In the weblog Clean Break, written by Canadian reporter Tyler Hamilton (screenshot from his site on the left), I was pointed to an edition of MIT’s Technology Review, with a set of article looking at different aspects of measures against global warming.
Articles are about different solutions in bringing down emissions, ranging from nuclear to Brasil’s biofuel as well as using improved technologies to get more from what we already are using. But in the end there is no escaping the reality that […] we will need an energy economy based on solar, wind and other renewables.
Tyler’s blog by the way is a good place to get information about Canadian initiatives in alternative energy sources, as well as the reality you have to face when implementing those initiatives.
This is the neighbourhood where a colleague of mine lives. The houses had solar panels added during construction. The number of panels, given latitude and climate as well as probable efficiency of the panels, should be enough for about 40% of the energy consumption.
I think adding photo voltaic technology, as well as solar water heaters to building during construction is done way too little. It helps lower the threshold for people to ‘try’ it out.
Recent polling showed that more than half of the Dutch population thought generating part of your energy yourself through solar or wind was a step too far. Three quarters thought they were already mindful enough to not waste energy. I’d say there is a big difference between the effort to try and use less energy for the same tasks (always worth an effort I’d say), and the notion of using energy you generated yourself. The two are neither opposites, nor replacements of each other, but complements working in two different directions altogether.
Adding PV panels to your home later on is still rather expensive, but adding them on top of the general building budget changes perspective as well as lets you finance it through your mortgage. There the total sum is less interesting to most than the actual monthly mortgage rates. Also it makes the financing costs tax deductable.
BP will start building a windmill park in the Amsterdam harbour area. Operating the biggest turbines currently deployed in the Netherlands, it will provide 5000 households with power. This according to television text services. Neither BP’s website nor the city of Amsterdam’s site mention it.
Why is it almost every article that deals with hydrogen production has these characteristics:
1) it assumes one source of energy to create hydrogen, not multiple sources channeled into the hydrogen-unit
2) if it’s about large scale production, it assumes centralized production, not decentralized
3) proponents tend to not do the math or take into account the total energy equation
4) opponents tend to think organizational/production/distribution structures are given and unalterable.
One of the comments I read was that if the UK were to use solarpower only, it had to cover all of Scotland with solar cells. Now I can accept that the math is correct (although I have no way of calculating it), but why assume it has to be in one place? If roofs are covered where possible, you might well have a much larger surface available for instance.
My guess is that the only viable centralized option, apart from fossil fuels, is nuclear power. And it will seize to be political suicide to mention it as soon as oilprices escalate rapidly, of that I am sure. Nuclear waste or not.
Says the European Conference on Renewable Energy
Does not really sound like much, although a lot more than the current 6% and also a lot considering that the energy consumption will continue to rise over time.
One of my intuitions is however that all initiatives are looking at large-scale centralized production methods. For some that might be the only way forward, e.g. when we want to exploit the energy contained in seawaves, or when looking at geothermal solutions. Those might not be easily applicated at home-level.
It also puts the burden of responsibility too little on us, energy consumers, I think, when the message is that we will come up with central solutions, and don’t you worry.
What can I do at the home level, at affordable prices, now to 1) reduce my personal dependency on fossil fuel, and 2) make it more likely to bring about energy regime change in a distributed manner.
I just finished reading Hydrogen, by Rifkin.
In short his book says:
Sketching the problem:
-we are running out of oil and other fossil fuels fast.
-we are probably running out of it faster than we until now believed.
-billions of people are at the same time aspiring to energy usage levels the west enjoyed in the past decades
-it is of grave concern that the region that is the source of our last oil reserves is also the politically most volatile: the Middle East
-it is also of grave concern that short term alternatives to oil are environmentally dirtier, increasing CO2 emissions
Providing a solution
-there is an alternative energy regime we can embrace: hydrogen, created from sustainable energy sources
-energy regimes through history profoundly shape the technological and geopolitical context of the world
-hydrogen will be no exception
- hydrogen does not need a centralized organisation of production, in fact it is ideally suited for distributed production
-hydrogen will in the end make energy virtually free
-we should make sure to bring about such a distributed energy system, it will be globalization from the bottom up
-hydrogen, because it makes energy free, is potentially the great equalizer for mankind, for the first time giving opportunities to all.
Interesting thoughts. A large overlap with what I see happening in knowledge management. So for part of what Rifkin says the time seems ripe already. But he hardly touches on realizing the solutions he sees from a technological standpoint. The problem is getting the technology available on household-level and that is something he does not discuss. He seems to assume that will work out fine. It might, but we need to do some hard thinking to make it that way.
Wondering how to help bring it about.
What we have been doing in the past 100 years, and especially in the last 50 of them, is what I used to do a lot when playing the turnbased strategy game Civilization: pumping a source of wealth and feed it into the economy. We became rich in the west primarily because we exploited a free resource, and consequently controlled the production, flow and use of that resource. In Civilization I did the same by editing the hexadecimal code that signified the treasury in the saved game files, in real life we call it drilling for oil. (and before oil we called it colonization)
Oil is the basis of all our activities. Without it we won’t last a day.
Now our cheatcode is becoming invalid.
We need a new one. We need a new source of energy, to sustain our wealth.
If Hydrogen is the new carrier, with light and wind as it’s source instead of nuclear power, or burning other fossile fuels (coals, brownstone) or organic material (waste, wood, biomasses) we have an interesting opportunity that we did not have before: decentralized production of energy.
This has intriguing consequences. What would happen if centralized control over energy falls away? Would it bring other centralized power and wealth structures with it, like money systems? Won’t that lead to a massive resistance by those now filling those central positions? I guess it will.
I think if we do not now think about how to achieve that decentralized structure we might be too late. Because we need oil to make the switch, and when we wait until oil prices rise exorbitantly the only ones being able to make the switch for us will be the centralized powers. And they will then make sure that they stay central powers after the switch. We will have to take control of our own switch.
So what do we need after oil?
We need equipment for making hydrogen out of water using sustainable energy sources, and we need fuel cells to turn hydrogen and oxygen into water again and releasing the same amount of energy. We need that equipment to be simple, affordable and robust.
Robust in that it can use rainwater, or filtered surfacewater, and not needs treated or purified water. Robust in that it can use air as oxygen source, and not need liquid oxygen or such. We need it that robust, for it to be self-contained, otherwise we would need a third party to supply the ingredients. Tapwater is a scarce resource for instance, even we in the west flush liters of it down the drain every time we use the toilet.
Once we have that equipment available we can start thinking about sharing the surplus. Build our own micro-grids to supply the neighbourhood, or sell it back to the mains.
This all leads to the biggest question:
How far off are we from such equipment becoming available? And if we are very far off, what does it take to bring it about sooner and faster?
And once again, we need it not at the time the oil really runs out (which probably is still a pretty long time away), we need before the oil-prices go through the roof, so within a few years as we probably are already on, or racing towards Hubbert’s Peak.
I don’t know the answer to that. But somebody probably will. Time to google!