Do the World’s Energy Policies Make Sense?

The world today has a myriad of energy policies. One of them seems to be to encourage renewables, especially wind and solar. Another seems to be to encourage electric cars. A third seems to be to try to move away from fossil fuels. Countries in Europe and elsewhere have been trying carbon taxes. There are also programs to buy carbon offsets for energy uses such as air travel.

Maybe it is time to step back and take a look. Where are we now? Where are we really headed? Have the policies implemented since the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 had any positive impact?

Let’s look at some of the issues involved.

[1] We have had very little success in reducing CO2 emissions.

CO2 emissions for all countries, in total, have been spiraling upward, year after year.

World CO2 Emissions

Figure 1. Carbon dioxide emissions for the world, based on BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy.

If we look at the situation by part of the world, we see an even more concerning pattern.

Figure 2. Carbon dioxide emissions by part of the world through 2018, based on BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy. Soviet Empire is an approximation including Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, based on the BP report. It would not include Cuba and North Korea.

The group US+EU+Japan has been able to reduce its CO2 emissions by 5% since 2005. Emissions were slowly rising between 1981 and 2005. There was a dip at the time of the Great Recession of 2008-2009, followed by a downward trend. A person might get the impression that CO2 emissions for the EU tend to rise during periods when the economy is doing well and tend to fall when it is doing poorly.

The “star” in emissions reductions is the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites. I refer to this group as the Soviet Empire. Emissions fell around the time of the collapse of the central government of the Soviet Union in 1991. This big decrease in emissions seems to be related to huge changes that took place at that time. Instead of one country with a single currency, the individual republics were suddenly on their own.

The high point in CO2 emissions for the Soviet Empire came in 1990, the year before the collapse of the Soviet Union central government. By 1999, emissions had fallen to a level 37% below their 1990 level. In fact, even in recent years, emissions for this group of countries has stayed low. Much industry collapsed and has never been replaced.

The group that has more than doubled its emissions is what I call the Remainder Group. The group includes many countries, including China and India, that ramped up their manufacturing and other heavy industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the World Trade Organization added members. The Remainder Group also includes many countries that suddenly found new export markets for their raw materials, such as oil, iron ore, and copper. The Remainder countries became richer; they became more able to pave roads and build more substantial homes for their citizens. With all of this GDP-related activity, CO2 emissions increased rapidly.

[2] Population growth has followed a pattern that is in some ways similar to CO2 growth. 

Figure 3. Population from 1965 to 2018, based on UN 2019 population estimates.

In Figure 3, we see that population has been virtually flat in the former Soviet Empire (2% growth between 1997 and 2018). With the economy not doing well, young people emigrate to countries that seem to provide better prospects.

Population in the US+EU+Japan Group grew by 11% between 1997 and 2018.

The group that is simply outstanding for population growth is the Remainder Group, with 35% growth between 1997 and 2018. A big part of this population growth comes from improved sanitation and basic medical care, such as antibiotics. With these changes, a larger percentage of the babies that are born have been able to live to maturity.

It is hard to see any bend in the trend lines, which would indicate that recent actions have actually changed the course of activity from the way it was headed previously. Of course, the trend is only “linear,” implying that the percentage growth is gradually slowing over time.

This rapidly growing population feeds into the CO2 problem as well. The many young people would all like food, homes and transportation. While it is possible to obtain some version of these desired products without fossil fuels, the version with fossil fuels tends to be vastly improved. Most people prefer homes with indoor plumbing and electricity, if given an opportunity, for example.

[3] Deforestation keeps growing as a world problem.

Figure 4. Chart showing World Bank estimates of share of world forested by economic grouping.

High Income Countries keep pushing the deforestation problem to the poorer parts of the world. Heavily Indebted Poor Countries are especially affected. Worldwide, deforestation continues to grow.

[4] With respect to fossil fuels, there is a great deal of confusion with respect to, “What do we need to be saved from?” 

Do we have a problem with too much or too little fossil fuel? We hear two different stories.

Figure 5. Author’s image of two trains speeding toward the world economy.

Climate modelers keep telling us about what could happen, if indeed we use too much fossil fuel. In fact, the climate currently is changing, bolstering this point of view.

It seems to me that there is an equally great danger of collapse, accompanied by low energy prices. For example, we know that energy production in the European Union has been declining for many years, without the countries being able to do anything about it.

We also know historically that many civilizations have collapsed. The Soviet Empire collapsed in 1991, illustrating one type of collapse. The Soviet Union was an oil exporter. Its collapse came after oil prices were too low to allow adequate investment in new oil fields for an extended period of time. The Great Recession of 2008-2009 offers a much smaller, temporary version of what collapse might look like.

Another example of low prices accompanying collapse comes from Revelation 18: 11-13, warning of possible collapse like that of ancient Babylon. The problem was inadequate demand and low prices; even the energy product of the day (human beings sold as slaves) had little value.

11 The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore— 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.

What we have been seeing recently is falling prices and prices that are too low for producers. Such a result can lead to collapse if too many energy producers go bankrupt and quit.

Figure 6. Inflation adjusted weekly average Brent Oil price, based on EIA oil spot prices and US CPI-urban inflation.

If we are in danger of collapse from low prices, renewables would not seem to be of much assistance unless they (a) are significantly less expensive than fossil fuels and (b) can be scaled up sufficiently rapidly to more than replace fossil fuels. Neither of these seems to be a possibility.

[5] Early studies overestimated how much help renewables might provide, especially if our problem comes from too little energy supply rather than too much.

Renewables look like they would be great from many points of view, but when it comes down to the real world situation, they don’t live up to the hype.

