumption, the 1 billion mark would be crossed in the year 2328.

    Clearly, there is a big difference between total sterilization and reduction in fertility to 1 child per woman. These things are inevitably not linear.

    I think you would agree that even if we could heroically convince to world to follow the 1 child per couple policy within the next 20 years, waiting around until the 24th century for population to return to moderately sustainable levels is not tenable.”

    Yes I would agree and I must say I’m a little shocked, but you’re the math guy. Oh yeah, thanks for doing the homework.

    So where does that leave us? I’d say in a Mexican standoff. You have given me some impossible demographics and I think I have made the case that there really is no nuke solution. I haven’t noticed you or anybody else countering my challenges.

    From my standoff because I think population is central to the problem and solution and I find nukes simply a palliative then that leaves 2 possibilities.
    1. Nature will have her way which finally likely will be terminal.

    2. Society will set rules that are as draconian as necessary to move us in a positive direction. I will start taking suggestions from the most nonviolent person on the forum.

  117. Tom Keen, on 6 September 2011 at 6:22 PM said:

    @ David M

    “With the costs how can you even come close to supplying a world of our size and growth with even a significant fraction of the energy they need at the cost that would be involved?

    How do you make the compelling case for spending billions on nukes with all the various other demands on private and public capital?”

    Here is a good article on costs:

    “The cost of ending global warming – a calculation”

    I don’t think anyone in their right mind would claim this is an easy feat – but it makes a hell of a lot more sense than trying to reduce population to solve the climate, biodiversity et al. crises, as this feat would be nigh on impossible to achieve.

    On a pragmatic note – wouldn’t it be better to advocate a position of population stabilisation by mid-century – at, say, 9 billion people – which puts much less of a burden on the world to implement technological solutions to many of our problems? E.g. providing 9 billion people with fresh water, food, sanitation and energy, without completely ruining the planet, would be much easier than providing that for 12 billion. Just a thought…

    I looked at the linked article Tom. The guy certainly seems to have the background. I guess I’d like to see a really critical analysis from some outsiders who aren’t so sold on the nuke solution. 2 to 5% GDP to take care of all of our energy needs seems pretty low from stuff I’ve read. Of course what we are talking about is nuclear power for the entire world and this is just the US. Something tells me when the rubber hits the road this analysis is going to have a lot of flaws in it. It is just too mathematically varnished and devoid of nuclear powers complicated troubled history. A standard reality of nuclear power plants is they almost always come in way over budget. I didn’t see any reference to how many nuclear power plants would be built. Did you catch a number?

    You can advocate stabilization at whatever level you want but how do you know folks are going to go along with it? There seems to be a very relaxed attitude about high numbers and carrying capacity over decades but what I’m reading just doesn’t support the idea we have that kind of time. We already are way into overshoot with many resources and global warming is coming at us like a tank, telling us a nice tipping point is showing up around the next corner. 7 billion folks is way too high as far as I can see and I just don’t contemplate we’re ever going to handle much higher without severe consequences.

    Hope I’m wrong and the nuke guy knows what he’s talking about. In the mean time a total of 200,000 new folks are showing up each day. For me that just kicks the tar out of every techno solution around.

  118. I’ve posted, above, from an optimistic point of view.

    Those with a pessimistic outlook might choose to consider the following: http://www.europeanenergyreview.eu/site/pagina.php?id=3189

    The good Professor sees a Thirty Years’ War over energy, prompted by the collapse of liquid fuel resources, major corporations (BP, Exxon-Mobil, etc) and climate degradation. The issues he identifies are climate and energy, not population per se.

    However, population will certainly be involved and affected.

    There are firm grounds for considering this unpalatable scenario. Don’t expect me to argue its merits.

  119. @ David M

    I didn’t see any reference to how many nuclear power plants would be built. Did you catch a number?

    For the 5 % of GDP scenario he states the US would need 7.7 kW per person, for a population of 306 million (the 2008 population). 7.7*306 000 000 = 2 356 200 000 kW = 2356.2 GW. So I guess you’d need about 2356 nuclear power plants based on the 2008 population, assuming 1 GW nuclear plants are the average size build.

    That sounds like a lot, but remember that it’s the third most populous nation on the planet, and this replaces all fossil fuels for electricity, transport and heating – a total decarbonisation, excepting forestry and agriculture. Obviously population will grow in the U.S. (how this will change the energy demand equation exactly, I’m not sure), but new energy infrastructure will obviously be built over a number of years, not overnight.

