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By Robert Rapier on Feb 13, 2012 with 45 responses

No Free Lunch in Our Energy Options

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Land Usage and Wildlife vs. Carbon Emissions

If I had to describe the theme of my upcoming book with just one phrase, it would be “There is no free lunch in our energy options.” Sometimes the costs are obvious, as when an oil spill occurs or a nuclear accident happens. Other times, the costs are not so obvious, but the trade-offs are always there.

Some people have insisted to me that there really aren’t too many trade-offs with solar power, but a new story in the Los Angeles Times highlights a few of them:

Sacrificing the desert to save the Earth

BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah solar power project will soon be a humming city with 24-hour lighting, a wastewater processing facility and a gas-fired power plant. To make room, BrightSource has mowed down a swath of desert plants, displaced dozens of animal species and relocated scores of imperiled desert tortoises, a move that some experts say could kill up to a third of them.

Despite its behemoth footprint, the Ivanpah project has slipped easily into place, unencumbered by lasting legal opposition or public outcry from California’s boisterous environmental community.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has vehemently opposed the Keystone XL pipeline. In fact, on the home page of the NRDC site is a plea to “Help Us Kill the Keystone XL.” But in this case, the NRDC was cited as one of the environmental organizations that lined up behind the BrightSource project:

“I have spent my entire career thinking of myself as an advocate on behalf of public lands and acting for their protection,” said Johanna Wald, a veteran environmental attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “I am now helping facilitate an activity on public lands that will have very significant environmental impacts. We are doing it because of the threat of climate change. It’s not an accommodation; it’s a change I had to make to respond to climate.”

So what kind of trade-off are they making here? They are using a tremendous amount of land to produce electricity that could have been produced on a tiny fraction of that footprint with nuclear power or fossil fuels. So they traded lower carbon emissions for a large area of destroyed wildlife habitat.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am strongly in favor of solar power (and even of this particular project). I have said many times that I believe that it is the long-term best option for our energy needs. But I want to use this post to emphasize the trade-offs that we will be making regardless of which energy options we choose.

Crunching the Numbers

The BrightSource project will reportedly supply electricity to 140,000 homes at peak power (i.e., during the period of brightest sunlight). The reflectors will take up six square miles, and the enclosed acreage of the facility is “more than 3,500 acres of public land.” Peak power for the Brightsource plant is reportedly about 370 megawatts. They don’t give an annual capacity factor, but let’s make the very generous assumption that the plant can produce 370 megawatts for 10 hours a day. That would mean 3,700 MWh of electricity per day.

I thought it might be interesting to relate this project to the energy flowing each day through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. While very little of U.S. oil production goes toward producing electricity, I am going to convert to electricity for an apples to apples comparison to the Brightsource plant. The U.S. EPA has estimated that 1672 lbs of carbon dioxide are emitted per MWh of electricity production when oil is the fuel source to make electricity. Oil emits about 3.15 times its weight in carbon dioxide when burned, so that means about (1672/3.15) lbs of oil was consumed per MWh of electricity production. This is 531 lbs of oil, and a barrel of oil weighs about 300 lbs. So this means about 1.8 barrels of oil per MWh of electricity.

The Keystone Pipeline would have brought 700,000 barrels per day of oil into the U.S., and if this was turned into electricity it would make 390,000 MWh of firm power each day — more than 100 times the power output of the Brightsource plant. So, one way of looking at this tradeoff is that to give up the Keystone Pipeline and replace that power with solar thermal power would require over 100 of these 3,500 acre plants. Or, to think of it another way, 3.5 days of flow through Keystone XL would provide the annual energy equivalent of the BrightSource project.

One other note about this particular project. The NRDC has spent a lot of time downplaying the number of jobs that would be created by the Keystone XL pipeline. There have certainly been exaggerated reports of the number of jobs that would be created, but the U.S. State Department estimated 5,000 to 6,000 construction jobs and then 20 or so permanent jobs would be created for the Keystone XL pipeline. Of course, as I recently pointed out, one of the things the Keystone might do is keep U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast in business instead of shutting them down as has been the case with many refineries on the East Coast. By contrast, the BrightSource plant will create a reported 1,400 jobs during construction, and 86 permanent operations and maintenance jobs. I have not yet heard the NRDC complain that this isn’t enough jobs created for the money spent and the habitat that was destroyed.

Powering a City

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) put together a short presentation called How Many Does it Take? in which they looked at the required footprint of different facilities to power a city of 100,000 people for a year. The conclusion was 1/30th of a nuclear power plant with a footprint of 12 acres, 3/7th of a hydroelectric dam on 73 acres, 7/8ths of an offshore gas platform on 2/5ths of an acre, 20 onshore gas wells on 8 acres, 724 wind turbines on 1615 acres, or 241,000 solar panels on 2907 acres.

The BrightSource project is a utility scale solar thermal plant. That is necessarily going to take up a very large area. But there is numerous space already available on existing roofs that could be exploited to a large degree. The cost of this plant was reportedly $2 billion. For that price, you could put rooftop solar photovoltaic systems on 100,000 homes without the land usage issues involved in this project.

Ultimately, what needs to be done for our energy choices is a full-accounting of all the trade-offs, and then we should make decisions based on the greatest benefit and least downside to society. Too often, people are driven by agendas, and they are therefore not interested in looking at trade-offs. These are the sorts of people who will look at a project and only see benefit or only see downside, and they therefore resort to one-sided and misleading arguments in pursuit of their agenda.

On a final note, nuclear power has a small footprint and no carbon dioxide emissions, but many environmentalists remain steadfastly opposed to nuclear power due to the perceived risks. Maybe some of these environmental organizations should be spending more time figuring out how to improve the safety of nuclear power. They have demonstrated that they are willing to make environmental sacrifices as shown by their support of BrightSource, so perhaps they may want to revisit some of the sources that they have opposed in the past.

