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2022-12-04 at 16:30 #384896Nat QuinnKeymaster
A completely unnecessary energy crisis afflicts much of the world. Countries that once had successful electricity supply with low prices now suffer electricity shortages and soaring prices.
Europe and America face the coming winter with inadequate energy, and if the winter is severe (I’ve got no idea whether it will be) people are going to die in the cold. Food production, transport, commerce and industry are threatened. There is no rational reason for any of these woes.
The Earth has massive energy resources, more than enough to provide all of mankind with a high standard of living for the remaining life of our planet (about 5 billion years).
No doubt there will be better technologies in the future but right now we have all the technologies we need to provide cheap, clean, sustainable power and fuel for everyone. Countries like South Africa, the USA, the UK, France, Germany and Australia did so in the past before they lost their way. We should learn from the present failures and the past successes. The lessons are not very difficult to grasp.
This recent graph from BloombergNEF explains much of the electricity crisis in the developed world. It shows the world’s additional electricity capacities from 2007 to 2021.
Of the new capacity in 2021, 50% was in solar, 25% in wind. As the saying goes, ‘Need I say more?’ No wonder we are in crisis. From Britain last week came more evidence of the disastrous failure of wind power.
Solar and wind, often referred to as ‘renewable’, are wonderful for off grid applications but useless for grid electricity. Every single country that has used them has seen electricity prices soaring for the customer and electricity failures increasing. It is essential to understand why. Solar and wind for the grid have not failed because of bad engineering. On the contrary, excellent engineering has gone into the building of gigantic wind turbines and solar arrays, often in very difficult circumstances – far more difficult than any nuclear engineer has to face. Nor have they failed because of the technology itself. Photovoltaic panels (converting sunlight directly into electricity) and wind turbines have excellent technology.
The failure of solar and wind for the grid is entirely because of the misuse of the technology. By their nature, they are unsuited for grid electricity and no clever engineering can ever make them suitable. Policy makers, for ideological reasons, have forced electricity utilities to use solar and wind for the grid. The failure of solar and wind is a policy failure not an engineering failure.
Grid electricity only has value if it is available whenever the customer wants it for as long as the customer needs it. (This is called ‘dispatchable’ energy.) Otherwise it is useless. A comparison is with the brakes on your car. Your brakes are only useful if they work whenever you want for as long as you want. Otherwise they are useless. Since solar panels only work when the Sun is shining and wind turbines when the wind is blowing, they can never provide the customer with useful power. To get useful power out of them, someone (almost never the renewable company itself) has to pay the system costs of converting their useless, unreliable power into useful, reliable power.
The system costs include back-up generators, spinning reserve, generators running inefficiently to match the fluctuations of the renewables, extra transmission, compensation for loss of electrical inertia, and storage. Altogether this gives you the Full Cost of Electricity (FCOE) for solar and wind.
The greens and the renewable energy companies never give you the FCOE of renewable electricity. Instead, they give you the price of the useless electricity leaving their generators. They will say something like, ‘The price of my solar PV electricity is only 25 cents/kWh’. Since the system costs of solar and wind are at least 200 cents/kWh and probably over 400 cents/kWh, what they really mean is, ‘The FCOE for my solar electricity is at least 225 cents/kWh and probably 425 cents/kWh.’
The system costs mount as the proportion of renewables on the grid increases. This explains the paradox that, while electricity prices for the customers rise as more solar and wind are added to the grid, the greens and renewable companies tell us that their costs are dropping.
Our absurd Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) states that solar and wind are the ‘least cost option’ when in fact they are by far the ‘highest cost option’. Yet, the more solar and wind fail, the more the greens and the renewable energy companies urge politicians to buy even more of them. The media believe this nonsense. So unfortunately does André de Ruyter, the CEO of Eskom. The salesmen for the renewable companies must be considered the most successful snake-oil salesmen in history.