    Another good read on energy demand and potential reactor numbers and build rates is this one, by Professor Brook:

    “Can we build nuclear power plants fast enough to meet the 2060 target?”

  120. David M:

    You can advocate stabilization at whatever level you want but how do you know folks are going to go along with it?

    Surely just stabilizing population levels will be the first step, and much easier than forcing population to decline? If we cannot achieve stabilization, there is absolutely no hope for achieving declining population either. Let’s aim for a smooth decline and be happy if we can get stabilization at least.

    There seems to be a very relaxed attitude about high numbers and carrying capacity over decades but what I’m reading just doesn’t support the idea we have that kind of time. We already are way into overshoot with many resources and global warming is coming at us like a tank, telling us a nice tipping point is showing up around the next corner. 7 billion folks is way too high as far as I can see and I just don’t contemplate we’re ever going to handle much higher without severe consequences.

    It may well be that all possible solutions are too little too late, and we cannot stop or divert the mechanisms our cleverness and adaptability has unleashed. It may well be that much if not all of humanity is doomed to perish. It may well be that our achievements and intelligence will finally be our undoing, and that there is no way to stave off an impeding catastrophe.

    Yet I, for one, will make a stand nevertheless. I will try to find and promote solutions, even partial ones, undismayed by the fact that “solving” this “problem” in a normal sense of word is probably impossible.

    If nothing else, we have the means for making the fall not so crushing, the disaster not so complete, and the recovery not so uncertain. And, with luck, who knows? The future is not certain; maybe the disaster is avertable after all.

    I guess that’s my energy philosophy.

  121. DavidM, lets take a step back and review premises.

    I don’t think anyone here is denying population is a critical ecological problem.
    We do need to reduce population to a safe carrying limit.
    If we allow population to reduce organically, we’re looking at many generations to see substantial reductions (see Barry’s sums).
    A response to climate change requires a much more rapid turnaround in emissions.
    So we cannot address climate change by working on organic population reduction.
    We could await a Malthusian catastrophe, to rapidly reduce population. This is not a solution for humans or the environment. A human population tearing itself down from 7 billion to 1 billion will burn every forest, cut down every tree and eat every animal they can catch in the process.
    So population is not a lever that can be used to address climate change. Its not actionable, as Barry put it.
    What we can do is change the emissions intensity per capita, by substituting low emissions energy, like nuclear, for high emissions energy, like fossil fuels.
    This is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for addressing climate change. Just because it is an incomplete solution does not mean it is not necessary. We have to do this, urgently.

    We have to thread this camel through the needle’s eye. We need to avoid both climate change and Malthusian catastrophe over a long enough time to achieve meaningful organic population reduction. A massive rollout of nuclear is required to reduce the ecological impact of population, and create the conditions for its stabilization and reduction.

    By the way, the “outsiders who aren’t so sold on the nuke solution” is most of us, who started by conscientiously trying to find a solution to these problems, and wound up understanding by critical analysis that nuclear power is necessary.

    And like J. M. Korhonen, I am not interested in counsels of despair.

  122. David B. Benson, on 6 September 2011 at 12:37 PM said:

    But round up to the US$4 billion/GW figure. Then providing 1000 GW requires around US$4 trillion, which from your comment should be spread over 40 years; a mere US$100 billion/year.

    If we spread it over 40 years does it actually cost us anymore then what we would have had to pay for ‘normal replacement’ anyway?

    I.E In the US in the next 40 years we are going to have to build 1,000 GW of something. That something is going to have a construction cost and a recurring O&M cost.

    Should we not subtract out the cost of ‘building’ something from the cost of building an ‘environmentally friendly’ something?

    If we look at the aging of the US Electricity Generation fleet 73% of coal fired capacity is already 30 years old.

    http://205.254.135.24/energy_in_brief/age_of_elec_gen.cfm

  123. Pingback: Human capital, population growth and the resource-pyramid « SeekerBlog

  124. harrywr2, on 7 September 2011 at 12:07 AM — [I actually dislike all this economics and have to be brought to it kicking and screaming.]

    That off my chest, yes, thank you. One should work out all those nifty details. For my purpose of demonstrating how modest the sums are, the more crude approach I used is, I believe, adequate.

