back to article Globo-renewables all electric future touted again

Another American environment professor has asserted that the entire world can easily power itself using only pure-green generation methods - "wind, solar and water". As with other recent plans, the idea would seem to be to keep the developing world in misery - and the developed world in penury. The new scheme comes to us …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Electric Power for Heating

    While electric power for heating using reverse cycle air conditioning is the most efficient heating method, using electric power for heating water is only the most efficient when combined with a solar hot water system (which have been popular since the 1970s in Australia)

  2. Dan 21

    Grid losses

    It seems to me that the intercontinental transmission grids would also have their own losses-every erg lost to heat in the transmission lines needs to be added to global production.

    And whatever happened to the plan where solar sattelites would transmit power via microwave to ground stations? In space, solar intensity is both greater and predictable, and the transmission losses would be less overall, since power could be beamed to regional distribution sites instead of being wired across oceans.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re, You missed a bit?

    Another American environment professor has asserted that the entire world can easily power itself using only pure-green generation methods - "wind, solar and water".

    After the first line you never again mention water power, no hydro electric dams?

  4. Hermes Conran

    Ah Lewis....

    A lot of effort spent here debunking a thought experiment, the big question is WHY? It's been clear since the eighties that the Nuclear Power lobby views any form of renewables as it's natural enemy, which is why it's supporters spend so much time slagging off anything that even suggests that a future without fission is possible. I could charge in and start picking holes in your arguments but it would be pointless, you do this because you feel you must. You and the other fissionistas are wasting your time trying to stop the tide of renewable energy, dosen't it make you feel a bit of a Cnut sometimes?

  5. DevonHammer

    Blended power

    We should use "green power" where it works - hydro in mountains, wind where it's windy, solar in deserts, tidal in the Severn etc. etc. because if conditions are right it's an elegant solution, but I cannot seriously believe we can power the Western world in this way. Nuclear fission seems the only method using current technology with the possibility of fusion in the future.

    If you think it's green to protest against nuclear, don't complain too much when we end up with coal. Having said that, I'm very much a layman in this area. Any experts around?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Require science degrees before allowing people to vote.

    I have come to the conclusion that the only way to secure our future is to stop the artstards from voting.

    With the the moronic masses rightly kept from having any say in anything other than the colour of the drapes the informed minority would be free to set a path to a glorious/utopian future based on hard numbers and not gut feeling (which may or may not have been influenced by last nights super).

    PS. We really need to start a serious debate on population control because as the informed minority know ZERO growth is the only kind of sustainable growth in the long term.

  7. Martin Gregorie

    Seems like a fair summary

    Seems like a fair summary of how an electric future might work. Seeing some realistic cost estimates is good too. However, you missed one item - the obvious benefits of developing sailing or sail-assisted cargo vessels.

    Thanks for pointing out the likely impact on air travel of not having suitable fuels. Hydrogen is an obvious non-starter due to its sheer bulk and low energy density. Biodiesel aviation fuel is probably also a non-starter due to the enormous amount of land its production would require, so wave goodbye to cheap charters and weekend breaks along with noise pollution round Heathrow and the second Stanstead runway.

    Fortunately for those of us who simply enjoy flying, this will still be possible and affordable in a zero-emission world. Mines the one with the key to the electric glider winch in its pocket.

  8. Chris Collins


    We could, of course, just burn poor people in incinerators. If you cook them off before they bred too much you could maintain a relatively stable population, a bit like a fiery Logan's Run, and they are made of recent carbon dioxide so no fossil fuel burden.

  9. Paul 4

    Fule cells and fusion...

    I can't wait until all of this becomes academic.

    What a lot of people don't seem to see is that the problem with the above is no longer science but engineering. Heres hopeing they sort them soon.

  10. davenewman

    The coming age of wood

    95% of the world's population hardly use any oil, gas or electricity. They use wood. Wherever there are low population densities, the best energy source is woodfuel plantations or biomass waste (straw etc.). The real energy crisis in the developing world is that of wood fuel. Their real environmental crisis is deforestation for timber extraction and expanding farm areas. That is why, at the 1970 UN Energy Conference in Nairobi, women walked in front of the delegates with bundles of wood on their head, showing what really is the problem. That led, in a few years to the energy-saving Kenya Ceramic Jiko.

