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Earth Power

Energy Production Is As 'Dirty' As Ever 260

Posted by Soulskill
from the change-is-hard dept.
kkleiner writes "A recent report (PDF) from International Energy Agency delivers some dire news: despite 20 years of efforts toward clean energy and a decade of growth in renewable energy, energy production remains as 'dirty' as ever due to worldwide reliance on fossil fuels. With the global demand for energy expected to rise by 25 percent in the next 10 years, a renewed effort toward cleaner energy is desperately needed to avoid detrimental effects to the environment and public health. The report says, 'Coal technologies continue to dominate growth in power generation. This is a major reason why the amount of CO2 emitted for each unit of energy supplied has fallen by less than 1% since 1990. Thus the net impact on CO2 intensity of all changes in supply has been minimal. Coal-fired generation, which rose by an estimated 6% from 2010 to 2012, continues to grow faster than non-fossil energy sources on an absolute basis.'"
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Energy Production Is As 'Dirty' As Ever

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nhojovadle]> on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @06:10PM (#43604745) Journal

    CO2 is food for plants.

    You know what, you're right [plantsneedco2.org]! And I don't know why those folks in Fukushima got all upset about their nuclear reactor getting water washed all over it! I mean, the darn thing needs water to work anyway, right? Plus plants and people drink water, why were they upset that they got extra from the ocean? It's just water!

    Big whoop. Warming up this damn freezer I live in is NOT being "dirty".

    Right because the possibilities of water wars, refugees, failing economies, destruction of the food chain, droughts and general destabilization of the planet will have no effect on you whatsoever.

  • Re:Dirty (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gweihir (88907) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @06:14PM (#43604793)

    Not that much. Sulfur, mercury, and lead kills people. C02 kills civilizations, so the emphasis is pretty much spot-on.

  • Re:Dirty (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blueturffan (867705) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @06:36PM (#43604941)

    C02 kills civilizations, so the emphasis is pretty much spot-on.

    I thought that was chlorofluorocarbons.

    Maybe it was ozone?

    No...it's methane. Wait...

    Sulfur dioxide you say? No, that one used to be bad because of acid rain but now I'm reading that it helped cool the planet and by reducing atmospheric levels of sulfur dioxide we've actually made global warming worse.

    Then again, I remember not too long ago that diesel exhaust was horrible and we needed to get rid of diesel engines, but now I read that they're much better than gasoline engines.

    So today CO2 is a civilization killer, but I'm sure there'll be a new environmental pollutant to worry about soon.

  • by PhantomHarlock (189617) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @06:42PM (#43604993)

    ...when your country completely discounts nuclear as the best option for an environmentally friendly energy source. Solar and wind can never be primary energy sources - they are not constant power sources. They can only supplement a steady power source. And they waste so much real estate compared to the alternative that even environmentalists don't like them, especially wind farms. I live in the shadow of one of the biggest wind farms in the United States, and it's an obnoxiously terrible use of land with comparatively little energy in return. At least now they're required to cover the cost of their eventual removal and land restoration.

    Frankly I'd rather live next to a modern, safe nuclear power plant. China is appropriately proceeding with caution on the development of their next plants based on lessons learned with Fukishima (see recent slashdot posting) but they did not have a knee jerk "OMG nuclear is bad!" reaction. You fix it, you evolve the design, you move on. That's engineering. You don't go hide in a cave. Even Japan is coming round to the fact that ditching their nuclear reactors wholesale would result in an unacceptable level of energy dependence, plus they'd be burning dirty.

    Nuclear is the only future in which we can have the energy abundance we have now, and do it clean. We CAN have both, unlike what some people may like to tell you.

  • by WolfWithoutAClause (162946) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @06:58PM (#43605055) Homepage

    Not necessarily.

    Wind power energy cost is at grid parity right now, and is virtually CO2 neutral.

    I mean, yeah sure, wind is intermittent; but it doesn't melt down, and storage can be done with hydro, pumped hydro or electric cars, or you can fill in with a bit of fossil or biofuel when the wind doesn't blow.

    Wind power is growing at ~25% per annum. It's only about 3% at the moment, but with that growth rate, it's going to be huge.

    Some countries like Denmark are already at 30%, and are aiming for 50%, and Denmark isn't even very good for wind resources (although they're surrounded by hydro, which certainly is good.)

    Nuclear is more expensive than wind, and is also poor at load following; you normally find nuclear needs hydro as well; because it's so expensive to build it runs flat out and then the hydro does the load following- nuclear is better for baseload.

  • by NeverVotedBush (1041088) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @06:58PM (#43605057)
    In small concentrations it is necessary for plants - but it isn't what is typically considered a "nutrient". But CO2 has a strong effect on global heating and the low concentrations confuse people who don't understand just how powerful an infrared absorber it is, or what happens when you disturb an equilibrium.

    eldavojohn is totally correct when he mentions "water wars, refugees, failing economies, destruction of the food chain, droughts and general destabilization of the planet". These are all consequences of a warming planet.

    Some areas will have far too much water at times - like the midwestern US that is flooding now. But then it can go into drought and crops wither like they did last year. Other areas simply suffer prolonged drought. Right now the Rio Grand has slowed to nothing but stagnant water in the southern part of New Mexico and the pecan and chile farmers are looking at big crop failures. People are already fighting over water rights in a number of areas as what is becoming a scarce resource is now the difference between a farm surviving or failing.