  125. Don’t assume that every 40 year old coal fired power station will simply shut down and disappear without a fight.

    I am very familiar with a four unit, 2000MW power station of that vintage. There are firm plans for it to continue for more to 2023 at least. Its retiring Manager said as he departed last week that he hopes that the old girl will keep generating for another 30 years.

    Be prepared to push the old as well as pull the new. Remember, what is needed is less carbon consumption. Merely adding non-carbon new plant could lock us all into continuation of the current unacceptable levels of CO2 generation for well over 30 years. Chinese and Indian generators being added to thier grids weekly might still be around in 2080 or even later.

    We need to consider much more than a business as usual replacement program for coal and for that matter, GT’s, a little further down the track.

    The oldest GT’s I am familiar with are about 35 years. They are still in service on a standby basis, as are most other OCGT’s, although they have been retrofitted with new control systems. The mechanicals are essentially as first made by GE in the early 1970’s.

    One reason I am in favour of carbon pricing is to drive the dinosaurs out.

  126. Tom Keen, on 6 September 2011 at 9:20 PM said:

    @ David M

    I didn’t see any reference to how many nuclear power plants would be built. Did you catch a number?

    For the 5 % of GDP scenario he states the US would need 7.7 kW per person, for a population of 306 million (the 2008 population). 7.7*306 000 000 = 2 356 200 000 kW = 2356.2 GW. So I guess you’d need about 2356 nuclear power plants based on the 2008 population, assuming 1 GW nuclear plants are the average size build.

    That sounds like a lot, but remember that it’s the third most populous nation on the planet, and this replaces all fossil fuels for electricity, transport and heating – a total decarbonisation, excepting forestry and agriculture. Obviously population will grow in the U.S. (how this will change the energy demand equation exactly, I’m not sure), but new energy infrastructure will obviously be built over a number of years, not overnight.

    2356 nuclear power plants in the US. Tom, can you really contemplate a figure like that? I have to add that fossil fuel based agriculture fertilizers and pesticides contributing ghgs would not be a minor exception.

    Another good read on energy demand and potential reactor numbers and build rates is this one, by Professor Brook:
    “Can we build nuclear power plants fast enough to meet the 2060 target?”

    From the Barry Brook linked piece – “The nuclear scenario I describe here requires around 10,000 GWe of nuclear capacity by 2060, to replace most of our current fossil fuel use.”

    So given costs that have been thrown around here that would be 40 to 80 trillion dollars to achieve most fossil fuel replacement by 2060. Good luck.

    It would also require a huge fossil fuel tax or out right ban on new fossil fuel extraction to make nuclear power a true substitute rather than simply an add on, cutting into fossil fuel only a little and paradoxically accelerating general energy growth, economic growth and population growth.

    Which gets to my point. When you are dealing with matters that involve critical life support you need a limit. That means a stop sign, a go to jail law, whatever it takes to say no further. I think fossil fuel use would meet that criteria as would population growth, or increasing use of fresh water, further soil erosion practices, more clear cutting forests etc. etc.

    All of them key off of population. Once you get a set of limits in place I think a whole panoply of technologies and practices can be meaningfully brought into play.Joe Romm’s wedge based idea would seem to be one place to start thinking about substitutes, including nuclear.

    PS. This is my first attempt at employing the hyper link so if it doesn’t work, sorry.

  127. David M, on 7 September 2011 at 9:00 AM — Again you cost estiamtes for future NPPs is too high and your understanding of the potentially available wealth appears overly limited.

    (1) US$4 billion/GW [2010 dollars; nameplate GW] is an upper bound on the construction costs for NPPs. Nonetheless, be conservative and assume no improvement.

    (2) GWP is around US$67,000 billion/year. Using Barry Brook’s figure of 10,000 GW in 50 years means, assuming even growth rate, constructing 200 GW of NPPs per year, requiring at most US$800 billion per year; about 1% of GWP per year. Certainly appears to be affordable if the will is there.

    (3) Other technologies will surely have some role to play, especially regarding transportation. That does not change the basic strategy of eliminating all forms of burning coal, petroleum and natgas.

  128. John Bennetts, on 7 September 2011 at 8:58 AM — Yes, how to drive out dinosaurs?

    (1) CalTech professor David Rutledge estimates that world minable coal reserves are vastly overestimated; he predicts “peak coal” in a few decades. Spot price trends for thermal coal seem to suggest he isn’t completely wrong. [Of course, that leaves to coal gasification problem.]

