Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Let's Lobby!

In the energy discourse it is almost impossible to obtain "fair and balanced" information. It seems everybody out there is lobbying for something, consequently "their" energy is perfect, emits zero pollutants, and creates loads of jobs while the "other" energy is the devil. As easy as that. However, real life, as always, is not black or white, we really don't have out there a picture-perfect solution for a nonexistent binary world.

Can we begin to talk, listen and respect each other instead of just pointing fingers (and even hurling insults)?

Lobbyists are PAID to blindly defend a position and thus they should probably not even be invited to the conversation because as Upton Sinclair stated:

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

On the other hand, the REST of us should employ very healthy doses of skepticism when listening to them. Let's label them as what they really are: paid advertisers.

So, let's stop flying and make a soft landing. Here are some basic things we all need to understand:

  • No energy is clean. Period. End of story. Elvis has left the (pick one): solar panel / wind turbine / nuclear reactor / dam. 
  • Thus, no energy is zero emissions (once you consider the lifetime emissions of the respective technology). 
  • The most we can say is that something is cleaner or lower carbon than something else. 
  • When discussing subsidies, let's not say x receives so many dollars and y receives only this other amount. Things have to be stated in subsidies per energy produced to have a reference point.
Now, let's briefly scan the main energy sources and focus only on their most important characteristics. Let's not be distracted with side issues (like if wind turbines kill more birds than skyscrapers or not). 

Fossil Fuels:
  • They are high carbon.
  • In particular coal, causes a substantial number of casualties during its extraction.
  • In addition to carbon, they liberate other important pollutants to the environment.
  • Not considering externalities, they are the cheapest energy sources we have on a global scale.
  • Our current infrastructure is built around them.
  • They are convenient, reliable, flexible, high density energy sources. 
  • Entire countries depend on the revenue they produce not to mention many millions of jobs all over the world.
  • Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) has not been widely deployed. 
  • According to the EIA, IEA, they will continue to dominate the energy market for decades to come. 
Now, let's take a look at the low carbon energy sources.

Sun and Wind:
  • They are intermittent and unreliable and no amount of spin can change this. The low costs quoted for these technologies consider them piggy-backing on the conventional grid. If they were required to pay for the full effects of their intermittency / unreliability their costs would skyrocket.
  • As an individual component, they seem to be low carbon, but once the system is considered (RE + FF backup), the emissions go up enough to even question if they are truly low carbon solutions.
  • Storage or other means to compensate for the above have not been widely deployed.
  • It is reliable, dense, safe, scaleable and produces little (although dangerous) waste.
  • Is currently fighting an uphill battle against irrational fears planted by lobbyists (see above).
  • Globally, it currently holds the highest market penetration in the production of low carbon electricity.
  • It has served us well for many, many decades.
  • As a percentage of our total energy consumption, it probably has reached its peak. 
Conclusion: the move away from fossil fuels will be gradual, will take many decades and they will not be replaced by the perfect energy source (which doesn't exist). We need to make hard sensible decisions minimizing the effects of the "paid advertisers."

Feel free to add to the conversation on Twitter.

Thank you.

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At 12:14 PM, Anonymous Chilifarming said...


The term "clean" is pretty meaningless, loaded, unhelpful and almost entirely subjective.

CO2 emission per kWh is at least a measurable statistic, whether full lifecycle or not. "Cleanliness" depends on your metrics.


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