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November 29, 2005

Monbiot on Energy.

Georges Monbiot asks for help in his column today. So, rather than the  usual cries of "Piffle" which greet his output in this quarter, some genuinely helpful things for him to think about.

What’s he’s done is calculate the amount of energy we use, put that against what we can generate from renewables and note that there is a gap. There are a few things to note:

I won't count electricity from sunlight, because it's expensive and isn't produced when we need it most.

Slightly odd when the next para but one says:

But if either the market or the government swung behind energy storage then something like half the output from our variable power sources could be turned into a reliable supply of electricity.

If storage will work for one form of generation it’ll work for another, don’t you think? So we should be including solar which makes all of the numbers rather suspect. And hydrogen might well be that storage technology.

I am going to assume that by 2030 a cost-effective energy storage technology has been developed which has a 50% efficiency. The most likely technologies are hydrogen (which can be burnt in gas turbine engines) or a battery system such as the one envisaged in the UK's Regenesys project,

Burning hydrogen is stupid. Stick it through a fuel cell and you can drive a car with it or, using combined heat and power systems, distributed locally, you can get 80% efficiency. Another reason to think the numbers are not quite right.

The first option means uranium mining, nuclear waste and the threat of proliferation and terrorism. The second means insecurity (gas) or opencast mining and air pollution (coal) and a risk (though probably quite small) of carbon seepage.

Only two options? Why? Has Georges not heard about the electrolysis of water using sunlight and TiO2 as the catalyst? Something that can be done by making roof tiles out of the material? Or the recent advances in materials for solar cells? Or of LED lamps, which use some 10% of the electricty of incandescent bulbs? (I have seen, but take with a huge pinch of salt, a figure of 16% for lighting’s share of US electricty consumption. A move, over a decade or so, to the new bulbs will make quite a dent in consumption, no?)

In short, technology is not constant.

This is all being rather polite, as I said I would, but this cannot be allowed to pass without the requisite scorn:

(The need for spare capacity could be greatly reduced if we managed demand rather than supply, as the great free thinker on energy systems Walt Patterson has suggested.)

Manage demand? Supply? Seperately? Really? Gosh, how do you do that? Supply and demand are interdependent.....there is no such thing as "the supply of..." there is only "the supply of ....at price...". Just as demand is "the demand for .... at price...".

And if we change the price in order to reduce (or increase, of course,) demand then we are necessarily changing the volume of willing supply in the opposite direction. Sorry, I don’t know who Walt Patterson is but if that’s what he’s actually said then he needs to read Econ 101 again. As Our Georges should for the first time.

And that’s the problem with his calculations. They assume static demand and wonder where the supply is going to come from and does not take any account of the price system. Which is unfortunate, as so far in human history, it’s the only method we’ve actually come across which is able to process all the information which Moonbat is currently sucking his pencil over.

November 29, 2005 in Nuclear | Permalink


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Fair's fair though: he makes no claim to be giving the definitive answers, it's just his attempt of coming up with some half-decent ballpark figures. Trying to find a coherent and reliable set of figures regarding energy is like looking for objective news stories from Cuba: there are none. Something of a leap of faith is required on this matter.

Posted by: The Militant Pine Marten | Nov 29, 2005 4:03:52 PM

Fair's fair though: he makes no claim to be giving the definitive answers, it's just his attempt of coming up with some half-decent ballpark figures. Trying to find a coherent and reliable set of figures regarding energy is like looking for objective news stories from Cuba: there are none. Something of a leap of faith is required on this matter.

Posted by: The Militant Pine Marten | Nov 29, 2005 4:06:24 PM

Is anybody looking at the current "housing bubble" in the US economy in terms of energy conservation? A whole lot of older pre-1975 housing stock is being vacated and torn down, and a whole lot of new housing with double glazed windows, attic insulation, etc is being constructed. Aren't the higher prices for average houses now at least in part reflecting the reduction in future expense streams for heating, cooling, and --as you say -- lighting?

