Power to the people (2)

In the recent post I commented on the article by two engineers who had done research on the viability of the renewable energy, commissioned by the co-owner of Google, Larry Page. Their conclusion was that even a wholesale adoption of today’s renewable generation will not be able stave off the catastrophic climate change predicted by some climatologists. Does it mean that all hope is lost?


This is where things are getting interesting. While I do not share Ross Koningstein & David Fork’s obsession with the carbon emissions humanity will at some point need to move on from fossil fuels. Coal and oil have contributed to the incredible advancement in all areas of life but they will not last forever. So what does the linked article say we should do?

What’s needed, we concluded, are reliable zero-carbon energy sources so cheap that the operators of power plants and industrial facilities alike have an economic rationale for switching over soon—say, within the next 40 years. Let’s face it, businesses won’t make sacrifices and pay more for clean energy based on altruism alone.

As opposed to the green Nazis keen on regulating, taxing and policing Messrs Koningstein & Fork prefer a market-driven mechanism. If we come up with new technologies which are economically viable, the operators will make a switch. Not for the noble reasons like saving the polar bears from extinction but purely to make more money. So far so good. But how to achieve that? Would solar be the way to go?

Solar panels, for example, can be put on every rooftop but can’t provide power if the sun isn’t shining.

Hallelujah! From my observations this simple fact fails to register with 90% of the eco-minded idealists. Yes – coal is dirty but we can burn it after dark or on still days, when wind turbines do not spin. But are there any zero-carbon alternatives?

What, then, is the energy technology that can meet the challenging cost targets? How will we remove CO2 from the air? We don’t have the answers. Those technologies haven’t been invented yet.

There we go. Despite what the environmentalists keep telling us solar and wind are not the answers – the numbers simply do not stack up. But in which direction might we look for the solutions?

A disruptive fusion technology, for example, might skip the steam and produce high-energy charged particles that can be converted directly into electricity. For industrial facilities, maybe a cheaply synthesized form of methane could replace conventional natural gas. Or perhaps a technology would change the economic rules of the game by producing not just electricity but also fertilizer, fuel, or desalinated water. In carbon storage, bioengineers might create special-purpose crops to pull CO2 out of the air and stash the carbon in the soil.

Let me summarise what the authors of the article propose as possible drivers of the zero-carbon reality:

  • Relying on the market forces, as opposed to subsidies and tax disincentives
  • Nuclear fusion, ideally without steam generation
  • Synthesised methane as fuel
  • Producing fertiliser as by-product of power generation
  • Genetically engineered crops to bind carbon from the atmosphere

If you look at them every single bullet point above runs against the Green agenda. Free market, nuclear, hydrocarbons, fertiliser industry, genetic engineering. But these are the ideas environmentally minded engineers are left with when they have cracked their numbers. Everything else, like solar panels, wind farms and composting are just the PR stuff.

As mentioned above I do not share the authors’ concerns that carbon emissions will cause catastrophic changes to climate. What this post aims to show is that the environmentalists live in a fairy-land where imaginary solutions are proposed to be applied to equally imaginary problems.


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