    (2) A FCOAD (Fossil Fuel Open Air Disposal) fee (carbon tax) resolves the issue for all of coal, petroleum and natgas; luck in establishing such world-wide.

  129. David M, on 7 September 2011 at 9:00 AM said:

    The nuclear scenario I describe here requires around 10,000 GWe of nuclear capacity by 2060, to replace most of our current fossil fuel use.So given costs that have been thrown around here that would be 40 to 80 trillion dollars to achieve most fossil fuel replacement by 2060.

    In 50 years almost none of out existing generating capacity will be functioning

    The levelized capital costs of a coal plant are about 70% of a nuclear plant.

    http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/aeo/pdf/2016levelized_costs_aeo2010.pdf

    So if I accept the estimates for nuclear we are going to be spending $28 trillion to $56 trillion anyway. So the difference between going ‘all coal’ or ‘all nuclear’ on the low end is $12 trillion over 50 years. $240 billion per year.

    Then there is the matter of substantial fuel cost savings.

    If I use a low estimate of an average global price for steam coal of $40/ton(most places are paying more then double that) and the world is currently consuming 6 billion tons then we are spending $240 billion on coal annually already.

    Where the most difficult financial burden take places is replacing fossil fired generating units prior to ‘end of useful life’. The question isn’t whether or not something ‘has’ to be built anyway. The question is whether we should stop using something that still works.(At least in the minds of many).

  130. David B. Benson, on 7 September 2011 at 9:35 AM said:

    David M, on 7 September 2011 at 9:00 AM — Again you cost estiamtes for future NPPs is too high and your understanding of the potentially available wealth appears overly limited.

    (1) US$4 billion/GW [2010 dollars; nameplate GW] is an upper bound on the construction costs for NPPs. Nonetheless, be conservative and assume no improvement.

    (2) GWP is around US$67,000 billion/year. Using Barry Brook’s figure of 10,000 GW in 50 years means, assuming even growth rate, constructing 200 GW of NPPs per year, requiring at most US$800 billion per year; about 1% of GWP per year. Certainly appears to be affordable if the will is there.

    Just to make it clear David I have no argument with you over present wealth. The future may be another question. As to power plant costs 4 to 8 billion a piece for a large plant is what I’ve seen bandied about.

    As for the world kicking in 800 billion dollars a year to go all out nuclear it is hard to see it with all the other competing interests, even if it is just 1% of GDP, particularly as I said when limits aren’t in place to see that nuclear power would seriously replace fossil fuel rather than simply be an add-on. I think Hansen’s fossil fuel tax with its public kickback feature would be a good start. Who knows, maybe something can be worked out.

    And just when are IFR’s expected to be operational? Isn’t that the nuclear Merlin, with its 99% nuclear waste eater characteristics that is going to save us all?

  131. harrywr2, quite right. In Prescription for the Planet, Tom Blees does a similar (detailed calculation) based on the estimated $26 trillion that will need to be spent by 2030 globally. He finds that going nuclear would be about $20 trillion (which sounds huge) but this is actually cheaper than the “null” fossil fuel option. People so often forget that ‘doing nothing’ actually means business-as-usual, which still implies lots of $$$ spent.

  132. @ John Bennetts. Thank you for your statement. With your permission, I’ve posted it as part of the text on the first page of my web site.

    With all this talk about new build nuclear, it’s obvious no one understands the what or why of my web site.

    So be it.

    Thank you all anyway.

  133. David M, on 7 September 2011 at 11:33 AM — Your ‘bandied about’ figures are just wrong; I previously wrote about one sample point and I can provide several others. To reiterate, construction costs are less than US$4/W.

    As harrywr2, on 7 September 2011 at 11:03 AM, just pointed out the ‘all coal’ alternative is no less expensive, even not included CO2 effects.

    On Open Thread 18 there is an exchange regarding fast reactors.

    But the bottom line is that about 1% of current income has to go to replenishing the electric power production facilities.

  134. @ Tom Keen >”US would need 7.7 kW per person, for a population of 306 million … = 2356.2 GW. So I guess you’d need about 2356 nuclear power plants” Presumably at 1 GWe.

    If you distinguish thermal power from electric power, the amount of NP needed is much less. For Australia at least, those 8 kW are all thermal energy. Very approximately, 3 kW are used to make 1 kW of electricity, then another 2 kW to make transport, then the other 2 kW domestic and industrial heating.

