Category Archives: Energy

The Future is Not Set in Stone!

The World needs $48 trillion of investment by 2035 to keep the lights on says IEA, but there is little said about the conditions that would make it necessary.

To learn what it is all about, you really need to download the report. You can get this from the IEA website:- “World Energy Investment Outlook”, WEIO2014.pdf.

Looking through the report itself, it quickly becomes evident that it has been misreported. The phrase “adequate energy to meet rapid population growth.” is an addition on the part of the article’s author, Andrew Critchlow, and it is very remiss of him not to make that clear.

A search for the world “population” in the report itself drew a complete blank!

Furthermore, the article gives the impression that there was only one outcome considered by the IEA, but this proves also not to be the case. Various scenarios were considered, including low carbon.

It seems likely that the involvement of private companies will increase, as governments will have difficulty finding the sort of sums required.

“Meanwhile, the cost of generating electricity in Britain is expected to surge as investment into new generating capacity increases. Last year the Government signed a deal with international partners for the construction of a new £16bn nuclear plant at Hinkley Point, the first commissioned in the UK since Sizewell B in 1995.”

“The IEA’s Mr Birol had told the Telegraph last year in an interview that Britain would be wiser to invest more into developing its nuclear power capacity than opening up areas of the country to fracking.”

I wonder if Cameron got that message?

If the world population increase is going to prove to be such a problem, then it would make sense to invest more money in trying to stabilise it.

On a personal note:-

This could be a very good time to go off-grid!

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Well I’ll be Fracked!

Many of you may have seen the “Gasland” documentary, which seeks to suppress fracking completely, but some of you may not know that “Gasland” has been debunked – and successfully in my opinion – for the dangerous water they have in those parts is in fact a natural occurrence that had been known about for a long time.

“Debunking GasLand”
http://www.energyindepth.org/debunking-gasland/

“Did you know the people in Dimock had methane in their water 30, 40 years ago before drilling ever occurred? Yes I saw the well logs of some of the residents. The methane is a pre-existing condition.” And this from a public health practitioner who added a comment to the post.

With Gasland out of the way, you may think we can go full speed ahead, grab a hard hat and frack everything in sight, but I would not advise that course of action just yet. Apart from the risk of earthquakes, there are other matters of considerable import that seem to have a more solid grounding in scientific fact.

“Fracking: green groups denounce report approving further exploration”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/apr/17/fracking-green-groups-denounce-report

“But green groups and local anti-fracking groups angrily denounced the report. Former Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper said this morning that it cast “grave doubt” on the government’s commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. A study by Cornell University last year predicted its impact on climate change would be worse than coal.”

I think we can dispose of “government commitments” by treating them with the contempt they deserve – don’t you?
Especially after they vetoed the European Commission proposal to label oil produced from tar sands as highly polluting.
What, didn’t know about that? Go to
“EU bows to oil lobby pressure”
http://www.presseurop.eu/en/content/article/1569011-eu-bows-oil-lobby-pressure

That leaves us with the Cornell University study to consider.

The pointer to this came from “Shale gas ‘worse than coal’ for climate”, at
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-13053040

The document itself is as follows:-
Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations
Robert W. Howarth, Renee Santoro and Anthony Ingraffea
Climatic Change, 2011, Volume 106, Number 4, Pages 679-690
and it can be downloaded (PDF) or viewed (HTML). The third option, the summary, I reproduce below:-

“We evaluate the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas obtained by high-volume hydraulic fracturing from shale formations, focusing on methane emissions. Natural gas is composed largely of methane, and 3.6% to 7.9% of the methane from shale-gas production escapes to the atmosphere in venting and leaks over the life-time of a well. These methane emissions are at least 30% more than and perhaps more than twice as great as those from conventional gas. The higher emissions from shale gas occur at the time wells are hydraulically fractured—as methane escapes from flow-back return fluids—and during drill out following the fracturing. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential that is far greater than that of carbon dioxide, particularly over the time horizon of the first few decades following emission. Methane contributes substantially to the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas on shorter time scales, dominating it on a 20-year time horizon. The footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years.”

