The Energy Collective Group

This group brings together the best thinkers on energy and climate. Join us for smart, insightful posts and conversations about where the energy industry is and where it is going.

9,751 Subscribers

Post

Understanding the Continued Dominance of Fossil Fuels

We live in a time where rapid change is pretty much the only certainty, but one thing that continues to rather stubbornly maintain the status quo is our energy mix. As shown below, fossil fuels still completely dominate global energy consumption and, since the nuclear boom ended a little more than two decades ago, those dirty old fossils have doggedly hung on to a roughly 87% share.

Global energy mix

This persistent fossil fuel dominance is especially remarkable considering the incredible amount of hype surrounding alternative energy sources, the two decades over which climate change has been a topic of intense international debate and the sharp hike in fossil fuel prices just after the turn of the century (below).

Fossil fuel price rise

This article will take a closer look at four reasons behind this surprising lack of change.

The perfect energy source

When viewed collectively, the three major fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) are pretty much the perfect energy source. These fuels offer highly concentrated chemical energy neatly stored in solid, liquid and gaseous forms, making them highly applicable to any energy application you can think of – electricity, transport, industrial heat or residential/commercial heating. They are available on demand, easily transportable, easy to utilize, highly concentrated and readily available in all three states of matter. What more can you want from an energy source?

All we had to do to put this perfectly practical energy source to work was to dig it out of the ground and burn it. And that is exactly what we did. Since the second industrial revolution got going 150 years ago, fossil fuels drove the global economy to expand by a staggering 5000% (below). In those good old days, people generally consumed only as much energy as their own labour could provide. Nowadays, Americans consume energy at a rate of roughly 10 kW which is roughly equivalent to 500 manual labourers working 40 hour weeks for every man, woman and child.

Long-term global GDP growth

Just think about it: fossil fuels have granted hundreds of millions of people hundreds of diligent and versatile slaves to bring them food from every corner of the planet, transport them great distances over smooth highways every day and dutifully run their enormous homes and the masses of miscellaneous stuff they contain. If fossil fuels were not so perfectly practical and versatile, this would simply not have been possible.

The perfect economic growth engine

Since fossil energy is very easy to utilize, one does not need very complicated or expensive capital to get going. For example, China can build one kW of coal power for about half the cost of a kW of wind and a third the cost of a kW of nuclear (below). In addition, nuclear requires more specialized expertise and regulation than coal while wind energy is intermittent and typically operates at a capacity factor which is roughly 3 times less than that of a coal plant.

Capital costs of nuclear coal and wind

So imagine for a moment that you are the king of a rapidly growing developing nation. You have worked long and hard to establish a favourable business environment and now have millions of people flocking to urban centres willing to work at wage levels that will undercut almost all international competition. All you need to release the enormous productive potential of your people on the world is energy – lots and lots of it.

So let’s say you have $10 billion to spend on power infrastructure, what would you build? 6 GW of nuclear which is constantly haunted by the ghost of Fukushima, 8 GW of wind which will give the same output as 2 GW of nuclear (only in random intermittent bursts), or 16 GW of simple and practical coal?

Any king who would like to keep his crown would not even think twice about choosing the coal. For the same $10 billion upfront investment, he can get nearly triple the amount of growth-driving electricity as nuclear (probably in substantially less time) and 7 times as much growth-driving electricity as intermittent wind. Yes, the coal capacity will have substantial fuel costs that the nuclear and wind capacity do not have, but these fuel costs will be paid over the lifetime of the plant and will be compensated for many times over by the resulting economic growth.

The same is true for cheap and simple internal combustion engine cars and cheap and simple industrial heat. The fact that the utilization of fossil fuels is so easy and practical just gives it an enormous advantage over alternatives when economic growth is a priority. Naturally, much of this fossil fuel advantage evaporates when growth no longer is a priority, but the 80+% of world citizens living in the developing world are still many decades away from reaching this stage.