One issue is that while wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, and other devices for capturing energy are called “renewables,” they are really only available through the use of the fossil fuel system. They are made using fossil fuels. If a part breaks, or if insects eat away the insulation on wires, replacements need to be made using the fossil fuel system and transported using the fossil fuel system. At best, renewables should be considered fossil fuel extenders, using less fossil fuels than conventional electricity generation. They are also dependent on other resources, which may eventually deplete, but which are not a problem at this time.

A second issue is that it is extremely difficult to do a proper cost-benefit analysis on renewables because they can only be used as part of a larger system. They tend to look inexpensive, when viewed in isolation. But when total system costs are viewed, they often are quite expensive.

One difficulty in a proper cost-benefit analysis is the fact that renewables are often sited at quite a distance from where electricity is to be used, leading to the need for a significant number of long distance transmission lines. Furthermore, if renewables provide intermittent power, they need to be sized for the maximum output, not their average output. All of these long distance lines need to be properly maintained, or they tend to cause fires. In some instances, burying the lines underground at significant cost is the only solution. Somehow, these higher costs need to be recognized as part of the cost of the system, but this is rarely done.

Another difficulty in a proper cost-benefit analysis is the fact that renewables’  intermittency must be overcome, if the electricity is to be of benefit to a modern economy that requires electricity 24/7/365. In theory, we could greatly overbuild the renewables system and the transmission. This might work, but we would end up with a large percentage of the system that is not used most of the time, greatly adding to costs.

Batteries can be added, but the cost tends to be high. One commenter on my site recently observed:

EIA reports the average cost for utility scale battery systems to be about $1500 per kWh. At that rate the batteries needed for backing up a solar or wind facility for three days cost around 30 times as much as the RE facility. But wind is often unpowered for more like seven days, during huge stagnant high pressure episodes. Thus the backup battery cost is more like 100 times the wind farm cost. Batteries are not feasible.

The major intermittency problem is season-to-season, especially saving up enough for winter. We do not have a way, today, of storing energy from one season to another, short of making it into a liquid (such as ammonia), and storing the liquid from season to season. This would be another way of driving up costs of the overall system. It has not been included in anyone’s cost calculations.

For the time being, we are forcing nuclear and fossil fuel to provide backup electrical services to intermittent renewables without adequately compensating them for their services. This tends to drive them out of business. This is not an adequate solution either.

A third issue is that renewables really need to be “economic” to work. In other words, they need to generate a profit for their owners, when comparing the unsubsidized costs with the benefits of the system. In fact, their owners need to be able to pay fairly substantial taxes to governments, to cover their share of governmental costs as well. If renewables truly were providing substantial benefit to the system, their use would tend to “take off” on their own, because they would be providing “net energy” to the system. Instead, renewables tend to act like “energy sinks.” They need endless subsidies. They can never substitute for fossil fuels. In fact, they can’t even pay their own way.

A related issue is that, because of the high total costs (as well as their lack of true net energy benefits), it is almost impossible to ramp up the quantity of renewables such as wind and solar very high. The EU has been a big supporter of renewables other than hydroelectric. Figure 7 shows a chart of the EU’s own energy production, together with its energy imports.

EU Energy by Type and Whether Imported

Figure 7. EU energy by type and whether imported, based on data of BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy. Renewables are non-hydroelectric renewables such as wind, solar, and geothermal.

After at least 20 years of subsidies, the EU has been able to increase renewables (other than hydroelectric) to about 10% of its total energy supply. The EU’s oil imports are roughly level, and its natural gas imports have been increasing. Even with rapid growth in non-hydro renewables, the EU has been experiencing a decrease in total energy consumption.

[6] Looking at the actual outcomes, a person might ask, “What in the world were policymakers really thinking about?”

We are told that the reason policymakers made the decisions they did was because they thought that they could reduce CO2 emissions in this way. Really? If a person really wants to reduce CO2 emissions, it is easy to see how to do it. A person simply has to take steps in the direction of reducing global co-operation. One step would be to reduce international trade. Another would be to get rid of umbrella organizations such as the World Trade Organization, the United Nations and the European Union. In fact, within individual countries, the top level of government could be removed, leaving (for example) the provinces of Canada and the states of the United States. In other words, policymakers could push economies in the direction of collapse.

Another way collapse could be encouraged would be by rapidly raising interest rates or cutting off credit. With less purchasing power, the world would be pushed into recession.

At the time of the Kyoto Protocol, policymakers moved in precisely the opposite direction of pushing the economy toward collapse. They moved in the direction of adding international trade and more debt to enable the growth. The countries with greater trade had huge coal resources that had not been used. With the help of this coal, the world economy was able to continue to grow. This approach only made sense if the real problem at the time of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 was too little energy resources, not too much. The economy needed the stimulation that more low-cost energy and more debt could provide.

It is now more than twenty years later. The coal resources of China are starting to deplete. Coal is also causing serious ground-level pollution problems, both in China and India. Without growing coal production, world GDP growth starts slowing. We are again facing low oil prices and other commodity prices–a problem similar to the one present when the government of the Soviet Union collapsed. The world economy seems again to be headed toward having some of its governmental organizations collapse from inadequate energy. Political parties are becoming more extreme; countries are enacting new tariffs. If we go back to Figure 5, the concern should again be collapse, on the left side of the figure.

[7] The scenarios considered by the IPCC climate model need to be revisited.

A climate model looks to the past and tries to forecast what would happen in alternative “scenarios.” The concern I have is that the scenarios evaluated are not realistic. To get to the level of CO2 that would produce the most extreme scenarios, coal production would need to continue at a high level for many, many years. This seems unrealistic because world coal production has been fairly flat for several years, and prices tend to be lower than producers require if they are to stay in business. The likely direction for coal production seems to be down, rather than up.

