Sustainable Energy — without the hot air
Author: | Aesthetics, Grid, U.K.
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I’m concerned about cutting UK emissions of twaddle – twaddle about sustainable energy. Everyone says getting off fossil fuels is important, and we’re all encouraged to “make a difference,” but many of the things that allegedly make a difference don’t add up.
Twaddle emissions are high at the moment because people get emotional (for example about wind farms or nuclear power) and no-one talks about numbers. Or if they do mention numbers, they select them to sound big, to make an impression, and to score points in arguments, rather than to aid thoughtful discussion.
This is a straight-talking book about the numbers. The aim is to guide the reader around the claptrap to actions that really make a difference and to policies that add up. …
We have an addiction to fossil fuels, and it’s not sustainable. The devel- oped world gets 80% of its energy from fossil fuels; Britain, 90%. And this is unsustainable for three reasons. First, easily-accessible fossil fuels will at some point run out, so we’ll eventually have to get our energy from someplace else. Second, burning fossil fuels is having a measurable and very-probably dangerous effect on the climate. Avoiding dangerous climate change motivates an immediate change from our current use of fossil fuels. Third, even if we don’t care about climate change, a drastic reduction in Britain’s fossil fuel consumption would seem a wise move if we care about security of supply: continued rapid use of the oil and gas reserves will otherwise soon force fossil-addicted Britain to depend on imports from untrustworthy foreigners. (I hope you can hear my tongue in my cheek.)
How can we get off our fossil fuel addiction?
There’s no shortage of advice on how to “make a difference,” but the public is confused, uncertain whether these schemes are fixes or figleaves. People are rightly suspicious when companies tell us that buying their “green” product means we’ve “done our bit.” They are equally uneasy about national energy strategy. Are “decentralization” and “combined heat and power,” green enough, for example? The government would have us think so. But would these technologies really discharge Britain’s duties regarding climate change? Are windfarms “merely a gesture to prove our leaders’ environmental credentials”? Is nuclear power essential?
We need a plan that adds up. The good news is that such plans can be made. The bad news is that implementing them will not be easy. …
Such an immense panelling of the countryside and filling of British seas with wind machines (having a capacity five times greater than all the wind turbines in the world today) may be possible according to the laws of physics, but would the public accept and pay for such extreme arrangements? If we answer no, we are forced to conclude that current consumption will never be met by British renewables. We require either a radical reduction in consumption, or significant additional sources of energy – or, of course, both. …
Let’s be realistic. What fraction of the country can we really imagine covering with windmills? Maybe 10%? Then we conclude: if we covered Let’s be realistic. What fraction of the country can we really imagine covering with windmills? Maybe 10%? Then we conclude: if we covered the windiest 10% of the country with windmills (delivering 2 W/m2), we would be able to generate 20 kWh/d per person, which is half of the power used by driving an average fossil-fuel car 50 km per day.
Britain’s onshore wind energy resource may be “huge,” but it’s evidently not as huge as our huge consumption.
I should emphasize how generous an assumption I’m making. Let’s compare this estimate of British wind potential with current installed wind power worldwide. The windmills that would be required to provide the UK with 20 kWh/d per person amount to 50 times the entire wind hardware of Denmark; 7 times all the wind farms of Germany; and double the entire fleet of all wind turbines in the world. …
Here’s how Denmark copes with the intermittency of its wind power. The Danes effectively pay to use other countries’ hydroelectric facilities as storage facilities. Almost all of Denmark’s wind power is exported to its European neighbours, some of whom have hydroelectric power, which they can turn down to balance things out. The saved hydroelectric power is then sold back to the Danes (at a higher price) during the next period of low wind and high demand.
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