Dumbing Down is Dumb

In the energy / climate discourse there is a lot of dumbing down being done and this is either plain dumb or even worse, arrogant.

I am an unpaid nuclear energy promoter but it annoys me no end when other promoters label it as a "zero emissions" energy source. It is not. Dumbing down energy / climate conversations is disrespectful for your audience plus, we do NOT want to sound like Greenpeacers (all feelings and no facts). So, even nuclear promoters should probably clearly underline the following:

  1. There will be more nuclear power plant accidents. This is inevitable. The airline industry will NEVER state that there will not be more airplane disasters; we shouldn't either. Yes, in spite of past and future nuclear accidents nuclear energy will almost certainly continue to be the safest energy we have; bar none. This is equivalent to air travel: even though airplane accidents are more newsworthy, planes are by far safer than automobiles per mile travelled. Actually, the most dangerous thing concerning nuclear energy is when governments overreact to nuclear accidents and order unnecessary (or unnecessarily long) evacuations. 
  2. Nuclear is a low CO2 emission technology. Actually, of the current non-marginal energy sources nuclear is the best in this respect, clocking at 12 grams per kWh (hydro measures in at 24 grams). Nuclear usually replaces coal with emissions of 820 grams per kWh. 
  3. Nuclear waste is still an issue even though the amount generated is minute compared to say coal. Some countries, like France, have pretty much solved the problem plus there are better nuclear designs in the pipeline that should produce much less waste. Also, nuclear waste can be turned into valuable material. 
  4. There is a psychological fear factor respecting nuclear. Thus, lots of (not dumbed down) education for the public will be required.
However, once we state the above points we should underline that nuclear is low pollution, low CO2, safer than any other energy we have, scalable, dense, reliable, affordable, constant, produces high paying jobs, is proven, even better designs are in the pipeline and the fuel (uranium and/or thorium) will last for at least hundreds of years. 

Once all facts are considered, it is hard to find a better energy source than nuclear.

Feel free to add to the conversation in Twitter: @luisbaram

Relative safety of nuclear energy:

CO2 emissions per kWh:

Example of new nuclear designs in the pipeline:


Horse in the Race

Yesterday I was having a polite conversation with a climate alarmist and even though all through the interaction you could sense a feeling of superiority from the "settled science" promoter, at the end she stated this respecting energy: "I don't have a horse in the race."

Well, if increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are really an issue, then we most definitely need a horse in the race. CO2 emissions won't go down just by "believing" in human caused global warming.

No, where the rubber meets the road we'll have to replace high carbon intensity primary energy with lower carbon alternatives.

Since hydro is pretty much maxxed out as a percentage of global primary energy and renewables need pairing power plants that end up producing most of the energy on an annual basis, we essentially have two options to reduce the CO2 intensity of primary energy:

1. Replace coal with natural gas. When used for electricity generation, natural gas produces close to half the CO2 emissions of coal. This is not a footnote; this is a game changer. Yes, replacing oil with natural gas would also reduce emissions although not as dramatically. Some countries already have large fleets of natural gas powered vehicles.

2. Replace coal and, eventually even natural gas with nuclear which is very low (although not zero) in CO2 emissions.

So, if we really care about reducing the CO2 intensity of the global economy we have to leave the philosophical ivory tower, get our hands dirty and name names respecting primary energy: natural gas and nuclear. 

We need to have a horse (or two) in the race and we have to cheer them to the finish line.

Thank you.

Feel free to add to the conversation in Twitter: @luisbaram


Pull the Plug on Fusion

Fusion was supposed to be the source of cheap electricity for humanity. Back in 1955, Homi Bhabha said: "I venture to predict that a method will be found for liberating fusion energy in a controlled manner within the next two decades. When that happens the energy problems of the world will truly have been solved forever."

Well, after more than 60 years and billions upon billions of funds coming from Russia, the US, Europe, Japan and even Argentina, fusion has gone nowhere. Today, fusion doesn't even produce 1% of world's energy. Hey, it doesn't produce even 0.1%. It produces a big fat nothing.

The Manhattan Project achieved its objectives in less than four years. The Apollo Program achieved its objectives in less than a decade. Fusion, on the other hand, continues burning billions of dollars (euros) every year and not one lousy power plant is still in operation.

Why the fixation with fusion?