Link to Original Article: No Free Lunch in Our Energy Options

By Robert Rapier

  1. By Optimist on February 13, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    The U.S. EPA has estimated that 1672 lbs of carbon dioxide are emitted per MWh of electricity production when oil is the fuel source to make electricity. Oil emits about 3.15 times its weight in carbon dioxide when burned, so that means about (1672/3.15) lbs of oil was consumed per MWh of electricity production. This is 531 lbs of oil, and a barrel of oil weighs about 300 lbs. So this means about 1.8 barrels of oil per MWh of electricity.

    That seems a bit tedious. Why not go the more direct route? 1 barrel of oil contains ~1.6 MWh of energy. However, burning the oil is bound to lose a lot of its energy: you’d probably get between 0.35 and 0.4 MWh of useful energy out of a barrel of oil, perhaps a bit better if you do capture some of the heat. At 0.4 MWh/bbl you are pretty close to the 0.55 MWh/bbl (or 1.8 bbl/MWh) that you ended up with. Just seems way more direct…

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  2. By Jmogs on February 13, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    Two things:

    You don’t spend much time on the footprint of the tar sands mines and steam sites in Alberta. The tailing ponds alone, lakes of toxic liquid waste, cover 50 square miles and are growing. That is just a tiny fraction of the horizon-to-horizon footprint of operations up there. It is the largest industrial project on the planet…

    On jobs, the solar project was not sold to America as a jobs program.

    Contort all you want, but this isn’t even apples and oranges. You are comparing apples and garbage trucks.

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  3. By rrapier on February 13, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    Optimist said:

    The U.S. EPA has estimated that 1672 lbs of carbon dioxide are emitted per MWh of electricity production when oil is the fuel source to make electricity. Oil emits about 3.15 times its weight in carbon dioxide when burned, so that means about (1672/3.15) lbs of oil was consumed per MWh of electricity production. This is 531 lbs of oil, and a barrel of oil weighs about 300 lbs. So this means about 1.8 barrels of oil per MWh of electricity.

    That seems a bit tedious. Why not go the more direct route? 1 barrel of oil contains ~1.6 MWh of energy. However, burning the oil is bound to lose a lot of its energy: you’d probably get between 0.35 and 0.4 MWh of useful energy out of a barrel of oil, perhaps a bit better if you do capture some of the heat. At 0.4 MWh/bbl you are pretty close to the 0.55 MWh/bbl (or 1.8 bbl/MWh) that you ended up with. Just seems way more direct…


     

    The only issue with that is estimating how much oil would actually be converted into electricity. Since not that much oil is used for electricity, I am not sure what that number is. I would have guessed about 35%, but with the other route, I didn’t have to guess.

    RR

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  4. By ChemE on February 13, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    LENR. Remember those letters. All other sources of energy will be obsolete in 20 years

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  5. By rrapier on February 13, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    Jmogs said:

    Two things:

    You don’t spend much time on the footprint of the tar sands mines and steam sites in Alberta.


     

    Nor did I spend any time on the footprint of the materials that went into building the solar thermal plant. I wasn’t making a point that the overall footprint of the solar thermal plant was higher than for the tar sands (but to be apples to apples we have to compare equivalent BTUs). The point is that there is no free lunch. But, it would be interesting to compare the actual footprints of the two. I don’t know how much energy is in 3,500 acres of tar sands, but 1). I bet it is greater than years of output from this solar thermal plant (which I support, incidentally), and 2). The land is reclaimed after it is mined.

    My point is that some people view the tar sands as all bad with no redeeming qualities, and solar projects as all good with little downside. In fact, there are good and bad aspects of both (depending on who you are asking). Some people won’t give a flip about the desert or the forest where the tar sands are.

    The tailing ponds alone, lakes of toxic liquid waste, cover 50 square miles and are growing.

    Which I have covered in the past, and discuss in my book.

    Contort all you want, but this isn’t even apples and oranges. You are comparing apples and garbage trucks.

    Nope. The point is that it takes a lot more area to produce a BTU of wind or solar power than it does to produce a BTU of fossil or nuclear power. That is one of the trade-offs. No contortions necessary.

    RR

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  6. By Rufus on February 13, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    It’s a “Desert,” Jake.

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  7. By paul-n on February 14, 2012 at 3:05 am

    Peak power for the Brightsource plant is reportedly about 370 megawatts. They don’t give an annual capacity factor, but let’s make the very generous assumption that the plant can produce 370 megawatts for 10 hours a day. That would mean 3,700 MWh of electricity per day.

    That is being VERY generous indeed – unless they have de-rated the peak output to divert to storage – but I don;t think they have.

    According to NREL’s PVWatts calculator, Invanpah gets the equivalent of 6.58 hrs of full sun per day, so their daily would be 2,430MWh.

     

    On the oil to electricity, if you were going to do a brand new one, it would be a CCGT at 60% efficiency.  the EIA figure includes a lot of old SCGT and diesels.  

    60% gets you to 1.05bbl/MWh, combine this with the 6.58hr daily production and the pipeline actually is twice as much as your estimate!

     

    At 3500 acres, the power density is 2.5W/sq.ft, or 25W/sq.m.  A typical 240W solar PV panel is 18sq ft, so has a power density of 13W/sq.ft.

    Using the PVWatts info, if the entire area was covered with off the shelf PV panels, laid flat on the ground,  the average daily output would be 7,905MWh – 3.3x the output, with a peak power of 2000MW (5.4x).  And at current large scale PV costs of $3/W, this plant would cost $6bn to build – and wouldn;t need any water.