Figure 8. World Energy Consumption by Fuel, based on data of 2019 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

In order for coal production to grow as much as the higher emission scenarios assume, there needs to be a major turnaround in the situation. World coal prices would need to rise substantially. In fact, coal in very difficult locations for extraction, such as under the North Sea, need to become profitable to extract. This situation seems very unlikely.

It seems to me that climate modelers should be considering more realistic scenarios regarding CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. One scenario which should be considered is the possible near term collapse of several governmental organizations, such as the European Union, World Trade Organization, and the governments of several oil exporting countries.

[8] The push toward renewables makes little sense without a firmer foundation than currently exists.

Early studies looked only at the cost of renewables themselves, without the cost of extra long-distance grid transportation and battery storage. Such an estimate makes renewables look far more valuable than they really are.

We now have enough experience that we can see what goes wrong. A hydroelectric plant that operates during the wet season in a tropical country may be of little practical use, for example, if there is no fossil fuel energy available to provide backup electricity production during the dry season. The total cost of the overlapping systems needs to be taken into consideration, including the need to hire staff year around for both the fossil fuel and hydroelectric facilities. Electricity transmission will likely be needed for both types of generation.

There are many other real-world examples that can be examined, before blanket “use renewables” recommendations should be issued. If renewables are not truly very inexpensive (around 2 cents per kWh or less), without subsidies, they are likely not to be long-lasting. Subsidies become more and more difficult to maintain, as a system scales up.

This entry was posted in Energy policy, Financial Implications and tagged , by Gail Tverberg. Bookmark the permalink.

About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.

1,380 thoughts on “Do the World’s Energy Policies Make Sense?

  1. Within the last week the BBC had a documentary in part about the controversy about hacked climategate emails. Toward the end it got specific. Climate scientists believe with 95% confidence that more than half the increases in global temperatures are man-made. There was no discussion of causes for the other 50%, and no mention of the double dynamo model of solar activity.
    It all seemed somewhat defensive.
    And here’s the latest in global temperatures:

    Re: Finance and debt, I’m acutely aware of the things I do not yet know.

    • There is a free article in Nature, published in June 2019, related to the double dynamo view of solar activity, by V. V. Zharkova and others.

      The Conclusions sections says (among other things):

      Until recently, solar activity was accepted to be one of the important factors defining the temperature on Earth and other planets. In this paper we reproduced the summary curve of the solar magnetic field associated with solar activity for the one hundred thousand years backward by using the formulas describing the sum of the two principal components found from the full disk solar magnetograms. In the past 3000 years the summary curve shows the solar activity for every 11 years and occurrence of 9 grand solar cycles of 350–400 years, which are caused by the beating effects of two magnetic waves generated by solar dynamo at the inner and outer layers inside the solar interior with close but not equal frequencies.

      The resulting summary curve reveals a remarkable resemblance to the sunspot and terrestrial activity reported in the past millennia including the significant grand solar minima: Maunder Minimum (1645–1715), Wolf minimum (1200), Oort minimum (1010–1050), Homer minimum (800–900 BC) combined with the grand solar maxima: the medieval warm period (900–1200), the Roman warm period (400–10BC) etc. It also predicts the upcoming grand solar minimum, similar to Maunder Minimum, which starts in 2020 and will last until 2055.
      . . .
      The terrestrial temperature is expected to grow during maxima of 11 year solar cycles and to decrease during their minima. Furthermore, the substantial temperature decreases are expected during the two grand minima to occur in 2020–2055 and 2370–2415, whose magnitudes cannot be yet predicted and need further investigation. These oscillations of the estimated terrestrial temperature do not include any human-induced factors, which were outside the scope of the current paper.

      Since 2020 is coming up shortly, I would imagine that we might expect to begin seeing the effects of the upcoming grand solar minimum soon, if this theory is correct. Any global warming effect from greenhouse gases presumably would tend to offset this effect.

      • Any global warming effect from greenhouse gases presumably would tend to offset this effect.
        You won’t be disappointed.

      • During these grand solar minimums part of the weather effects is an increase in cloud cover which leads to growing problems for crops so expect crop losses during these periods and a sky rocketing price in food prices the grand solar minimum has already begun cloud cover has increased i have noticed it in my area a good website to visit for more details is ADAPT 2030.

        • Yes, this is all very interesting, one could argue that any possible counter force “braking” by climate change won’t have that large effect on these 3-4decade lasting solar minimum swings in the end. Also there will be likely significant regional differences of these effects at play. For example wondering how Europe would fare against NA or Russia proper etc..

          Funnily, I know a guy who invested heavily into coal for this very reason. I told him he might have just half of the story right: yes severe cooling could be on the way, yes coal might witness a come back to some extent, but the bummer unknown variable – are there going to be fin markets to gamble on it, hinting gov-state emergency expropriation schemes or worse. He was not amused, hah..

    • “And here’s the latest in global temperatures:”

      and the winner is… 2016!

      “Since 2020 is coming up shortly, I would imagine that we might expect to begin seeing the effects of the upcoming grand solar minimum soon, if this theory is correct.”

      and lo and behold, temps are down from 2016…

      there are more greeenhouse gaases in the atmosphere now than in 2016, so why aren’t temps higher?


      3 years is too short to use for a definitive conclusion, but by 2021 it may be a different story…

      • 2016 was a very strong El-nino year. Something that has far more influence on our climate that C02. Hence the warming forces. It’s the Sun and Oceans that drive the story. Not CO2.