Safest and cleanest
The opposite extreme is nuclear power. This has proved itself to be the safest and cleanest energy source we know, with more than enough nuclear fuel in the ground and sea to power the whole world for the life of the planet. It has proved itself to be very affordable and, in many countries, the cheapest source of electricity. The waste from nuclear power is tiny in volume and easy to dispose of safely so that it will never pose any danger to man or nature.
Nuclear power has indeed seen many wonderful successes but unfortunately many failures. Unlike solar and wind, nuclear is inherently suitable for grid electricity. The failures of nuclear come from bad management of nuclear programmes and from dithering and half-hearted political support. France is a good example.
In the heyday of her nuclear programme, France generated over 75% of her power from nuclear, and did so with some of the lowest electricity prices in Europe. She exported electricity to other European countries, notably Germany. But now she is in a mess. Her nuclear stations are failing and are unable to provide enough power for France herself, let alone her neighbours. The price of electricity is rising. Why the former success? Why the present failure?
In the 1970s, following the oil crisis, realising her vulnerability as a country without indigenous energy resources, France embarked on an ambitious nuclear power programme. (A country does not need any indigenous energy resource to have a successful nuclear power programme since nuclear fuel is tiny in mass and can be bought from competing suppliers around the world.)
The important features of this programme were commitment, consistency, continuity and sobriety. The French never got clever-clever about nuclear design. The bought the most proven nuclear technology, which was the US pressurized water reactor (PWR). At first they simply copied the American reactors. Then they began methodically to modify them and improve them. They were very successful. The French built more of them in a steady programme. They developed expert, experienced construction teams, who learnt and taught others in one new station after another.
Koeberg, near Cape Town, was built by the French. It had a standard, proven design, just like another nuclear station (Tricastin) in France. Despite sabotage, Koeberg was built on budget, started up successfully first time (in 1984) and has provided South Africa with cheap, safe electricity ever since.
After decades of success, the French lost it – for two reasons. First, the French became complacent with their own success. They thought they had too much nuclear capacity (they hadn’t) and stopped building. Their construction teams lost skills and experience. When eventually they did decide to build again, they chose the rather silly, over-complicated EPR design, and made a complete pig’s ear of building it in Finland and in Flamanville in France. Second, they succumbed to attack from the greens.
The huge success of the French nuclear programme aroused a frenzy of resentment from greens worldwide, furious at its provision of plentiful cheap, clean energy for the people, and they proceeded to campaign against it. Socialist politicians in France were only too eager to surrender to green demands. Nuclear proponents, as always, were apologetic and rather ashamed of their successes, and put up little resistance. In 2015, the French Government under President Holland voted to reduce nuclear power to 50% of the total. This further demoralized the nuclear industry, who seem to have neglected both construction and maintenance since, with dire consequences.
Other countries, notably Russia, South Korea and China, have a highly successful nuclear power supply, all following the same programme of continuous, dependable construction, making only incremental improvements to proven designs. Most countries in the world, including South Africa could do the same.
South Africa once had the world’s most successful electricity utility, Eskom, which provided the world’s cheapest electricity and served a growing, industrialising economy with all the power it needed. The secret of its success was, once again, a successful programme of building big, standardized coal stations designed to burn our poor but abundant coal.
Destruction caused by Eskom itself
Then, after 1994, Eskom committed suicide, ruining our power supply with looting, corruption, incompetence, criminality, racial ideology and terrible policies. The greens have added to Eskom’s wreckage with the awful renewable energy programme, REIPPPP, but most of Eskom’s destruction was caused by Eskom itself under the ANC.
The US has abundant resources of coal, oil and natural gas. Clever US engineers developed a new process, fracking, for extracting vast amounts of gas embedded underground – horrifying the greens again with the threat of good, cheap energy. Coal is naturally very dirty, with its smoke, sulphur, nitrogen and heavy metal emissions, but gas is quite clean.