The perfect cash cow

According to Wikipedia, “a cash cow is a product or a business unit that generates unusually high profit margins” – a definition that applies very well to fossil fuels. While it is true that the average cost of extracting fossil fuels is slowly rising, the meteoric rise in market prices since the turn of the century has made the fossil fuel industry immensely profitable. This is illustrated for oil in the figure below.

big_oil_figure1

The obviously high correlation between the oil price and profits to oil companies is clearly visible. Not only do these windfall profits pay very handsome dividends to private investors, they also deliver handsome tax revenues to governments. Thus, it becomes clear that higher fossil fuel prices will only serve to entrench the fossil fuel industry even further by increasing the profit margin on every barrel, ton or cubic meter of fuel extracted from the earth.

As shown below, the world still has technically recoverable oil reserves that can be extracted for less (often a lot less) than $100/barrel for almost 200 years of present-day consumption rates. Even if we eventually manage to impose a steady price on CO2, it will not make much of a change to this outlook. A CO2 price of $30/ton will add about $13/barrel to the cost of oil, still leaving very healthy profit margins for the majority of producers at current prices.

Oil production costs

The perfect support base

Our entire modern civilization was built by fossil fuels for fossil fuels. We have built an enormous fleet of coal and gas-fired power stations, more than a billion oil-driven cars and a very impressive collection of fossil fuel-driven industries – each category consuming roughly a third of global fossil fuels. In addition, we have built an enormous fossil energy extraction and distribution network of mines, wells, pipelines, supertankers, filling stations and transmission lines which continuously keeps our societal foundation of fossil energy humming along.

This enormous support base just screams the letters B, A and U, especially with persistent economic troubles still lingering from the great credit crisis of 2008 and showing no signs of going away. It is very important to understand that fossil fuels form the very foundation of our global civilization and that rebuilding this foundation without compromising the integrity of the structure as a whole will be enormously challenging. If such a fundamental remodelling is not done very slowly and carefully, our debt-based global economy with its enormous fiscal imbalances, unfunded welfare promises and social inequality (below) can implode with little prior warning.

Credit Suisse wealth pyramid

It’s not just about the retail price

People often over-simplify the decarbonization of the global economy by predicting “disruptive change” as alternative energy costs continue downwards and fossil energy costs continue upwards. This disruptive transition has been predicted for decades now and, as shown in the first figure in this article, has thus far completely failed to materialize.

Fossil fuels continue to dominate because dispatchable energy from coal/gas plants and gasoline filling stations is so much more practical than intermittent energy from wind and solar farms and the charging of EVs. Fossil fuels continue to dominate because the 6 billion people living in the developing world want rapid economic growth through highly scalable tried-and-tested methods with very low up-front costs. Fossil fuels continue to dominate because they are immensely profitable both to private investors and governments. Fossil fuels continue to dominate because they form the very foundation of our modern civilization.

Conclusion

These are certainly some highly inconvenient truths, but these truths must be honestly acknowledged if our global civilization is to have any chance of recovering peacefully from our current position of large and growing ecological overshoot. Establishing the objective reality must be the first step towards solving any complex problem and the global sustainability crisis of the 21st century is no different.

In this case, the objective reality is that fossil fuels will most probably provide the majority of global energy for many decades into the future. Unless we see some truly gamechanging technological breakthroughs in nuclear and/or renewable energy, the vast majority of economically recoverable fossil fuels will be burnt. Unrealistic demands that we leave all of that perfectly practical potential energy in the ground can serve only to perpetuate political gridlock and exacerbate current adverse economic conditions, thereby doing nothing more than further entrenching the fossil fuel status quo.

Content Discussion

Steve K9's picture
Steve K9 on October 14, 2013

One reason for the continued dominance is that those people who support the elimination of fossil fuels, have an irrational fear of nuclear power and push unreliable sources of energy like wind/solar instead, that simply cannot do the job.  

For an example where fossil fuels were eliminated completely in the generation of electricity look to France.  How did they do it?  Nuclear power.  Nuclear and hydro make up virtually all of France’s electricity generation.  Continuing down that road with electric vehicles and heat pumps, fossil fuels can be eliminated for all uses (some synthetic fuel can be made from high-Treactors for aircraft).  

Here’s another example, Ontario’s carbon intensity is 1/5 of Germany’s the poster child for wind/solar.  How?  Nuclear + Hydro.

http://canadianenergyissues.com/2013/09/12/carbon-content-of-electricity-some-cross-jurisdictional-comparisons/

If you actually want to elminate the burning of fossil fuels, instead of talking about it, the answer is right in front of us.

