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Tag Archives: limits

Are renewables enough?

By Dave Elliott

Richard Heinberg from the Post Carbon Institute raised some interesting issues in a lengthy paper at: http://www.postcarbon.org/our-renewable-future-essay/ For example, he says ‘renewable energy technologies currently require fossil fuels for their construction and deployment, so in effect they are functioning as a parasite on the back of the older energy infrastructure. The question is, can they survive the death of their host?’

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PV solar versus wind

By Dave Elliott

With costs falling rapidly, PV solar is moving ahead fast and some see it as likely to become a major renewable source in the future, if not the dominant one. The World Energy Council notes that in its new Symphony global energy scenario, “by 2050, globally, almost as much electricity is produced from solar PV as from coal,” and Shell’s recent “Oceans” scenario saw solar as being the largest single energy source globally by 2060. (more…)

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Talking renewables up – and down

by Dave Elliott

A meta-analysis by NREL staff, comparing the various quantitative scenarios that have emerged with very high penetrations of Renewable Energy in the power system for a range of countries and regions around the world, concludes that they show that renewables  ‘can supply, on an hourly basis, a majority of a country’s or region’s electricity demand.’ www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364032113006291

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To limit is to be human, to proliferate is to be natural

I agree with some prognosticators that attribute all global warming to natural processes. From normal cycles of the atmosphere to the regular Earth orbit and wobble about its axis. From sunspots to wildfires, natural processes dominate the flux of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into and out of the atmosphere. But there is one natural process that is usually categorized incorrectly: the actions of that species that is Homo sapiens.

H. sapiens, or we humans, follow the same trend as many other animal species in discovering food and energy resources and using them to proliferate and maintain numbers. However, we have a seemingly innate ability to acquire knowledge and pass it on to younger generations such that the subsequent H. sapiens don’t have to “reinvent the wheel” every generation. This accumulation of knowledge began with the first writing, continued with the teaching of agriculture for stable food supplies, and is now culminating in the transfer of information (and much of it simply data or low-value information) across the internet as is occurring when you are reading these words.

The process of accumulating knowledge, using that knowledge to create even further new knowledge of how to make new tools and extract and use natural resources has been occurring for approximately 10,000 years. Over this time, we have discovered laws of physics, incredibly advanced the science of medicine, and established societal laws and governmental structures. All the while we H. sapiens expand in population (with a few bumps in the road due to disease) and extract more renewable and fossil resources from the Earth each year. H. sapiens is a part of this Earth just as much as are Oncorhynchus mykiss (rainbow trout), Gorilla gorilla (Western Gorilla), and Sequoiadendron giganteum (Giant Sequoia). Granted, the trees have a hard time extracting resources beyond their roots, and the trout don’t have opposable thumbs that allow them to grasp rocks in the stream bed to make houses or fish pens. G. gorilla have thumbs but don’t seem able to venture out far from their original habitat. Most plant and animal species simply expand when resources (prey, nutrients, sun, rain, etc) are abundant and contract when they are scarce – simply a response to immediate stimuli. But those darn H. sapiens make clothing and shelter that allows them to stay in climates and conditions for durations that would otherwise kill them. This learned planning ability to plan ahead for the future seasons and years has been used to further the natural expansion and reach of humans across all continents of the globe.

With these thoughts in mind, why call anything done by us humans to date anything other than “natural”? We don’t make steel, we find iron ore and carbon-containing substances to combine them when heated to form a substance with new properties we call steel. Using steel and other transformed materials we assemble objects, composed of many of these refined and purified substances, that would otherwise not exist on Earth. But oysters do the same thing in constructing their shells. We just do it a lot more, a lot faster, and into more materials.

If we consider the terms “man-made” and anthropogenic as describing actions that go against the continued expansion of Homo sapiens, then what past decisions can fall into that category? Two candidates come to mind: (i) the Chinese one-child policy and (ii) the OPEC/Arab Oil embargoes of the 1970s. it In restricting the spreading of a sixth of the world population, the one-child policy is meant more to preserve the Chinese state more than the humans in general. But don’t short-change the one child policy as being a possible climate policy – as was suggested by some at the recent Copenhagen talks.

And the oil embargos, in hindsight, could be considered the first greenhouse gas policy and/or energy conservation policy. By restricting the flow of resources to a large part of H. sapiens, the leaders of a few resource-rich countries triggered a drastic change in the growth of energy consumption of the world, and hence greenhouse-gas emissions. Annual growth in world energy consumption was increasing close to exponentially until the 1970s, and after that it has been growing only linearly (i.e. at a slower rate). We could possibly attribute 100s of exajoules (or quads) of annual energy conservation to OPEC.

Perhaps embargoes and tariffs in general are a truly man-made construction. The one-child policy and oil embargoes were targeted with the intention of preserving the wealth/power of certain political entities – one with some intent to punish other political entities. Political states being the result of increasing complexity in society, they are inherently man-made. Thus, organization by treaty and by writing is man-made. And perhaps that is why negotiating a limit on greenhouse gas emissions was not successful in Copenhagen this December – because such a limit is a man-made restriction of a natural tendency, not a natural restriction of an anthropogenic tendency.

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