    So neither the original article nor the one in the Register address the main point of energy and development.

    The title is from an 1943 book by Egon Glesinger.

  11. scrubber

    Climate change

    No mention is made of the fact that covering large, reflective land masses such as the Sahara in dark solar panels will greatly increase global warming.

  12. breakfast Silver badge

    The Nuclear option

    The problem I'm seeing is that nobody appears to be building any nuclear capacity ready for the future. What is going on with that? It takes years to build power stations doesn't it? Why are our so-called representatives sitting around on their flabby asses crying about the world knowing how much of our money they have squandered on expenses rather than doing something worthwhile and averting a future energy crisis.

  13. Steven Jones

    Efficiency comparison

    "Domestic use of electric power for heating, hot water etc also tends to be more efficient - in terms of energy for results, if not money for results - than burning hydrocarbon in the home."

    Gee - this is a fundamental error of the highest order and rather goes to show that, yet again, Lewis is very strong on rhetoric, rather poor on detail.

    Like for like, it is much more efficient to burn hydrocarbons in a domestic boiler than to use the same fuel to generate electricity centrally and use that power to heat properties. Only if you start not comparing like-with-like (using heat pumps, supplementary solar heating, using non-hydrocarbon based primary energy sources) is that statemement event remotely true. Hardly a tru comparison (and heat pumps can be used at home with combine power and heat generation).

    Taking gas as the hydrocarbon in question (although you'll get similar results with oil with solid fuel a little way behind, then the best domestic boilers achieve up to about 95% thermal efficiency (even and ancient gas wall boiler will hit 70%).

    In comparison, combined-cycle gas power stations (which are the best of any fossil-fueled power stations) hit an average of 46.8% to which you need to add losses in the grid.

    Just how much credibility are we meant to give to stories like this when there is such a fundamental error present. If you want to produce heat from hydrocarbons, then do it direct - don't lose over half the energy before you bother distributing it.

  14. Bilgepipe

    Solar Panels

    I'd love to switch to solar panels for water heating, but the unregulated industry in the UK means cowboy suppliers fit rubbish products. Lets have this stuff taken seriously, so that we can start switching over to it.

    (I wish I could wire up by shiny head to utilise solar power)

  15. Owen Milton

    re: breakfast@15:32

    Actually it can take up to a couple decades to plan, design, build etc.

    As for the representatives, put it on yourself for a moment.

    You can Do The Right Thing For the Future by suggesting building fission power plants now. And then you get to deal with people screaming "Not In My Back Yard!" about disposal, having the plants running and so forth thus being certain to not only lose your job but ALSO to get known as a tool of the nuke lobby, thus ensuring that your career is finished.

    Oh, and if you suggest one of the efficient recycling plants you'll be labelled as a terrorist supporter for making weapons-grade fissionables more readily available.

    Or you can make vague comments about how we should study the issue and make plans, pass the legislation that makes you MORE popular with the majority of people and enjoy your climb to the top.

  16. mwk

    It will just be easier

    to wait for an environmental collapse, let a huge swathe of the population die off and then reconstruct a new society better adapted to the world that remains.

  17. Ian Ferguson
    Thumb Down

    @Lewis Page

    Dude, you're starting to sound seriously bitter. Is it really necessary to endlessly pick apart every suggestion anybody in the world makes towards a more efficient future?

    I know climate change is questionable, but even you must realise there are benefits to using less power and polluting less. And the only way we'll get there is through debate, not argument.

  18. DaWolf

    Yet another anti-renewable article

    You know, El Reg's articles on energy often remind me of spam posts, full of inaccuracies. And it doesn't matter how many times the errors are pointed out, the errors reoccur in the next post. It's a shame, because I actually like most of Lewis's articles, but the trend continues here....

    his energy use on a per capita basis is based around a nations energy use divided by the population. So why does he then talk about streets of houses when that energy use includes business, transport, home, agriculture etc......none of which is reflected in a home energy bill.