    So, using PV technology, the same land could produce 3.3x the electricty, or, for the same output and cost as BrightSource, you could use just 30% of the land and leave the rest for the tortoises.  Go to 2-axis tracking and you could do it with just 20% of the land and the tortoises could enjoy some shade under the panels!

     

    It sure looks like yet another very expensive “demonstration” project of solar thermal, just like there have been for  30 years now.

    So just why are both the gov and NRDC championing this project?

     

     

     

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  8. By Skywise on February 14, 2012 at 3:49 am

    On a final note, nuclear power has a small footprint and no carbon dioxide emissions

    Robert…are you quite sure on that? Isn’t the footprint of nuclear power (both physical and as regards carbon emissions) rather significant if you include the upstream activities? You know uranium rods don’t fall from the sky ready-to-burn. I’m under the impression that uranium mining and refining require lots of space AND lots of energy (both electricity and liquid fuels), not to mention (in the case of mining) practices like “in situ leaching” whereby copious amounts of (among other things) hydrochloric acid are pumped into the ground. Yes, I understand you weren’t making a straight footprint-to-footprint comparison between Ivanpah and the Keystone pipeline but I can’t let an offhand statement like this one go unchallenged. I don’t think the idea Nuclear power can offset its negative attributes with a “low footprint” would withstand proper scrutiny.

    When considering “footprint” tradeoffs, I think it’s necessary to consider the time axis. The proliferation of photovoltaics has brought not only decreased costs, but higher efficiencies. This means that the “footprint” (phyiscal and emissons) is *decreasing* as the industry grows. Fossil-fired generation is doing exactly the opposite: we must mine ever deeper, ever wider, and with ever more damaging methods (see tar sands AND uranium mining) to harvest the same energy content.

    All that said, I wholeheartedly agree that there are tradeoffs to ALL methods of energy generation. And I find it puzzling when developers try to site huge solar projects (be they thermal or PV) on unspoiled ecosystems. It just isn’t necessary. Population centers tend to generate “stressed” or even infertile lands, both rooftops and ground. Much of that area is already located near transmission lines, more if you’re talking distributed, small systems (so you can leverage medium and low-voltage transmission). Until we’ve saturated those areas (which ought to keep us busy for quite some time), I don’t see the need to chop up desert ecosystems just to install solar power generation capacity.

    Developers will still try because they expect lower costs for the land and can spread the fixed costs (e.g. permitting and environmental impact studies) over more generation capacity. But I suspect these gains are nearly completely consumed (and possibly outweighed) by abatement of environmental impacts, legal fees, appeasement of local communities, and additional transmission losses due to the remote location. Above a certain point, the cost saving “scale effect” up upsizing a solar power gen plant hits diminishing returns.

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  9. By rbm on February 14, 2012 at 10:12 am

    I don’t think this is a direct ‘apples to apples’ comparison. Indirect yes.

     

    It treats the electicity developed as available to the same energy market. As I understand the condition and technical workings of the US electical distribution system this apples to apples comparison is limited. The transportability of FF is not exceeded by this type of solar development.

     

    Still, the comparison has value to increase learning of energy issues which are fundamental to existence on the globe and in this case the US.

     

    Non-centralized solar development, I suspect would exceed FF transportability advantages but it’s not clear if that is true and what trade-offs would be encountered in that particular system. One example of lack of clarity is regarding solar technology itself – non-centralized solar dollar per watt is hard pressed to compete directly with centralized FF-electrical dolllar per watt, now, and in the forseable future. I don’t expect that to be the case in the long term.

     

    I am also suspect of those who claim the large centrialize solar technical developments can cross-over into the market of non-centralised solar development, except in very limited manner – way short of significant.

     

    Thanks for your valuable work, Robert.

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  10. By mac on February 14, 2012 at 10:30 am

    RR remaked:

     

    “Now don’t get me wrong. I am strongly in favor of solar power (and even
    of this particular project). I have said many times that I believe that
    it is the long-term best option for our energy needs. But I want to use
    this post to emphasize the trade-offs that we will be making regardless
    of which energy options we choose.”

    ————————————————————————————————————————————————–

    It has often been said that solar has a large footprint compared to nuclear or fossil fuel generating plants.  If we build large centralized plants in the desert far from where the energy is consumed by our cities and suburbs, then this may well be true. But what if someone had a way that could eliminate the need for10% of all current power generating plants with relative ease and without ever building a single new centralized solar plant ?

     

    In Europe about ten percent of all electricity produced is consumed by street lights, or some 2.000 Billlion KWhrs.of electricity (2006 figures) New solar lights collect electricity in the day time, store it in batteries, then release the light at night using efficient LED bulbs.  No need to build a solar plant in the desert, then send the power over long, lossy transmission lines to run street lamps at night, that run much more efficiently with on-site solar PV collectors. No drain on the grid.  No huge solar footprint. 

     

    Hey, there just might be a free lunch after all (just kidding)

     

    http://www.metaefficient.com/l…..urope.html

     

     

     

     

     

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  11. By rbm on February 14, 2012 at 10:42 am

    ChemE said:

    LENR. Remember those letters. All other sources of energy will be obsolete in 20 years


     

    Most readers of this board seem to be FF-centric. That is understandable for meany reasons and is not to be minimized. I find the site valluable for that alone.

     

    IN addition, this site’s redership, in large part, seems to grapple effectively with technical concepts in the abstract so I offer this theoretical work from the Calphysics site:

     

    Zero Point Energy and Zero Point Field

    Quantum mechanics predicts the existence of what are usually called ”zero-point” energies for the strong, the weak and the electromagnetic interactions, where ”zero-point” refers to the energy of the system at temperature T=0, or the lowest quantized energy level of a quantum mechanical system. Although the term ”zero-point energy” applies to all three of these interactions in nature, customarily (and hereafter in this article) it is used in reference only to the electromagnetic case.