      • first five months of 2016 had extreme temperatures because of very strong El Nino (+1,67°c in february).
        2019 had a baby El Nino at the beginning of the year, but nothing like in 2016,
        2017, with no El Nino, was the 2nd warmest year on record
        july 2019 was the warmest month ever

    • This discussion is completely wrong. It misses the point that intermittent electricity is of little value to the grid. It needs both huge amounts of storage and lots of long distance transmission. The usual valuation of solar and wind gives a totally wrong impression. It is not that it replaces the amount of fossil fuels that can be burned and turned into electricity. It needs so many types of assistance that energy in likely exceeds energy out.

      • The Dutch hae recently discovered some of the overlooked costs of wind power. Their giant offshore wind farm (DOWEC) is threatened with catastrophic failure because the concrete used to bind the windmill towers to the underlying platform is disintegrating because of strong waves and salt water. (Gee, who would have thought so?!)

        The windmills now have to be inspected regularly, an expensive and hazardous operation, and if one is found to be dangerously weak it is given a temporary patch with steel brackets. A permanent solution, other than pulling the things down, is not yet in sight.

        • I find that sort of engineering failure, in the off-shore turbines, interesting: it suggests that we have, despite our technological sophistication (or perhaps because of it), forgotten the immense, utterly overwhelming, power of Nature herself.

          • And as the poet Horace said:

            “Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret
            et mala perrumpet furtim fastidia victrix.”

          • These tangential cheap shots are not much of help. Are you for real, without that interwar industrialization most of the IC world hubs of today would have A.H. memorial monuments installed at their city center, incl. the UK..

            • Am I for real?

              Do you mean as in “are you a bot?” or “are you bering serious?” or “are you really who you are pretending to be?” or “are you a product of somebody’s imagination?”

              It is easy for people to misinterpret things that others post online, as brevity is considered one of the prime virtues. Just think of how much flak Don Stewart of Keith Henson attack simply as a result of fleshing out their comments with what some other people regard as too much detail.

              But as it happens, in answer to your question I appear to be inhabiting a human body and I am not being particularly earnest, and in general I take a light-hearted almost Taoist approach to the problems of human beings living in this finite world for a finite time. But neither was I attempting to mock either Orwell or the concept of wind power generation in principle. I was simply pointing out that today’s pursuit of wind power for political and ideological reasons is to a certain extent an unintended parody of the story told in Animal Farm, which itself was intended as a parody of Stalinism.

              Orwell chose a scheme to build a windmill, with which the leaders said that the animals could generate electricity, as his symbol for industry, precisely because a windmill was something rustic and traditional rather than something high-tech and modern. In Orwell’s day, windmills were old hat and being abandoned for mechanical tasks such as milling grain and pumping water, and nobody seriously considered using them to generate electricity. Yet incredibly, today, seven decades on from Animal Farm, entire nations are apparently seriously pursuing the goal of 100% “renewable” “sustainable” “clean” electricity derived largely from windmills.

              In preparation for the upcoming UK election, both Comrade Corbyn and Comrade Johnson are promising to make England and even greener and more pleasant land by building yet more actual windmills, mostly off shore in huge “wind farms”, and ANdrew Evans Pilchard has written a series of articles in the Telegraph explaining that “wind could make Britain an energy superpower to rival Arabia” no less!

              To add to the fun and guild the lilly, Orwell himself warned us about the misuse of political language by alluding metaphorically to “wind”.

            • “Political language . . .is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectful, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” (George Orwell)

              Orwell died of tuberculosis in January 1950, when he was 46 years old. He had amazing understanding of how the world worked. He lived through World Wars I and II and the Great Depression. Wikipedia also mentions the Spanish Civil war (1936-1937). His wife died of what should have been a routine hysterectomy in 1945. Lots of adverse experiences in a short lifetime.

            • As a young man, George Orwell also worked as a colonial policeman in Burma, and he writes about how the natives forced him to shoot an elephant, strongly against his better instincts.

              I had halted on the road. As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant – it is comparable to destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery – and obviously one ought not to do it if it can possibly be avoided. And at that distance, peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow. I thought then and I think now that his attack of “must” was already passing off; in which case he would merely wander harmlessly about until the mahout came back and caught him. Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot him. I decided that I would watch him for a little while to make sure that he did not turn savage again, and then go home.

              But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the “natives,” and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing – no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.


        • Is this another example of George Orwell’s fiction turning out to be prophetic, or is it another example of contemporary real life emulating literature?

          In Animal Farm, after Napoleon the pig installs himself as the farm’s dictator, he organizes a major collective labor project to build THE WINDMILL.

          The windmill represents the massive infrastructure construction projects and modernization initiatives that Soviet leaders instituted immediately after the Russian Revolution, specifically Joseph Stalin’s Five-Year Plans. The way that the animals go hungry in order to build the windmill in the first place mirrors how the Five Year Plans, while intended to create enough food for everyone, were wildly unsuccessful and led to widespread famine in the early 1930s. Later in the novel, the windmill also comes to symbolize the pigs’ totalitarian triumph: the other animals work to build the windmill thinking it will benefit everyone, but even after it benefits only the pigs, the animals continue to believe that it benefits all of them.

          • Tim, I agree that “1984” and “Animal Farm” are Orwell’s best known works. But my favourite is indeed his “Burmese Days”, published in 1934, which I read with great interest as a teenager growing up in colonial Africa. And yes, the natives laughed at us, too.

        • Where do you find information about the DOWEC problem?

          I notice that the investigation seems to date back to 1999.

