Monday, July 08, 2013

Going Green

More and more we hear people getting impatient with their governments and demanding them to implement the right policies to "go green."

Is this possible?

If by "going green" we mean moving to a less carbon intensive economy then the answer is that technically it is completely feasible.

So then, what is the catch?  The catch is that a low carbon economy today would be more (actually much more) expensive than the current one.

This is something we all have to understand when we demand our governments to act. Actually our demands should be preceded by deciding how much each one of us is personally willing to sacrifice in the form of higher (much higher) energy prices. 

How much are we willing to pay for the liter (or gallon) of gasoline, for the kWh, for our airplane tickets and even for everything else? In a low carbon economy almost everything, including food, would be more expensive.

There are many half truths out there that are really complete lies.  For example, we hear that solar photo-voltaic (PV) has already achieved "grid-parity", but obviously these calculations do not take into consideration the extra costs that the grid has to absorb to deal with the intermittent / unreliable nature of solar.

As long as solar PV is a small part of the energy mix, the grid can (grudgingly) accept it.  Conventional power generators adjust their output to compensate for the fluctuating nature of solar.  However if solar were a main component of the grid  (as many environmentalists propose) then the equation changes completely and vast amounts of storage would need to be installed.  On the one hand this storage will be an additional investment and on the other it won't be particularly kind to the environment whether it consists of vast warehouses full of batteries, gigantic hydrolysis plants with their respective hydrogen storage tanks or hydraulic reservoirs.

The issue does not stop here, because now we would have to decide for how long we want to store the solar electricity: for eight hours? For eight days? For eight weeks? Costs rise exponentially with each step. 

So, let's make no mistake: the reason we have not moved yet to a low carbon economy is because the fossil fuel economy is much, much cheaper (sure, without pricing the effects of climate change). It is NOT a philosophical choice but an economic one.

Environmentalists challenge this point but you just have to look around and ask why if renewables are as cheap as they say they are, they need subsidies to survive? And even with subsidies they are a minute portion of the global energy supply.

The bottom line is that our governments CAN grant our wishes to move to a low carbon economy BUT at least in the short term it would translate into much higher energy prices and thus a considerably lower standard of living for most of us. Are we willing and ready now to sacrifice in this manner to prevent a global climatic catastrophe?

This is the most important real question that we need to answer in the energy debate.

It is a fact that we have to move to a low carbon economy, but we need to understand and accept the consequences beforehand.

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At 5:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Luis,
I like your writing. It's succinct, concise and to the point. Thanks for sharing with me.



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