Now, let the great debate begin.

To frack, or not to frack – that is the question!

Understanding Thermal Balance.

Heat is probably the most undervalued form of energy available to us. It is by far the most abundant form of energy occurring naturally, but most of it is left to dissipate to the surroundings as it will.

Our prime source of this energy is the Sun. This is a giant nuclear fusion reactor at a mean distance of some 93 million miles from Earth, Earth’s orbit taking us from a close point of 91.4 million miles to a far point of 94.5 million miles. The Sun is believed to be 4.6 billion years old already, and will continue to shine for a projected 7 billion years more.

Heat from the Sun reaches us in the form of radiation. The wavelength of this radiation is determined by the Sun’s temperature, which ranges from 16 million degrees K at the centre to 5,800 K at the surface, and the wavelengths range from Ultra Violet, and the visible spectrum, through to the short Infra Red.

The Ozone Layer in the Earth’s atmosphere fortunately blocks the worst of the Ultra Violet range, for these rays are very dangerous for us. The remaining radiation reaches the Earth’s surface, and is the driving force behind all life on the planet.

The composition of the atmosphere is crucially important to the thermal balance. Without Carbon Dioxide, or any other gas that would perform the same function, the temperature at the Earth’s surface would be about -18C, ie. the planet would be a ball of ice, and would stay that way. Some “greenhouse gas” is necessary for our continued existence.

The records of past planetary behaviour are held in ice cores, and detailed investigations of these records show that the Carbon Dioxide content of the atmosphere normally varies between two limits:- 200 ppm during an Ice Age, and 280 ppm during a warmer period.

Within these limits, the Earth is able to achieve thermal balance by re-radiating surplus energy out to space, and by storing energy in chemical form – fossil fuels. Note, however, that the balance is not a static one, but swings from one Ice Age to an Interglaciary period such as the one we are currently experiencing, and back again. Note also that energy directly re-radiated out to space is at a longer wavelength than that coming in from the Sun. This is because the wavelength of radiation is dependent on the temperature of the radiating object, and the Earth is much cooler than the Sun. This is what enables the “Greenhouse Effect” to function.

With Carbon Dioxide concentrations within this range, the condition of the planet is also influenced by other factors, such as its albedo (reflectivity), and periodic changes to external influences such as orbital forcing, as described in the Milankovitch theory.

With Carbon Dioxide concentrations above this range, however, changes in albedo will have a reduced effect. Temperatures will increase, and we see evidence that this is already happening. The fact that Olive trees will now grow in Southern England, (Devon), shows that a Mediterranean climate is now being experienced at a latitude of 51°N – hitherto unheard of.

We must also remember that the Earth has an additional heat burden to dispose of – the one caused by us using 80 million barrels of oil per day. We can no longer afford to just let this heat dissipate into the surroundings, for the surroundings themselves are in trouble, and this is where we live!

Further increases in temperature will trigger further effects that will accelerate the problem. The two most disturbing ones are the release of Methane from the Arctic Tundra, and the increase in Water Vapour take-up of the atmosphere in general. Both Methane and Water Vapour are greenhouse gases, and are considerably more effective than Carbon Dioxide.

As temperatures increase, water locked up as ice will melt. There is overwhelming evidence to show that this is happening around the world already. The immediate result of this will be higher seal levels, which in turn leads to decreased land area. As oceans retain more heat than land, there will be an additional warming factor added to the others. Increasing temperatures in the oceans themselves will in turn lead to further increases in sea level, compounding the problem still further.

If we are to get the Earth back into thermal balance, the task will be easier if we do it before further greenhouse mechanisms are triggered – and this means starting Carbon Sequestration now.

Our use of heat energy should be completely revised. Heat can be controlled with remarkably low technology – mirrors, conductors, insulators, heat engines, and it has no qualms about doing work on its way from its higher-temperature source to its lower-temperature destination. We have to learn to use it effectively, in as short a space of time as possible.