Dan Mantena's picture
Dan Mantena on October 14, 2013

@Cliff


“Unless we see some truly gamechanging technological breakthroughs in nuclear and/or renewable energy”

the rapid growth of wind and solar the past decade was not attributed to technology advancement.  it was through business model innovation which is currently lacking for the majority of the energy infrastructure.  The creation of service companies such as sun Edison who offered pay as you go solar contracts has driven the majority of solar growth in the world. the reason big corporations such as google, wal mart and the government are suddenly in the business of using solar is because there has finally have a model that allows them to save money with renewables and create climate change benefits.


“. Fossil fuels continue to dominate because the 6 billion people living in the developing world want rapid economic growth through highly scalable tried-and-tested methods with very low up-front costs”

Our societies have for some reason made low up front costs the deciding factor in any purchase we make.  even if you can save money over 20 years with a slightly expensive up front cost product most people will take the cheaper unit.


The intermittency of wind

you seem to constantly mention how weak and unreliable wind energy is but operators with high amounts of wind have shown it is not as unreliable as people label it as.  MISO has significant wind energy across it’s balancing area and have conducted studies to show they requiere little to no operating reserves and produce a predictable output.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on October 14, 2013

Your enthusiasm is fine for an industrialized, urban society, where “labour” is all but eliminated.

I happen to enjoy homegrown foods, like strawberries in season. I hear orchards in the US now leave bumper crops unpicked because people think they can all use food stamps at the grocery store and buy frozen strawberries instead of ever touching their own food. My grandfather saw the same problem when people stopped eating potatoes and needed potato chips. Humans are truly no longer historic humans. A perversion of character in the extreme. “Change” to what?

I also like nurturing a healthy forest and wetlands environment by culling out dead trees and brush for fuel and soil enhancement. But then all the damn deer eat my strawberries. I still have a lot to learn.

So you can all sit on your butts, work your check-out counter, text each other, listen to angry non-music, wait for your check in the mail, live on insulin. But I appreciate my 92 year old neighbor being great help yet again with firewood this year, and he told me hay is up to $100/bale because everybody plants corn.

They closed the 100 year old, world famous Minnesota Orchestra over a year ago. I truly think you have all gone nuts, or are on drugs, or both. Cutting back on insanity would not hurt anybody. When the food, environment, and energy are gone you will wake up.

Dan Mantena's picture
Dan Mantena on October 14, 2013

@Cliff

 

When I said business model innovation I was referring to making solar a service based good just like purchasing energy from the utilities.  You seem to already have chosen a side in terms of energy technology by your post.  Can I ask what energy technology has not received any subsidies? You say renewables are provided massive state and federal subsidies.  Well what about traditional fossil fuels?

http://www.eli.org/pdf/Energy_Subsidies_Black_Not_Green.pdf

 

“Solar and wind only gets remotely interesting after we have an order of magnitude breakthrough in the cost of electricity storage technology.

This is clearly false as independent grid operators such as MISO and labs such as NREL have shown that solar and wind can displace peak fossil fuel generation and provide numerous grid related benefits.

 

 

“The best options to mitigate climate change risk may not be what we have been sold by celebrities and politicians.

What are your ideas for climate change?  All you showed in your post was your stance of renewable energy.

 

 

“If we are going to survive into the future centuries, we are going to have to move past blind acceptance of conventional wisdom from media mouthpieces, and beyond the censorship of political correctness, and beyond religiously held party ideologies and dogmas, and instead diligently look at the empirical evidence and do the math and make choices informed by reason.

How can you say that and not use any facts in your argument?

 

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on October 14, 2013

It is correct that all energy sources receive some form of subsidization, but it is the relative magnitude that is in question here. In the link you provided, renewables received 12.2 G$ from 2002-2008 while fossil fuels received 70.2 G$. In that time period, non-hydro renewables produced 155 Mtoe while oil, gas and coal produced 6397, 4073 and 3958 Mtoe respectively (BP Statistical Review). Per unit energy consumed, renewables (primarily relatively mature wind) therefore received 16 times the support of fossil fuels (if renewable electricity is converted to primary energy by dividing by 0.37).

