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I told you so: negawatts work

Not only have I told you so, repeatedly, but so did everybody else who’s capable of coming up with four when adding two plus two, going right back to Amory Lovins and the DFHs.

US’ best source of carbon-free energy is efficiency. Not just the US of course. The laws of physics are the same all over the planet.

The McKinsey report [pdf] arrived at [its] figures by performing a fairly simple economic analysis: what measures, if rolled out on a large scale starting in the near future, would have a positive return on investment by 2020. Those are fairly conservative conditions, since many efficiency projects require a substantial up-front investment that’s only paid back gradually; time horizons longer than a decade aren’t uncommon when it comes to payback. Nevertheless, the numbers were staggering. $520 billion worth of investments would produce a total of $1.2 trillion in savings by 2020. Presumably, the numbers would look even better later into the century.

At 2020, we’d be avoiding using that 9.1 quadrillion BTUs. That would be enough to knock 23 percent off the expected demand, dropping it below the current national usage. It’s worth pointing out that there’s a bit of a multiplier effect of efficiency efforts, as well—by not producing the energy in the first place, all the losses that occur during generation and transport never come into play. The net result would be over a gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions avoided as well.

As far as the National Academies is concerned, the McKinsey report might just as well have been a chapter in its own publication. “The deployment of existing energy-efficiency technologies,” it has concluded, “is the nearest-term and lowest-cost option for moderating our nation’s demand for energy, especially over the next decade.” [emphasis added]

So could we now get with the program and stop chasing more pollution with less power? Crap like “clean coal” and nukes. And, environmentally less appalling but socially more so: food-sourced biofuels. Here’s yet one more repeat of what’s wrong with them.

“Clean” coal produces all the same destruction and pollution — and energy costs! — during mining as dirty coal. And another not-so-minor data point: the industrial-scale process to do it has not been invented yet (pdf, eg p. 31).

Nuclear energy: Produces pollution, environmental destruction, and uses energy during mining. Uranium is a finite resource. A finite resource. It will . . . wait for it . . . run out. (Am I frustrated that some people don’t get this yet? Yes, I’m frustrated.) It will run out in about a century if used to produce most of our energy. It takes time to build plants. One plant would have to be built every six weeks, starting yesterday, going on until the uranium runs out, to produce most of our energy. Nuclear energy creates radioactive waste. We have no viable method of dealing with current waste, forget the amount of waste that would be generated by a bigger nuclear program. Decommissioning costs are huge and underfunded. Companies are mothballing old plants to delay the day of reckoning when people are presented with the price tag. All that money spent on nuclear energy to get a fraction of the power needed cannot be spent on real solutions.

Biofuel produced from corn and other food sources: Destruction of habitat to grow monocultures of energy crops (a problem with any biofuel not generated from waste). Increased food prices in a world where around one billion people are living on around one dollar a day. That leads to even worse mass starvation than we already have. That leads to even more mass migration, social dislocation, riots, and wars. Just in case I’m not being clear, this is Not Good.

Now that we have yet more studies all saying the same thing, how about we all get on the same page and DO THE OBVIOUS!

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15 Responses

  1. Um, I’m pro-nuclear. Sorry. My dad was nuclear navy. I believe we can get to safe nuclear energy.

    • RD we might if humans were not involved. If we could be 100% sure kick backs and sub standard material boondoggle wasn’t used in the building and maintaining of these plants …but we cannot . Particularly when , unlike with the Navy, a profit is sought . It’s what has always held the nuclear back….it’s one thing when cheap stuff is switched on a building, or highway site, it’s quite another when it’s a nuke plant. I would think that would be the hardest part of getting to safe nuclear energy. It’s not the technology , it’s the humans.

      • I agree, contradictorily, with both RD and PD.

        I think nuclear energy can be done safely–in some OTHER countries, which have less corrupt cultures.

        But in the USA, I fear PD is correct. The kickback/boondoggle culture would eventually lead to another Chernobyl.

        As usual, we’re just screwed and that’s all there is to it. 😦

    • It’s not about safe. It’s about cost-effective. I don’t doubt that human ingenuity could eventually provide safe nuclear energy. But why would we want something that costs many times more than efficiency improvements do, and provides less energy?

      There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but why go for the most expensive and least satisfying lunch? Even if it’s a safe lunch?

    • I agree RD. I saw a spot on teevee where it showed hydro is not big enough (i.e. not enough water sources) and wind is just not there now.

      OTOH, we *can* build nuclear safely. It seems it is our best shot for now.

  2. THE seminal paper on nuclear power was written in 2003 by MIT’s Professors John Deutch and Ernest Moniz and a team of researchers. It has been updated this year. I highly recommend it to everyone.

    The Future of Nuclear Power

    Update 2009 The Future of Nuclear Power

    Here is the original press release:

    The report maintains that “The nuclear option should be retained precisely because it is an important carbon-free source of power.”

    “Fossil fuel-based electricity is projected to account for more than 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2020,” said Deutch. “In the U.S. 90% of the carbon emissions from electricity generation come from coal-fired generation, even though this accounts for only 52% of the electricity produced. Taking nuclear power off the table as a viable alternative will prevent the global community from achieving long-term gains in the control of carbon dioxide emissions.”