     

    The notable aspect to this introductory paragraph is that all QM predictions have turned out, through experiment, to be true.

     

    When the Ecat was in the news I made a statement it would be 20 years before it was ‘on the shelf’. I’m less sanguine today about that. It seems vested interests are much more entrenched than I imagined in their viability than the viability of say, theirs and others, children or grandchildren.

     

    This view on LENR-types of work is why I read RR – for it’s immediacy. LENR-work requires a diffent vision, for a start.

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  12. By tom-g on February 14, 2012 at 11:05 am

    Robert Rapier said:


     

    The only issue with that is estimating how much oil would actually be converted into electricity. Since not that much oil is used for electricity, I am not sure what that number is. I would have guessed about 35%, but with the other route, I didn’t have to guess.

    RR


     

    35% is close enough for estimations.  Don’t the islands still use oil for generation?  Typical nuclear plant is 30-35% e.g. 3000 MWt = 1000 MWe

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  13. By Steve Funk on February 14, 2012 at 11:08 am

    There is a lot of desert. If you disregard (or solve) the intermittency problem, we could meet the entire electrical needs of the US with the solar output of 1% of the southwest desert. I think that figure came from “Our Choice.” But you are right, there are always tradeoffs. And sometimes those tradeoffs result in court cases or bureaucratic delays. The Mojave solar farm was delayed for years because of the desert tortoise.

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  14. By rrapier on February 14, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Skywise said:

    On a final note, nuclear power has a small footprint and no carbon dioxide emissions

    Robert…are you quite sure on that? Isn’t the footprint of nuclear

    power (both physical and as regards carbon emissions) rather significant

    if you include the upstream activities?


     

    This is universally true of any project, but for nuclear 1). The amount of fuel required is very low relative to the electricity produced; and 2). There are no emissions from the plant itself. But you are right, every one of these plants has at least indirect emissions, but nuclear’s indirect emissions are a fraction of the emissions from the fossil fuels (barring of course a nuclear accident, and then you have emissions of a different kind).

    RR

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  15. By rrapier on February 14, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Tom G. said:

    Robert Rapier said:

     

    The only issue with that is estimating how much oil would actually be converted into electricity. Since not that much oil is used for electricity, I am not sure what that number is. I would have guessed about 35%, but with the other route, I didn’t have to guess.

    RR


     

    35% is close enough for estimations.  Don’t the islands still use oil for generation?  Typical nuclear plant is 30-35% e.g. 3000 MWt = 1000 MWe


     

    Yes, almost all of Hawaii’s electricity comes from oil. And in fact, I have the annual fuel consumption numbers for one of the plants around here somewhere, but then I would have had to relate it back to how much electricity the plant actually produced that year. So, just easier to do it the way I did it (and I have a citable source).

    RR

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  16. By sunweb on February 14, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    The continued attempt to maintain business as usual modes of per capita lifestyle will create exactly what all environmental and population overshoot create. We will do anything and everything to maintain our present personal level of energy use and the comfort it affords us. We will do anything and everything to the earth, to other people and even to ourselves to continue on this path. And if we don’t have the energy level we see others have, we will do anything and everything to the earth, to other people and even to ourselves to attain that level. The proof of this assertion is simple; we are doing it.
    From: The Curmudgeon Report
    http://sunweber.blogspot.com/2…..eport.html

    and
    Solar and wind energy capturing devices as well as nuclear are not alternative energy sources. They are extensions of the fossil fuel supply system. There is an illusion of looking at the trees and not the forest in the “Renewable” energy world. Not seeing the systems, machineries, fossil fuel uses and environmental degradation that create the devices to capture the sun, wind and biofuels allows myopia and false claims of renewable, clean, green and sustainable.

    Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI) is only a part of the equation. There is a massive infrastructure of mining, processing, manufacturing, fabricating, installation, transportation and the associated environmental assaults. Each of these processes and machines may only add a miniscule amount of energy to the final component of solar or wind devices yet the devices cannot arise without them. There would be no devices with out this infrastructure.

    How else would we do it? There is always the old way. Who of us will go down in the mine first?
    A story in pictures and diagrams:
    From Machines making machines making machines
    http://sunweber.blogspot.com/2…..aking.html

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  17. By Ben on February 14, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Sorry to differ Sunweb, but we will NOT “do anything and everything to”…… maintain our way consumerism. Price often demonstrates the fallacy of
    such arguments, as consumer behavior dependably adjusts to constraints
    of fiscal resources not to mention punitive measures under the rule of law.
    Sunweber’s blog offers us his matter-of-fact observation that “our economy
    is predatory…..” This worldview, significantly influenced by the specious
    handiwork like “The Crash Course” by Chris Martenson and “Century of War” by William Engdahl, certainly exposes an inescapable cynicism and accomanying bias. Fortunately, most of the folks reading/commenting in this space, to very much include those of an earnest progressivism, do not subscribe to a “we are all destined to hell” thesis in our efforts to get
    at the hard, realistic options that we increasingly confront during this era of
    transition to new energy sources that fuels economic activity at whatever level supply and demand may accommodate–and clearly NOT any price (economic or moral). The readers here signal that the future still holds promise, it just may come in forms and measures that are different than what we may have witnessed in the past. I am reminded of some of the observations (read: misrepresentation) made by the anti-Federalists on the eve of the Constitution’s ratification in the 13 original states; arguments that held that all would be loss in the event of any adoption of this cruel experiment with our liberties. Alas, the dissenters were wrong and much freedom has been enjoyed by a broadening circle of partiicpants these past two-plus centuries. As the experiment continues apace, we can only blame ourselves if we surrender our liberty and our way of life to neo-Luddites who’d have us somehow believe that the race has already been lost; the Money Changers have carried the day in the holy temple. Thankfully, we know that the ending turns out much different in the actual script. Guess we might even be tempted to offer, thank God or that:)