          Abstract of DOWEC Concept Study

          The economics of offshore wind energy may probably be improved by application of very large wind turbines in large wind farms. However a gradual upscale of an existing wind turbine design towards 5 or 6 MW is not as straightforward as it may seem. The goal of the Dutch Offshore Wind Energy Converter (DOWEC) Concept Study is to make an inventory of all wind turbine concepts in order to select the most optimal concept for a 5 to 6 MW offshore wind turbine. In the first phase the DOWEC Concept Study aims at the choice of the optimal wind turbine concept. The wind turbine will not be treated as an isolated system. Designs of different wind turbine concepts will be evaluated as an integral part of the complete large-scale offshore wind farm. All significant properties like the structural loads, the power performance, the system reliability, the costs of the electric infrastructure, maintenance costs and installation costs will be determined for the optimised designs. A quantitative ranking will then be made based on the cost of gen erated energy. Furthermore qualitative criteria like development risk and market potential will be taken into consideration when finalising the choice of concept. The DOWEC concept study serves as a first design phase. The overall DOWEC development comprises of the design, the construction and the prototype testing. Marine testing of the 5 to 6 MW turbine is planned in 2008. Onshore testing of a 3 MW research and development prototype is scheduled for the end of 2001. This paper describes the approach and the current achievements of the project.

          This seems like a very early project. A person would wonder if later projects would have similar problems.

  2. Using the California and Australian fires as teaching tools

    Taking a quick look at the denial among the political class in Australia, plus the reluctance of the climate scientists to claim sole credit for the scale of the fires, leads to popular frustration. SOMETHING has to be wrong…and it needs to be fixed. But suppose what is wrong is that we have messed with a complex system that was once working fine, and it is now dysfunctional. And we don’t know any painless way to get back to where we used to be?

    Here is a remembrance of Gregory Bateson, who was many things, but most importantly one of the great Systems thinkers of all time, by the physicist and systems thinker Fritjof Capra:

    “To use a popular phrase, Bateson taught us how to connect the dots, and this is critical today not only in science but also in politics and civic life, as most of our political and corporate leaders show a striking inability to connect the dots. For example, if we improved the fuel efficiency of our cars by just 3 mpg, which could be very easily done, we would not have to import any oil from the Persian Gulf. But instead, they prefer to fight a war that kills tens of thousands of innocent people, while the greenhouse gases produced by our cars increase the force of hurricanes that make millions homeless and cause billions of dollars of damages.

    If we served organically grown food in our schools, to use another example, we would not have the current epidemic of obesity among our children, we would not poison our farm workers, and the increased carbon content of the organic soil would draw down significant amounts of CO2 and thus contribute to reversing the current climate change. In short, to solve the major problems of our time, we need exactly the type of thinking Bateson pioneered.”

    And here is a current article on the Australian fires, an article describing the fire management system of the Native Californians and their conflict with the Forest Service, and a reference to Bill Gammage’s book describing the intensive management of Australia by the Aborigines using fire.

    I submit that the conclusion one can most appropriately draw is that everything really is connected. It is pointless to argue about isolated causes…yet that is exactly what the political class strives to accomplish. Make the fires in Australia and California either a result of climate change and thus triggering massive expenditures on carbon sequestration equipment, or else deny that there is any connection to climate change and thus increasing coal output is just what the doctor ordered.

    The notion that we are dealing with a complex system which we may or may not be able to put back together is about as welcome as ants at a fourth of July picnic.

    Don Stewart

    • What seems to be connected is a problem with overheating wires because too much intermittent electricity is added to the grid. This is especially the case in a hot dry environment, such as Australia and California. Aluminum transmission lines in particular are a problem.

      Read the article, Connectors – The Weak Link.

      The majority of line hardware associated with suspension and support of bare aluminum overhead conductors has been designed for a maximum operating temperature for conductor of 70–75˚C. However, due to load growth and demand, as many utilities approach conductor operating temperatures of 90–95˚C and beyond on standard conductors such as aluminum conductor steel-reinforced (ACSR) and all aluminum conductor (AAC), serious questions must be answered.

      Mother Nature has conveniently drawn a line in the sand for us, and the magic number is 93˚C (200˚F). This is the temperature associated with the onset of
      long-term annealing of the tempered aluminum alloys used in the manufacture of most connectors in this industry. Increasing demand for electrical power, coupled with deregulation in the electric utility industry, has nearly exceeded the capacity of the transmission and distribution infrastructure in the United States today. In some areas, critical limits are repeatedly exceeded, resulting in rolling brownouts. The time and expense of developing new rights-of-way for more transmission lines is forcing a review of the present system. In the interim period, many utilities have increased their current load on existing lines, thereby increasing operating temperatures beyond the 90˚C range.

      The problem is that if the aluminum wires get too hot, they tend to let go of their connectors. In fact, “letting go of connectors” is precisely what seems to be going wrong in California, leading to fires. For instance, this is a WSJ article talking about this issue. PG&E Power Lines Remain Risky to California, Even During Blackouts.

      The article says, “A fire official pointed out that there was a broken jumper, or wire that connects transmission circuits.” Later it talks about another fire being started by a broken jumper.

      The title of the WSJ article relates to the fact that there are really two kinds of electrical lines: “transmission” and “distribution.” PG&E had turned off the relatively low voltage “distribution” lines in some areas, but this wasn’t enough. It was really the high voltage “transmission lines,” such as from the geothermal plant that were breaking. It seems likely that wind and/or solar had been added to the geothermal transmission line in recent years, overloading it. Thus, adding renewable energy would seem to be the likely cause of overheating the lines and causing fires.