    If all of those demands were to be supplied by nuclear-generated electricity, the numbers would halve, and then with combined heat and power, reduce further. That would be a different world, with different users of power however.

    Of course, you could measure the NPPs in terms of their thermal output. However that does not scale with size. I imagine that 30 MWth heat from a 10 MWe reactor in Alaska or Mongolia would be distributed locally, whereas the 12 GWth from a 4 GWe NPP in a big-city energy park would just be wasted.

  135. Below altered to correct attribution error.

    harrywr2, on 7 September 2011 at 11:03 AM said:

    Barry Brook: “The nuclear scenario I describe here requires around 10,000 GWe of nuclear capacity by 2060, to replace most of our current fossil fuel use.”

    David M: “So given costs that have been thrown around here that would be 40 to 80 trillion dollars to achieve most fossil fuel replacement by 2060.”

    In 50 years almost none of out existing generating capacity will be functioning

    The levelized capital costs of a coal plant are about 70% of a nuclear plant.

    http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/aeo/pdf/2016levelized_costs_aeo2010.pdf

    So if I accept the estimates for nuclear we are going to be spending $28 trillion to $56 trillion anyway. So the difference between going ‘all coal’ or ‘all nuclear’ on the low end is $12 trillion over 50 years. $240 billion per year.

    Then there is the matter of substantial fuel cost savings.

    If I use a low estimate of an average global price for steam coal of $40/ton(most places are paying more then double that) and the world is currently consuming 6 billion tons then we are spending $240 billion on coal annually already.

    Where the most difficult financial burden take places is replacing fossil fired generating units prior to ‘end of useful life’. The question isn’t whether or not something ‘has’ to be built anyway. The question is whether we should stop using something that still works.(At least in the minds of many).

    Good points Harry. The sticker price of nuclear needs to be put in context with the alternative and as you indicate getting people to shut down fossil fuel power plants before the end of their useful life may be the biggest impediment.

  136. @ David B. Benson, on 7 September 2011 at 10:07 AM:

    Spot price trends for coal might be higher at present due to transport constraints. Newcastle, Australia, is just down the road from me. It is the world’s busiest exporter of coal. It seems that the main export ports are constrained either by rail to the port or by shiploading capacity, or both.

    They’re working flat out.

    I presume that at least part of the recent price rises reflect the scarcity not of coal, but of ports.

    I expect, therefore, that future steaming coal prices could well trend back down quite a bit.

    There must be an expert site out there which could elaborate on my musings, but please remember that I am no expert, only an observer, one with a bit of experience constructing rail facilities in this environment. Export coal has had, for a couple of decades at least in the Hunter Valley, priority over coal destined for domestic consumption. At times, it better resembles a race than a marketplace.

  137. I’m puzzled by the high price of thermal coal when crude oil is retreating WTI $87 Brent $113 Tapis $120 per barrel. If crude oil production peaked in 2006 (per IEA) and subsequent volume makeup has less net energy (biofuel, tar sands, condensates, refining gains) you would think we’d be closer to the $147 of mid 2008.

    Outside of South Africa there is no real coal-to-liquids industry so in general terms activity levels of making stuff and transporting stuff should be correlated. Thus you’d think oil and coal prices would move in tandem. Perhaps there is a Fukushima effect with Japan stockpiling coal for next winter.

    Put it this way if thermal coal goes over $200/t and crude oil over $200/b and stays there we don’t need no carbon tax to make us switch to cleaner energy.

  138. Coal pricing is not a Fukishima effect. Prices have been rising since somewhat before the tsunami.

    Here’s an article from 2004 blaming the Chinese for pushing the spot price of steaming coal up. Check out Figure 1.4, charting F.O.B. prices ex-Newcastle. http://eneken.ieej.or.jp/en/data/pdf/258.pdf

    Here’s a Newcastle Herald news item from 2009. Supposedly the Chinese again, but this time at twice the price.

    For really recent spot prices, look here: http://member.afraccess.com/media?id=CMN://6A553671&filename=20110818/WES_01208347.pdf Scroll down to P31 or thereabouts.

    Fukishima had little or nothing to do with this year’s changes in the spot prices of Australian steaming coal.

  139. @ harrywr2, on 7 September 2011 at 11:03 AM:

    You misunderstood the meaning of the figures in your excellent reference to levellised cost comparisons. The costs are not for capital, but for energy sent out.

