Thursday, June 30, 2016

Our Renewable Future 2

Let’s start with a mind blocking illustration from the book we are penetrating:

Combine harvesters in 1902 and 2014

What we will discuss now is not putting horses in front of the modern tractor or the harvester – instead how we will go on with as much as possible of what we have today. The old picture is based on the fact that ¼ of the farmer’s production or fields must be set aside for the horses – and in the food system we have, that is not possible. But we must find other ways of pulling the machinery than fossil fuel!

And some malicious readers thought the ending picture last column was to indicate that wind power doesn’t work – oh, no! It was only to indicate that we possibly need some thinking about how solar and wind technologies must develop further – maybe away from, expensive and very vulnerable (esp. in a changing climate) modern super high technology. We find in the book such questions about “appropriate technologies”. And, actually, we are not new to wind power, for instance, but formerly it was more local, domestic and simple than today’s high tech.

To be brief when presenting an important and mind setting new book isn’t easy or not even intelligent. You might loose more supporters than gain some. The authors are very balanced and only trying to open our minds for a necessary switch from fossil to renewable energy. Fossil is finite and soon out – what sustainable substitutes do we have and what levels of sustainability can be reached (and what the costs)? What changes to our infrastructure must be made and what can we afford both environmentally and economically (with receding finances due to climate change and end of cheap energy)?

So let’s see what the authors have come up with, but unfortunately briefly – the interested reader will have to find the book OR use the internet to find the newly released free on net version.

The book’s introduction is very interesting and was used by me intensively for the first part of the about 3 planned. It is extensively illustrated by pictures, tables and diagrams, most of them up to latest findings from involved agencies and researchers. Depending on space, I’ll be happy to give some examples now and then. The one below is basic – if we want to know what has happened since 1950/60 when we were somewhat in balance with extraction and use of energy – well, enough to start thinking about what to do if we exceeded limits (and many researchers was warning in books like “Limits for Our Existence” already in 1962). As you see from the diagram, the global tipping point (100 exajoules) was passed about 1960 – we missed that chance and cannot survive missing our last chance, for sure!

Figure I.3. World primary energy consumption by fuel type, 1850–2014. Primary electricity converted by direct equivalent method.

The author of the book mentioned above, Prof Georg Borgström, gave us architecture/planning students a lecture in 1963 or 64 and his conclusion never left me – “we have just a few years to decide our future – you better start thinking how buildings and towns should look like for the future”.

Chapter 1 – Energy 101 starts with a statement: It is impossible to overstate the importance of energy. Without it we can do literally nothing. And further – modern civilization’s energy use (including climate change), together with the inevitable energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables will be the defining trends for this century.

The chapter is very educational and ought to be among the texts for our younger students as it explain the ”Basics of Basics” of what is energy. I’m sure the Boidus readers know the laws of thermodynamics, net energy and EROEI (Energy Return On Energy Invested), LCA (life cycle analysis) and operational and embodied energy (carbon footprints). Consequently I don’t have to repeat those basics (as I have written about them in earlier Boidus columns) but for the new readers, this chapter is basic.

Chapter 2 about our current energy system is also very basic for the observant reader and very much a lived experience due to the confidence we have/had for so called “colonial sciences”. But we are given some interesting figures, indeed:  the world is presently using about the equivalent of 100 billion barrels of oil a year!

If that is translated to human muscle energy ( and an average human can generate around 100 watt-hours of energy). Working 8 hours 5 days a week for a year (no holidays), a hard worker would produce 208,000 watt hours (or 208 kilowatt-hours). World annual energy usage thus equals the annual energy output 734.4 billion humans. Then you understand how many “energy muscle slaves” we would need to keep todays standard for the developed, industrial countries. Up to the industrial revolution, we were basically depending on feudal serfs and slaves and we don’t want to go back to those times for some “progress”, do we?

On Energy Rich – Energy Poor the authors note that some countries use a lot more of energy than people in others. In fact, there is an obvious connection between energy inequality and economic inequality (not a self evident note from US writers, sorry to say). Even in between highly industrialized countries- for instance, Germany enjoy a high standard of living, yet use only a little more than half as much energy (per capita) as citizens of the United States and Canada.(see below):

Figure 2.3. Per capita gross domestic product and energy consumption of various countries, 2012.
Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators

Well, in short, the end of the fossil fuel era does not simply imply the era of energy inequality! To make it more serious, the middle to poor income countries will have a huge problem in raising finance for the evident need for renewable energy. We have to read further in the book we have for another part 3, planned for the August issue of Boidus Focus.

Now we are going to Sweden for the marriage of my child boy, now 30 years old! What kind of future will he and his family have? A fossil fuel empty world or a renewable energy world, I’m worried.

Jan Wareus 28/06/2016

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