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Bjorn

(1)

Don't you know that all that matters is _growth_?

All kidding aside, thanks for this very clear and succinctly put argument.

Loredowsky

(2)

The EU is also committed to reducing its overall emissions to at least 20% below 1990 levels by 2020 (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/climat/climate_action.htm)
This implies a reduction in its dependency on fossils fuels, doesn't it?

Wind4me

(3)

so U are going to tell China and India to ''''JUST STOP GROWING""" and just stop reproducing????? Sometimes, some arguments like yours are just naive.........we as a society are NOT able to tell countries like Spain and India and China to just ""STOP CONSUMING""!

Wind is the answer and Wind is NOW........tell America to turn off their SUV's and see how far that takes ya and works out for ya!

Loredowsky

(4)

Dear Wind4me, please just read the article again. There's no point in keep on building new windfarms as long as fossil fuels dependency keep on increasing. Wind by itself won't solve the problem.
In the other hand, accepting the current economical system as the one and only viable system and consumption without limits as the unique solution to make things work is really really naive.

Kris De Decker

(5)

@ Loredowsky (#2): Yes, the EU commitment implies a reduction in its dependency on fossil fuels, and as far as I know this is unique. But I wonder how effective this is. By focusing on CO2-emissions instead of energy consumption, it seems to me that there are ways to get your reduction but still use more energy. For instance, by trading CO2. Or, by not including things like shipping or air traffic. There is also CO2 not originating from energy sources, but from forest fires, for instance. It also seems to me that energy consumption is easier to measure than CO2 emissions.

jeremy

(6)

Yes, and if we had capped our global energy usage in the early 70's, roughly half a billion people in India and China would still be living in abject poverty. The growth in energy usage is a corollary to growth in prosperity. Wouldn't we be far better off continuing to grow more prosperous and discover ever more efficient ways of producing energy as we need it? History shows that we will innovate at a pace that exceeds our demands, despite every Malthusian prediction.

jeremy

(7)

Also, it is worth noting that the problem with wind power in countries such as Spain is not just that their energy demand continued to rise, but that wind power is erratic - meaning that coal plants can not be fully shut down. As coal plants require several days to go from "off" to full power, they must be kept partially running even at peak wind production, which means that although they can claim to produce a set amount of electricity from wind, they have not replaced that energy with the equivalent downtime to a coal plant. That is an inherent defect in wind as a "clean" energy source that all major adoption countries such as Spain and Germany have discovered. Germany's largest provider determined that for every 48,000MW hours of wind power generated you have only replaced 2,000MW of coal energy; very cost inefficient and nearly as good as useless if your goal is to reduce carbon footprint.

Sandra Gibson

(8)

You've got an interesting debate going here but there are more than three billion people - half of the world's population - who rely on traditional biomass such as wood, crop residues, poor grade wood and dung to meet their energy needs and have no access to electricity.

For them renewable energy is a way out of poverty - giving them access to better health, better education and ways of making a living. Practical Action works with communities to provide small scale renewable projects which will help meet their energy needs, especially in rural locations where grid systems often don't get to.

Having renewable energy options means they can 'leapfrog' old technologies in favour of low carbon energy systems.

I can see your point of view about limiting our use of electricity and cutting back on our consumerist lifestyle in Western countries, but don't forget the huge impact energy can have on people's livelihoods in developing countries.

ironworker

(9)

The energy efficiency paradox was discovered by Jevons (Jevons Paradox); it is a nuanced theory, that has been shown true since he developed it in the 19th century. It works both at the micro- and macro-economic level (I'm not an economist, so don't query me deeply about what those terms mean). At the macro level, technological efficiency reduces the cost in producing a commodity--say, light--also known as increasing productivity. Increasing productivity lowers the cost of production, resulting in lower prices for that commodity.

Result: more money in the economy to spend on other things, all of which also require energy to produce. Thus overall energy consumption in the economy increases, despite increased energy efficiency. Even if I don't use more light in my house despite swapping Edisons for LEDs, I'll still buy more stuff.

Jevons was intrigued by the fact that widespread use of the Watt-designed steam engine resulted in greatly increased coal use in Britain... Then he found out why. Unless the energy source is (God help me) taxed to compensate, use will increase. Thus carbon tax, cap and trade, and all the rest. If we want off the treadmill, Jevons and 150 years of history show that is the only answer.

inconvenienttruths

(10)

The eminent historian and critical thinker Walter Russell Mead recently wrote an aptly titled article "Global Warming Is Dead." And guess what, it is. The underlying data sets behind the claim of catastrophic AGW has been shown to have been altered or non-existent. Thus the fundamental hypothesis has been falsified. Sorry, game over.

Of course, the post-modern world could try to move to alternative energy sources such as wind and solar just because it feels right. But any reputable engineer will tell you these sources are irredeemably unscalable in quantities demanded to meet today's energy demand at today's standard of living.

Of course, if the decision makers insist we can move back to a really low-tech, Malthusian world of the pre-1800s. Unfortunately the process, as well as the destination, for the average person was described well by Thomas Hobbes in 1651 as "nasty, brutish and short." But, at least it's "off the treadmill." And, hey, it's all about Gaia, not people and raising them out of poverty.

No, the reason to be studying and applying the low-tech solutions to meeting the basic needs of you and your family have nothing seriously to do with "environmentalism." The value of the information here is to prepare for the inevitable collapse of the spend-thrift, debt riddled Regulatory & Welfare State model of government. The unfunded liabilities in the U.S. today have reached $108 trillion. That is more than 7 times the annual GDP of the entire U.S. economy.