Posted by: pouncer | Nov 29, 2005 4:36:20 PM

I'm sorry, but I won't hear a word said againt George. He's an absolute brick. Last month, we had a terrible problem with our drains and George was unstinting in his help, thought nothing of wading thigh high in our effluent for several hours until the problem was solved and was kind enough to give us all the gen on environmetally friendly alternatives to our current (clearly medieval) plumbing system. He couldn't have been more help if he'd scooped it out with his bare hands! I've lived next door to Mr. George Monblot for the last 25 years and in that time he has never used my near total blindness as an excuse to duck my wearying and ill-informed rants about the nature of global capitalism and the impending environmental collapse. I think you should show the man a bit more respect Tim!



Posted by: Roberta Swipe | Nov 29, 2005 8:03:07 PM

Walt Patterson is, if memory serves, a chap who wrote anti-nuclear stuff back in the 70s. God I feel old.

Posted by: dearieme | Nov 30, 2005 12:30:07 AM

Walt Patterson: Google he say -
"we in Friends of the Earth were certainly instrumental in bringing British nuclear power issues into the open, making them public and keeping them public from 1973 onwards."

Posted by: dearieme | Nov 30, 2005 12:38:03 AM

Talking of technology not being static I believe that the hot pebble bed reactors being pursued by the Chinese and Japanese are not only smaller and thus cheaper to build but also "walk away safe" ( they self cool, never reaching a critical temperature and also the relatively stable nature of the pebbles (compared to fuel rods)significantly reduce the proliferation and terrorist concerns.

Posted by: Mark T | Nov 30, 2005 9:41:44 AM

by "manage demand rather than supply", Monbiot presumably means that a better use of vast government subsidies at present would be neither nuclear nor wind, but things like loft insulation, and he's right. Btw, if you're going to bang on about the supremacy of "the price mechanism", it might be in order to point out once in a while that the Hayekian computation machine has already given its verdict on nuclear power plants in the UK and it could be summarised as "dear nuclear industry, please lose our phone number, love the capital markets".

Tim adds: Well, quite, about the capital markets. As we know, they don’t price in externalities, which is why they wouldn’t support wind power without subsidy, or loft insulation etc.

Posted by: dsquared | Nov 30, 2005 1:05:36 PM

hmmmm are you trying to suggest that internalising the externalities would make nuclear power stations a *better* investment!!!!

Tim adds: Depends. If other generation methods had all of their externalities internalized then nuclear might (would?) be a relatively better investment.

Posted by: dsquared | Nov 30, 2005 4:39:08 PM

Mark T raises an important point. Pebble bed reactors, in addition to being "walk away safe", because of the way they are constructed, have a cooling medium (helium) which does not corrode the components it comes into contact with, unlike the water in use in nuclear reactors which use steam as a working fluid.

In addition, there is quite a lot of weapons grade (90% enriched) fissile material from decommissioned warheads just lying around in storage, doing nothing except provide temptation to jihadists. Just as well to put it to use, if there is a safer design of nuclear reactor in which to use it.

Posted by: McRubble | Nov 30, 2005 6:53:18 PM

Hey Dudes,
We should be nice to George. He's had problems with the truth for many years, but he's slowly coming round.

It will be very difficult for him to become pro nuclear power, but he seems to be on the way, lets help him along and welcome him to the land of truth, reason, science and prosperity.

Posted by: johnny bonk | Dec 4, 2005 8:15:41 PM

George's comment on solar not being available at peak times is really only true in the UK where there is quite a bit less of air conditioning than in the US. Here, the peak energy use times are midday in the summer, when PV would be performing at its peak.

If I had to choose a reactor design, I would go with a breeder since it would eliminate the waste and proliferation issues. I think Tim's formula is the right way to go though: locally distributed heat and power systems with energy-saving and improved renewable energy technologies.

sorry to say that the current trend right now of building large houses is undermining any gain in efficiency that we might have had from tearing down older houses. These homes are more expensive to heat and cool. Additionally, since many of these homes are built in developments are quickly and poorly built, whatever insulation and weatherization loses its effectiveness, not to mention that HVAC contractors routinely size units incorrectly on the large side. Other trends that will increase the energy use of the residential sector are plasma TV's (use 2-3x electricity of a tube TV) and loads which are still there when appliances are turned off. I wish I could say otherwise though.

Posted by: Jacquih | Dec 8, 2005 8:10:22 AM