    But let's use his figures: 150 people, if you were to include ALL the items that their money is spent on, would spend well over £1000 per year each. 150 people: £150,000 annually. Or £3,000,000 over 20 years. And WOW, how much does a 3MW wind turbine cost? About £3,000,000.....

    basically all Leiws has proved is that wind energy is fundable.

  19. ian 22

    Bollocks - yet another FUDdy-duddy author

    Nuclear isn't expensive? Have you tried getting accident insurance for your reactor lately? Then there's the cost of dismantelling your knackered reactor after 30 years. Not cheap, I can tell you, what with all of the radioactive bits.

    I've read the article in question, and the plan seems workable. As for aviation fuel, we engineers are in the business of converting energy from one form to another. It isn't difficult to produce appropriate fuels, given the energy. And the energy is readily available, given the political will, which the author obviously doesn't have.

  20. Steve Crook

    @Solar Panels

    AFAIK Solar Panels for hot water generation aren't very effective in the UK. We just don't get enough sun for long enough for them every to pay back either their carbon cost or their financial cost. PVA panels are a much better bet, but then you need to be able to contribute back to the grid to get the best out of them, and we still don't have the infrastructure for that.

    I've had an intense distrust of nuclear power ever since doing chemistry at uni some 30 years ago. However, it will take a lot to convince me that renewables in any combination are going to be able to provide enough reliable leccy for any society I'd care to live in. So, I've come to the conclusion that however distasteful it may be, nuclear is all we've got.

  21. martin gorner

    nice article but what was that bit on nuclear ?

    Everything in this article makes sense, even the proof that nuclear is far cheaper than the alternatives but what is that paragraph full of links that attepts to make us believe that nuclear is risk-free and waste-free ??? And it makes it sound like it was a no brainer and we are all dumb for not knowing it.

    Well, yes, Mr. Author, I am certainly very dumb indeed because I did not know until now that nuclear energy could be harnessed without radioactive waste or risk. Thanks for enlighting me.

  22. Chris iverson

    criticism is how it starts

    What's lovely about having an article torn apart is that it opens it up for questions. Though informal this comment page is a debate on the piece in question. I cannot say I agree with everything that's said but at least it opens a dialogue so that we can have a firey knowledgeable and informative debate. Or if you choose we can just throw poop at each other

  23. Gilbert Wham

    What we need... Zeppelins! Just because they are awesome. Make 'em out of rendered-down kittens, with honking great diesel engines that run on whale oil for all I care, I just want Zeppelins...

  24. scatter

    10,000 nukes?

    This article is satire isn't it?



    The only reason why the economics of nuclear power appear to be better than renewables is because the industry hasn't internalised the life cycle costs.

  25. Paul 4

    Its interesting people think that nuke is not viable

    but wind and solar is. The French seem to be doing very well with fission power thank you very much. The problem is that greeneys just attack it on boggy man grounds. If they can SHOW that there way is cheaper then fine, but as it is they are not, so without hard numbers I have to assume Lewis et al are right.

    As for the dangers, they are totaly over stated, and based not on fact but on paranoia and propaganda.

  26. Ben Klumaster
    Thumb Down

    Just a thought

    I know that producing an acre of solar panels is pretty expensive at the moment, but isn't it pretty likely that by the time they break down, they'll be a lot cheaper to replace?

    I'm not just saying that I expect technology to have advanced and processes to have improved, I'm saying that turning an acre full of grass into an acre full of solar panel seems like it would be more expensive than turning an acre full of solar panel pieces into an acre full of solar panel.

  27. DevonHammer

    @ Steve Crook

    I'm all for nuclear, but your assumption is the wrong way round. Solar thermal for hot water is about the most cost effective thing you can do. It may only pre-heat the water in the winter, but it massively reduces costs and doesn't use dangerous chemicals or other nasties.

    As for PV, that is unlikely to pay back over the life of the product at current price and efficiency, but that may change.

    In my mind the ideal is that every Southish facing roof has solar thermal and efficient PV subsidised by the Govt. Add in ground source heat pumps and wood chip boilers where appropriate and pay for the subsidies with the savings from less power stations. Back up with nuclear plus hydro to deal with peaks. People moan about the look of solar power, but it means less power stations, and I know what I'd rather have.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    You seem to forget...