      The Texas Wildfire Mitigation Project leads off its webpage by saying:

      Power lines have caused more than 4,000 wildfires in Texas in the past three and a half years. Power lines can ignite wildfires through a variety of mechanisms.

      It then goes on to explain five ways power lines cause fires. All kinds of renewables (hydroelectric, wind, solar, geothermal) tend to be located a long distance from where they are used. This, by itself, adds to the problem of fires starting, without anyone noticing.

      We have been experimenting with adding intermittent renewables to the grid, without understanding what we are doing!

      • Here’s the takeaway:

        “The majority of line hardware associated with suspension and support of bare aluminum overhead conductors has been designed for a maximum operating temperature for conductor of 70–75˚C. However, due to load growth and demand, as many utilities approach conductor operating temperatures of 90–95˚C and beyond …”

        75C is 348K, and 95C is 368K. In other words, the approved design stressed the aluminium to within 5.5% of the safe thermal limit. What were they thinking? I can guess: efficiency (and cost) first, reliability second, and safety dead last.

        • Cost was first. I also am not sure how much was known about the annealing issue when the transmission lines were installed.

          The Aluminum Electrical Conductor Handbook on the website says, “Aluminum was first used on an overhead transmission line more than 85 years ago. Today, virtually all overhead transmission lines have conductors of aluminum or aluminum reinforced with steel.”

          The book was written in 1989, implying that aluminum transmission lines were first used in 1904. When I searched the PDF book, I didn’t find the word “anneal.”

          This is a 2006 article I found called, “Annealing of Aluminum and Aluminum Alloys.”

    • Another set of dot that needs to be connected concerns the failure to clear undergrowth and brush and to thin out the trees that makes fires much bigger and deadlier than they otherwise would bel

      Major forest fires are absolutely natural in the drier parts of California and Australia. To prevent them from happening requires active management of forests. Since this is now widely known and appreciated, failing to carry out appropriate management makes these fires manmade catastrophes. They are the direct result of top-down “green” policies pursued over decades in what turns out to have been an affront to common sense.

      • Tim, I respectfully dissent. The forests managed themselves for some 500 million years before we arrived on the scene. Fire is a natural part of the ecology. It helps the trees reproduce, by clearing out the underbrush that otherwise would choke them. In the case of the redwoods, it burns much of the bark, and the sap so released nurtures their young. it limits the adventitious parasites, and so helps foster the climax ecology of the mature forest.

        Not, certainly not, through our regular catastrophes; but in between, Nature preserves an almost perfect balance.

        • Robert, I don’t have any objections to anything you’ve stated. I’m sure the forests have been around a lot longer than humans have, so I agree they must have managed themselves. And fire is a natural part of the ecology.

          Once people began living in the fire-prone forests, though, the people needed to manage the fire risks or else end up getting their fur burnt as often happens to rabbits in California or koalas in Australia. I’ve read that the forest dwelling American Indians and Australian aborigines alike used to “manage” their forests by burning sections of them.

          In the twentieth century, managed burning and tree thinning on public lands has been banned or actively discouraged with a view to maintaining the ecosystem as close to “nature” as possible. At the same time, people build homes amid these forests, which are certain to burn from time to time. The case of Malibu is illustrative. Mike Davis told the story in considerable detail in his superb 1998 book Ecology of Fear.

          The Case for Letting Malibu Burn

          Malibu, meanwhile, is the wildfire capital of North America and, possibly, the world. Fire here has a relentless staccato rhythm, syncopated by landslides and floods. The rugged 22-mile-long coastline is scourged, on the average, by a large fire (one thousand acres plus) every two and a half years, and the entire surface area of the western Santa Monica Mountains has been burnt three times over the twentieth century. At least once a decade a blaze in the chaparral grows into a terrifying firestorm consuming hundreds of homes in an inexorable advance across the mountains to the sea. Since 1970 five such holocausts have destroyed more than one thousand luxury residences and inflicted more than $1 billion in property damage. Some unhappy homeowners have been burnt out twice in a generation, and there are individual patches of coastline or mountain, especially between Point Dume and Tuna Canyon, that have been incinerated as many as eight times since 1930…..

          Less well understood in the old days was the essential dependence of the dominant vegetation of the Santa Monicas—chamise chaparral, coastal sage scrub, and live oak woodland—upon this cycle of wildfire. Decades of research (especially at the San Dimas Experimental Forest in the San Gabriel Mountains) have given late-twentieth-century science vivid insights into the complex and ultimately beneficial role of fire in recycling nutrients and ensuring seed germination in Southern California’s various pyrophytic flora. Research has also established the overwhelming importance of biomass accumulation rather than ignition frequency in regulating fire destructiveness. As Richard Minnich, the world authority on chaparral brushfire, emphasizes: “Fuel, not ignitions, causes fire. You can send an arsonist to Death Valley and he’ll never be arrested.”

          A key revelation was the nonlinear relationship between the age structure of vegetation and the intensity of fire. Botanists and fire geographers discovered that “the probability for an intense fast running fire increases dramatically as the fuels exceed twenty years of age.” Indeed, half-century-old chaparral—heavily laden with dead mass—is calculated to burn with 50 times more intensity than 20-year-old chaparral. Put another way, an acre of old chaparral is the fuel equivalent of about 75 barrels of crude oil. Expanding these calculations even further, a great Malibu firestorm could generate the heat of three million barrels of burning oil at a temperature of 2,000 degrees.