    Regarding coal prices, see above. Goodness knows what the price of steaming coal will be in two years’ time – it has been on a roller coaster for the past 6 or seven years (see my last post).

    What steaming coal will cost in 20 or 40 years is anybody’s guess. If a few large consuming nations outlaw construction of new coal fired plant, the market could again collapse, as it did during the financial collapse of 2007+. Existing mines would bid themselves into the market at their marginal costs, rather than closing down.

    Economist-speak: The suppliers are likely to be inelastic. If demand drops, their prices drop off a cliff.

    Also, coal prices are quite possibly not related in any meaningful way to oil or gas prices. Each of these market segments has different suppliers, different market conditions and different elasticities of both supply and consumption. Ever tried to stockpile a million tonnes of coal? Easy. It is done every day. All it needs is a D11 and a paddock.

    Stockpiling a million tonnes of natural gas without a huge, waiting pressure vessel or a spare long, fat pipeline is somewhat more difficult. The spot price for gas may thus be far more volatile than that for coal, all other things remaining constant.

  140. The way I see it the Australian coal industry should be capped from 2015. That’s the year we ‘go international’ buying billions in foreign offsets and moving to an ETS. Presumably the domestic CO2 cap will be consistent with an international amount. That is Australia cuts CO2 by x% in 2016 because the world total must be cut by x% that year. To me that means both domestic coal consumption and export production must be capped from 2015 onwards.

    As I’ve said before any reduction (say 5%) in coal exports would do more than the domestic carbon tax with ~700 Mt (Pearse) and 580 Mt being the applicable recent CO2e totals, the latter including contributions from oil and gas not just coal. If the 2015 cap presumption is correct big coal firms like QR and BHP should not be building new rail tracks and loading terminals. Perhaps the coal industry knows it is safe since we are not serious about the alternatives. No doubt supportive governments will have explanations ready when the coal industry keeps growing not shrinking.

  141. JN:
    The Australian Government and the Opposition are united on at least one point, which is that they will only count as Australian C)2 emissions the CO2 which is emitted to from Australian territory.

    Partial justification for this stance is that by so doing, exported coal or even timber is not counted each time it is moved around, but only when it is converted to CO2.

    You have several times advocated taxing or limiting coal production at the source, but this will get nowhere unless within a consistent framework of regulation which avoids scams and double-counting.

    You do have friends within the Greens Party who advocate taxing at the mine gate. Perhaps there is something within their policies explaining the details.

    As things stand, however, real CO2 (the gas) is not counted, not potential CO2, which is still coal.

    I wonder: What stances have been adopted by the international community and the scientific community? AFAIK, CO2 is counted only as gaseous emissions to the atmosphere.

    Your suggestions have merit, but they will not gain traction unless they are aligned with international protocols.

  142. JB the problem seems to be all those countries who buy our coal and LNG seemed to have had a memory lapse on the way home from the climate conference. We could help them remember their fine words. The hypocrisy of our carbon exports (greater than Saudi Arabia someone said) is a ticking time bomb. When power prices go up next July some will point to all the coal ships leaving Newcastle to help make cheap electricity overseas. Same goes for our coking coal used in imported steel. The 1,000 sacked Pt Kembla steelworkers might feel rightly aggrieved though other cost factors apply.

    At this stage it really seems to be the EU and a handful of small countries committed to CO2 cuts, with some doubt as to whether EU is fiddling the books with dodgy offsets. It’s not clear if action by these few countries can be imposed on the rest of the world. We don’t have the most coal but we have lots of ports and political stability. We do have the most uranium and we’ll be second to Qatar as an LNG exporter. You’d think that gives us unique leverage.

    This could all be getting ahead of ourselves. Between now and 2015 I expect there will oil price shocks, extreme weather and a nuclear phaseout reversal by Germany and Japan. At home the announced 2 GW coal to gas switch will bomb due to regional lack of gas. If cash is short at home there will outrage at buying foreign offsets. Meanwhile we must keep pointing out the hypocrisy of increased carbon exports.

  143. I agree with your observations, John N, but not your analysis.

    Perhaps issues of climate change and resource depletion simply won’t be addressed until it is too late to avoid the 30-years war that I have been reading about.

    So, I wish you the best of luck, I but don’t share your optimism.

    Once energy really starts to run out, it is too late for long range planning.

