SUMMARY: UK guest host Greg Moffitt interviews scientist David Fridley, from Berkeley National Lab and the Post-Carbon Institute. Radio Ecoshock 150114 http://www.ecoshock.org/
We will switch away from fossil fuels sooner or later, because they will run out. If it’s later, our kids get a wrecked civilization trying to cope with a wrecked climate. This week on Radio Ecoshock we finish out a three-part series on alternative energy, what it can do, and what it can’t.
The take-home from green energy lovers and haters alike is simple: we can’t have this crazy civilization running just on the sun and
wind. When we stop milking the billion year-pile of concentrated solar, known as oil, gas and coal – something has to change.
That’s all in this rebroadcast of a podcast out of Britain, called Legalise-Freedom.com. Host Greg Moffit interviews David Fridley, a long-term energy expert working with both the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and the Post Carbon Institute. Pull up an ear, and let’s listen in.
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DAVID FRIDLEY: CAN RENEWABLE ENERGY POWER THIS CIVILIZATION?
David Fridley is a staff scientist at the China Energy Group of the Berkeley National Lab. He’s also a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.
It would be interesting to hear a second interview with David about the energy situation in China. But this chat is more global, looking at the heavy load alternative energy must pick up, to support even a fraction of what we do now with fossil fuels. To think we can go on with business as usual under green power is, Fridley says, “magical thinking.” That’s partly because of the underlying physics behind energy itself.
It all makes sense when you think about it. Fossil fuels are composed of millions of years of solar power – stored in concentrated form by plants and then geological and chemical changes over aeons. The sunlight coming in now can hardly compete with millions of
years of storage.
Pretty well all renewable energy ultimately depends upon the sun. Geothermal doesn’t. But heat from the sun drives the winds for
wind power. Even biofuel depends on sunlight hitting plants.
Fridley also points out a dark fact: not all problems have solutions. I think those cases are more what we call a “predicament”. That’s what we have now.
ENERGY EFFICIENCY CANNOT SAVE US
Can greater efficiency save us? Not really, as the “Jevons Paradox” tells us. Back in 1865, the English economist William Stanley Jevons realized that as coal burning equipment became more efficient, more people used more coal. Similarly, Fridley says refrigerators today are twice as energy efficient as those built in 1980. A lot of people have two fridges, and of course at least a billion more people around the world bought new fridges, now that they can afford to run them.
There is a second feed-back loop to energy efficiency. Let’s say you don’t buy a second fridge, but now you have more money to
spend. Energy effiency simply mobilizes more money for more energy consumption in other ways. Almost everything we do, and all
wealth, is related to energy consumption, as our Radio Ecoshock guest Tim Garrett showed in a scientific paper. Find a transcript of
that interview “Energy = Wealth = Inflation + A Ruined Atmosphere” here.
David Fridley points out that nature’s model for survival on a greatly changing Earth is low energy efficiency, but very high redundancy. Our civilization is going the opposite direction. We keep getting more efficient, but knock out any redundancy. (Think about just-in time food deliveries, where the truck are the warehouses, and there are no back-up food supplies in major cities). That makes our society very fragile, and open to collapse.
Making that worse, Fridley refers to a statement by the first American Energy Secretary, James Schlesinger. He said Americans have
two main states of existence: complacency and panic.
Like our speaker two weeks ago, Ozzie Zehner, David Fridley thinks that oil, and other fossil fuels, are the foundation behind all renewable energy, whether it’s building hydro dams, or solar panels, or wind machines. That is true now, but it doesn’t have to be that way, in my opinion.
One real barrier to total conversion to renewables, Fridley says, is the concept of net return of energy. That’s the amount of energy you get after investing whatever energy it takes to build and maintain the facility. Coal has a huge return of net energy, getting from 50 to 80 units of power from one unit of power invested. That’s why it’s relatively cheap, and beloved by some developing countries. Of course that assumes you can wreck the local environment, don’t have to pay for the health care for everyone who gets sick breathing the fumes from the power plant, and can dump toxins and climate-wrecking CO2 into the atmosphere for free, forever.