          “Total fire suppression,” the official policy in the Southern California mountains since 1919, has been a tragic error because it creates enormous stockpiles of fuel. The extreme fires that eventually occur can transform the chemical structure of the soil itself. The volatilization of certain plant chemicals creates a water-repellent layer in the upper soil, and this layer, by preventing percolation, dramatically accelerates subsequent sheet flooding and erosion. A monomaniacal obsession with managing ignition rather than chaparral accumulation simply makes doomsday-like firestorms and the great floods that follow them virtually inevitable.

          • Tim, thank you for a most thoughtful and informative reply. I read it twice, as I do with almost all your posts, but alas could not stop thinking about a simpler and cheaper solution: don’t live in fire prone forests. Nature is wiser than we, far wiser.

  3. Is there any way to simulate oil depletion? Let say global oil production depletes at a very slow 10 oil barrels per day. How would civilization fare?

    • The amount of oil extracted (or coal or natural gas) depends on how high oil prices rise.

      Depletion is interesting, but basically irrelevant, in my opinion. If prices fall too low, and don’t rise again, the amount we can extract is effectively depleted. With higher prices, we could extract more.

      Prices depend on spending power of consumers. If there is too much wage disparity (as there is now), people cannot afford finished goods that use oil and other fossil fuels. This is what brings the system down.

  4. “Unfortunately, the world is sitting on a sovereign debt timebomb that could be triggered at any time by the smallest event. This is confirmed by the IMF’s data, which identifies 32 countries as being at high risk of unsustainable debt. Their borrowings have more than tripled in just two years.

    “We have to remember how serious the consequences can be when a country’s finances spiral out of control: take Venezuela, which is facing a humanitarian crisis with projected inflation of 10,000,000 per cent by the end of this year…

    “Nationalism and populism are ascendant across the world… populist movements are turning the growing anger over rising income inequality to their advantage…

    “Put this all together and it looks like a very toxic mix… it may even be too late.”

    • scary article there, thanks (I think)

      few seem to grasp the point, that if you borrow money to buy a house on a 25 year mortgage, than for that 25 years you have to produce sufficient money to pay it off.

      But money represents energy, so over that 25 years you have to find fresh sources of energy, not money.

      National economics functions in the same way, broadly speaking

      But energy resources are fixed, while debt is unlimited, so borrowing goes on unchecked, because most people seem to believe that energy is also unlimited and will rise in parallel with debt.

      It doesn’t , so the economic systems of nations spirals out of control

      • “Scary article there, thanks (I think).”

        You are welcome, of course.

        I must confess it does alarm me to think, looking at the social unrest, protectionism etc. erupting around the world, that (because of the issues you mention) overall none of this gets any better from here on in. We are looking at a future of ever-rising chaos.

        • An age of growing irrationality and unrest, polarised politics and failing systems, comparable to the 1920’s-1940’s in Europe.

          I’m certainly pressing on with economic disaster-planning, after having got a bit complacent of late.

            • And Spanish brandy, ‘Torres 10’ from Catalonia is my favoured brew!

              Sadly, whisky depresses me, it must be genetic….

          • looking back

            to me the 20s/40s seems like part of the same sequence of events, just that they are getting closer and closer together

            which seems to fit my skimming stone hypothesis—where you skim (energy input) a stone (the global economy) across a pond, the bounces (energy input available) get shorter and shorter until the stone vanishes underwater

          • Xabier, thank you for recommending Torres 10, a brandy of which I had never heard. It turns out there is exactly one importer here in Malta, and (of course) their website is totally unhelpful. So maybe over the weekend I’ll send them a polite request for information, and squash firmly my impulse to tell them to fire their web designer and marketing manager with extreme prejudice.

            For any interested: click on Goods; click on Spirits; click on Brands; find Torres and click … nothing. It’s just a tiny picture, not an affordance. So, find something small, furry, and defenceless, and shred it. (Just kidding)

    • What is rather ‘toxic’ is calling people who protest against deepening hopelessness. against corrupt elites, ‘nationalists and populists’ – sneering at them, or presenting them as mere dupes of evil forces who are manipulating them.

      ‘Nationalism and populism’ are,in fact, the means by which the masses will seek to redress the balance which is against them and deliver a shock to elites who do not listen.

      • Nationalism, populism, and Madame La Guillotine. Bring it on. In my more cynical moments, I sometimes reflect that what the world elites deserve is less protest, and more terror. And if we start with George Soros, I’ll even learn to knit.

        • I guess we’ve all daydreamed about our favorite villains facing the noose, the firing squad, Madame guillotine, or the axman’s block. But in the end, someone else just as bad always pops up. And I’m pretty sure that if we OFWers were to attend outdoor public executions, we would quickly become more disgusted with the bloodlust of the other attendees that we ever were with the financial or political shenanigans of the condemned parties.

          I think the least unsatisfactory solution for dealing with evil elites would be to take away their property and reduce them in penury to living on a state pension that they would have to pick up at the post office every week and residing on a council estate in somewhere like Rotherham or Rochdale close proximity to the descendants of the sort of “ordinary” people their wheeling and dealing put out of work, and with a limit of two bars on their electric fire.

          • Yes, let’s point fingers at the ‘elites’, it is oh-so convenient.

            In reality, you, yes you indeed, is just as bad, if not worse than those you despise.
            The only thing differentiating you with them is that they got the means to do what you cant.

            Just give us all a break with finger pointing.

            It is the humanoid ape that is the problem. The ‘monkey do’ mentality and dominance schemes that undermines the foundation of our well-being and future prospects as a species on a finite planet.

            • Dominance schemes on a finite planet quite rapidly evolve into a physics problem. Like; how to feed all the ‘monkey do’ apes busying themselves with soulless drivel as they seek to eradicate their desires and affirm the delusions of infinite growth.

