Friday, April 21, 2006

Reading the Kyoto Protocol - Ethical Aspects of the Convention on Climate Change

Reading the Kyoto Protocol: Ethical Aspects of the Convention on Climatic ChangeBy Etienne Vermeersch (ed) et alii

By the year 2005, one would expect everything possible to have been said on the Kyoto Protocol, but this book offers a new perspective, if you can read beyond its title.

Written by philosophers and sociologists, the book includes 7 essays, each carefully worded - a trait of the discipline. It's virtually impossible to reflect the rich arguments of 7 authors in a short summary, and we don't even try, but here are some of the ideas as an appetiser.

In the introduction, Etienne Vermeersch distinguishes between 2 types of rationality, i.e. k-rationality (where 'k' stands for knowledge) and d-rationality (where 'd' stands for doing). K-rationality represents the search for rational knowledge, and in the case of climate change, an optimal k-rational form has not, and probably never will be achieved, although consensus is growing. But without k-rationality, d-rational action is still perfectly possible. D-rational action has well-defined aims, and uses the most efficient means to realise these aims. In conclusion, d-rational action could help us avoid living a lasting contradiction between lofty principles and our questionnable practices.

Raoul Weiler argues that climate policy calls for a new time scale for effective policy making and implementation, hitherto unknown. Building consensus on policy and making it sustainable over a prolonged period of time is made complicated through teh absence in the Western World vision of any intrinsic value system for the ecosystem. This is an untenable situation, since the soon-to-be outnumber the living: at least twce as many people will be having lives in the 21st century than are alive today. Ever hastier decisions and actions, without long-term understanding will not be the solution.

Riccardo Petrella concludes that Kyoto and Johannesburg have failed to ensure minimal conditions for a sustainable world. He calls for a Humankind Protocol to replace the Kyoto Protocol. Such protocol would be based on the recognition of a number of public goods (air, sun, ...), citizen participation and a world political entity representing humankind (not member states, such as the UN).

This book leaves the straightjacket of what is politically achievable within the time horizon of a regulatory mandate, and refreshingly thinks out of the box, but it is not a theoretical book. And you don't have to agree with it - as the authors happily don't with each other.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Power to the People

Power to the People: How the Coming Energy Revolution Will Transform an Industry, Change Our Lives, and Maybe Even Save the PlanetBy Vijay Vaitheeswaran

A very readible book, based on interviews rather than desk research, this book offers quotes from energy gurus rather than graphs and tables. Because of this approach, it gives a good reflection on what is currently at stake in the energy world. Reading its index, it is as much about people and organisations as it is about keywords.

The central theme of the book is that the combined forces of market liberalisation and growing environmental concerns, in combination with new technology (fuel cells and micropower), will revolutionize the power system, leading to an energy internet. This is based on intelligent homes and buildings, micropower generated close to the point of use, and a distribution system allowing multi-directional energy flows.

With new technology becoming available, and ageing power infrastructure (requiring 10 Tdollar investment over the next 30 years), we have a window of opportunity to replace end-of-life power with something new. But 3 camps polarise the energy debate 'don't worry', 'keep pumping' and 'ride your bicycle'. None of these get it right, and consensus needs to be built around the 4th micropower way.

Overall, the book provides a good fresco of today's energy debate. The picture drawn for us is attractive, though it's not the only one possible. It leans more towards ngo's and institutes such as Worldwatch and Rocky Mountains, and it is a bit biased against big power, big oil and big coal. If you want to read a book in the 'small is beautiful' camp, with a focus on politics rather than science, this book would not be a bad choice at all.

Factor Four - Doubling Wealth, Halving Resource Use

Factor Four: Doubling Wealth - Halving Resource Use: The New Report to the Club of RomeBy Ernst Von Weizsaecker, Amory B and L Hunter Lovins

A book written around a simple but appealing idea: we can double our wealth while halving our resource use. It has inspired a 'factor X' school of though (e.g. factor 10).

Its first part offers 50 examples to increase resource productivity, giving a wealth of information, but some examples are a bit extreme, and backup evidence is not easy to find (e.g. super refrigerators). Others are impractical (e.g. hypercars, not exactly the vehicle to bring the kids to school with). Claims in Factour Four are not traceable to a verifiable source.

A reader who expects after reading through 50 examples, a practical and economic case will be presented on Factor Four will be disappointed. The examples are left to speak for themselves. In the second part, the authors move into a call for action. A range of solutions is eloquently proposed, mainly to create new markets, or reshape existing ones (e.g. through tax reform) to obtain the desired results. Part 2 supports the book's role as manifesto.

