Sunday, October 2, 2016

Our Renewable Future 4

Ending Part 3 of the “renewable” columns, I touched upon the question of the possibilities of financing a transition from fossil fuels to a renewable energy concept for the future and here. I find my worry very important against the financial meltdown we are currently experiencing and the huge costs for the complete transition, currently implemented in the industrialized countries.

The well researched book (Our Renewable Future – available online) clearly indicates that the feasible concept is tapping sun and wind using now well known sustainable technologies (around there for many decades, already). However, the technologies are high-tech and expensive as well as much resource and energy consuming. Furthermore, based on conventional industrial products using what we try to eliminate – fossil fuel dependency. Everything must get worse until it gets better, they say!

To take an example from Germany that has about 25 000 wind turbines today at $1.5-3 million each (sponsored 70% by government) with a life span of c. 20 years – there was a photo of a fallen 19 yr old one in Part 1. These very big high-tech “monsters” are 300-foot towers with a 60-ton generator nacelle and the 200-foot blades often on thousand tons of concrete and rebar foundation. Aluminum and concrete have a huge carbon footprint, among the biggest in the construction industry. And, of course, a wind farm with many hundreds of them will need good roads for maintenance and repair trucks. Germany is now busy exchanging 1000 of the first built ones every year to the pleasure of many manufactures. Wind turbines produce electricity cheaper than conventional energy plants – but are such costs acceptable for not so industrialized countries in need of loans?

I think we must worry about the chosen technology and do research to find cheaper and better, a more appropriate technology, the day we are considering wind turbines, for instance.  And we now have institutions as a University of Technology (BIUST) and the Innovation Hub! But the revelation day is still a bit into the future as we will see – there are smaller steps that will be needed for a start. However, let us first have a look into our situation on the Limits To Growth (LTG) chart:

Fig 4.1 From Limits To Growth 2004  - based on LTG chart 1972

It is interesting and frightening to see the finance and oil based industrial output coinciding with the resources decline and also that all (except resources) is based on the industrial era development that after 1950/60 took a steep upturn – this is when neo-liberalism (and globalism) started blossom – I leave this to friends interested in ideology and political/economical doctrines (and note that the problem started when the gold-dollar became petro-dollar and the oil for future had to be secured). Great worry must be given the indication that the food and population curves are very far from each other in 2050 – this is alarming as it often is the cause of riots and wars and we experience this even today, but just a start of something bigger. In these times of tumult we are supposed to switch to renewable energy – oops! We also see that pollution will go up and we have to build a renewable world that, unfortunately, will result in increased pollution for the transitional period. So – worse before better but can Gaia take it?

When should a feasible transition have started? Probably latest in 1965 when my Professor Georg Borgström wrote about “Limits for our Existence”. I have a saved Cohiba cigar for the good answers I’ll be given.

Back to the financing of Our Renewable Future – Part 3 of my articles had an illustration from a net-blog and it’s repeated here below:

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Fig 4.2  From Mike Roscoe finance blog in May 2016 (end curves 2013)

The charts ends in 2013 and now in 2016 the situation is – debts owed is ab. 200 trill and world GPD ab. 50 trill. The 2/3 gap is probably a ¾ gap today. Sounds horrible for the future loan/dept situation but ab. 1/3 of the dept curve isn’t based on real wealth! The upper 1/3 of the dept curve is “paper debts” - i.e. artificial and based on newly printed money, overvalued mortgages, bonds, hedge funds, derivatives and other so called Wall Street constructions that most banks and economic pundits are basing their dementia reporting on (in papers and even radio/TV). As usual, this will result in a big bubble bang but this time too big to be covered by tax money/governments to the demise of the banks “too big to fall” – that’s is the fact that Barclays is basing their current downsizing on! Be that what it might be – the debts are just too big to cover for a change of the energy tools we need right now. When a big finance bubble is bursting, people and nations must rely on basic footwork and now it’s time to speak about a feasible change to renewable and proper steps to take.

We start, again, with a chart from the book we use for our discussion – Our Renewable Future (chapter 9):
WEB Figure 9-1 Selected countries public investments in renewable energy
Fig 4.3    Selected countries’ public investments in renewable energy research and development
Looking at this chart, it must be remembered that it deals only with improvements to the existing electricity sector (ab. 20% of energy demand today).However, it’s clear that it is only fully fledged industrial countries (and a few “semi” ones) that so far are into the first step to a 100% renewable future. Hardly any former “colony”!  Why? We have to be on this chart as we are pride of having a BIUST and an Innovative Hub – hope you agree. Or are we still looted and do we have to ask for “discount, sir”?