    Ben

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  18. By Serena Ingre on February 14, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    I wanted to share a blog from Johanna Wald, NRDC’s senior attorney in response to the LA Times article about solar development in the Mojave Desert and the Ivanpah project. Despite the Los Angeles Times’ suggestion, NRDC was never involved in moving that project forward. Rather, our only engagement was to submit detailed comments to the BLM and to the Interior Department in the public review process before the agencies made their final decision on permitting it. (See full comments here and look fr the Defenders, NRDC, TWS, Sierra Club bookmark to the left of the page). Read more about this issue in her blog: http://bit.ly/x5Fttv

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  19. By rrapier on February 14, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Serena Ingre said:

    I wanted to share a blog from Johanna Wald, NRDC’s senior attorney in response to the LA Times article about solar development in the Mojave Desert and the Ivanpah project. Despite the Los Angeles Times’ suggestion, NRDC was never involved in moving that project forward. Rather, our only engagement was to submit detailed comments to the BLM and to the Interior Department in the public review process before the agencies made their final decision on permitting it. (See full comments here and look fr the Defenders, NRDC, TWS, Sierra Club bookmark to the left of the page). Read more about this issue in her blog: http://bit.ly/x5Fttv


     

    I had seen her blog. But does the NRDC support the project? Johanna said that she helped facilitate the process, so I have to presume that you were overall supportive.

    I am generally in agreement with a lot of the NRDC’s stuff, but I think you guys have been guilty of your own misleading arguments around the Keystone XL pipeline. But, my point here is not really to call out the NRDC, but rather to emphasize that trade-offs will have to be made if we want energy. That is the case for a solar thermal plant just as it is the case with oil sands development. And not everyone will agree with the trade-offs. The NRDC’s position is likely that climate change is simply too important to allow something like the pipeline to move forward. My position is that this is a tiny drop in the bucket, and won’t impact upon climate change in any measureable way. SE Asia is where the real action is.

    RR

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  20. By Optimist on February 14, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    The continued attempt to maintain business as usual modes of per capita lifestyle will create exactly what all environmental and population overshoot create.

    Hard as it may be to accept, Sunny, there is no overshoot. The proof is simple: utter lack of mass starvation, in spite of the best efforts of Robert Mugabe, and other dictators.

    We will do anything and everything to maintain our present personal level of energy use and the comfort it affords us. We will do anything and everything to the earth, to other people and even to ourselves to continue on this path. And if we don’t have the energy level we see others have, we will do anything and everything to the earth, to other people and even to ourselves to attain that level. The proof of this assertion is simple; we are doing it.

    No, we are not doing it to each other, we are in trading relationships where everybody wins. Hard to accept, I know, but it’s the reality. In spite of the efforts of some dedicated dictators, the vast majority of people are better of than they were 50 years ago, and enjoying a cleaner environment on top of that! There is no reason to believe that all trends will reverse themselves shortly, and dooms us all to a painful death…

    Have a nice day and be secure in the knowledge that future generations will have it even better!

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  21. By Ben on February 14, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    In many ways the heart of the debate about energy supplies is much about economic development/growth which has become anathema to so-called “Progressives” (who can be described as such in name only).
    Economic growth, so long as it’s their particular brand of “smart growth,” receives blessings from the Left who otherwise thumb their noses at projects supported by dirty-hands trade unionists while they plot zero-sum strategies over pricey lunches with the public employee unions who too often act oblivious to the gritty sacrifices of our forebears. So long as economic
    growth–other than the fanciful kind they have in mind–remains largely a
    source of derision, there’s little prospect that significant job creation
    will emerge during the cyclical deleveraging that continues to play out at
    home and abroad. Only a new consensus on the merits of growth will
    provide for sustained improvements in our collective well-being, to include
    the job prospects for the least fortunate among us. How we accommodate energy development will unavoidably impact our growth prospects in the days ahead. America’s competitiveness and leadership hang in the balance. We are witnessing just how progressive the Progressives prove to be. Let’s hope they don’t redefine themselves the way some early republicans did when they discovered that politics trumps principle when the prize is power.

    Ben

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  22. By Optimist on February 15, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Spot on, Ben. It is only if we choose to go backwards that going backwards becomes a reality. Unfortunately, it seems that many are willing to make that choice today. As you state, they are the major threat to civilization.

    You have a working theory about why we are witnessing this utterly strange behaviour?

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  23. By carbonbridge on February 15, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    Robert Rapier said:

    Land Usage and Wildlife vs. Carbon Emissions

    If I had to describe the theme of my upcoming book with just one phrase, it would be “There is no free lunch in our energy options.” Sometimes the costs are obvious, as when an oil spill occurs or a nuclear accident happens. Other times, the costs are not so obvious, but the trade-offs are always there.


     

    Thank you RR for instigating further dialog on this subject.  There typically is never a free lunch where energy production and consumption are concerned unless phytoplankton, single-celled bacteria, green plants and trees get ‘to eat a free lunch’ as a result of an accident where a truly biodegradable liquid fuel is spilled and quickly diluted with water.  Then these organisms and plants do consume a free lunch and thereby grow stronger – yet at someone else’s expense.  And I do not mean to represent nor support the old adage that dilution is the answer to pollution.  I simply wanted to reply somehow to your No Free Lunch analogy.