In its final part, Factor Four touches on some of the wider boundaries of resource productivity, in particular the idea that GDP and welfare are becoming weakly correlated (for example, car accidents trigger a number of services that are accounted for in GDP, but welfare is destroyed). Also, there is the issue of trade - we may be falsely under the impression to be greening our society, while all we do is just exporting pollution.

Overall, Factor Four is a good discussion document and excellent manifesto for action. We should be pleased it has been written, but need to be critical while readin

The Skeptical Environmentalist

The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the WorldBy Bjorn Lomborg

This book aims to measure the 'real state' of the world from an environmental viewpoint, and placing humans at the center stage. Its scope is broader than energy, but a large portion is devoted to energy resources and climate change. Its approach is to look at long-term trends, with the conclusion, not without controversy, that the world has never been in better shape, though there remain problems with global warming, the ozone layer, loss of rainforests, ...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

With high prices for oil and gas, does solar energy not become cheaper?

By Joachim Grawe

In partnership with Energie-Fakten

As always, there is no simple answer:

  1. As an alternative for the preparation of hot water using oil or gas, solar collectors will become competitive in the short run, if the price for heating oil remains at the current level (or even increases) and when the gas price follows, based on the price fixing clause in customer contracts. This has already been announced.
  2. In Germany, solar collectors, in any case flat-plate collectors, do not suffice for heating in winter. Installing them in addition to an oil or gas heating facility means double investment. Despite higher oil prices, payback is long. Oil prices must rise significantly before the combined heating with oil and solar becomes economical.
  3. As for electricity production with solar energy (photovoltaics), the increase in oil price has no influence, and the likely increase in gas prices has probably little influence. This is because (light) heating oil is hardly used in power generation (share in 2004 electricity production: 0.2%). Natural gas, with 9.1%, has a higher share in electricity production. But the use of natural gas can be reduced, in favour of coal. Conversely, the share of gas can increase only to a limited extent, if (due to high prices) few new gas-fired power plants are constructed, and when the operating life of nuclear power plants is extended. The debate is open whether large-scale electricity generation from photovoltaics will ever become competitive, due to more attractive alternatives (also among renewable energy sources).

Related articles (in German):

This contribution was originally published on September 8, 2005 by Energie-Fakten.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Why Carbon Fuels Will Dominate The 21st Century's Global Energy Economy

Why Carbon Fuels Will Dominate the 21st Century Energy EconomyIf provocation stimulates lateral thought (de Bono), you will find it hard to think straight while reading Peter Odell's book. Its opening sentence sets the tone: 'Realism over the critical issues of energy supply and use in the 21st century's economies and societies has become a very scarce commodity'. Peter Odell's goes on and explains that it will be very difficult to move away rapidly from carbon fuels. He presents a 100-year scenario for the 21st century during which the world will consume 3 times more carbon energy (1660 Gtoe) than in the 20th (500 Gtoe). He finds that carbon energy is not as scarce a commodity as above mentioned realism, and is confident we have the resources to support such demand.

Carbon fuels take the center stage in the book, with 3 of the 6 chapters devoted to coal, oil and gas. Alternative energy, defined as renewable & nuclear energy, but excluding non-commercial biomass, is occasionally mentioned. Alternative energy will start its rise in the 2nd half of the 21st century, supplying 30% of the cumulative energy needs during the century, and ending it with a 43% market share. Gas will be the fuel of the 21st century, coal will decline in relative terms, and oil is expected to peak before the middle of the century.

The book deliberately and consistently mentions carbon fuels rather than fossil fuels, The hypothesis of the fossil origin of oil and gas dates back from the 18th century, and the book devotes a chapter to an alternative theory suggesting an inorganic origin of oil and gas. We know relatively little of the deep earth crust, and this theory may be as valid as its alternative. In any case, the 'Russian-Ukranian theory of the abyssal, abiotic origin of petroleum' merits more than an instant dismissal because of its origin.

This compact book will delight anybody open to challenge conventional wisdom on our energy system.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Double or Quits? The Global Future of Civil Nuclear Energy

Double or Quits: The Future of Civil Nuclear EnergyBy Malcolm C Grimston & Peter Beck

This book argues for the nuclear industry and governments to take action to ensure that nuclear power remains available as a practical option. Such action needs to take place on 5 fronts: public perception, economics, waste (including reprocessing and proliferation), safety and R&D.