Some are expecting a breakthrough at any moment, but the real breakthrough would have to be on the cost of the reactor itself more than on achieving a constant and long lived fusion reaction. ITER is not scheduled to ever produce any electricity, but if it did, the cost of the reactor per GWe of capacity would be more than 100 billion euros. This is more than one order of magnitude above the current cost of fission reactors.

Simplifying a little bit (OK, a lot), a fission reactor is a pressure cooker. On the other hand a fusion reactor is a magnetic plasma levitator. The former will always be much cheaper than the latter.

So yes, eventually fusion will be mastered but it will be a Pyrrhic victory: the reactor will be too expensive to matter.

Solar and wind energy are intermittent and unreliable and thus expensive. But even these so called renewables may be producing 10% of global electricity by the middle of this century. Fusion will continue producing a big fat nothing.

Is it time to pull the plug on fusion reactors?

I would argue this should have been done decades ago.

Feel free to add to the conversation in Twitter: @luisbaram


In Defense of Solar Power

There are some applications in which solar PV is the best energy source and, not surprisingly, in those applications it commands almost 100% of the market.

One such application is powering satellites in geostationary orbit. At that altitude, on most days the capacity factor of the solar panels is close to 100%. That's right, this is not a mistake: close to 100%.

Only near the equinoxes does that capacity factor drop but it still is sustained way above 90% on a daily basis.

On the other hand, here on the surface of the Earth we have nights, clouds, and seasons and thus solar energy is intermittent and unreliable.

One size does not fit all. For geostationary satellites NOTHING beats solar PV. Here on Earth, we have better options.

Feel free to add to the conversation in Twitter: @luisbaram

Tweeting About Fossil Fuels

Before tweeting against fossil fuels, please realize that the whole process is fossil fuel powered.

  • The mining, smelting, refining of the metals and compounds required.
  • The manufactory / assembly of most smartphones has a heavy China component and in that country coal rules in the primary energy supply.
  • Shipping the smartphone to your country is usually done either in petrol powered ships or kerosene powered airplanes.
  • And now, you have to power both your phone as well as the Twitter servers. Globally, coal is the #1 source of electricity and natural gas sits firmly at #2.
  • Finally, the money you (or rather, your parents) needed to pay for your phone was earned with the support of fossil fuels.
So, if you are anti-fossil fuels you'll probably be more consistent if you do not tweet at all.

Thank you.

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Alarmist Arrogance

In my opinion, the arrogant behavior of many climate alarmists not only repels a lot of people, but may end up destroying the credibility they still have left.

What would be a welcome change?

Imagine an alarmist that spoke this way:

Even though CO2 is a greenhouse gas and in theory higher concentrations of it in the atmosphere would tend to increase global temperatures, in reality climate science is an amazingly complicated subject and thus we cannot reliably make projections of what will happen in the short or long term. 

Yes, some of us think things could get really bad, but so far there is no compelling evidence either that the climate is getting more violent or that tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts and floods are getting more common globally. Neither is there evidence that agricultural production is suffering worldwide. 

The most media hungry among us love to point to anecdotal weather happenings and even try to trigger fear in others but this is obviously not scientific in the least and in the long run is self-defeating. 

However, probably the worst fault among alarmists is promoting renewables as a solution (or even THE solution) to CO2 emissions. This is plain wrong. We know renewables are a marginal energy source that requires reliable pairing power plants. Renewables not only don't significantly reduce CO2 emissions, it could be argued they increase them by wasting money in them instead of investing in more effective options such as insulation, efficiency, nuclear, replacing coal with natural gas and even replacing older coal plants with state of the art ones. 

Also, we alarmists can't ignore that energy transitions require many decades to occur and that they are only tangentially a scientific issue. They are mostly economic, political, social and engineering issues. Thus scientists should be advisors but never expect to actually lead humanity. They are just not prepared to lead society.

Finally, scientists should not support impossible "solutions," such as #KeepItInTheGround. No, we have to be much more practical. For example, if sea levels are rising and temperatures are increasing then humanity will need more dikes and more air conditioning units (and thus more electricity generation). Asking for trillions of dollars to reduce Earth's temperature by half a degree in the year 2100 is utter irresponsibility.

Yes, we can say that "the science is settled" regarding the fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but the modelling of such a complex system as planet Earth is certainly not settled. Questions should be welcomed. Discussions should be encouraged. And we alarmists should start by conceding we don't have all the answers; hey, we don't even have all the questions. Thank you.

Feel free to add to the conversation in Twitter: @luisbaram