    Kudos for instigating further timely, topical and relative discussion among scientists and philosophers. 

    I’m looking forward to reading your first book when it is published.

    -Mark

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  24. By mac on February 15, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    Why build solar plants in the desert or along  U.S. or autobahn divided hiways ?,  when 10% of Europe’s electrical power demand could be eliminated with de-centralised (off-grid) solar?

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  25. By mac on February 15, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    Why build solar plants in the desert or along  U.S. or autobahn divided hiways ?,  when 10% of Europe’s electrical power demand could be eliminated with de-centralised (off-grid) solar?

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  26. By Benny BND Cole on February 15, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    interesting post.
    But perhaps the reason to get off oil is not because of Peak Oil, or global warming, but because of who controls oil prices. 

    CFTC admits speculators hold 81% of Nymex oil contractsTom Fairless22 Aug 2008The US derivatives regulator has revealed that speculators control more than four-fifths of oil contracts on the nation’s main commodity futures exchange, far more than was previously thought, after repeatedly playing down the effect of speculation on soaring oil prices.The Commodity Futures Trading Commission said financial firms speculating for their clients, or for themselves, accounted for about 81% of the oil contracts on the New York Mercantile Exchange, according to the Washington Post. That share may rise as the regulator checks the status of other big traders, the newspaper said.The CFTC also found that an unnamed trader held 11% of all the oil contracts onNymex at one point in July without the knowledge of regulators, betting prices would rise, the Post said.In June, a Congressional study found that 70% of trading in certain key oil futures contracts was speculative. The CFTC disputed the findings, saying that the share included both long and short positions.

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  27. By Optimist on February 16, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    ARG… Give it a rest, Benny!!!!
    Speculators are not causing price trends, they just try to get ahead of the curve, and benefit from doing so… as long as they make the right call. If they get it wrong, they lose their shirts. The evidence would suggest that if you outlaw speculation, volatility gets worse.
    It doesn’t matter how much the speculators hold, in the end they have to sell to real users. And if the speculators outnumber the real users, the real users will be able to drive a tough bargain.
    Give it a rest, Benny! You’re beginning to sound like Obama: clueless and in over your head.

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  28. By Russ Finley on February 17, 2012 at 12:06 am

    Great article.

    It isn’t enough to simply say that all energy schemes have tradeoffs. The tradeoffs need to be compared. Some are much worse than others. Comparing them isn’t easy. You essentially end up picking the least of several evils and “badness per unit energy consumed” should be a universal comparison.

    We should always keep in mind that any given organization of any size is not united in opinion. I’m sure many people inside the NRDC opposed that solar plant. You can bet that the Union of Concerned Scientists for example has similar rifts on issues like nuclear energy.

    Opposition to the pipeline is an example of herd mentality. To “not” oppose it will likely get an environmentalist ostracized from his or her monkey troop. It is irrational to oppose it because the oil will still be produced and sold on the world market. The fight should be to not develop the oil sands and that fight belongs to the Canadians, who apparently favor the income over global warming concerns.

    One can oppose the development of the tar sands without opposing the pipeline. An analogy that comes to mind is a young engineer who gets a job building fighter jets that are being used in an unnecessary war. She could oppose the war in many ways, like protests, but it would serve no purpose to give her job up to someone else who will continue to build the planes.

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  29. By Russ Finley on February 17, 2012 at 12:29 am

    Paul N said:

    “So just why are both the gov and NRDC championing this project?”

    For the government, who knows. I’m not sure everyone inside the NRDC is happy about it.

    Skywise said:

    “Isn’t the footprint of nuclear power (both physical and as regards carbon emissions) rather significant if you include the upstream activities?”

    Robert was talking about “tailpipe” emissions as opposed to lifecycle emissions. Several studies have found nuclear on par with solar when it comes to lifecycle emissions and both are much lower than any fossil fuel.

    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparisons_of_life-cycle_greenhouse-gas_emissions

    Steve Funk said:

    “..we could meet the entire electrical needs of the US with the solar output of 1% of the southwest desert.”

    I visit another website called Brave New Climate. Their moderators would have taken your post down until you provided a source for your number. They don’t allow hearsay, which I think is a bit draconian, but do you have a source for that tiny number?

    Optimist said:

    “Have a nice day and be secure in the knowledge that future generations will have it even better!’

    Consider reading my review of The Rational Optimist. There are good reasons why there are just as many realists as there are pessimists and optimists.

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  30. By Optimist on February 17, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    RR,
    For some reason I am unable to follow Russ’ link to his review of The Rational Optimist…

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    • By Robert Rapier on February 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm

      I think he forgot to put the actual URL in there, but I just found it and inserted it.

      RR
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  31. By Optimist on February 17, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    We all know Ehrlich lost a bet to Julian Simon about the price of metals. God knows how many times I have heard this. On the other hand, how many know that he would have won the bet had he simply picked a different date when the price of metals would have won the bet, say in 2008?
    Suffice to say: Ehrlich is (rightly) ridiculed because he was so sure of imiment disaster. Turns out Ehrlich is just as bad as economists in predicting the future.
    And don’t be ridiculous: 2008 was an utter freak year. That Ehrlich might have won his bet in one year out of 12 or 15 just proves how wrong he is.

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    • By Russ Finley on February 18, 2012 at 2:33 am

      Apologies for the missing link. Without an edit or preview option, there wasn’t much I could do short of posting another comment to fix it. I assumed anyone interested could Google the term. Thanks RR for fixing it. Hopefully, editing will be an option in the future.

      Optimist said:

      “Ehrlich is (rightly) ridiculed because he was so sure of imiment disaster.”