I don’t think anyone disputes that the grid can accommodate small amounts of variable renewable generation without too many problems, especially in ideal wind locations like the central US. The problem is that serious issues start to materialize between 10 and 20% contribution of variable renewables and these issues get rapidly more acute from there. Somewhere around this point, renewables will most probably stagnate like nuclear did in the late 80s through the classic S-curve followed by all new technologies. 

If we agressively expand subsidy programs and manage to increase wind and solar power by a factor of 10 by 2035 (roughly the time when we blow through the 2 deg C carbon budget), we would have just about made it to this saturation point (20% of electricity or 8% of primary energy) and fossil fuels will still supply around 80% of our primary energy.

The point is just that renewable energy is the slowest and most expensive way to combat climate change. For example, a recent study found that renewable energy subsidies cost 17 times more per unit CO2 avoided than an ETS. 

As far as I can see, our best hope is for this senseless technology forcing to be replaced by a technology-neutral CO2 abatement mechanism. The market will quickly establish which is the cheapest way to cut carbon in different locations around the world and we would not even need to have this conversation because the market would do the talking for us. I strongly feel that greens should drop their fanatical support of wind and solar and instead push for technology-neutral climate policy. Otherwise we may very well wake up one decade from now and discover that the ideological pursuit of wind and solar power has done much more harm than good in the sustainability crisis of the 21st century. 

 

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on October 14, 2013

I agree that nuclear is a good and proven solution, but we will have to see major shifts in public perception for this solution to be pursued. As you can see in the first graph of this article, renewables are currently displacing nuclear – the only energy source which has fallen since the turn of the century. I hope that this trend will change, but fear that it will take a very long time before the necessary public perception shift is complete. 

Dan Mantena's picture
Dan Mantena on October 14, 2013

The point is just that renewable energy is the slowest and most expensive way to combat climate change.”

I completely agree with your statement and your conclusion.  

 

Where do you see the state of CCS currently?  Will it become economical anytime soon? i have read there are siginficant infrasturucture that has to be built in the form of underground piplines for us to have a viable CCS system in the US…is there any truth to that statement?

Randy Voges's picture
Randy Voges on October 14, 2013

Schalk,

Sounds like you’ve been digesting quite a bit of Vaclav Smil.  He’s an excellent antidote to all the hopium going around.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on October 14, 2013

Schalk, your core measage (we use fossil fuels because they are easy and affordable) is of course correct and important to understand.  

However, the supporting economic data (cost per nameplate Watt) badly distorts the secondary conclusion that should be drawn (that nuclear is better than fosil fuels for electricity production in many cases, and in some cases even a 30%-renewable mix can be better).  This is even more important than the first point, since it requires collective action on the part of society to achieve a change to the fossil fueled business as usual.

No one ever buys power plants for cash; debt is always involved.  Unlike the simplified exampled cited, in which a fixed (cash) budget is available for power plant purchase, the amount of debt available depends on the utility’s ability to pay.  Unlike most business, which can when necessary, cut production to cut expenses, regulated utilities must keep making electricity to satisfy demand (or else the grid collapses, and with it, the economy).  Hence future fuel expenses are every bit as real as future loan payments.  This means that utilities can borrow more for the power plants, if it results in smaller future fuel expenses.  As a result, the levelized cost of power (not the capital cost) is the best single metric for affordability.

As far as levelized cost, fossil fuel does not stand out for low cost (other than the US’s anomalous natural gas cost), at least in nations that use pollution control (e.g. the US EIA says that for new builds, conventional combined cycle gas is  $0.067/kWh, conventional coal is $0.10/kWh, geothermal is $0.089/kWh, wind is $0.0866/kWh, and nuclear is $0.108/kWh).  When CC&S is added to coal, it surges to 125% of the cost of nuclear.

Far more important is where the fuel comes from.  For nations that import fossil fuel (i.e. most nations), each dollar of levelized capital cost is by far preferable to a dollar spent on imported fuel, because of the impact of trade balance.  Most of the levelized cost of nuclear power comes from local construction costs, but this is less true of wind (in which half the cost is the turbines) and the opposite is true for natural gas, for example.

Given the uneven distribution of fossil fuel reserves world-wide, it is therefore surprising that nuclear does not provide a larger share of world energy use than it does.  This indicates a failure to make cost-optimal decisions, the most likely cause of which is interference by fossil fuel companies (“public concern” is just a reflection of what has been put in their heads).  This implies that other technologies that threaten fossil fuel dominance (e.g. renewables, nuclear fusion, and even CC&S) are also doomed to fail, unless society (presumably lead by environmental groups) can learn to examine our energy systems more objectively. 