    Scoff and deny all you want, but those of us old enough to remember the weather in the 60's and 70's know that the weather has changed and that what we are seeing now simply is not normal.
  • Re:Dirty (Score:2, Insightful)

    by amiga3D (567632) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @07:06PM (#43605135)

    I wonder, if we got rid of all that CO2 and the global temperature dropped 10 degrees or so and a few billion people starved to death would these people that think they have all the answers step up and admit responsibility? Moot point I guess because short of cutting off electricity to a few billion people there is no real answer to the CO2 problem.

  • by KonoWatakushi (910213) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @09:11PM (#43605781)

    More renewables isn't enough to provide anything more than self satisfaction. At the current rate, it would take centuries to have any significant impact, and the laws of reality will prevent it from ever providing a significant fraction. Despite extensive effort, Germany is discovering this right now, and they too are ramping coal and gas generation.

    It isn't a problem of inaction, but of the wrong action, which is arguably worse. "Environmentalists" would have us continue to pour money and resources into uneconomical "solutions" which can not possibly achieve our objectives. Once all of our money and resources are spent, implementing a workable solution becomes near impossible. The problem is that they refuse to face reality and have taken the only workable solution off the table. (Or they choose to live in a different reality, where pro-environment is synonymous with anti-human, and a collapse in population is an accepted part of the "solution".)

    The crucial point is that none of our current technologies are capable of providing affordable power at the scale we require. Renewables like wind and solar are hugely resource intensive, making them inherently costly both to the environment and people. They are also unreliable, and require a non-existant storage technology which is an even more difficult problem than fusion. Pumped hydro storage is the only one currently available that is even close to economical at the scale required, but it isn't universally available. We should not be pursuing an energy policy that by its very nature requires a miraculous breakthrough to succeed, and would otherwise result in spectacular failure.

    Those that appreciate the scope of the problem often remark that we need a "broad mix of technologies" to meet our energy needs. That is a translation for "none of our current options are sufficient", but it is a resigned mentality, because there is no guarantee that a combination of insufficient technologies will ever be sufficient. Rather, there is good evidence that the sum total will never be sufficient in the absence of reliable baseload electricity from fossil fuels or nuclear.

    Fortunately, like you said, it is not all doom and gloom. There happens to be a proven technology that would be sufficient if we developed it. It has been providing clean and cheap electricity for decades with a minimal environmental footprint, the only issue being the large (and growing) up front capital cost, and the fact that we can't build plants fast enough. While useful, conventional nuclear to which I am referring is not the solution, and will never be sufficient. Fortunately, unlike the other options, nuclear has huge unrealized potential, and with a bit of development, it could become the solution we seek.

    Molten salt reactors are fundamentally different from conventional nuclear, and solve all the problems which plague solid-fueled conventional reactors, while safely operating at vastly greater efficiency. The so-called nuclear waste problem is a product of conventional reactors which are nearly 100% inefficient , and that is not an exaggeration. The fission process is such that if not completed, it produces nasty intermediate products which then contaminate the rest of the fuel, a problem severely exacerbated by only consuming a tiny fraction of the fuel, before pulling it from the reactor and adding it to the growing pile of "spent fuel". The truth though, is that "spent fuel" is almost entirely unspent, and the problem essentially disappears if we completely consume the fuel. Rather than a waste problem, it is a vast reserve of energy waiting to be tapped.

    The problem isn't producing clean energy, it is doing so affordably, so that the entire world embraces it. Robert Hargraves discusses this in his book, THORIUM: energy cheaper than coal [thoriumene...ancoal.com].

  • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @09:27PM (#43605843) Homepage Journal

    So - you're saying that the couple of decades from your youth are to be considered "normal". We're going to ignore all of the evidence that points to cyclical warming and cooling on planet earth, and use two decades to define "normal".

    Does everyone forget that the Native Americans lived on this continent for untold thousand of years, before any Euros showed up? Maybe we should be asking them, "What is "normal" around here?"

  • by ChrisMaple (607946) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @11:39PM (#43606411)

    either because of dramatically increase droughts or because of more frequent and more unpredictable torrential rains.

    It's so sad. "Environmentalists" like you have become so obviously unable to predict the effects of what they're arguing against that their navel-gazing produces contradictory results, and they can't even see the contradiction.

  • by KonoWatakushi (910213) on Thursday May 02, 2013 @09:34AM (#43608943)

    You could say the same thing about ubiquitous superconductors. The technology simply isn't ready, and there is no reason to expect it will be anytime soon. Until then, like superconductors, it will be consigned to niche uses, and not displace any fossil fuel generation in the developing world, which is absolutely essential. Subsidies should be spent on developing technologies, not deploying technologies which can't succeed.

    Efficiently collecting diffuse sources of energy like wind and solar is an extremely difficult challenge. Massive storage is an absolute requirement. Transmission infrastructure is also expensive, and the low capacity factors of wind and solar compound this expense. For example, using a generous 25% capacity factor for wind, it is necessary to install four times the capacity, which also requires four times the transmission infrastructure. Worse yet, all of that infrastructure must be sized to handle the full load. The economics simply don't work yet, and are far from doing so.

    Even if they did, wind and solar still waste a huge amount of land and resources to harvest a relative pittance of energy, so the environmental footprint will still be much larger than any sort of nuclear, even if you want to include exclusion zones. People really don't appreciate just how much land, steel, concrete, rare earths and such are required. Nor the impact of mining and processing all those resources, to say nothing of covering vast expanses of land, and the cost of regular replacement and maintenance. It is a nightmare.

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