finley wrote:DB, I think you're missing the bigger picture. If we decide that coal and nuclear are, assessed on their own merits, "bad", and we stop using them, then logically that compels us to make do with what we have - that 10% that you insist is not enough.
Switching them off is the necessary precondition which will drive social changes and innovation to reduce our power consumption by 90%. It's ridiculous, but that's just the way humanity works. As long as there is an abundance of something, we'll use it until we're backed into a corner (or worse - there are plenty of cities dead and forgotten under desert sands because their operators couldn't tell the difference between credit and wealth). I suspect you will insist that we MUST burn 35kWh/capita to sustain our "quality of life", but I can see no proof that this is true. If you can give me one single reason why 3.5kWh/capita (for the sake of argument) would plunge civilisation back into the dark ages, I'd like to hear it.
Hi Finley. Like always, you've got thought-provoking ideas that I enjoy reading, and like to respond to.
Your above comment seems to be a variation on the "power down" theme that I've read about so many times on numerous green blogs. Now I happen to agree that we humans waste a lot of power, and could do things more efficiently. I'm a big advocate of energy conservation. Those absorption air-conditioners you've mentioned a few times are a great example. I personally try to cut waste - all my lightbulbs are energy efficient fluorescents and LEDs, I use a fan instead of air-conditioner, energy-efficient refrigerator, energy-efficient (laptop) computers, I try to use my motorcycle instead of the car (and bicycle when possible), I no longer eat beef (not vegetarian though - I do eat chicken), I no longer travel abroad. And so on.
While I'm proud of my attempts to be energy efficient, I also realize it's just a drop in the bucket. Most of the food I eat gets grown with fossil fuel inputs (tractors, trucks), farm chemicals and artificial fertilizer. Ditto for most of the consumer goods sitting around my house, including the computer I'm now typing on. Not to mention that the computer needs a constant supply of electricty (otherwise it's just a paperweight), plus the Internet that we are both connecting to consumes lots of power.
I have spent plenty of time in third world countries with marginal electric grids (or no grid at all in rural backwaters). I know what it's like to live with nothing but candlelight (or campfire light) at night, cook over the campfire, no phone or radio or TV, wash clothes by hand in a bucket, cut off from any possibility of medical care should the need arise. Essentially, this is the way our ancestors lived, and some of the hardcore greenies advocate that we simply readopt a 19th century standard of living. I (and not only I) have a problem accepting that. Not only was this "simpler way of life" not always comfortable, but I also don't think that the current world population of 7 billion (and still rising fast) could survive on 19th century technology. It's worth taking a look at just how fast the world's population has risen:
World Population Growth
1 200 million
1000 275 million
1500 450 million
1650 500 million
1750 700 million
1804 1 billion
1850 1.2 billion
1900 1.6 billion
1927 2 billion
1950 2.55 billion
1955 2.8 billion
1960 3 billion
1965 3.3 billion
1970 3.7 billion
1975 4 billion
1980 4.5 billion
1985 4.85 billion
1990 5.3 billion
1995 5.7 billion
1999 6 billion
2006 6.5 billion
2009 6.8 billion
2011 7 billion
2025 8 billion
2043 9 billion
2083 10 billion
This astonishing population growth has been made possible thanks to fossil fuel inputs. What we will do when the fossil fuel runs out, or when we can't burn it anymore because it's killing the atmosphere, is anyone's guess. My guess is that lots of people will starve. I also expect lots of wars to break out as everyone scrambles to lay claim to whatever resources are left.
finley wrote:You might argue that we don't need to do that if we're getting energy "too cheap to meter" from 4th-gen reactors, but again that's a very narrow view. The very existence of cheap energy means that destructive businesses are empowered to do damage on a larger scale, and faster, than they otherwise would. Consider forestry, for example: if the cost of harvesting, transporting, and retailing wood products doubles, don't you think that might decrease the rate at which wood is wasted? In agriculture, would farmers be so keen to use artificial nitrogen fertiliser if it costs $3/kilo instead of $1?
Well, first off, I never claimed that nuclear power would be "too cheap to meter." Yes indeed, I have seen others make that argument (mainly lobbyists for the nuclear power industry), but I've never believed it. I support 4th generation nukes because I think they offer the only proven technology that can power the world at present levels of consumption without adding greenhouse gases. The widely-touted "alternatives" - solar and wind - are not up to the task, regardless of what they cost. It's not a question of money, it's a question of what works. I have met some devout greenies who claim that we have enough wind to "power the world 10 times over," and I think they are just engaging in wishful thinking - they don't understand the technology, but they have this religious belief in wind that is unshakable. Additionally, they have a religious belief that "nuclear is evil" and there is no way to get them to look at the issue with an open mind. Thus we find ourselves in the present situation where the world is shutting down nukes and burning more coal as a result, all the while promising the imminent arrival of "alternative energy."
But I do appreciate what you're saying about costs - that low prices encourage wasteful habits. That's the big argument in favor of carbon taxes - just make it expensive, and people will use less or find alternatives. I view that as simplistic. Raise prices high enough, and people may have to sit in their apartments freezing in winter by candlelight. That does save energy, especially if they do indeed freeze to death, as this will help us achieve the desirable goal of negative population growth. I probably don't need to add that this isn't the most humane way to go about achieving a low-carbon emissions future.
The world’s total electricity generating capacity is around 4500GW (2007 figures), or 4.5 terawatts. These days a new nuclear powerplant typically has a capacity of 1.3GW, so we'd be looking at around 4000 new nukes worldwide to satisfy demand. I would guess that there's no more than a dozen new nukes under construction world wide, so we are long way from a nuclear renaissance.
Mucha Man wrote:In a word: Taipower. From an American Chamber of Commerce report (which yes does of course state that part of the cost overrun was due to the project being temporarily suspended - I don't dispute that):
Thanks for posting that, MM. However, I'm a little more kind to Taipower than you are. The report you mentioned seems to confirm something I've long suspected...when the government doesn't want to do something (in this case, Ah-bien didn't want to complete the 4th nuke but he was being forced to do so), the "solution" is to bury the project in red tape and utter bullshit so that it never gets done. Of course, now that Ma has been in office for 4 years, that argument is getting a little thin, but the culture of bureaucratic incompetence is well entrenched and I'm not sure that is Taipower's fault.
One other thing - the first three nukes were all built rather quickly back in the 1970s. Taiwan simply bought the plants off the shelf from the USA. Nuclear powerplants were a big business back in those days prior to Three Mile Island. But Taipower has no real experience building nukes, and even worse, Taiwan doesn't have a school of nuclear engineering. Yes, lots of "electrical engineers" graduate every year, but none with any knowledge of how a nuke plant is built. In fact, it's becoming a worldwide shortage of qualified people as older engineers retire and no money is being spent on nuclear engineering since it is a "dirty technology" that we are supposedly going to soon be rid of. If Taiwan ever decides that 4th generation nukes are needed, they'd better get started building the engineering expertise to make this happen.