The US for a while not only provided itself with cheap fuel but exported it to other countries. Then green ideology intervened. Joe Biden, campaigning for the US presidency, promised he would stop drilling for oil and end the use of fossil fuels. He kept his promises and sent the price of petrol (‘gasoline’) rocketing. Putin assisted him by invading the Ukraine and reducing Russian gas supplies to Europe. Politics and ideology have disrupted liquid fuel supplies worldwide, despite the enormous resources worldwide and the good technologies for exploiting them.
In most of Africa, the lack of modern energy has stunted development, impoverished the people and caused terrible environmental damage. Without electricity or piped gas to cook their food and heat their houses, Africans have chopped down forests for firewood.
Without modern agriculture, they have laid waste the land with slash-and-burn subsistence farming. Green imperialists from the rich countries hate the thought of Africa developing, and have discouraged Africans from building coal power stations or using gas and oil efficiently. Instead, they have foisted upon Africa solar and wind generators, with all their usual drawbacks.
Ideology, not natural resources or human technology is to blame for the dreadful mess much of the world is in over energy. The leading component of this ideology is, of course, climate hysteria.
Rational thought and science have been abandoned in favour of this new apocalyptic religion, whose demented excesses were in full display at COP27 in Egypt.
I’m repeating myself but here is the short summary of climate change. Man has caused CO2 in the air to rise. CO2 is a wonderful, life-giving gas. It is also a feeble greenhouse gas (which absorbs some outgoing radiant heat). It is already saturated in the peak of its only significant IR band (15 micron). Above 150 ppm, it has never been seen to have any effect on the climate. In most of the ‘pre-industrial era’ (last ten thousand years), global temperatures were higher than now while CO2 was lower than now. There was awful cold in the Little Ice Age (about 1300 to 1850 AD), from which, thanks to increased solar activity, we have now escaped. In the last hundred years the climate has been healthy and equable, and rising CO2 has made plants grow better.
There is no climate threat whatsoever from the burning of fossil fuels. Climate alarm is pure superstition, without scientific backing, but with an enormous vested interest, financial as well as ideological. The jobs, careers, funding and reputations of a colossal worldwide army of activists, academics, bureaucrats and politicians depend on frightening the public with the non-existing ‘existential threat’ of climate change.
What can rational people do about it? All we can do is try to tell the truth, but that is made difficult by the strict censorship of the truth in nearly all our media and political forums. By the way it so happens that nuclear power releases no CO2 in operation, and wind and solar have not reduced CO2.
In South Africa, the Just Energy Transition (JET) will simply add to poverty, pollution and energy shortages. JET wants us to abandon cheap, reliable energy for expensive, unreliable energy. It wants us to copy the energy policies that have plunged Europe into crisis. It wants us to destroy the residue of our electricity supply that Eskom has not yet destroyed. All our politicians, not just the ANC ones, bleat the same suicidal nonsense.
Science, not superstition
For heaven’s sake can we not, just for once, think for ourselves and listen to science, not superstition?
I have only recently realised a striking fact about attitudes to ‘green’ energy and conventional energy. With conventional energy, the customer is king. Coal, gas, hydro and nuclear power stations provide electricity when the customer wants it, for as long as he wants it. With solar and wind grid electricity, the supplier is king. The customer is forced to buy the product, whether he wants it or not, whenever the supplier happens to be able to supply. Our dreadful renewable energy programme, REIPPPP, is based on the requirements of the renewable suppliers.
For me, the graph above, showing the huge investments in solar and wind in 2021, demonstrates a failure of solar and wind, since the massive amounts of money invested in them have simply worsened the energy crisis. But the greens brandish this graph proudly as proof of the success of solar and wind! They think this points to the great success of solar and wind suppliers.
In energy, as in everything else, the customer should be king. We should make good use of the enormous energy resources nature has given us, and we should make good use of the wonderful technologies of our science and engineering. All of our energy problems can be solved (although it will take time) if we become rational.
Late news. On Tuesday, 29 November, Britain’s wind turbines, with a combined capacity of over 25,000 MW, were at one point producing 249 MW of power. They were producing 1% of their installed capacity.
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