If may borrow one of environmentalism's favorite, but misused, terms, that, my friends, is unsustainable. With the information and advice, whether the fall is soft - unlikely with the incompetent political leadership we now have - or hard, families and small communities may be insulated from the worst of the impact by applying low tech solutions. Some useful advice and guidance may be found here.

Good luck, all.

NoProblemAtAll

(11)

In my humble opinion there might be no energy problem at all.
thermal power is able to create as much energy as we want at a affordable price. we do have enough deserts with lot of sun.

Kris De Decker

(12)

Sandra (#8): I appreciate the work of Practical Action, and I have written about it before:

http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2009/10/how-to-make-everything-yourself-online-lowtech-resources.html

The strategy outlined in the article above is of course aimed at western countries with high energy consumption, not developing countries. Our energy consumption has to go down, theirs can go up (though not up to our level, of course).

Bilsko

(13)

Kris
You demonstrate a pretty good grasp of one of the often ignored questions in the energy world. Reducing demand is, of course, the cheapest way to adress the problem - at least in the developed world. The idea of the 'negawatt' has been around for a while - Amory Lovins gets credit for coining the term. Both conservation measures and increased efficiency on the consumption side displace the generation on the supply side. Look to California as a good example of long-term efficiency measures (see the graph on the bottom of p 3 of this report: http://goo.gl/krcjr )that have kept consumption largely flat even with rapid population and GDP growth over the past few decades.

Where the analysis could use more refinement - and where I think you'll end up with a more accurate picture of the generation landscape - is on the issue of dispatch and marginal generation. Saying that the PV panels or wind turbines simply replace output from fossil fuel plants is not accurate enough. For one thing, not all fossil fuel generation is equal: natural gas plants (used for load-following and peaking applications) are generally much cleaner than coal plants (which, along with nuclear plants, are the baseload workhorses of many electric grids).
Onshore wind typically blows most favorably for power generation at night, while PV panels are best suited for peak shaving applications - the brightest sunshine is coincident with peak loads. So each of these generation sources replaces a different type of fossil fuel.

So its probably worth exploring the dispatch question and getting a more accurate picture of what exactly the wind and PV are replacing.
But none of this detracts from your broader point about conservation and efficiency being the easier/cheaper/quicker paths to a better energy future. And its worth adding that energy conservation and efficiency is not inconsistent with development goals.

alain

(14)

This is a superb article.
I want to reflect on Spain that is used as an example in the article: the increase in their overall renewable electricity supply is faster than the increase in their overall electricity demand, if you look to today's available data, given that the above given figures for Spain ends in 2007.
Therefore, growing RE shares in the Spain's electricity supply mix is slowly eating up Spain's fossil fuels share, even if the overall electricity demand has risen in Spain.
Of course Spain has a mature economy, and the elephant in the room is developing countries and their billions of not grid connected citizen demanding an electricity supply to get them up the prosperity ladder.
If they use fossil fuels to cover their exploding electricity needs, no amount of switching to RE electricity supply in the Western countries will solve the issue of dwindling fossil fuel supply being eaten up by an ever increasing global electricity use.

http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2011/01/spain-generated-3-of-its-electricity-from-solar-in-2010#readercomments

January 28, 2011 - Red Electrica reported this week that in 2010, Spain generated nearly 3 percent or 6.9 TWh of its electricity from solar energy, wind turbines generated nearly 16.4 percent or 43 TWh, slightly more than hydroelectricity's share of 14.5 percent or 38 TWh.
The new renewables of wind and solar in combination provided 19 percent of supply. Together both new and conventional renewables delivered 34 percent of Spain's electricity.
Spain's climate, geography, and population are similar to that of California. Spain's 46 million inhabitants consume some 260 TWh per year.
California's 37 million people consume about 300 TWh per year. However, wind energy generates less than 6 TWh per year and solar less than 1 TWh per year. Together wind and solar provide only 2 percent of California's electricity.


http://www.windpowermonthly.com/go/windalert/article/1043722/?DCMP=EMC-CONWindpowerWeekly

http://www.renewableenergyfocus.com/view/12389/renewable-energy-growth-in-portugal-anticipated/

Portugal continues to improve RE grid capabilities. Five years ago only 17% of Portugal’s grid power originated from clean and renewable energy resources, but that number is now half of the nation’s grid power (2010). Portugal is making progress on the electric vehicle front: “There is tremendous optimism that Portugal could become the first nation with a national network of charging stations for electric cars,” explains Carr. Portugal is one of five countries (the others being France, Spain, Norway, and Italy) in which the European Union sponsored Sagittaire is running demonstrations of hybrid buses. In each city, the hybrid-electric bus fleet will be tested under different operational and practical conditions. Portugal is also involved in the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s zero-emissions vehicle initiatives.

Dean Camp

(15)

SES: We have two factors in an equation that we as a people can't seem to balance. Technology and population. Very few realize that our current conditions are different from only twenty years ago. Moderation is the key to our survival as a planet. We have to start with ourselves and help to educate those who are willing to change.

Kris De Decker

(16)

A peer-reviewed paper comes to similar conclusions as this article:

http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2012/03/study-alternative-energy-has-barely-displaced-fossil-fuels.ars

Thanks to Christof Kraus

Name Withheld

(17)

POPULATION GROWTH is causing the rise in energy demand, not shopping for new iPhones.

POPULATION GROWTH is what you overlooked.

Stop the POPULATION GROWTH and you can begin to think about limiting carbon emissions.

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