I think I have to conclude this presentation of an eye opening book. I choose by sticking out my glass-chin (old boxer as I am) and present how I think a country in the Southern Africa should meet a renewable future, step by step. But I’m not a specialist and there are few others around here – but it is necessary to meet the future with our feet steady on our ground. We should not accept so called “global treaties” but do it our own way – for instance: coal is a bad pollutant and soon there are no buyers. What can we do about it – we can clean the pollutants which today seemingly cost more than a transport to the east (and cost for transport and cleaning makes it no deal to them). But, no transport and cleaning here might become basis for the temporary lee time we need, isn’t it? With or without a new railway to the west (or east)! As road based transport is a enormous problem for renewable energy, I guess the railway will soon pay its cost.

Now to the first trembling steps I think we must take to a renewable future: It normally takes years to start up new programs/projects - consequently we must use ongoing ones. And there are possibilities as I see it in the many recent projects we have e.g. ESP (Economical Stimulus Project) and Ipeleng and others. And, for a start, there isn’t a single young fellow that can’t climb a roof and put a solar panel into use. And a lot of retired BPC workers that can attach the wires to an existing fuse box and attach a volt converter (very cheap today) in between. With some project supervision, these locals could be used in a small first step towards renewables.

Thus, step one: Let’s create a program for improving and saving electricity by lessen the power used for individual houses by installing solar panels everywhere including community service buildings. With GoB support, BPC can make it a “purchase loan scheme” like the ones they already have. As the BPC power is already there in many cases and for the time needed (the intermittent problem), it seems to me very simple 2 panels, transformer/converter and a battery installment is all that’s needed as long as there is the BPC backup. Consequently, it is a energy saving concept rather than a complete renewable future solution.

Interestingly, savings of domestic and small institutional consumption might make BPC able to do necessary improvements on their delivery network to make possible inclusion of large scale wind and solar farms (and include the 20% still not connected). It is often stated that existing, conventional production and delivery system cannot take more than 5% of “outside” energy. But that has proven wrong I many countries that have substantial renewable energy sources – after upgrading of existing network, of course.

A second step could be to construct medium scale solar and wind farms scaled for small villages and urban neighborhood units – 2-5 ha unused fields or natural impediments. This is often a concept used in the Nordic countries I’ve seen, and the scale is acceptable environmentally due to the minimal impact. In short, this kind of initial small step might improve savings and also result in an improved employment situation and, thus, recommended by this writer, ant not a conclusion in the book we penetrate.Many large consumers like urban industries seldom have their large roofs plastered with solar panels (to my astonishment not even for hot water) as well as most greenhouses for vegetable production that also need lots of power but are not using the sun. Here are more savings possible that might result in fewer large scale plants (that often have negative environmental impact – see fig 4.4!

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Fig 4.4  Wind Farm in California 1986 – they started early!
This photo is interesting – First, it is from 1986 (from the Altamont Pass in northern California) so, the technology has been around for long and obviously to acceptable cost, there. Now, costs are through the roof and GDP’s very problematic. We are embarrassed, aren’t we, as we didn’t even try, then? Second, we clearly understand the importance of physical planners and landscape architects, don’t we? I could add a third point – there is a myth that wind farms allow for undisturbed agric production. It look so on the pic, but in fact, today each and every one of the mills must have truck access – and there we have a problem regarding  “undisturbed agric”.
However, this “renewable future” has an interesting history and it is underpinned in the book – it is so called “high-tech”, a word that makes me worried, indeed. I’m hoping for a retro/appropriate technology and ditto scale. Not a new trough for starving entrepreneurs and corporations! It is obvious that we have to (re)find and (re)discover our renewable future and make changes to our energy use (as well as scaling it down) if we want to give a chance of well living to our children and grandchildren. And consequently a fine picture of what I want (fig 4.5):


Fig 4.5  A German high tower wind turbine of late – high-tech top but locally made tower/nacelle, more appropriate to us, isn’t it?

Jan Wareus

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