Following this brief commentary is a “letter for publication” entitled “CLEAN, SAFE SOURCES OF ELECTRICITY” received from www.mng.org.uk/gh/ and if you can find out what M, N, and G mean you are more observant than I. In this “letter for publication” we are provided a list of alternative energy technologies that may power the planet without combustion – photovoltaic and solar concentrator 35%, wave and tidal 31%, combined heat and power and reduced wastage 26%, and wind 26%. The perspicacious reader will note this is overkill, by 18%.
This smorgasbord of alternative energy compares to our current worldwide energy production as follows: oil 34.3%, coal 25.1%, gas 20.9%, “combustible renewables” (mostly wood) 10.6%, nuclear 6.5%, and hydro-electric power 2.2%. None of the alternatives make this list, which totals 99% of all energy produced in the world. And today, 80% of the remaining one percent is geothermal. All of the proposed alternatives, today, only produce two-tenths of one percent of all energy production on earth.
So in the letter to follow, we have a prescription for how we will take what is currently two-tenths of one percent of our worldwide energy production, and provide 200% of our worldwide energy production. If we adhere to this non-nuclear, non-hydroelectric, non-fossil fuel prescription, a 1,000x increase in alternative energy production is what we will need to accomplish, since our planet’s growing, industrializing human population will need 2x more energy even if huge efficiencies are gained.
And to build all these wind and tide emplacements, 1,000 times what we have now, how much concrete and steel would we need? Wouldn’t it be much easier and less disruptive to the environment if we simply ran diesel fuel refined from heavy oil through solid oxide fuel cells? Or what if we continued to burn fuel, but in a totally clean manner – only emitting CO2, and instead used all that concrete and steel for housing and freeways, and maybe even aqueducts and desalination plants and pumping stations to grow trees?
Implicit in this alternative energy prescription is that we must stop all burning. Civilization must stop all burning, because burning gives off CO2. But fully 90% of all energy produced by humanity requires burning, and in the short term it is impossible to eliminate burning without shutting down civilization – so we must find other ways to maintain a stable global climate. Clean burning is feasible, but eliminating all burning is not feasible without shutting down existing economies, let alone permitting economic growth. It can’t be done in the time we’ve got.
Remember that worldwide burning of fossil fuels is nothing in the grand scheme of earthly CO2 emissions – less than 3%. The rest is from nature. And today we spew far more CO2 into the air each year through rapaciously burning away – to make room for biofuel – the paltry 40% of our tropical forests that still remain. And this burning can be stopped. Global warming and climate change can be successfully addressed through massive tropical reforesting where biofuel plantations stand or are planned. What if that were all it would take? And what if nothing else would work anyway?
To their credit, the bmg.orgsters did not include biofuel on their agenda, and to their credit, they are trying to put forward an alternative. But even if our rainforests are replanted, do we really want wind generator towers and blades surveiling every landscape, menacing flying creatures? And do we really want seabeds and reefs and tidepools everywhere to sport massive underwater propeller-driven electric turbines? Aren’t the people proposing these alternatives the same folks who don’t like hydroelectric power? When all we have to do to supply energy between today and when we reach the fusion fueled, electrochemical energy economy of the future is tear up a few thousand square miles of oil sands? Sure, solar power is good, but clean fossil fuel is a realistic goal, not no fossil fuel.
LETTER FOR PUBLICATION
CLEAN, SAFE SOURCES OF ELECTRICITY
Contrary to what is suggested in the new Energy White Paper, there are more than enough clean, safe sources of electricity to meet our needs and there is absolutely no need for nuclear power and all its many headaches (see www.mng.org.uk/gh/no_nukes.htm).
There are now several reports showing in detail how the UK can meet its needs for electricity, make deep cuts in CO2 emissions from electricity generation, and phase out nuclear power. These can be downloaded from www.mng.org.uk/gh/scenarios.htm .
It is simply not true that “the lights will go out” without nuclear power. The British Wind Energy Association say that “the UK’s offshore resource is equivalent to three times the UK’s annual electricity consumption.”. But rather than rely on one single source of renewable electricity, there are good reasons to develop a variety of sources as described in the analysis and spreadsheet at www.mng.org.uk/gh/energy.htm .
In summary, UK electricity needs may be met quite comfortably, and soon, from the following renewable, carbon-free sources:
Percentage of total UK demand
Wind power (large scale) 20 (or more)
Wave power 20
Tidal currents 3
Tidal lagoons 8
Photovoltaics 20 (or more)
Micro wind power 6
Combined heat and power 16
Concentrating solar power 15
Reduced wastage 10 (or more)
Apart from these sources, there is energy from biomass and there are plans to import geothermal electricity from Iceland (see www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1782183.ece).
There is no “energy gap”, only a gap in the political will needed to bring these renewable sources of energy on stream.
Dr Gerry Wolff
Gerry@mng.org.uk, +44 (0)1248 712962, www.mng.org.uk/gh/
18 Penlon, Menai Bridge, Anglesey, LL59 5LR, UK.