There’s also a difficult question of how much net energy, or energy profit, we need to maintain our current level of complexity and
specialization. The American systems ecologist Charles A. S. Hall calculates we need from 5 to 8 units of energy profit, for every unit of energy expended to get it – to keep a complex system like ours alive. The Post Carbon Institute has published a report by Charles Hall called “Energy Return on Investment”. Find that report free here.
According to David Fridley, who is after all a scientist and energy specialist – biofuels can NOT reach this level of 5 to 8 units of
energy profit, once all energy inputs are accounted for. The same is true, he says, of ethanol, or oil derived from the Tar Sands.
These energy sources don’t create enough surplus energy to maintain a complex civilization. I suppose if that’s all we have, we either go back to some pre-fossil Dark Age, or we develop a new low-tech, low energy civilization.
David and host Greg Moffitt get into a discussion of electric cars. They progress to a topic close to my heart, which is the possibility of a decentralized world. Renewables like solar and wind don’t need a giant power grid (that wastes half of all electricity put into it).
It’s a wide-ranging conversation, about whether renewables can self-replicate, the possibilities of thorium reactors.
In summary, David Fridley says we have enough power now to convert to large-scale renewables. But if we wait 20 or 30 years, then
the remaining fossil fuels will be so depleted, there won’t be enough to power civilization AND make the conversion. It’s another
reason to get going with greener energy.
NEXT WEEK : WILL THE COMING CLIMATE BE 16 DEGREES C HOTTER?
Does that sound impossible? Tune in next week for an experienced scientist who explains how it could happen.
That wraps up our three-part series on alternative energy, and our prospects of powering our future. Find all three programs as free
mp3 downloads at our web site ecoshock.org, or on the Radio Ecoshock downloads page. My thanks to Greg Moffitt of
legalise-freedom.com for this show. You can listen to the full 1 hour 18 minute interview of David Fridley on You tube here.
Next week we get back to interviewing top scientists and trouble-makers about the really big picture. It’s startling stuff, as Radio
Ecoshock hits the airwaves. Please join us again.
Don’t forget to get our past programs as free mp3 downloads from the web site, ecoshock.org.
I’m Alex Smith. I don’t think humans are going extinct any time soon – so please keep tuning in.
As for Jevons' Paradox, it applies when efficiency comes purely from technological improvements (like improved refrigerators) but does not apply when those technological improvements are driven by an ecological fee (i.e., a price on carbon) because the fee keeps the total cost about the same as before.
As for the discussion of energy return on investment, it left out the external costs of fossil fuels. Those external costs are real and must be paid by me, you, and the rest of society. So the "bargain" of fossil fuels is not really a bargain. A fee on carbon helps correct this market failure (the biggest market failure in history according to Sir Nicholas Stern). When you account for the external costs, renewables and nuclear look far more favorable.
Also left out of the conversation was a discussion of Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS). While it is not cost-effective today, new technologies are being developed that will allow us to retrofit existing power plants and capture the emitted carbon and put it back underground. This will add some cost, but far less than the external costs of allowing the CO2 to enter the atmosphere.
Dan Miller, what was left out of your post was the whether the carbon TAX, let's call it what it is, will be 100% returned to private citizens, like Hansen advocates, or whether it will be controlled by governments and corporations, which is what the Rockefellers pay Klein and McKibben to advocate for. It is my experience that no mention of this choice, implies the second choice, which IMO means the end of civilization.
This guest speak is one of the best guests you've ever had on the subject of green energy illusions, but he is talking through his hat about thorium energy. Thorium is nothing like fusion.
India has announced a commercial heavy-water thorium plant by 2020. The inventor of thorium nuclear reactors had such a reactor working for 6 years before funding was cut because there was no way to get plutonium for weapons from a thorium reactor.
Thorium minerals occur on all continents. Thorium is several times more abundant in Earth's crust than all isotopes of uranium combined.
LFTR reactors are walk-away safe and shut down safely with no power.
The U.S. can now get 300 years of electricity from nuclear waste. They are lining up investors as we speak. Such systems can power, finance and manage the safe decommissioning of today's archaic nuclear plants.
The problem with experts is that they are stuck in their own silos of specialities. Self directed learning means you miss stuff indirectly related to your field. You may be a green energy expert, but not up to speed on thorium. A few simple searches would confirm the inaccuracies of his thorium statements.
