My neighbor had a little argument a few days ago about energy, research in energy and the rest.
I wanted to answer him, as I am quite interested in the subject, but the answer should be well written and is yet complex. So let's write instead a blog article with all I need and all my thoughts.
NB: I couldn't write it before, because of a really bad week !
First, green energy
He does not like the way Denmark has chosen to work on green energy. He thinks it's wasting a lot of money that should go in education and innovation.
Well, he may be right. Let's precise a point : he is liberal, and quite frankly, I have seen worse liberal guys than him. I believe he is fair.
On that point, that means that he trusts the market.
I believe for my own that we can't hope the market will work to increase research in green energy and energy efficiency, simply because it would have already happened !
If the market was really efficient and working the way it should be, we would already see a lot of research projects around the world, especially in big corporations and US and Europe would run 25 % on renewable energy.
Instead, we have universities and non-profit companies or some startups working on some little projects but almost nobody in the corporate sector who really wants to involve in !
He says that's because green energy is not efficient. It's expensive and you can't store it.
Know what ? When electricity started, or other forms of energies in the industrial age, it took decades for them to be actually efficient !
When did we began to work and use green energy ? Barely 15 years ago !
Let's wait for it to prove its efficiency.
Think also that fossil fuel also is incredibly non-efficient !
Weird is that big corporations are still working and doing research on fossil fuels, oil extraction, all of that to improve the use of this energy by a few percents whereas it's polluting our atmosphere and planet with a lot of bad consequences for local peoples that are expelled of their land, with pollution on extraction sites and many other that we continue to neglect.
Why not stopping this waste of money but use it to improve green energy ?
But here is the trick. What I believe is that green energy can't be profitable enough for our modern immediate-profit world of finance.
Green energy and energy efficiency will only be profitable if you look long term from now.
A little bit like if you ask your 6 years old child why she/he is not already a doctor with a 10 000 $ / month salary.
Because today Finance does not give a shit to any investment that's not 15-20 % profitable !
But with the time going on, and especially as research goes on in Denmark, the conditions of the public plan for green energy will for sure allow to spend less and less money to make green energy profitable !
Then, here goes the best ! My neighbor believe in nuclear and particularly thorium.
Again, he may be right !
But for a liberal guy, it's weird to talk about nuclear (yet, it's a debate in the liberals camp itself). Particularly when you think about our world of finance again with its immediate-profit mind. Because nuclear can be profitable and efficient only in long-term thoughts.
What he does not mention is that, if we need research to increase green energy efficiency, we need around the same amount of research in thorium, which we also have barely began !
Having worked 1 and 1/2 year on a nuclear site, I can give you some idea of the mess it can be !
There is many specific problems with nuclear :
- It's complex and it involve a lot of systemic thoughts. Everything is connected to the next one…
- you need a lot of skilled people to run it, in a lot of different skills (radio-protection, civil engineering, mechanical, nuclear and chemicals themselves) who all have different ways of thinking but still have to work together.
- It produce a lot of waste that nobody wants to manage in a proper way. Don't say about reusing the fuel again and again… There is a limit, and a lot of waste comes from the industrial process itself : the engines running the power plant themselves have to go in waste often ! And it's huge to manage.
- I's highly risky, there can be a lot of pollution released in the environment (think of Chernobyl, but not only…). There's so many ways anything can fail it can be a nightmare.
- You need a great democratic control on it. On that point I believe Denmark would do great. But let me explain. You need everybody to trust the power plants operators. So you need a great transparency. And you need public authorities to watch it, so some sort of political control and lookup.
- In order to be really safe, you need the operators to have some sort of mandate (kind of linked to the point above) : what if the power plant has to be shut down but the power company does not want it ? In that matter, the operator should know that he can't be fired ! Safety first, profit way farther ! Some sort of thoughts private companies are not used to !
- If you decide to work in nuclear industry, you have to establish some sort of decision-making process and culture that take years to run properly. By that I mean : who to hire or fire, when to shut down the power plant and run the maintenance and so many other decisions that you barely imagine ! This is so particular to the nuclear industrial it has its own state of mind, and Denmark has never faced it !
- Which means that nuclear always involve establishment of a national industry. Also to manage the waste, to educate the people you need, to control them…
- So despite Denmark being a small country, you would need to have your own waste disposal (whereas Germany, UK, France, Sweden and Finland around you already have their own and are already giving the example of how a pain in the ass nuclear waste management is, with a lot of different solutions !)
- All of it leads to lot of hidden costs (again : linked to all above points).
- Because of it, nuclear is an ideal place for corruption.
- EDF Energy, the British branch of the French nuclear-electric company, is building nuclear reactors with some strange arrangements : debt is protected by the British government, as well as the price at 116 € / MW per hour whereas the market price is currently around 42 € (80 € for wind energy) ! Bizarre in a pretending liberal country. And a proof that nuclear can't be really cheap ?
- You see the point : nuclear can be efficient only if used on great scale (because you establish a lot of things that have no purpose for anything else). I don't know how Finland and Sweden run their nuclear industry but I am not even sure it's profitable to them !
- You produce a huge energy output, which leads to think energy is infinite. It leads you not to think about real efficiency (consuming the least power, being small…). Instead, you continue to consume energy like you would consume tapwater, or you sell it cheap to your neighbors (whereas in the green energy system that my neighbor doesn't like currently, you sell expensive energy at low cost to your neighbors. Actual same result). And when you reach your limit of production, you need to build a second big power plant. With windmills, you just have to build one or two more.
- You engage the responsibility of your children, their children and descendants for ages, just for managing the waste and the nuclear sites or even (sadly) the polluted sites.
Here it is : to work well, nuclear needs the mature democratic culture of small countries like Denmark or Sweden, but the country size of USA or China ! It would work really better on a european scale also ! But who is ready for this last one ?
Instead, there's plenty of research to be conduct in green energy fields, but nobody wants to hear about them. Here is some projects or useful thoughts :
- According to the university of Oregon, Earth receives around 84 Terawatts of energy from the sun whereas we consume only 12 !
- BFS Spanish company is converting atmospheric CO2 to oil, with a known composition and quality and no environmental damage, opposite to the extracting process, and the process could surely be improved and produce directly fuel or other chemicals.
- Geothermy and heat-pumps can heat your house for free, or almost.
- Biological and organic wastes (mainly food, which is so much wasted already), if collected efficiently, could produce a vast amount of energy, by methanization.
- Green energy often comes with simple and small installations (you can plant a windmill in your garden for example) which leads potentially to you, individually, being energy-sufficient at some scale, whereas nuclear would never allow that !
- Waves, tides, wind, solar light, all of this can produce clean energy, at not risk for the environment nor the operators.
- You can run a sausage factory or a vodka distillery on green energy.
- Australian agency for renewable energy
- Want to save the planet ? Crazy-isolate your house ! Go to work / school / university by bike ! Take public transport… There's so much to do ! Because the less energy you consume, the less you pollute, the less you have to produce, the closest you are to self-sufficiency and renewable energy and World.
So what to choose ? Green energy that need to grow in skills and efficiency, but is already producing ideas, that innovate all the time, that fits to the small is beautiful, that is by itself clean and hard to corrupt…
Or nuclear, that produce huge amount of waste, need big systems to manage in all directions and is not safe / clean by itself ?
NB : Anyone can write to me (the link to the contact page is in the left column) if you want to comment. I would then simply add your comment below there.