    But the prospects for nuclear energy as an option are limited, the report finds, by four unresolved problems: high relative costs; perceived adverse safety, environmental, and health effects; potential security risks stemming from proliferation; and unresolved challenges in long-term management of nuclear wastes.

    • This is the conclusion of the latest MIT paper:
      “The sober warning is that if more is not done, nuclear power will diminish as a practical and timely option for deployment at a scale that would constitute a material contribution to climate change risk mitigation.”

      I think on going climate research, especially that is going on in Polar Research, will show that there never was a time that nuclear power would effect climate change.

      From a practical point of view, the Chinese are adding one coal fired power plan per WEEK and expect to continue at that rate for at least ten more years. Adding a few nuclear power plant in the US will have zero effect on CO2 production.

      Rather than spend money on over -priced Nuclear plants, the money would be better spent on up grading the power grid.

  3. We have more and more wind farms in CA. They are noisy and ugly and I can not begin to imagine what it would be like for them to become the big solution. If people think oil rigs are ugly, they “airn’t seen nothin’ yet”. Plus look at the differentials in wind flow from place to place.

    Alternative fuels will always play a minor role. I support nuclear power research. Look what has happened because we have invested in nuclear medicine?

    It boggles my mind that we are not looking at converting coal fired generating plants to natural gas. That would significantly reduce the carbon emissions; we have plenty of natural gas domestically; it would be relatively easy to do, now and besides I have some natural gas stocks that I would be happy to see become inflated.

  4. But au contraire—efficiency is such a bore, a drag—how can a great imagination corporate complex make big money just inventing better light bulbs and stuff? No, no, no—we are motivated by profits, big profits, that means creating new energy alternatives that have bells and whistles and need corporate capital and investment banks.

  5. CyberSecurity aide resigns…

    >>>The White House’s senior aide on cybersecurity has decided to resign following delays in the appointment of a coordinator to spearhead the government’s efforts to protect the nation’s computer networks.

    Melissa E. Hathaway, who also served as a cybersecurity aide during the Bush administration, had been a contender for the position of cybersecurity coordinator. But in an interview Monday, she said she had withdrawn her application.

    “I wasn’t willing to continue to wait any longer, because I’m not empowered right now to continue to drive the change,” she said. “I’ve concluded that I can do more now from a different role,” most likely in the private sector.

    Hathaway noted that it has been two months since President Obama made a highly acclaimed speech on the importance of cybersecurity and pledged to “personally” select a cybersecurity coordinator.

    A colleague close to Hathaway said she had become dismayed by the delay in the appointment. The colleague, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that Hathaway had “the sense that this was very political, that she has been too closely tied to the Bush administration.”


  6. Saying nuclear power is a bit vague since there are so many kinds. I assume you mean fission. Of course if we can figure out fusion, then we’d have nearly free energy with little or no waste by products.

    But there are also ways to do fission or hybrid approaches that are very safe. So even that is not so dire.

    Also breeder generators help greatly with the limitation of fissile material.

    To me, saying nukes bad is a bit silly.

  7. OT – Bill Clinton is headed to North Korea to negotiate the release of the two journalists held captive.


    Nevada is on its way to being the leader in Geothermal electrical power generation in the US. California is reopening Geothermal plants that were closed because oil etc. was so cheap. This power source has not even been exploited in Washington State.

    There are volcano islands where geothermal power would solve a lot of problems — like a dependency on oil powered generators. Nevis in the Caribbean is anxiously awaiting their first geothermal power plant. A nearby island, Guadalupe has had a geothermal power plant since the 1980s. New Zealand is one of the leaders in Geothermal.

    Nuclear — there is still the problem waste storage. The waste from the nuke power used on ships is now stored on base Bremerton Washington. This state has tried the nuclear power route under Gov. Ray — that turned out to be a major failure. Hanford is a huge mess still — thanks in part to darling GE and other corporations.


    Off topic — what is that crap from Media matters to the left. Mrs. Obama did get a huge increase in her salary AFTER hubby manipulated his way into that US Senate Seat — and after hubby sent a few million to the hospital where Mrs. Ozero worked. Cause and effect — now Mrs. 0zero’s old job has been eliminated. Funny stuff certainly goes on in Chicago — wives get placed on “boards” and bring home a huge pay check. Someone needs to fact check Media Matters (support by Soros I hear).

  9. mablue2, the earlier Deutch & Moniz is a major source for the link in the “Nuclear energy” heading. They’re the ones who point out that you’d have to build a new nuke every few weeks to satisfy a significant amount of our energy requirement.

    At the same time, they’re pro-nuclear. And they’re brilliant chemists at MIT.

    Go figure.

    Back to the world of 2+2=4 . . . building a new gigawatt nuclear power plant every six weeks just isn’t going to happen. Is that physically possible? Probably. It would soak up all the money available to do anything else. And then, when the uranium starts to cost a million dollars a kilo a century or two from now, what’s next?

    Why, we could tap the same old resources that have been sitting there all the time: solar, efficiency, and the other usual suspects. Except we’d be starting from nothing, all over again, and with a whole lot of waste sites. Those will continue to sop up money and produce no energy. Such a deal.

    Or, we could, you know, cut out the whole repetition of the oil addiction on a nuclear level and just go for the right answer right now.

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