Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ten Times Better

In his book, Zero to One, Peter Thiel states that "only when your product is 10X better can you offer the customer transparent superiority."

In the global warming discourse, it is often stated that fossil fuels should be replaced by renewable (solar, wind, geothermal) energy sources.

However the first question we should ask is if in fact renewables are ten times better than what they are supposed to be replacing.

Well, in reality renewables not only are not ten times better than fossil fuels, they are not even plain better. What's more, in most of the important attributes of an energy source, renewables are considerably worse than fossil fuels.

So maybe this is the reason renewables are barely represented in our civilization's total energy consumption.* And this is in spite of them being the recipients of considerable subsidies per unit of energy produced.

In his book The End of Energy Obesity, Peter Tertzakian states:

"The following framework of nine energy attributes will serve as a useful reference point for assessing how energy sources - renewable and nonrenewable - jockey for market share and for predicting how successfully we can incorporate them into our energy diet."

Following I will list Mr. Tertzakian nine energy attributes and will indicate in green where renewables are better than fossil fuels and in red where they are worse:

1. Versatility

2. Scalability

3. Storability and Transportability

4. Deliverability

5. Energy Density

6. Power Density

7. Constancy

8. Environmental Sensitivity

9. Energy Security

As we can see, the renewables loss is almost as bad as the Brazil - Germany one during the 2014 FIFA cup.

Consequently, if we are going to replace fossil fuels, we need something much better than renewables and we need a real sense of urgency in this endeavor unless we believe fossil fuels will forever be abundant and relatively inexpensive.

Feel free to add to the conversation in Twitter: @luisbaram

* http://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp/pdf/Energy-economics/statistical-review-2014/BP-statistical-review-of-world-energy-2014-full-report.pdf

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Key World Energy Statistics 2014

The Key World Energy Statistics 2014 has just been published by the International Energy Agency.
A link to the full report is at the bottom of this page.

Total Primary Energy Supply. Fossil fuels still comprise 81.7% of the total (a slight market participation increase from the 2013 report).

Solar + Wind + Geothermal, etc., have finally exceeded 1% of the total.

Let's now see the top producers per energy source.



Natural Gas:

Two countries represent almost 50% of the world's production.
Germany is still a nuclear nation.
China is coming from behind, but may eventually overtake the USA.

Nobody touches China.

And finally, here we present total final consumption:

Fell free to add to the conversation in Twitter: @luisbaram

Link to the full IEA report:


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Monday, September 15, 2014

Role Models

Both at the personal level as well as in the energy discourse, we sometimes select a role model based more on his glibness of talk rather than on his actions.

This post here is an effort to focus on results rather than on PR respecting the carbon intensity of electrical grids in selected countries.

All graphs shown below correspond to the latest IEA Monthly Electricity Survey. The first six months of 2014 are now finalized and shown here. A link to the full report can be found at the bottom of this page.

We will be listing the selected countries from the "best" to the "worst" based on the percentage of their electricity generated with combustible fuels.

1. Norway: 2%

2. Switzerland: 4%

3. France: 6%

4. Sweden: 9%

5. Canada: 22%

6. Spain: 33%

7. Finland: 42%

Note: now come the countries in which combustible fuels exceed 50% of their generated electricity.

8. Denmark: 56%

9. Germany: 63%

10. USA: 68%

11. UK: 68%

Next are the countries that are hovering close to 90% of combustible fuels in their electricity generation.

12. Australia: 87%

13. The Netherlands: 90%

14. Japan: 90% (in 2010 they were at 63%, big step backwards).

Thank you. Feel free to add to the conversation on Twitter: @luisbaram

Full IEA Report (click on June 2014).

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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Political Will

We hear time and again in the climate discourse that what we need to solve the problem is "political will."

Well, maybe... but combating climate change through reducing our CO2 emissions is not something that can be done by passing a law or signing new regulations.

This is not a Manhattan Project, the Apollo Program or the Great Society of LBJ. It is probably the three of them combined and multiplied by ten, and even then...

We will not be free of fossil fuels by issuing an Emancipation Proclamation. If only it were that simple...

First, let's mention what we don't need respecting the transition to a low carbon economy:

1. To be told it will be easy. Because it won't.
2. To be told it will be cheap. Because it won't.
3. To be told it can be done fast. Because it won't.

Now, the first thing we need to understand is the MAGNITUDE of the energy we should transition from high carbon sources to lower carbon ones. And, by the way, the sooner we bury the "zero emissions" label, the better. No energy source is zero emissions. *

As we may see from the graph above, fossil fuels not only overwhelmingly dominate the energy market, but in absolute terms are the ones that are growing the fastest.**

Even though the OECD countries ARE taming their energy hunger, the non-OECD are increasing it as if they had an appointment. ***

And let's make no mistake: the overwhelming consideration for increasing energy consumption in these Non-OECD countries will be cost and ease of scalability.

The first thing we need to confront the climate challenge is to start telling the truth and this starts with Al Gore, Greenpeace, Paul Krugman and others. Here are some inconvenient truths:

a. Moving to a low carbon economy will be expensive. Very expensive. Thus the cost of energy for the final consumer will be higher, maybe even much higher.
b. If the cost of energy goes up, then the cost of almost everything else will also go up, including food.
c. After many trillions of euros of investment we will end up with less than we began with (lower carbon but more expensive energy). For the final user there would be little to see (except maybe much less pollution from coal burning).

All the people participating in a Climate March should go ahead and do it but be perfectly conscious that if they are FINALLY listened to by governments, THEIR cost of energy and everything else will go up. Is this a sacrifice they are willing to assume? Hopefully yes, but fully understanding what they are actually asking for and how it will affect them individually.

Now we are going to have to call names. It would be great just to leave this at the philosophical level but emissions won't drop just because we wish them to. No, we need MASSIVE deployments of low carbon energy. And here we have to face other truths (valid at least through the rest of this century):

1. Hydro was, is, and will continue to be the premier renewable energy.
2. Yes, wind and solar will conquer part of the energy pie but will almost certainly stay in single digits share of our global energy consumption. Why? Because they are intermittent, unreliable, diffuse and expensive.
3. (This is to some the worst of all the inconvenient truths), nuclear will have to perform the heavy low carbon lifting for our civilization. Sorry, but there is NO way around this. Make the math, it would be impossible in a financial / environmental sense to supply most of our global energy with renewables.

So, once it is boiled down to the essentials, this is the definition of political will respecting global warming:

Political will: paving the way for a massive, accelerated implementation of nuclear power.

All the rest is just talk, just platitudes, just expressing feel good words that change absolutely nothing.

Look around you! Is a massive nuclear power plant buildup currently happening in your country?

If yes, you are moving forward.

If no, it is business as usual and you are not going anywhere (except maybe to an overly hot planet).

Feel free to add to the conversation at Twitter: @luisbaram

Note: some people declare that renewable energy (solar or wind) is cheap but this is only because they piggy-back on the conventional energy grid (that ends up absorbing the costs of their intermittency). However, when all costs are considered, RE is expensive, intermittent and unreliable.


* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life-cycle_greenhouse-gas_emissions_of_energy_sources

** bp.com/statisticalreview

*** www.eia.gov/forecasts/ieo/pdf/0484(2013).pdf

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