      • According to the CIA World Factbook

        Bolivia is a resource rich country with strong growth attributed to captive markets for natural gas exports – to Brazil and Argentina. However, the country remains one of the least developed countries in Latin America because of state-oriented policies that deter investment.

        Following an economic crisis during the early 1980s, reforms in the 1990s spurred private investment, stimulated economic growth, and cut poverty rates. The period 2003-05 was characterized by political instability, racial tensions, and violent protests against plans – subsequently abandoned – to export Bolivia’s newly discovered natural gas reserves to large Northern Hemisphere markets. In 2005-06, the government passed hydrocarbon laws that imposed significantly higher royalties and required foreign firms then operating under risk-sharing contracts to surrender all production to the state energy company in exchange for a predetermined service fee; the laws engendered much public debate. High commodity prices between 2010 and 2014 sustained rapid growth and large trade surpluses with GDP growing 6.8% in 2013 and 5.4% in 2014. The global decline in oil prices that began in late 2014 exerted downward pressure on the price Bolivia receives for exported gas and resulted in lower GDP growth rates – 4.9% in 2015 and 4.3% in 2016 – and losses in government revenue as well as fiscal and trade deficits.

        A lack of foreign investment in the key sectors of mining and hydrocarbons, along with conflict among social groups, pose challenges for the Bolivian economy.

        I imagine low prices on exports, especially natural gas, are a huge problem. Population continues to grow as well. The UN population estimates show a 1.4% increase in population in 2019, relative to 2018.

  5. “Hundreds of Algerians marched in the capital Algiers late on Wednesday, stepping up pressure on the authorities to cancel a Dec. 12 presidential election.

    “Weekly protests have taken place on Tuesdays and Fridays since February, but demonstrators appear eager to increase their street presence in the run up to the vote… security forces intervened to disperse them.”

  6. “On one of Beirut’s main commercial streets, store owners are cutting salaries by half or considering shutting down. Shops advertise sales, but still can’t draw in customers. The only place doing a thriving business: the store that sells safes, as Lebanese increasingly stash their cash at home.

    “It’s a sign Lebanese fear their country’s financial crisis, which has been worsening for months, could tip over into disaster.”

      • “Within hours, [Iran’s] protests began, before quickly escalating over the weekend. By Sunday, the semi-state-authorised Fars news agency reported that the unrest had reached some 100 cities and towns.

        WBy Tuesday, Amnesty International was claiming to have credible reports that at least 106 protesters in 21 cities had been killed by Iranian security forces.”

        • it is all part of the denial that the financial/political crisis is really an energy crisis.

          the world system/population ballooned itself on the fallacy of infinite energy.

          but such a thing cannot be….we have had cheap surplus energy ”forever”, so we will continue to have it ‘forever’.

          For no better reason that we tell ourselves so. If you stop to think about it, that is the only reason we have. Crazy huh?

          But there isn’t anything else. Weird to think that all ‘economics’ is based on that

        • Before this all blew up, Iranian friends who had just been there told me that things were quite bright and cheerful (for Iran) and the mullahs no longer imposing such strict control on dress,etc.

          The mood was not at all pre-revolutionary: it will be interesting to see what happens next.

    • An explanation of Lebanon’s problems from this article:

      One of Lebanon’s biggest problems is that it has a dollarized economy. Since a crash in the Lebanese pound in the early 1990s, the currency has been pegged to the dollar. As a result, many things – from rents to cars to insurance premiums – are priced in dollars. Most Lebanese get their salaries in local currency, however.

      Since 1997, the Central Bank has kept the pound stable at 1,507 to the dollar thanks to heavy borrowing at high interest rates. That encouraged the large diaspora of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese around the world to pump in hard currency, sending it to their families, buying property or depositing in local banks, keeping the local market liquid.

      The economy boomed for three years starting in 2008, with annual growth of about 8%. Then came a series of blows. First, the war in neighboring Syria sent more than 1 million refugees to Lebanon since 2011, straining the country´s capacities.

      Then the flow of hard currency into the country dropped starting in 2016, in large because falling oil prices reduced remittances from Lebanese in Arab Gulf nations. Salameh, the central bank´s chief, responded with a program of so-called “financial engineering,” encouraging local banks to get dollars from their branches abroad by paying high interest rates.

    • According to the article:

      The problem is that in the past concentrated solar couldn’t get temperatures hot enough to make cement and steel.

      So now they have a way of making higher temperature concentrated solar power. The problems remaining are two fold:
      1. Intermittent
      2. Not where needed for cement and steel making

      I don’t see any way of saving these very high temperatures, or transporting them to a different location. Even if it were possible to locate a concentrated solar power next to a steel mill or a cement producing facility, you would need a way of saving the high temperatures so that they do not disappear every time a cloud goes by. Also, lack of adequate solar energy during the winter is likely to be a deal-killer as well.

      • We need energy in the places where humans live, not in the deserts. I doubt that the concentrated solar, which collects the enrgy of the sun from a limited area, can provide substantial amounts of verstatile energy in place, we need it most.

        The production of things is not a big problem – we can produce things using robots which are made using high tech labor and materials. The problem is a realiable energy for everyday existence. It means also returing minerals to the soil where the soil is depleted and the transport the produced food to the places where the people live, the mining and processing of minerals and converting them into robots etc.

        The supply chains of the human species are getting longer and more complex.

      • Gail, my late uncle (a foreman at a manufacturing plant) taught me a lot about steel. If the heat disappears before you are done, you had better start over. The process cannot be stopped and restarted. Intermittent energy will not work. That’s why the mediaeval blacksmiths always had a boy working the bellows.

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