Friday, 9 January 2015

Energy and Power Density

The fundamental reason for the inevitable failure of renewable energy (RE) is the pathetic power and energy densities they give. Let's compare everything on similar scales - in kiloJoule (kJ). kiloJoules per kilogram (kJ/kg) and kiloWatts per square metre (kW/m2). To convert between energy and power, remember that kJ = kW for 1 second. Look how dense Uranium is compared with fossil fuel (methane). How much better methane is than hydro. How pathetic wind is.

Lithium battery1,800
Lead battery170
Hydro (100m dam)1

PS: One joule (J) = work required to produce one watt (W) of power for one second, or one "watt second" (W·s)

Fossil fuels (like methane: 55,500 kJ/kg) are so energy dense and so convenient that we'd have to invent them if they weren't already there. The only way we were ever going to replace them was with something better, something far denser : uranium and thorium.

The consequence of weak power and energy density with an insistance upon RE-only energy must one of:

  1. Power Density Primer, by Vaclav Smil (pdf)
  2. Energy density (wikipedia)
  3. Why Power Density Matters, by Robert Wilson

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Why are the greens wrong (or what is neo-Malthusianism?)

Today, the largest purveyors of "neo-Malthusian" ideas are greens. Within the greens there's little opposition to it because most of the green organizations are anti-growth. At its simplest: anti-growth = neo-Malthusian. It goes further than that. Many of the original greens believed environment protection required zero- or negative- economic growth because they see the world as a zero sum economy: a resource spent on A is automatically something that can't be spent on B. The greens of 45 years ago were quite explicit:

"it’d be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it."
- Amory Lovins (1977)
"Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun."
- Dr. Paul Ehrlich (1970)

These greens were politically and intellectually neo-Malthusian. Their politics needed it and neither their ideas, nor policies could escape it.

we also thought that as you provide societies with more energy it enables them to do more environmental destruction. The idea of tying us to the natural forces of the wind and the sun was very appealing in that it would limit and constrain human development.
- Robert Stone (2014)

They were particularly scathing on energy because energy is the master resource behind industrial society. Using energy to replace labour allowed Britain to become the dominant world power in mid-Victorian times. It's no accident that the end of slavery coincided with the mass use of fossil fuel. Today, it's behind the economic growth of North America and its relative lack is a factor in Europe's slump. China - the workshop of today's world - has the cheapest electricity anywhere (at about 8¢/kWh). Nuclear energy was at the apex of their vitriol because it is by far the densest form (over a million times denser than fossil fuel). The leaders of the early green movement were generally well educated at a time when higher education was far more rationed than today. They weren't neo-Malthusian out of ignorance but out of choice. Todays greens still have this mindset. Even when their instincts are in conflict with zero-sum they don't have the courage to contradict green orthodoxy. So, they are either intellectual cowards or neo-Malthusians.

Naturally, all economic thinking trucks with zero-sum thinking. The peculiar aspect of neo-Malthusian ideas is that zero-sum thinking crowds out everything else. This is dangerous because our natural tendency is to see a zero-sum economy: just listen to Parliamentary debates, (or read CiF debates). We must always be on the guard against zero-sum. Zero-sum economic thinking strangles any possibility of socially progressive thought. A zero-sum economy will make progressive society impossible. In a neo-Malthusian world where everyone's fighting over smaller slices from an ever dwindling pie, there can only be reactionary economic systems and politics. Modern novelists celebrate this with ever more dystopian visions. Progressives should fear it.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Recently closed UK power stations. Why bother?

Here, in a nutshell is where Ofgem see UK electricity capacity heading.

Changes in installed capacity by generation technology type in Ofgem reference scenario

We are closing down lots of generation. We will be opening only wind, biomass or gas (CCGT).

Major Power Producers capacity closed, converted or reduced (as at end of May 2014), since end-2010
SiteFuelStatusPrevious Capacity (MW)New Capacity (MW)Year of closure / reduction / conversion
Kingsnorth ACoal/OilClosed1,94002012
Grain AOilClosed1,30002012
OldburyNuclear 1Closed43402012
Wylfa (Reactor 1)Nuclear 2Partially Closed9804902012
Kings LynnCCGTMothballed34002013
DraxCoal 3Partially Converted3,8703,8702013
IronbridgeCoal 4Converted9403602013
Tilbury BCoal 5Closed75002013
Didcot ACoal/GasClosed1,95802013
TeessideOCGT 6Closed4502013
Ferrybridge CCoal 7Partially Closed19609802014
UskmouthCoal 8Closed36302014
  1. Reactor 2 with capacity of 217 MW closed on 30 June 2011, reactor 1 with capacity of 217 MW closed on 29 February 2012
  2. Reactor 2 with a capacity of 490 MW closed on 30 April 2012
  3. Partly converted to biomass. Overall capacity remains at 3,870 MW (coal 3,225 MW, biomass 645 MW)
  4. Converted from coal to dedicated biomass in 2013 (at 900 MW), before reducing to 360 MW in April 2014.
  5. Converted from coal at 1,063 MW capacity to dedicated biomass at 750 MW capacity in 2011 before closing in 2013.
  6. Reduced capacity from 1,875 MW (CCGT 1,830 MW / OCGT 45 MW) to 45 MW (OCGT) in 2011 before closing in 2013.
  7. Two units (980 MW) closed in April 2014.
  8. One unit (120 MW) closed in April 2013, with the remaining two closing in April 2014.

After these closures, most of the rest will be nuclear power. Yet more coal plant closures will happen after that.

Forthcoming scheduled capacity closures under NG’s Gone Green scenario (by fuel and in MW)
Oil + Gas Turbine (GT)1140
  1. OFGEM, Electricity Capacity Assessment Report 2013 to Secretary of State, page 30
  2. DUKES 2014 Chapter 5: Electricity, page 120