Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Never-Ending Energy Transitions

Some articles I've read.  The first I got to via the Earth's Energy blog, which had this quote of the day:'
Right now is probably the most everything-goes moment in energy choices that the world has ever known. We’re simultaneously splitting atoms, wood, and hydrocarbons. We’re tapping the heat of the planet and harnessing its wind and waves. We are harvesting sunshine, squeezing fuel out of corn and sugar cane, and fracturing shale. We’re pouring billions of dollars and the best minds in science into fusion projects around the world. We are making progress with energy efficiency. We’re all over the map.
– John Yemma, editor-at-large, The Christian Science Monitor in The never-ending energy transition
I enjoyed this from Mr. Yemma's article:
A friend who lives in the historical district of a historical town wants to put solar panels on her roof. To her, it’s a practical decision with a nice environmental benefit. Home Depot signed her up. The panels seem to blend in with the black shingles on the side of her house; her roof is high; neighboring houses are close. It’s hard to see how the installation would disrupt the street’s ambiance. In the mock-ups, it’s hard to see the panels at all. But the local historical commission has twice ruled that solar panels are not in keeping with the early-American character of the street.
I’m not here to argue her case or to criticize a citizens’ board that is trying to preserve a street’s historical legacy. The commissioners might be right. My friend might be right. What’s interesting to me is the selective cropping we do when it comes to energy and other modern conveniences. Overhead wires hang like bunting on her street. Cars snug up to the curbs. Mercury vapor lights loom overhead. A generous eye could see a kind of Ashcan School beauty in all of that overlapping infrastructure, but if you were looking for early America you would need to be extremely aggressive at cropping.
Infrastructure isn’t pretty...
While John Yemma's introduction to the Christian Science Monitor's edition is an entertaining short read, the cover story, Germany's aggressive push for a clean-energy future, is longer, but worthwhile, read - particularly for those interested in Germany's energiewende for the first time.
The article covers pros and cons - I'll quote one section on a topic that I don't think is covered enough (from page 4):
Low-income households spend a higher share of their income on electricity and often cannot afford the upfront costs of new, efficient appliances that protect others from high energy costs.
"They haven't the money, and they come here [and] say, 'I cannot pay,' and we try to help them," says Stark, who isn't opposed to the Energiewende but believes the cost falls too heavily on the poor.
It has gotten worse in the past three years, Stark says. People you might not expect to see asking for help – people with jobs and stable homes – are showing up at her door. Nearly 1 in 5 Germans was living in poverty in 2012, according to government data, and 16 percent of the population was at risk of falling into poverty, up from 15.2 percent in 2008.
And a troubling throw-away from the concluding section:
None of the Energiewende's challenges are intractable. Solutions exist, but they require a considerable investment of money, time, innovation, and political will.
That strikes me as speculative - as is the conclusion that whoever finds a path to a sustainable "renewables" future will benefit from it (the early adapters may be poorer for it).

James Hansen has written a couple of pieces while in China.

Sleepless in Ningbo:
...They were making a major effort to increase the portion from renewables, striving for a goal of 6% within a few more years. However, because of their rapid development, their power use had increased 8.8% in the past year and would be continuing to surge. Thus efficiency and renewables are not causing carbon emissions to decline – on the contrary, emissions are growing rapidly.
This situation was predictable. It is not difficult to understand. But it is exceedingly difficult to communicate. Foundations and major environmental organizations (“greens”) are pretty much on the same page, so don’t expect to get support if you question their position. Instead, expect to be attacked. These groups have scientists on their staffs, but they do not act like scientists... Instead, like climate-deniers, they cherry-pick data, concluding that we are on the verge of renewables providing all of our energy.
The Koch brothers could not purchase such powerful support for their enterprise. The renewables-can- do-all greens are combining with the fossil industry ...
There's some things that bother me about Hansen, despite agreeing with him on nuclear and his proposals on pricing carbon.   He seems a fairly typical example of American exceptionalism and American protectionism (both on display in his other new piece, "World's Greatest Crime against Humanity and Nature")
In Ontario, for certain, and I think most areas, there is no separate "fossil industry" - there is an energy industry with companies with fossil business segments and "renewable" business segments.

I was surprised to see the Carol Goar's Manufacturing rises from the ashes in The Toronto Star yesterday - a paper almost universally behind government policy.
A good idea, badly executed, can do enormous damage.
Dalton McGuinty’s green energy strategy, unfortunately, falls into that class. The vision made sense. 
The rollout was costly and ill-conceived. It drove up electricity prices, undermined public support for wind and solar power, riled rural Ontarians and left a trail of aggrieved investors and producers.
No one watched the debacle with more dismay than Céline Bak, one of the pioneers of Canada’s rapidly growing clean technology sector. She almost single-handedly put the $11.3-billion industry on the map; convinced Statistics Canada to pay attention; raised millions of dollars for start-ups; and helped innovative Canadian firms crack international markets.
The clean tech sector — which includes much more than renewable energy — was side-swiped by MGuinty’s bungled project and its legacy of ill will.
I can't say for certain, but I think Bak may have wondered aloud, while moderating a panel at the Canadian Energy Innovation Summit on Feb. 28, whether the future of "clean tech" might not be within traditional business segments.  Dan Wicklum, of Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance was amongst the most interesting panelist (earlier in the day), and Robert Watson of SaskPower (largely talking carbon capture and storage) another.

Stephen Aplin posted a follow-up to Goar's article, Clean technology: since the 1960s, a vital bedrock Ontario—and Canadian—industry, closing this thread's circle that included the wishes of the Energiewende somehow leading to assumptions it can be willed to succeed; Hansen noting the emissions occurring by a wrong-headed opposition to practical cleaner nuclear; and Goar's article claiming Ontario's attempt to copy Germany's Green Energy policies actually harmed Ontario's clean tech.
I wonder if the author’s definition of clean tech includes the strongest and most obvious component of the actual clean technology industry, the one that exists right now in Ontario, and the one that literally makes the province run every minute of every day and has been doing so since the 1970s: nuclear energy.
Ontario as a jurisdiction has over the past decade achieved a stunning reduction in the carbon content of its electricity. This has translated into an even more stunning reduction in the overall carbon pollution emissions from the provincial electricity sector. As I have pointed out in previous posts, we have, since the year 2000, cut our annual electricity generation carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by nearly 30 million tons. No other jurisdiction in North America, or, from what I can tell, across the OECD, has achieved anything close to this.
Maybe I'm guilty of Canadian exceptionalism, but our "we did it" seems far superior to the "Solutions exist, but ..." of the energiewende supporters.

1 comment:

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