The Game of Hockey Sticks
Stand Up Tragic Comedy For
Today, one billion humans have to walk a mile each day for water.
Today, one billion humans are hungry and malnourished.
Today, thousands die each year trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
They are killing themselves to reach a land where they are hated and despised. Why? We only see shortages in high prices so far, not empty shelves. What little remains on shelves over there is unaffordable.
Now, just imagine 30 years from now, when we enter a post-peak world of massive shortages in food, water, energy, minerals, climate, peace and prosperity. In a post-peak world, nothing can accelerate any item's production no matter what the price. Even your precious solar panels and wind turbines.
In 30 years, every single solar panel and wind turbine in existence today will reach the end of its life-cycle and need replacing, likely after the final economic collapse and the dawn of a new era of endless chronic shortages. Their component-level mineral alloys will be too costly and difficult to separate and recycle. Each recycling effort also reduces their quality and purity, which in a hi-tech world, is unacceptable.
Of course, not many of these systems will last that long since most of us will still live near oceans during the emerging dawn of mega-monster weather extremes. This will only get worse. Green energy and extreme weather are a fool's game. But, if that's the way you roll, then you'd better listen up.
If you are investing your children's future in green energy, then you had better double down on redundancy and get at least 3 extra sets of solar panels, batteries, power inverters etc. etc. It's good to be rich. The black and brown people floating on death traps in the Mediterranean are not dreaming of a "green" world, that's for sure. They dream of things like, survival.
p.s. — Read Ugo Bardi's book, Extraction.
you can see here that we have already passed peak production in 16 of 26 natural resources back in 2008
thanks to this episode, I was able to make the following comment regarding how "green" the 2015 auto show is supposed to be.
There is no such thing as a "green" car, our roads are made from oil sludge, not hemp. I am not pro-gasoline but, electric cars are made for rich hipsters and neophyte greens, not normal people.
Let's look at the Tesla electric car. It will inevitably cost several thousand dollars to replace the batteries and their performance will degrade significantly before you actually replace them, unless you got more money than brains.
Bang For Your Buck
The new Tesla electric car has over 600 Kg ( ½ ton ) of batteries containing 85 Kilowatt-hours of energy. A small fossil fuel car has a 10 gallon gas tank weighing 62 lbs. ( 25 Kgs ) containing 360 Kilowatt-hours of energy. This means a gasoline tank will give you get 4X the energy with 25X less weight.
Electric cars require way more minerals per vehicle. Lithium batteries have an energy density of about 0.4-0.5 Mega-Joules/Kilogram. Gasoline has an energy density of about 46-47 Mega-Joules/Kilogram. Gasoline has 100 times more energy density than lithium batteries.
So, even though electric cars have more efficient engines, these engines do not make up for batteries having 1/100th the energy density of gasoline energy.
This is the part where technophiles chime in with the latest in promising battery research. Most laboratory discoveries never make it to market, let alone gain market share. This is known.
The mineral intensity of an electric car is far more than a regular car, meaning each electric car will require lots more mineral mining, shipping, processing and assembly. Yet, in 20-30 years, we will be entering a post-peak world where we will have shortages in food, water, energy, minerals, climate, peace and prosperity. Electric cars, like solar and wind energy will only hasten the arrival of mineral shortages and exacerbate ecological destruction.
But wait! There's way more to this story.
came across this…
"Crucially, a recent study by Weissbach et al. compared the full-lifecycle energy economics of various types of power plants and found that once the intermittency of solar and wind energy is buffered by storage technologies, these sources become far less efficient than coal, natural gas, or nuclear plants; indeed, once storage is added, solar and wind fall “below the economical threshold” of long-term viability, regardless of the falling dollar price of panels and turbines themselves. The problem lies in the fact that the amount of energy embodied in the full generation-storage system cannot be repaid, with a substantial energy profit, by that system over its lifetime. Recent operational studies of solar PV systems in Spain and Australia have come to similar conclusions."
Dan, if the externalities and subsidies of nuclear are included its unaffordable.
Most of our problems are about the economic system.we need a measure based on human and the environment Please look at HUMAN RENEWABLE ENERGY MEASUREMENT (hrem.org) Thanks Jeff Beller