    Whole nations will endure civil upheaval, food and transport shortages, corporations intent on defending their business models right or wrong, military intervention and worse.

    There is no hope than under these conditions, cool heads will prevail and decades-long terradollar projects will embarked upon for the good of the planet.

    Waiting till the collapse is waiting too long.

    Quite possibly, the greatest issue holding back effective action against climate change is the nuclear power industry’s own inglorious past and current smelly reputation. Extreme regulation and public risk aversion appear to have driven the industry’s managers, worldwide, to operate in an intellectually lazy business-as-usual manner in secret whilst maintaining a public facade of full compliance.

    Perhaps those who, like me, now see that nuclear power has a huge role to play really should turn a spotlight onto the organisations that have caused this loss of public confidence.

    More regulation won’t work, neither will another million risk assessments.

    Where is the nuclear power industry’s public face? Where are the good news messages about plant improvement, safety successes, efficiency, affordability, reliability and a strong future in partnership with the community?

    The shame of it all is exposed by the need for Barry’s BNC site and George Monbiot’s blog and similar to work to heal the wounds that the fission industry has inflicted on itself and is continuing to do as it attempts to hide from public view.

    Hopes that chaotic events like energy shortages (peak coal, peak oil, etc) will enhance long term outcomes are optimistic. Civil unrest, insecurity – even war, famine, energy shortages and the like do not result in long range enlightened decision-making.

    By then it will be too late.

    We will all have lost.

  144. The identification of uranium use as a carbon offset does present us with a marvellous debating point.

    If our greenies are vigilant, they will be able to discredit as fraud most offsets schemes that purport to create negative carbon dioxide. In that event, we can argue that emitters should be allowed to count any investments in uranium exploration.

    Similarly, any attempts to move the source of offsets overseas, away from local auditors, could be countered by inviting the emitters to invest in an overseas fuel-reprocessing facility.

  145. The notion of uranium offsetting carbon can be traced back to 2005 when proposed by Alexander Downer a Howard government minister

    http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2005/s1451510.htm

    I seem to recall the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team used nuclear offsets but green reporting has that all twisted

    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/04/baseball_stadiu.php

    I don’t like the idea that one person’s carbon avoidance can be sold or transferred to another. What if the first person was going low carbon anyway? What if NP is additional to coal, not instead of? Doesn’t it negate the carbon saving? When we see that heat haze from the Hazelwood chimney stacks we’re supposed to say ‘at least Aussie uranium is preventing coal use somewhere else’. Maybe not. I’d prefer if it was Hazelwood that was replaced by NP.

  146. John N:
    Whether NPP will replace or add to existing coal burners ultimately appears to depend on price. Price of new coal, price of retrofitting CCS (Don’t hold your breath for that at large scale), price of carbon emissions.

    As I have said before, the waste disposal fee per tonne for solid waste at my local rural NSW tip is $150. That waste is simply covered and forgotten, which makes it somewhat more benign than CO2. The bulk of the fee goes to the NSW government’s pocket.

    On that basis, what is wrong with a price for CO2 which ratchets up well beyond the proposed $23?

    If coal burners envisage a strong possibility that carbon tax will within 20 years be even half of $150 in real (ie, indexed) 2011 dollars, new nuclear looks even cheaper than life extensions on existing plant. To my mind, that is the best way to address the issue of closure of existing coal burners and even gas turbines.

    By the way, solid waste disposal at that same tip 20 years back cost exactly nothing for domestic users. Payment of quite substantial dumping fees, even without Labor’s proposed tax reductions, rebates for exports and industrial sweetners, has been achieved across NSW without blood on the streets. Why not for the whole country, in relation to CO2?

  147. Nothing wrong with carbon debits and putting a price on them. It’s lower priced carbon credits that are suspect. Direct action puts an implicit price on CO2 not an explicit price, as underscored by the Productivity Commission. Their studies included PV, wind and home insulation if I recall so they advocated carbon pricing. I’m not sure if the PC also approve the line of least cost adjustment using offsets or credits.

    I understand when when we go to an ETS in 2015 the CO2 floor price will be $15/t, a drop from ~$29 I think. If not repealed recession, collusive tendering, free permits and appeals for clemency could all reduce that. There’s no guarantee that the CO2 auction price will increase; look at oil, the price is going down but it’s running out. A high CO2 price could conceivably occur say in 2050 if NP was abundant but we needed to make jet fuel from coal. We’re not on that path however.

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