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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Towards Wiggia's Challenge - Some "ZeroCarbon" Truths

Yesterday, 'Wiggia' outlined some of the problems with 'zero carbon' energy
Here is energy market expert Nick Drew's response:

Our good host invited me to pick up on Wiggia's post, which I'm pleased to do.  It'll be piecemeal, I'm afraid.  I believe things are (a) not quite as bad as Wiggia suggests  -  in fact, (b) rather different to what he suggests, certainly at the macro level.   And as you'll see, we are in full agreement on a couple of important points.

Scenarios whereby the world is going to end:   Shorthand acknowledged, but let's also note that the wiser commentators have always said: the world will be just fine - it's mankind that's at risk.

"We must give up meat":  Actually this is a very recent and tentative new entrant into the list of admonishments.  Thus far, politico-greens (and the NGOs behind them) have mostly avoided recommending anything that might get people's backs up, preferring to stick it to the Man.  It's only very recently that meat and, whisper it softly, over-population have crept into the discourse.  (I am on record as saying that mention of - *gasps* - geo-engineering might be the next hitherto unspeakable suggestion to be voiced.)

Why is so little challenged?  Well of course for many years there was plenty of challenge, but of a spectacularly dumb-sophist nature (Monckton, this means you).  If any of you read my stuff on Capitalists@Work, you'll know I identify 2019 as the year when the whole game changed fundamentally (and XR / Greta are only partly to do with it).  Prior to 2019, "green" investment was a niche, if growing global sector, mostly dependent upon subsidy.  Most people sort-of got it, in a passive sort of way: OK yeah, global warming, probably, but not any time soon, not sure I care ...

The suddenly, two things happened, probably two sides of the same coin.  Various climate-related (or, let's say, extreme-weather-related) disasters struck, and people en masse jumped from Ok-yeah-sort-of, to Well Yes Obviously.  In fact, their position completely overshot the classic Green position, which goes on to say "... so we must de-industrialise and live in caves" - and moved swiftly to "... so we must rebuild those crumbling dams, build new sea-walls and flood defences etc etc" - i.e. Get Stuck In to what is known as Adaptation.

Meanwhile, led by Teresa desperate-for-a-distraction May legislated for "net-zero-2050" with narry a dissenting voice, and every other government in the world (bar a handful of really big'uns) jumped right in behind.

Most significantly, in all of this, the definition of Green (for investment purposes) changed from Prevention (building windfarms to "replace" coal) to Prevention + Mitigation + Adaptation.  This, to cut to the chase, means the governments of the world are gearing up to underwrite quite humungous investments (ironically, many of them into traditional steel-&-concrete projects); and this newly-expanded Green becomes the only game in town for banks and businesses everywhere.  This offers the prospect of a WW2 American war-economy boost to much of the world, Keynsianism on a vast scale (of redoubled significance post-virus), with 'war-profiteering' potential of a once-in-a-generation nature.

UPDATE:  Oh, and of course Swampy-style Hairshirt Greens just hate these developments.  They'd hoped we would understand you can't Adapt (and broadly maintain your lifestyle unchanged), it's not possible: so you must de-industrialise, in line with their happy cave-dwelling instincts.  They don't know how to seize the world's pension-funds and make hay with them (unlike the NGOs who use them as cannon fodder) - and are being left behind in the crush. ND

Not challenged??  There's no challenging something as big as that.   And every big global faction is seeking to lay hands on it:  honest capitalists & businesses;  leftists (who hope to use it as a smokescreen for their workerist agenda, see Green New Deal / Green Industrial Revolution passim); the developing world, which wants "reparations"; 'Green' NGOs (using it as a smokescreen for their "world governance" dreams); charlatans, kleptocrats and organised crime everywhere ...  they all want control of the world's pension funds to pay for all this - and leave them with a healthy cut.

Those that got in early stand to make a fortune: Funnily enough, no.   There were many who identified the potential for this around the time of the 2007-08-09 financial crisis, as being the Next Big Bubble to get into on the ground floor.  They were too early, by a decade.  Many of them lost the lot.

We still need conventional power stations  ... never included in the price equation:  Used to be true, but both aspects are changing fast.  New means of grid-balancing are coming on apace; and the costs of doing so are (a) falling and (b) very definitely being recognised where it matters.  Sure enough there are lavish legacy subsidies still being paid out from the era where the full-system costs were not being (explicitly) acknowledged.  But not going forward.

