Thursday, March 28, 2013

3 Key Issues for the Future Global Energy Infrastructure

One of the concerns with the environmental movement is the myopic view that establishing a solar and wind energy infrastructure is the correct path without actually proving that it is the correct path. Unfortunately the lack of evidence for the viability of a solar and wind energy infrastructure should be a concern in environmental groups, but it is an issue they typically ignore. Instead most think that the chief problem facing the environment in the future is the current lack of will and sense of sacrifice in society, thus getting people to realize the severity of the situation is the only genuine issue of importance for everything else will fall in place afterwards. This post is a challenge to the environmental community to PROVE that the common strategy points they champion are the correct ones. The three key points that must be addressed by environmentalists are as followed:

1. Argue that both components of geo-engineering (solar radiation management and carbon remediation) will not be needed for decades in the future; as it stands the more vocal environmentalists claim that geo-engineering is a non-starter no matter what due to uncertainty fears with the popular opinion of planting trees and creating some small amount of bio-char being sufficient.

Note – Remember the elimination of coal as an energy source will eliminate a percentage of negative radiative forcing aerosols that are released into the atmosphere through coal combustion. So is there confidence that society can manage an addition 0.2-0.7 degrees C of warming while global emission profiles are still around 60-70% of current levels? If so, what is the origin of this confidence?

2. Argue that building a solar and wind energy infrastructure (65-80% is the range most environmentalists envision) is more economically and structurally viable than building a small modular nuclear reactor and generation III nuclear energy infrastructure.

Note – Be wary of citing anything from Mark Jacobson for this issue. Jacobson’s solar and wind analyses (along with basically everyone else) fail on three major levels:

A. They do not use detailed real numbers when calculating actual required energy and its integration into a future grid; instead he utilizes broad concepts like smart grid, widespread multi-geographical integration, demand-response management, etc. to “magically” eliminate future energy concerns or changes like network congestion and other grid-level system costs. Without using actual numbers in an in-depth analysis of costs and methodological action it is difficult to view legitimacy in his claims largely due only to scale issues let alone other problems. The few analyses that actually use numbers are plagued by optimistic assumptions addressed in the next two points.

B. They fail to address anything remotely specific about the required energy storage for a solar/wind energy infrastructure simply stating that some storage will be required (hypothesized amounts are not mentioned). Also little mention of what it will be (beyond pumped hydro which is supply short), how much it will cost, how it materializes and how its construction will affect other industries. The failure to discuss the intermittency aspect when calculating cost is especially prevalent when wind and solar supporters make claims like wind and/or solar costs in country x are now lower than coal costs. Wind/solar proponents seem not to understand that 1 GW of solar is not equivalent to 1 GW of coal when taking operational capacities into consideration over nameplate capacities (i.e. what occurs in the real world 10 –35% for solar or wind (depending on the country and time of year) of nameplate versus 75-90% for coal.)

C. They fail to address supply shortages that will be created when constructing a solar/wind infrastructure, especially for rare earths (most notably heavy REs like dysprosium), concrete, steel and aluminum. These shortages will significantly increase costs for the construction of this infrastructure largely because of the low generation per unit ratios that solar and wind installations have due to their scale capacity and intermittency limitations.

Due to these problems, only citing Jacobson demonstrates a lack of caring about these critical issues and thus place the future of the planet in the “hope and pray” column. Basically a mindset that is similar to that of a global warming denier.

3. How will the creation of a large (40%+) electrical vehicle fleet and a large (40%+) wind energy infrastructure be created at economic cost when both utilize the same rare earths (dysprosium, neodymium and praseodymium) to significantly limit costs? Basically as of now it is most probable that one will have to be sacrificed for the other, so if electrical vehicles and wind are deemed necessary for the future, how will this be achieved at feasible costs?

Answers to these questions need to be as specific as possible because simply stating broad concepts like “smart grid” or “rare earth substitutes” does little good without the specifics of how those concept would actually solve certain problems within the core issues. For those who would suggest that this blog do the work, this blog has posted a good portion of discussion about these issues coming to conclusions that oppose the common belief that pursuing a generic solar and wind energy infrastructure is viable and appropriate given the available time remaining to confront global warming. Also because these concerns embody elements critical to the viability of the common environmentalist argument for the future global energy infrastructure the burden of proof is on the environmentalists that support this infrastructure to demonstrate that it will have a significant probability of being successful. It is imperative that these issues be resolved as soon as possible with a significant probability of certainty because the time to act is now and acting with the wrong strategy is just as useless as not acting at all.

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