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on October 15, 2013

I agree with most of the article and most of the comments. And I have frequently encouraged “green” concepts ignored by not so green not so environmentalists.

If there is a significant accomplishment in my life, it is keeping a family of five safe and comfortable in a home in rural northern Minnesota for 25 years, going on 40 years. I can count the number of power outages in that time on my fingers. Never more than an hour, never during life threatening cold, always prompt service and courtesy.

It is scary listening to a 30mph wind howl, with a foot of snow drifting to 3foot, at 20below zero F. Scarier still with 3 small children. And the winter glacier lasts for 4 months. Some old timers brag how their hand water pump still works if the power goes out. Imagine life without a flush toilet.

I’m sure other climates have similar challenges to life itself.

So maybe, in all my chatter, I have not been clear on this point. We can’t live without the outstanding energy resource services. The bogus environmentalists are a real threat to life, and (from decades of experience) care nothing about sincere environmentalist concepts. We need to be far better environmental stewards. But wind and solar would get people killed in a Minnesota winter. Nickels, dimes, charts and theory aside, I am utterly perplexed by the notion so I don’t know how to discuss it.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on October 15, 2013

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.”

However, I’d wager that it is not insanity that is causing some people to keep pushing for ‘solutions’ that have been shown to simply not work and which indeed could never work, even in theory. I think it more likely either blunt inanity or financial interest (or both).

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on October 15, 2013

Dan 

I cannot remember where but SC showed that solar and CCS in terms of currently installed capacity produced a similar abatement in therms of co2 displacement or capture. However solar hascrecieved far more funding and perhaps SC will show uws the data again (I would look but I am unfortunately stuck in Prague and can think of better things to do).

In many ways I am not a fan of CCS. For me it is a disposal technology and the reality is that we have just gotten more creative with the disposal part I.e. CCD. Current pathways to using the carbon gathered are non existent. That said my experience in the steel industry particularly around the blast furnace tells me that CCS is really the only near term option. A medium blast furnace (11 m diameter) can produce approx 450 km3/h of blast furnace gas.after this has been used as a fuel, approx 40-50% of this ends up as co2. CCS is an unavoidable means for using blast furnace aka basic oxygen steel. It is not too dissimilar for eaf steel.

Ulcos.org gives some options for low carbon dioxide iron/steel.

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on October 15, 2013

The simple cash example is used only as a proxy for the labour, expertise, materials and energy necessary to get the infrastructure in place. If a coal plant costs $1 billion and a nuclear plant costs $3 billion, it could be roughly estimated that the nuclear plant would require 3 times the amount of labour, expertise, materials and energy required by the coal plant before it is operational. In practice, this implies that a rapidly growing country constrained by any of the aforementiond four factors will be able to construct coal plants 3 times faster than nuclear plants – something which is very important in rapidly growing regions. 

In financial terms, this effect is incorporated into the interest rate. If interest rates are high (as they must be in rapid growth environments to stop them from overheating), capital intensive plants with low running costs become less attractive because the financing would be very expensive. However, if interests rates are very low (as they are in the stagnating developed world to prevent a deflationary collapse), capital intensive projects become much more attractive. This is why I said in the article that advantages from the low up-front costs of fossil fuel plants evaporate when rapid growth is not longer a priority. 

About the cost breakdown, are you sure that the bulk of costs come from local construction costs? Bare erected costs are generally the primary cost component of power plants and this consists mostly of process equipment and other infrastructure/materials which can be imported. Anyway, fossil fuel trade balance concerns are mostly centred around oil which will be little influenced by power infrastructure. 

Also, do you really think that fossil fuel companies are primarily responsible for the anti-nuclear stance of environmental groups? I find it hard to believe that people can be that gullible, but would appreciate if you could direct me to some evidence for this claim. 

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on October 15, 2013

CCS will not become economical on any meaningful scale before we see a reliable CO2 price with a positive future price outlook. Until that point, CCS will only be applicable to certain industrial applications with highly concentrated CO2 streams where the CO2 can be sold for enhanced oil recovery. Unfortunately CCS lacks the ideological appeal of renewables and will therefore probably never enjoy generous feed-in tariffs to drive deployment and the associated cost reductions. 

