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Earth Power

Energy Production Is As 'Dirty' As Ever 260

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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  • We are producing more pollution because we are using more energy. The fact that it hasn't risen and is in fact falling in many places is due to us cleaning up and using more renewables.

    I suspect this is just a lame excuse anti-environmentalists will use to justify inaction.

    • Since we are producing more and more energy, the absolute amounts of pollution emitted each year is still increasing.

      Basically all the "green" energy is offsetting the increase in "dirty" energy.

      • A recent cover of Investor's Business Daily, citing information from the EPA, shows a graph of air pollution in the United States over the last 20 years. It's down 60%, while population and GDP has increased.
    • 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 [].

      • by notanalien_justgreen ( 2596219 ) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @11:49PM (#43606447)

        The thing is, renewable energy is only uneconomical until it's not. Science and technology progress - pretending something won't ever work because it doesn't today is a dangerous line of thinking.

        Progress comes in random spurts - but it always comes: []

        • 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.

    • Up until recently, the biggest polluter in terms of producing electricity was coal-fired power plants, with a long list of really harmful emissions from such power plants. With the EPA now mandating strict controls on coal-fire power plant emissions (and most of the world doing the same), these pollutants are now vastly lower, especially sulfur dioxide emissions. China has yet to impose strict emission control rules on their coal-fired power plants, but after the major debacle of HORRIBLE air pollution in t

  • Dirty (Score:5, Informative)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @06:06PM (#43604721) Journal
    In case anyone is wondering, they're using CO2 as the sole measurement of 'dirty,' ignoring things like sulfur, mercury, and lead, which are probably important.

    The article had one fact of which I was unaware, but should be entertaining:

    "The boom in natural gas availability [mainly from fracking] pushed natural gas prices down last year to a 10-year low in the US. But the drop in US demand for coal sparked a drop in the price of coal, which in turn sparked a shift in Europe where coal replaced much of the more expensive gas to supply power stations."

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by gweihir ( 88907 )

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

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Kaenneth ( 82978 )

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

        Where would be be today if not for Bush Jr. eating all those leaded paint chips?

        First thing Obama did was have the Oval Office repainted.

      • Your uncle Al would be proud.

      • 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?'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.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by amiga3D ( 567632 )

          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.

          • First of all, human activity hasn't changed the global temp by 10 degrees (C or F). But if we got rid of ALL the CO2 that would indeed be a bad thing. We shouldn't do that. Ideally we would just get rid of the CO2 that the industrial age introduced and allow nature to take its course. The global temp may well drop 10 degrees but it would do so over 100,000 years or so like it always has. A blink of the eye to the earth but thats 20x the age of modern society. We could adapt in that time span. Case in point:
        • Re:Dirty (Score:4, Informative)

          by sqrt(2) ( 786011 ) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @09:53PM (#43605921) Journal

          Go find the nearest spray can. See the label which says "NO CFCS"? Chlorofluorocarbons WERE a huge concern, until we stepped up as a civilization and made the necessary changes to solve the problem. You don't hear about that problem anymore because we solved it. It didn't go away on its own. It didn't fade away like some green-fad. We recognized an environmental issue and solved it, and now the ozone layer is recovering. []

          Similar points can be made about the other things you mentioned. Those are all bad, we are taking steps to address them, or at least figuring out if it's feasible to use a replacement or change our industrial/ag processes to minimize those pollutants. We aren't just ignoring them. And you're right, there WILL be new environmental pollutants to worry about. That doesn't invalidate the concerns over the previous ones we've identified.

          Science constantly moves forward, adjusts, corrects itself when it makes mistakes. That's not a weakness, that's its chief virtue. It's the meddlesome lay people, the politicians, and the mouth breathing ignorant masses who believe you have to stick with your story, your narrative, or be deemed unprincipled or untrustworthy.

        • I thought that was chlorofluorocarbons

          Correct! CFC's were a huge concern and the global community realized this, did something about it and now they are no longer a concern. Keyword in your sentence: WAS.

          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.

          SO2 and CO2 can BOTH be bad at the same time. Think Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan in their heydays. Britney's shaved head may have diverted attention from a paparazzi crotch shot but regardless, they both ended up in rehab/jail.

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

          Sarcasm aside, I honestly hope you're right about this one too because that would mean that society either resolved

    • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

      Indeed, I hate when radical greens confuse pollution with greenhouse emission.

    • The rise of coal use in Europe isn't completely due to economics. Part of it is due to Germany shutting down their nuclear plants and having to offset that electricity generation by increasing the production at their existing coal plants. They are also building (or planning to build) coal plants to help offset the loss of their nuclear plants.

    • "But the drop in US demand for coal sparked a drop in the price of coal, which in turn sparked a shift in Europe where coal replaced much of the more expensive gas to supply power stations."

      While unfortunate, I don't think that really matters in the bigger picture. If the price of coal dropped in Europe despite the availability of U.S. coal, that implies demand is down relative to supply, meaning the total coal used by the U.S. and Europe combined is still down. If consumption were up, coal prices would

    • Re:Dirty (Score:5, Interesting)

      by paulpach ( 798828 ) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @10:55PM (#43606215)

      In case anyone is wondering, they're using CO2 as the sole measurement of 'dirty,' ignoring things like sulfur, mercury, and lead, which are probably important.