      I realize this is off topic but a man does not deserve ridicule just because his predictions don’t pan out. We would all deserve ridicule if that were the case. He was targeted by “go forth and multiply” conservative religionists and neocon conucorpians. A feeding frenzy ensued, and who doesn’t like participating in a feeding frenzy? Riding band wagons is fun.

      From the review:

      “You would think that someone like Ridley, who should be eating crow after the failure of his own bank, would know better than to mock a scientist who failed, along with everyone else, to predict an agricultural revolution.”

      And from a book on the subject:

      “The Ehrlichs were major players in the worldwide social fad, or meme, that put the idea into billions of people’s heads that it was wise to limit the size of their families.

      It is probable that the Ehrlichs were instrumental in starting the overpopulation meme, and that this same meme may be one of the reasons why the world population is predicted to peak between eight and ten billion instead of twelve to fourteen billion. The Ehrlichs certainly were not the first to discuss the idea of overpopulation. But the Ehrlichs were the ones most responsible for disseminating the idea to the common man through their popular books. The work done by the Ehrlichs is one reason why we don’t have a much bigger population today or the famines they predicted.

      Predicting the future often changes the future, thus nullifying the prediction—especially when trying to predict human behavior. I experienced an example of this paradox just yesterday. I was supposed to pick a friend up at the airport. The previous evening our TV news media had predicted dire traffic congestion because one of our two north-south highways was going to be closed for repairs. In addition, fog was expected which was going to make things even worse. Seattle is notorious for its traffic jams.

      Ignoring the warning from these doomsayers, I set out to retrieve my friend in the middle of rush hour and set a new speed record for getting to the airport because the highway was practically deserted. The pessimistic prediction of horrific traffic snarls had kept everyone but the most foolhardy off the roads. Because they never materialized, should I have thumbed my nose at those who predicted traffic snarls or should I have thanked them?

      It is highly probable that the work done by the Ehrlichs has had the same future-altering effect on slowing the devastation of our planet as well as improving the plight of humanity.

      Had the percentage of population growth remained at 1968 levels through 2004, there would be about 2 billion more people on the planet right now. Instead of having 800 million hungry today, we might have 2.8 billion hungry. There is no doubt that the warning from the Ehrlichs was a factor in lowering fertility rates. It also helped light the fires that created today’s gigantic and well-funded relief organizations. Should we be thumbing our noses at the Ehrlichs or thanking them?”

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      • By Robert Rapier on February 18, 2012 at 12:38 pm

        Apologies for the missing link. Without an edit or preview option, there wasn’t much I could do short of posting another comment to fix it.


        I have an edit function below the posts; I assumed you did too. If not, we need to get that fixed.

        RR
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      • By Optimist on February 21, 2012 at 7:06 pm

        Russ,
        Allow me to prove I’m an equal opportunity skeptic, by going after Matt Ridley on that latest quote: If Ridley thinks the publication of Ehrlich’s book reduced the current world population by 2 billion, he is smoking some good stuff. The book may have reduced population growth in the US and England, and maybe slightly in Europe. But in places where the bulk of the world’s population growth occured (Africa, India and China) I doubt too many people have ever heard of Paul Ehrlich. The only exception would be if Chinese leaders read (and believed) Ehrlich.
        There are multiple, and complex factors that affect population growth rates. To credit the Ehrlichs would be an extreme oversimplification.
        Not sure if Ridley’s claimed failure as a banker has an relevance to his abilities as an author. It seems that skeptics are deparately reaching for any criticism they can find.

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  32. By armchair261 on February 17, 2012 at 10:34 pm

    Speaking of tradeoffs, the LA Times carried an article on February 16 on golden eagle fatalities at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power wind farm in the Tehachapi Mountains in California. It said that this facility was three times as deadly per turbine as the Altamont wind farm. An average of 67 golden eagles die annually in the much larger Altamont farm.
    We can only imagine the public outcry if 67 eagles were to be killed by, say, an oil or nuclear industry facility over the next year. But the public, and more importantly the media, seem to view this toll (in addition to wind’s large footprint) as an acceptable tradeoff in replacing fossil fuels with wind energy. In fact, as the Times article said Killing golden eagles is illegal under federal law, but so far, federal authorities have not prosecuted any wind farm operators for violations.” And one could add, the media and environmental community have not pursued this agenda in any highly visible, aggressive, and belligerent manner that one could almost guarantee it would use against the fossil fuels or nuclear industries if similar incidents occurred. 
    I have no problem with wind energy and support its development, and I think steps are being taken to minimize the deaths, but with the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Defenders of Wildlife having recently sued Kern County over a planned wind farm installation for its effects on wildlife, it seems that many people demand energy but are not willing to accept any tradeoffs at all.

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    • By Robert Rapier on February 18, 2012 at 12:40 pm

      We can only imagine the public outcry if 67 eagles were to be killed by, say, an oil or nuclear industry facility over the next year. 


      There would be congressional hearings, and calls for prosecution. No doubt many environmentalist operate under double-standards.

      it seems that many people demand energy but are not willing to accept any tradeoffs at all.

      That is the heart of many of our problems. They demand it, but they can’t have that if they want energy. They think they can, though, and there is the source of the trouble.