I have not heard of the necessity for underground pipelines in the US. Do you know the reason for placing the pipelines underground?

Anyway, the costs of CCS are generally about 70% in the capture and compression (mostly due to the energy penalty imposed on the plant), 10% in transport and 20% in storage. Getting the energy penalty down is the most important avenue through which CCS can be made economical at lower CO2 prices. 

I’ll be spending more time on CCS in future posts. 

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on October 15, 2013

Schalk, please consider the role of agriculture in CCS.

David Hone posted an article with an old (1960) graph showing profound seasonal variations of atmospheric CO2. And it might be a coincidence, but the recent so-called “hiatus” in global temperature rise directly matches the remarkable increase in crop yields due to GMO and heat and CO2 hungry corn.

I don’t promote corn, but it has a database, and I think you might find the carbon cycle is doing double duty for BOTH energy and abundant food. It might offer a better approach than some current CCS concepts. And it makes (not costs) money.

We need to consider all options.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on October 15, 2013

I’m all for putting the carbon back into the ground as topsoil. And I’m all for reducing extracted carbon based fuels over time. And the simple plot (1960) presented here

http://theenergycollective.com/davidhone/280116/bracing-ipcc-impact

was intended to show yearly rise in CO2, except the seasonal change masked the yearly change.

All these carbon cycle issues are just a few of the long ignored facts that actually have always worked. I’m interested in what works, and how to make it work better. I don’t see many alternatives.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on October 15, 2013

Ok, I see what you mean about rapidly growing economies, and the need for skilled labor and materials.  Although the EIA data does not show a 3:1 advantage for coal, but only 88:66 ratio of capital costs, so perhaps this smaller difference is due to pollution controls and the desire for high efficiency?

As best I can recall, about 1/4th of the nuclear plant cost pays for the “nuclear reactor kit”.  I suppose much of the rest would be not only local labor, but also concrete and steel, which would also be local.  The supporting datapoint is that the same AP1000 reactor that costs $2.6/Watt in China costs triple that in the US.

I suppose it is unfair to assign primary blame for anti-nuclearism on fossil fuel.  Certainly they provide much of the money that facilitates dissemination of the message.  But primarily, people like to be united by a common foe, and are not very particular with the details (and love the adrenaline rush of being part of a lynch mob).  Scary stories sell more newspapers.

Rod Adams often writes about the connection between fossil fuel money and anti-nuclearism on his blog Atomic Insights:  see this list of articles, entitled “smoking gun”.

Charles Weber's picture
Charles Weber on October 17, 2013

Dear Shalk Cloete;

         It is a fallacy that gas prices are high. Gas is probably selling for one quarter what it would cost to make it out of limestone. It is stupid to be using our petroleum for trivial purposes such as keeping warm or surface transportation. It should be confined to making lubricating oil and plastic or aerial transportation. Burning oil is like burning your furniture to keep warm.     

        A moratorium had been imposed on ocean drilling, It is not ocean drilling that should be stopped, it is terrestrial drilling and even pumping. Ocean wells are too easy to sabotage in a war. So it is poor policy to suck our terrestrial oil dry during peacetime. Of course we should have floating steel barriers standing by in the case of Gulf oil. It is insane to allow oil to flow out across the ocean unimpeded.

       Everyone is stressing excessive use of fossil fuels as causing a green house affect on climate. However, that is the least of our problems. Sucking our petroleum reserves dry, even our oil shale, will have disastrous consequences in the future on our economy (USA) and our security, especially military security. We should use foreign fuel as much as possible as long as they are selling it for one fourth of what it would cost to synthesize it out of limestone.. If we lose our freedom to the likes of Hitler, Osama Bin Ladin, or Stalin it will not make any difference what the temperature outside is. Life will not be worth living anyway.

      As for using food to make liquid fuel in a world where people are starving to death, goes beyond stupidity and starts to nudge against insanity.

      Increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is undoubtedly increasing climate warmth somewhat. However I suspect that at least as great an affect on warmth is the baring of soil by increase in annual crop acreage, roads, buildings, grazing, and desertification currently. You may see an article that briefly discusses this and gives some solutions in more detail in  http://charles_w.tripod.com/climate.html  .