Nuclear has already received its first chance in the 70's and 80's, during which time several governments have provided substantial resources to a nuclear programme. This has resulted in an industry which generates about one sixth of the world's electricity, with an impressive safety records and without the emission of greenhouse gasses. However, nuclear electricity has not delivered on economics. And views are divided between supporters and opponents on the outcomes of nuclear's first chance.

A second chance for nuclear electricity will depend on a number of factors, some within the industry's control, but many beyond its control: will fossil fuels remain available? at what price? will renewables fulfil the predictions of its supporters? how severe will be the impact of climate change? ... Moreover, a healthy nuclear industry will be needed to develop new generation reactor types, novel waste management techniques and attract the young and brightest engineers and scientists. But all these needs are at the same time preconditions for a healthy nuclear industry.

But other energy technologies are equally not without challenges. In summary, the authors identify 2 key issues: to enable decision making to assess whether R&D concepts can be successful in commercialisation and decision-making structures that can manage the complex issues surrounding nuclear power. 'Double or Quits' is essential reading for all who wish to explore under what circumstances nuclear energy might make a positive contribution.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

What's the importance of cogeneration?

By Eckhard Schulz 

In partnership with Energie-Fakten

Mature technologies are now available for the combined production of electricity and heat (cogeneration). They can use fossil or nuclear energy carriers, as well as biomass.

In a proper comparison (serving the same energy needs through both alternatives), cogeneration uses 15-20% less energy, and contributes an equivalent amount of emission reductions, compared to the production of electricity and heat in separate facilities, i.e. a thermal power plant and a modern boiler. In this case, the comparison needs to be based on the same fuel. When cogeneration is combined with a fuel switch -- from coal to gas, the impact of switching fuel is more important than the impact of cogeneration, due to the favourable characteristics of gas compared to coal. The advantage of cogeneration also decreases with higher efficiency of future power plants.

Cogeneration is above all meaningful for applications where there is a large and continuous (not just seasonal) demand for heat close to the cogeneration facility. If there is no demand for heat from a cogeneration facility, its efficiency for the production of electricity will be lower than for optimised thermal power stations. Larger cogeneration facilities have in general lower production costs than smaller units. But on the other hand, transport of heat to users takes longer and is more expensive.

Cogeneration provides 6% of heat in Germany. Each year, about 55 TWh (1 TWh = 1 billion kWH) is produced. German cogeneration facilities operate less frequently in condensation regimefootnote{i.e. without simultaneous use of heat}, in comparison to other European countries. With a market share of 10% electricity produced from cogeneration facilities, Germany's performance is about average. Denmark is leading. But in Denmark, cogeneration facilities operate a considerable amount of time in the condensation regime. Moreover, the development of individual heat supply on the basis of gas has been inhibited in Denmark by regulation for a long time.

Government supports the further development of cogeneration. In case of district heating, this will not be possible, due to the reducing heat demand for dwellings, based on more stringent regulations for isolation and energy performance. For local heat production, there are growing possibilities if technology further develops (e.g. fuel cells). The already significant portion of cogeneration in industrial energy supply (electricity and steam) can increase further. Above all, the power to heat ratio (more electricity and less heat produced by cogeneration) increases significantly, compared to older facilities.

This contribution was originally published on July 21, 2005 by Energie-Fakten.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Nuclear Renaissance

Nuclear Renaissance: Technologies and Policies for the Future of Nuclear PowerBy W J Nuttall

'Nuclear Renaissance' is not a plea for or against a nuclear revival, but explores technological evolutions that would facilitate a nuclear revival. With its focus on future technology, the book complements 'Megawatts and Megatons', since it continues in a way where the other ends (though there is no link between the 2 books).

'Nuclear Renaissance' covers the waste issue based on the UK, US and Finnish experience. It does not offer a complete and satisfactory solution, but the Finnish approach, based on participation and trust seems to provide a model for the future, as opposed to the approach of a 'nuclear priesthood' from the past.

Technological developments such as high temperature gas-cooled reactors, waste burners, Generation IV reactors and nuclear fusion are covered in depth. But possibly the main merit of the book lies in its careful consideration whether a nuclear renaissance will, needs to or should happen.

In an afterwords, the author offers a thought experiment of a world where nuclear fission as a physical phenomenon would not exist, speculation how such a world would have evolved over the past 70 years. Such a world would have seen quite a different end game to the 2nd World War. The Cold War would surely have occurred, we would not see magnetic confinement fusion and threats to climate would be even worse than we actually face today.

On balance, the author concludes that 'it would seem prudent for the developed world to maintain a civil nuclear power industry on at least its current scale.'