      Exactly! Consider what was going on before cars. People used horses to move around. You know what horses do besides transporting people? They poop, and then step all over it pulverizing it. Pulverized horse poop is orders of magnitude worse than anything that can come out of a car.
      Consider also all the epidemics that went on for centuries without aqueducts.

      Despite what environmentalist would have you believe, technology is actually making the world less and less polluted over time. Just looking at CO2 and ignoring all sorts of pollutants that it replaced, is just myopic.

    • An additional factor is Obama's war against the coal industry. Although his policies hurt both production and use, the heaviest burden falls on users. U.S. users find other energy sources, coal prices drop and become attractive to buyers in other countries.
    • Burning coal has a LOT of disadvantages, because the types of pollutants from coal burning are very long and very unhealthy. No wonder why the EPA has strict rules on coal-fired power plants, and why cleaner-burning coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming is in very high demand.

      Longer term, the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR), a highly-advanced nuclear reactor design that has very few of the disadvantages of solid-fuel uranium reactors, could become the main power source around the world within t

      • The funny thing about this story, and many stories on energy, is everyone has their favorite form of energy production, and they can all explain why all the other ones won't work. Every other method except ${FAVORED_METHOD} is too expensive.
  • 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.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Kylon99 ( 2430624 ) []

      "Japan's LNG imports soared 11.2 percent to a record high of 87.31 million tonnes in 2012, driven by an increased need for fuel to generate electricity after the
      nuclear sector was hit by the Fukushima crisis, government data showed on Thursday."
      "Japan paid a record price for crude at $114.90 per barrel last year, compared with $108.65 in 2011."

      This goes to what you were saying. There may be alternative energy sources for some c

    • I think what will happen is that the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) will finally get the attention to be developed to commercial scale. The advantages of LFTR's are considerable:

      1. The nuclear fuel is thorium-232, which is far more commonly available than uranium.
      2. The thorium fuel is dissolved in molten sodium fluoride salts, a very cheap form of fuel to make compared to the expense of assembling solid rods of uranium-235 fuel.
      3. Plutonium-239 from dismantled nuclear weapons and spent uranium-235

  • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

    That's what happens when you ship your manufacturing to the third world and refuse to build nuclear plants at home.

  • Until nuclear is no longer suppressed for political reasons energy generation will be dirty.

    Environmentalists need to take their heads out of their asses.

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      US civilian nuclear ate it's own children - there was intense lobbying to shut down the thorium research because it was considered to endanger the established uranium economy. You should have noticed when there were all those protests against the Iraq war that protest groups really have little or no effect in the long run, so your blame of environmentalists is just convenient bullshit to blame for the internal failure of an industry that spends an order of magnitude more on lobbying than R&D.
      If you wan
      • Oh, it'll come from outside the US. China is the best bet so far.

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )
          Not really since China is acting as a consumer of the technology and not a producer. There's the Westinghouse AP1000 based on a lot of Japanese technology and the pebble bed stuff from South Africa via Germany. The French don't seem to be interested in selling to anyone and have slowed their work anyway, Russia is trying to build their own superphoenix and get it right this time, which is going to take years before they sell it to anyone even if everything goes perfectly, so that leaves India, Germany, We
      • And environmentalists give the lobbyists political cover. And the environmental lobby itself has considerable power, if you hadn't noticed.

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )
          Not as much as they pretend, the media pretends or those looking for somebody to blame pretends. Hence mentioning the Iraq war protests that made zero difference despite the vast numbers of people involved.
          • Nah, that comparison does not stand. There was not an influential, well funded anti Iraq war lobby. There is an influential, well funded environmental lobby. I do agree with you that the existing nuclear industry is ossified and resistent to change, but it goes beyond that. There is strident political, ideological resistence to nuclear on the left, and willful laziness with nuclear on the right.

  • and for chrissake turn your damn computer off.

    I've been turning this one on and off for going on 5 years and it hasn't died or fried a drive yet.

  • Well the time for " ZPG " is past .
    It is time for a negative population growth
    or remove some of the population ( or nature will do it for us -- and not in a nice way)

    we DO need to be back to PRE World War 2 population levels

    that WILL solve the energy and food needs

    • Prove it, in detail, or STFU.
    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      Thank you for your input Chairman Mao. China has only just recovered from your last lot of advice.
      China can feed itself thanks to landowners getting better at doing so with no thanks to the cultural revolution, communism or the one child policy (which wasn't universal anyway).
  • All countries that publicly reduced nuclear energy production, makes up the diff with coal. China, is also using more coal, but they are building a large number of nukes too, so I won't blame them.

    One problem with coal, is that after you burned coal, there is still more energy in the uranium in the ash, than was produced by burning the coal. So every coal fired plant is effectively a 'dirty bomb' that pollutes our food supply with radio active ash.

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