             Sincerely,  Charles Weber

 

 

Mark Goldes's picture
Mark Goldes on October 18, 2013

An engine that needs no fuel is being prototyped.

It can be thought of as a refrigerator that generates electricity. These engines are expected to scale to any size.

After validation, as mass production is achieved, each one will incrementally help to attack Global Warming.

Learn more about THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COOLS on the AESOP Institute website.

Skeptics may find CIRCUMVENTING SECOND LAW on that site of unusual interest.

Once validated by independent labs, mass production can take place worldwide.

Initially, 3D tabletop fabrication can be utilized.

This may prove to be a surprising, cost-competitive, alternative to fossil and radioactive fuels.

Which seems to disturb a couple of angry scientists. They seem afraid that a successful desktop prototype will make their ill-grounded attacks light up as pathological skepticism.

Lewis Perelman's picture
Lewis Perelman on October 18, 2013

Thanks for another useful reality check, Schalk.

Your argument could have been bolstered by noting too the importance of installed base to any prospects for innovation. As Farrell and Saloner explained back in the ’80s:

“In the presence of compatibility benefits, a user who switches to a new, superior technology cannot obtain its full benefit unless other current users also switch and new users adopt the new technology. This creates the possibility of “excess inertia”: a socially excessive reluctance to switch to a superior new standard when important network externalities are present in the current one.” ( http://j.mp/1i3arc8 and http://j.mp/1i3aswK )

So even if non-carbon alternative sources were commercially competitive — which mostly they are not yet — a lack of compatibility with the immense existing infrastructure devoted to and dependent on fossil fuels would stand as an imposing impediment to innovation.
 
That installed base of infrastructure includes not only physical assets — wells, mines, pipelines, refineries, power plants, engines, etc. — but also knowledge, human capital, organizational capabilities, financial mechanisms, market structures and relationships, legal and political arrangements, social attitudes and habits, and other intangible assets.
 
It seems that the absence of installed base in some emerging economies makes the prospects for alternative energy systems more attractive; or at least ought to. But as your remarks suggest, the immense availability of fossil fuel assets — tangible and intangible — in the environment outside those countries, and the inevitable interest of established vendors in developing new markets, still makes the allure of conventional energy systems hard to resist.
Pieter Siegers's picture
Pieter Siegers on October 21, 2013

Schalk, you really disappoint me.

You appearently have now not only given up on renewables, now you seem to embrace fossil fuels.

Something has come in between so now you closed your eyes.

You closed your eyes because you and the majority in this world are blind to see what the effect is of burning so much more fossil fuels.

Haven’t you read the IPCC report or what? Don’t you listen to the scientists anymore?

This article to me is just another proof of a sad victory for the fossil fuel indutry. They have gotten your voice somehow.

If only you started to include pollution & disaster recovery costs in each fuel type you would see that renewables are our only option. We just need to drive their perfection by lots of R&D&I. Most importanly solar & wind, as nuclear (waste problem) and biofuels (food problem) are also clearly not the way to go.

So talking about how great fossil fuels are isn’t taking away the fact that they are polluting our planet, every day more and more. Not to talk about disaster recovery costs. Not talk about degrading environment. No just talk about simple and easy fuel burning! Great thanks for nothing!

You want the 1% get even more profit out of fossil fuels and you seem to be happy with it, even though you know they won’t ever give you some of it back other than pollution, deseases, and ever growing fossil fuel prices, destruction, whatever more.

If you want that go ahead, not me, thanks. I still believe decentralised solar & wind will bring more power and health and pleasant life-style to the people and will break the fossil fuel industry and their grid utility friends.

 

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on October 22, 2013

A big part of my problem with renewables is their inefficiency in combating climate change. Just recently, an OECD study came out to show that abating CO2 via renewable energy subsidies is 17 times more expensive than using an emissions trading scheme. It really beats me why people claiming to be highly concerned about climate change keep on insisting on combating it in the slowest and most expensive way possible. 

Yes, renewable energy is probably a very important part of our long-term future, but trying to use it as a major climate change mitigation wedge in this time when tens of millions of developing world citizens are flocking to megacities with their hopes set on a modern industrialized lifestyle just makes no sense. See my two previous articles for more information.