    ... the development of wind turbines and solar power cells. in the last 20 years or so wind turbines have gotten many times more efficient same with solar cells. It is to be assumed that they will get even more efficient in the future.

  29. copsewood

    uprated hydro and wind

    These back each other up nicely when there is plenty of energy storage represented by weight of water behind dams which can be turned into electricity during calm spells. A few back of the envelope calculations shows that storing the equivalent of 7 cubic kilometers of water 300 metres uphill is enough to provide the UK electricity demand for 2 days, without needing gas, coal or nuclear backup.

    So all a nuclear advocate who doesn't want us to make rational choices in the energy debate has to do is repeatedly ignore the facts that hydro exists and that it can be uprated.

  30. SingerScientist

    Which is the safest strategy...

    ...for energy security, long-term cost, and err, safety?

    The answer is in Dr Mark Barret's (UCL) study of 2006

    Clue, it aint nuclear.

    PS: Its pretty obvious the price of electricity is going to go up. As a result consumption, both domestic and commercial, is likely to drop significantly, and the incentive to "grow your own" will similarly increase. The economics can take us there, but good planning can get us there sooner. Bad planning will cost us a lot, in money, time, and competiiveness.

  31. scatter

    @ Paul 4

    There are excellent reasons to doubt why this could be achieved with nuclear power.

    Do you believe the nuclear industry's costings? They have consistently shown to be woefully optimistic and the industry just can't survive without government subsidies and bailouts. I can recommend this paper if you're interested in reading more about the economics of the nuclear industry:

    Even in its wettest of wet dreams, the nuclear industry isn't considering anything like 10,000 nukes.

    On the other hand we will ultimately be able to draw on geothermal; energy, onshore, offshore and high altitude wind, solar thermal (both for electricity generation and hot water) and solar pv, tidal, wave, hydro, OTEC, biomass, biogas and liquid bioufuels for heating and electricity generation via CHP. All of these are rapidly scalable, something that nuclear power is most definitely not.

    And this is just supply side. What the nuclear boosters such as Lewis can't get their heads around is that energy efficiency is the natural first step. It's far far easier and cheaper to cut demand than it is to install supply.

  32. Jim 4

    Dishonest, ignorant or lazy?

    I can't decide which of these best describes large portions of this article.

    Let's start with "Renewables simply aren't cheaper than fossil or nuclear. That, after all, is why we live in a fossil and nuclear powered world". Hmm, that is a very interesting analysis.

    Would it be fair to say that fossil fuel genration has been subsidised, both directly to maintain jobs in the extraction industries and indirectly by allowing the externalisation of the majority of the environmental costs.

    And that was the difficult one. Nuclear has received unimaginable amounts of (global) government hand outs. In the early days, the nuclear power industry was the poster child used to hide - things like the primary reason for Calder Hall and Chapelcross was to produce weapons grade plutonium. Even today we see that while a private nuclear operator may have to pay the majority of costs of construction and operation of new nuclear build, the major costs (waste management, insurance and decommisioning) appear to be a burden for the public purse.

    Yes, renewables have received susidies too but these are virtually negligible compared to the sums pumped in to nuclear.

    Now lets look at

    "A modern nuclear powerplant can sustain more than three quarters of a million electro-European future citizens. If a seven-billion-strong human race lived at that standard, there'd be a need for approximately 10,000 such plants, which could be located anywhere. (There are already many more power stations than that in existence. We are talking about less infrastructure than now, not more.) There'd no longer be a need for any world-spanning supergrid or massive redundant backups or new transport routes across the Sahara, etc."

    Now if the author was an expert on nuclear power he would be aware that an LWR is taken completely off-line, for 2-3 months, every 3 years for re-fuelling. So at any time, you are looking at 1 in 12 reactors producing zero power so you need to provide a guaranteed 8% over-capacity in the local grid. And god forbid a reactor scram, something that can take a reactor 2 days to recover from - so you need local (non-nuclear) over-capacity... or some kind of super-grid?

    I'll just pick at the low hanging fruit that haven't been pointed out already.

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