Still a daydream:  Yes, there are several unicorns featuring in many a "Roadmap" to 2050 - CCS, Hydrogen, etc etc.  We may not be able to tell the unicorns from the thoroughbreds - yet.  But, seriously folks, many engineers are really good, and a lot of money and determination is being put behind them.  Some of these big ideas are going to work.  Don't bet against it.

Lack of extra electricity to charge these vehicles  ...  needs to find three times the current capacity ... up to five times according to some:   EVs are, IMHO, a good example of something that can and will be made to work.  Some really good, intelligent plans are being hatched to manage this complex transition.  Don't bet against it.  But, yes, there really is something out there that could seem to require infeasible expansion of the electricity system, and it's not EVs: it's electrification of residential space heating (currently mostly natural gas).  It's infeasible.  It won't happen.  Best guess is that we'll convert to hydrogen burning instead.

Throw away our (nuclear) technical lead:  forget it.  Nuclear costs just get bigger and bigger, while Moore's Law rules elsewhere.  Back offshore wind, solar, smart-grid, demand-side response ...  all things we are really good at, and which have genuine potential for what's needed.  Leave nuclear to the French: it is going to bankrupt them.

Drax, stupid:  Yup - outrageously stupid.  Criminally stupid.

Germany, stupid:   Yup!  them, too.

Nick Drew


Sackerson said...

What can we do about the world cave shortage?

wiggiatlarge said...

I respect the comments Nick has made on my piece, which was a broad brush approach using articles and information from the likes of the National Grid etc, I didn't bother with links as I didn't want the whole piece to become a cut and paste job, I just wanted to express what I believe is the situation at this moment in time.
But I would pick up on the falling costs part of your reply, and I do believe that in the long term solutions to storage will be found but not within the 2050 time frame, all research shows this at the moment to indeed be a fantasy .
The costs by scale will come down re wind farms but whether nuclear or otherwise, and nuclear is the only other form of power available at the moment that will plug the gap unless we revert to fossil fuels, there has to be back up for when sustainable cannot produce and this is not a cheap way to produce energy.

What is also left out is the fact that despite the May 2019 hallelujah moment, when green power provided all energy for the month, in fact it didn't, we imported electricity from abroad and that was not included in the release statement.

As to cheaper, when we see it I will believe, nuclear at one time was the energy that would eventually be 'free' the government at the time actually said that, in fact costs will never in real terms go down regardless of the actual cost of production, maintenance of off shore is extremely high but in these early days has not yet become a significant factor, the government has just put a small but significant carbon tax on gas supply to the producers, these taxes in whatever form never go away but grow, the EV is a good example of where a lost fuel tax makes EVs cheap to run for now, but that lost revenue has to be replaced, it might not be direct tax on energy but if for example they road price they still are in effect taxing to replace a lost energy tax.

Hydrogen was and still is an alternative, but this has been spoken of for years now and still we are not really any nearer to having a solution, I agree we will prevail long term man is very good at these things but again the governments of the world have all jumped on the green wagon and put all their eggs in one basket with a time frame that in many areas that simply is not practical or even attainable.

Paddington said...

There was some recent neat technology of small (card-sized) units producing hydrogen with sunlight.

There is also news that at least one fusion reactor has doubled relative output.

Nick Drew said...

Hydrogen was and still is an alternative, but this has been spoken of for years now and still we are not really any nearer to having a solution

The difference now, W, is that the whole huge global gas industry (which up until 2019, rather lazily felt it had a free pass for the medium-term as being the coal-substitute) suddenly realised thatmight not wash. The amounts of their capital tied up in steel pipelines, storage facilities, ships, etc etc, is gigantic. To save this, it is just possible a transition to H may do the trick. So, for the first time, people are really, really taking it seriously. It's in their sweet patch - basic chemical engineering and bits of steel - and when people suddenly start paying attention to something, we often see step-improvements in efficiency etc. And then more, ...

It's also quite neat because it can ramp up in tech stages: startig with "dirty" H (using coal etc), moving to "blue H" (using natgas), then the "green H" using spare electricity etc etc. (Regrettably right now, biomass couts as "green" but I hope and believe this will change)