There are so many cheaper, faster and more practical ways to cut emissions and the only way in which these methods will ever be tapped on any meaningful scale is through a price on CO2. Unfortunately, greens are currently being subdued by various inefficient renewable energy mandates, thereby diverting energy from this central goal: getting a steady and widely accepted price on CO2 as soon as at all possible.

Before that happens I can confidently tell you that the only thing that will ever reduce global CO2 emissions is a global recession. Technology forcing of renewable energy is wasting precious time and initiative in the fight against climate change. 

Pieter Siegers's picture
Pieter Siegers on October 23, 2013

Come on, you must be kidding, we’ve had almost 150 years of industrial development and yeah we know what the main drivers have been and currently are, so with just little over 40 years and last 5 years of great expansive growth you’re saying it doesn’t work? I’m seeing the opposite; I’m seeing great growth and technology advancements that will make renewables make a better planet. It’s not going to be easy but who expects to get nothing for nothing?

Let me tell you the real story here. It’s nothing new but it’s a very disturbing truth. Renewables are being stopped by vested interests, led by the fossil fuel industry. They don’t want to change things. They like it as it is. I’m sure you must have read or heard about the 1% somewhere, the bankers and mega-companies that control everything and are enslaving us bit by bit. Utility grids are their allys. Mobile devices are their allys. Media mostly all of them practice censure in favor of fossil fuel industry. Fossils are being subsidised too heavily. Prices are maintained high so drilling doesn’t become too costly. Fracking is the worst extraction method they ever designed. And I can go on and on…

You mention a central goal: “getting a steady and widely accepted price on CO2 as soon as at all possible” – well if things go on like they are that isn’t ever going to happen. You think vested interests and you know the answer.

What we need to drive is decentralization of energy fuels, and wind & solar are two excellent ways of getting there. Utility power grids are just extensions of the dragon that holds us in the tower. We’ll need to break free, and there is a peaceful way we can do that, to avoid world chaos and pollution, and that is simply start reducing our carbon footprint by OURSELVES. The consumers can decide, and they will, for whatever outcome follows. Anyways, reducing our own carbon footprint will eventually break the energetic chains we’ve been provided for so long, and we’ll be doing ourselves a big favor with it and everyone else. Gladly many people are waking up lately and there will awake a lot more.

Some dark force are taking our world down and among them are greed and selfishness. We cannot let these forces decide our future.

 

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on October 23, 2013

Personally, I find it very hard to buy into these kinds of 1% conspiracy theories. In my view, the investor class want nothing more than a good yield on their investments. Sure, one can make a case that their investments are not always highly ethical, but it is always in the most lucritive markets.

If the investor class thought that renewable energy was more useful to society than fossil fuels, this would be where they would be investing simply because it would be highly profitable. The truth is, however, that the smart money knows that the business case for renewable energy relies wholly on government subsidy even at this time when the real issues (e.g. intermittency, NIMBY concerns and material shortages) are not yet very influential (intermittent wind and solar contribute only about 1% of global energy). It is therefore no mystery why global clean energy investment is heading for its second year of declines

About the carbon price, my view is that it will happen sooner or later when the average voter starts to see climate change as a bigger negative than increased energy prices. It is unclear when this will happen, but the process can certainly be accelerated by shifting time, money and initiative from lobbying for further solar subsidies to lobbying for a functional ETS. 

Pieter Siegers's picture
Pieter Siegers on October 29, 2013

Schalk, you clearly have your eyes closed.

Forget about these conspiracies because that’s what they use to confuse people, so then they are able to continue.Part of the plan so to say.

Let’s just say the main investors are the cause of the trouble. They don’t give a damn about nothing except one thing: profibility. They are the one and same, sometimes a bit opposed to increase confusion but very united for gaining. They like us being slaves and consume all they advertise on our mobile devices and flat screens.

Remember next time when a politician stands up and is being dumped or even murdered, not by their voters.

Remember next time when great inventors like Nikola Tesla were destroyed because of vested interests.

Remember next time when politicians like Obama and others show their support for renewables and then dine with their fossil fuel ‘friends’.

You are willing to accept increasing pollution and inequality, but until what point? When will you say “it’s enough”? Remember you are a consumer. You can change your own carbon footprint. Are you doing it?