      RR
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  33. By Ben on February 18, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Optimist:   I’m not sure that it’s “strange behavior” anymore than the Luddite response to mechanisation in the textile industry of the 19th Century, or of those who look wistfully (often with the best of intentions) to what “once was” or, better still, “might be.”   Alas, we would well to remember that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions.             
    If there’s a predisposition–more instinctive than out of clear-eyed reasoning–on the part of contemporary ”liberals/progressives” to resist economic growth, it flows out of a reflexive yearning for what modernity shed upon the alter of commercial marketplace’s so-called ”efficient division of labor.”  In an attempt to restore a more holistic and “communitarian” set of arrangements that pre-date the advent of economic principles described at length by Enlightenment Scots (and a few heretics on the Continent), many of the fashionable Left have little recourse but the blunt instrument–rejection of economic growth (and with it any presumption of it as a principal tool of historic progressivity).  There are, of course, exceptions made for limited examples of “smart” or sustainable growth, but this tends to invite sort of a Rorschach test to divine the impulses of an enterprise’s sponor; something that is arguably more sociopolitical judgment than objective assessment of economic benefits.  Many may view civic-spiritedness as a commendable thing.  Yet, only objective judgments made over the long-haul actually confirm whether such impulses are reasonable–let alone wise.  Regrettably, business decisions revolve around much shorter term timelines and in a system of limited self-government, private capital and ”free” markets, business enterprises have by far the biggest say in the critical allocation of limited resources.  Such reality is beguiling to those who ”know” that such arrangements are contrary to the well-being/sustainability of the commonwealth particularly in an era of such insidious trade-offs.                    
    Thought tempted to speak here to the ”rational optimists,” I believe that, too, misses the point.  In many respects all of this is speaks to the unbridged gap between two brilliant Scots who spoke of what ought (F. Hutcheson) and what simply was (A. Smith).
    So let me take leave here with the observations of another Scot, Lord Kames:
    “The faculties of the mind have been explored, and the affections of the heart; but there is still wanting a history of the species in it progress (my italics) from the savage state to it highest civilisation and improvement.”        
    Notwithstanding the considerable passage of time, we have a ways to go.  I must admit to holding little confidence that the Left will sponsor effective solutions; not so much due to a penchant for gazing in the rear-view mirror (the same being said for those largely unreflective types on the Right) as the likely pitfalls of attempting to navigate with an outdated road atlas:)        
    Ben

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    • By Russ Finley on February 18, 2012 at 4:28 pm

      That was a nice comment, Ben. Let me test the blockquote code again:

      <p><blockquote>I must admit to holding little confidence that the Left will sponsor effective solutions; not so much due to a penchant for gazing in the rear-view mirror (the same being said for those largely unreflective types on the Right)…</blockquote></p>

      One definition of conservative is a yearning to return to or maintain (conserve) the good old days. The words liberal, progressive, conservative, and on and on mean very different things to different people and that is probably why discussions that invoke them tend to bear little fruit.

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      • By Robert Rapier on February 18, 2012 at 5:14 pm

        Let me test the blockquote code again:


        I have been using italics for now. I told Sam that it didn’t appear that we had a blockquote function. Hopefully we can get that fixed.

        RR
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      • By Ben on February 19, 2012 at 7:51 pm

        RF
        I tend to resist most labels though I must confess that we do get most of our stuff shipped in from LL Bean (can’t beat that 100% money-back guarantee for the life of the item!:)           
        I guess you could put me down as a “political agnostic” with a decided attitude about anyone who has spent more time in public office than in honest work–let alone a library:)!
        Ben
         

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  34. By Observer on February 21, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    I think as long as we’re trying for an apples to apples comparison, land use/degradation resulting from oil sands extraction at least deserves mention. 
    One other thing that would help for some readers might be to go a little further into why the oil-solar thermal comparison is still valuable, even though oil is generally a transportation fuel and solar thermal generally a fuel targeting electric power generation (so the two are not really offsets).
    As posted, your comparison sounds as though you, Robert, have an agenda – to compare the Keystone XL favorably to Ivanpah (though I understand your intent was merely to highlight that even renewable projects require trade-off decisions).

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    • By Robert Rapier on February 21, 2012 at 5:51 pm

      As posted, your comparison sounds as though you, Robert, have an agenda – to compare the Keystone XL favorably to Ivanpah (though I understand your intent was merely to highlight that even renewable projects require trade-off decisions).


      That, but also because the NRDC has so vehemently come out against Keystone, using in some cases very weak arguments, as if there is no possible benefit to building it, and in fact arguing that if it is built it will mean the beginning of the end of the climate. I don’t buy their argument at all, and I wanted to highlight what appears to me to be double-standards in their arguments. 

      Are their trade-offs with Keystone? Yes. Has NRDC talked about the trade-offs? No, they reach for every possible negative they can find, in some cases making arguments that don’t hold up to close scrutiny. With Ivanpah, they take a more balanced approach, considering the trade-offs.

      RR
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  35. By Optimist on February 21, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    Oh, I dunno, Ben,
    I think it cuts accross all political stripes, and that the ongoing it’s-their-fault! political games will only drag on the bad times. It’s as if Americans have lost their faith in the free market’s ability to create a better future through creative destruction. So now we are to believe that creative destruction can’t have General Motors, or Chrysler, or even tiny (and useless) GMAC/Ally Bank. Where once we allowed creative destruction to have PanAm, we now cling to the status quo. The result is the anemic growth you see everywhere. Instead of new startups growing up everywhere, creating jobs while filling the void, we now pour untold taxpayer $$$ into the abyss of decades of mismanagement by General Motors, and the corrupt my-clients-are-my-victims financial services industry.
    It’s as if the success of yesterday carried in it the seeds of tomorrow’s failures: we simply got too attached to the way the world was at a particular point in time, and we now believe that it can’t be done any other way. So now you can choose between the tax-and-spend party and the borrow-and-spend party. Both will eventually lead us into the abyss, the latter just a tad faster than the former.
    Oh well, maybe Australia will keep going a bit longer…

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  36. By ChemE on February 24, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    LENR is coming. Remember those letters. Solar will become virtually obsolete.

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