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November 2012

News Letter - 18th November 2012

DO WE GO BACK TO THE TREES OR MOVE FORWARD TO A PLANET GLOWING RED!!

Over the past few years we have seen a lot of serious debates and a lot of "hot air" expended regarding renewable energy, nuclear power, climate change and saving the environment! So much so that probably most of the world’s population are now so confused or so tired of these topics that they have totally "switched off"!

The climate change topic while very serious has been somewhat discredited by the fact that some so called "experts" were found to be "cooking the books" - they were found exaggerating the data probably in order to increase their funding. It’s a sad situation when such an important topic does not stand on its own merit without the distortion of the facts. It is claimed that the planet experiences an ice age approximately every 10,000 years and this ice age usually lasts several hundred years – if this is correct then the planet may be a little overdue its next ice age. Some experts believe that there is a brief ‘warming spell’ prior commencement of an ice age. Are we now in such a period? What proportion of the warming of the planet is man-made and what proportion is a natural warming?

It is said that the amount of CO2 produced by man using fossil fuels is causing an increase in atmospheric CO2 and a warming of the planet.

In order to reduce the production of CO2 – the "green house gas" - many first-world countries are embarking upon the use of various forms of renewable energy, such as bio-fuel, wind power, solar power and dare I say it nuclear power!

CONSERVATION

The single most important area of energy security has to be energy conservation. There is vast room for conservation by improving the construction of our homes and public buildings along with improving the insulation of such. Improving the efficiency of prime movers generally. Simply switching off appliances when not in use would have significant impact on energy consumption.

Does the richer a country becomes mean the more wasteful its people are regarding conservation of energy? Apparently so...

Why does the U.S. consume 20% of the world’s energy supply yet has only approximately 5% of the world’s population? China with 20% of the world’s population consumes approximately 17% of the world’s energy but its consumption is growing fast whereas in the U.S. consumption is slowly decreasing. The U.S. and to a lesser extent Europe, the two largest consumers of energy (based on per capita consumption and population size combined), need to take meaningful steps to reduce their energy consumption per capita in order for conservation to have any serious effect globally on energy consumption.

What sources of energy do we have?

With the worlds oil reserves decreasing and coal being a high polluting energy source and the carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases needing to be reduced the world has to look for alternative sources of renewable energy or a mixture of renewable energy and other non-polluting energy supply.

NUCLEAR POWER

Approximately one sixth of the UK's power supply comes from nuclear with 19 reactors from 10 plants in operation as of 2010. The percentage of nuclear generated power in this country peaked in 1997 at 26%. While nuclear power is not ‘inexhaustible’ it is relatively abundant and does not emit greenhouse gases.

In 2010 the ‘go ahead’ was given for 8 new nuclear plants in the UK. Scotland in its usual eccentric wisdom has stated none will be built in Scotland! They will probably buy nuclear generated power from England – once they go independent – this could be profitable to England, if Scotland isn’t already bankrupt by the time they have indulged in their grand socialist ideals! (Editor's note: the author wishes it to be made clear that these comments are directed at Alex Salmond and the minority of Scots that wish to see Scotland to leave The Union).

The government of the UK has set a target of reducing the country's greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 from the levels of 1990 and therefore help to combat global climate change. Additional nuclear plants would have the effect of rapidly reducing these emissions, of course the cooling water – vast amounts of it – would heat up and therefore raise the temperature of the oceans, particularly the coastal waters but no one appears to mention this aspect of the global warming problem! There is also the problem of small quantities of highly radioactive waste to dispose of. However it is one way of reducing the CO2 emissions relatively quickly and by substantial amounts.

Nuclear power is always going to be opposed by the likes of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, CND, WWF, tree huggers and other woolly headed organisations. It is not the government which has a "closed view" on the subjects of future power requirements, climate change, resource depletion etc. but rather these organisations who are defending their own turf and trying to justify the various funding they have and hope to win even more funding.

WIND POWER

At present there are 3,730 wind turbines on line contributing 6,605 MW (megawatts). The average output per turbine is 1.77 MW – if the wind blows and blows at the right velocity!

For wind turbines the minimum wind speed required to produce useful energy is 7 – 10mph and most work best at 25 – 35 mph. Between 45 to 80mph the majority shut down. The power produced increases to the cube of the speed – i.e. double the wind speed and you get eight times the power output. The typical efficiency of a wind turbines is 35 – 45% (similar efficiencies to gas and steam turbines)

Advantages of Wind Power:

  1. Supply is free.
  2. No contribution to greenhouse emissions.
  3. Small land areas required and even then the area beneath the turbines can be utilized for grazing animals.

Disadvantages of Wind Power:

  1. Wind is variable so output is variable.
  2. If no wind then no power is produced so expensive back up is needed – usually in the form of gas turbines.
  3. Many people consider wind turbines to be unsightly – although this is now an area of possible dispute since recent polls (carried out by Greenpeace) would indicate this not to be the case.
  4. Turbines are noisy – each turbine generates about the same level of noise as a family car travelling at 70mph. 
  5. Large wind farms will be needed to provide large communities with sufficient power?
  6. Offshore wind farms – four times more expensive to construct and maintain. Danger to shipping?

Present development with lucrative government subsidies appears to be driving the thrust to wind turbines at a cost of £100 to £150 per family per year. This additional cost to subsidise wind power ‘development’ comes from every household in the UK in the form of an additional charge on all house hold electricity bills.

With approx 26 million homes in the UK each contributing £150 per year from their electricity bills funding of approximately £4 billion per year is provided for green energy. Small wonder lots of firms are cashing in on this seemingly endless bonanza and councils are rubber stamping planning with little thought of the consequences. Most of this available £4 billion per year of course is being spent on wind energy in the form of various subsidies and support.

WAVE POWER

Unlike the wind, wave power is always available – in albeit varying amounts but always available. Use can be made of waves breaking on the shore or deep ocean wave motion. With sea water being 850 times denser than air at sea-level one should be able to obtain a lot of power from a relatively small foot-print.

In this technology venture capital has increased 10 fold between 2005 and 2008 but it is still a very small fraction of that investigating and going forward with wind power. This is unfortunate because it is possible that wave energy could be a far more efficient source of energy than wind.

UK Statistics:

Power supply sources as of 2010:

Renewable 7%

Coal 28%

Nuclear 18%

Gas 45%

Imports 1%

Others 1%

It is estimated that by 2050 53 – 67% of the UK’s required power will be from renewable sources, based on a total requirement of 400 – 500 TWH.

Conclusion:

Can we stop humans insatiable appetite for ever increasing amounts of energy? As we grow more prosperous we each demand ever more increasing amounts of energy to sustain our lifestyles. Can we contain the ever increasing world population and thus begin to reduce the total quantity of required energy? We are already said to be near to exhausting many of the world’s minerals such as copper, tin, nickel, silver and platinum.

It has been said by Stephen Hawking that if we continue to use energy at this ever increasing rate the planet will be ‘glowing red’ within 300 years – assuming humans still exist! This is an impossible situation which the world cannot sustain. Do we return to the trees? Even if we wanted to that would not be possible with the huge population in the world today. We need to produce energy more efficiently, cleaner and use less per person and contain the worlds population and dare I say it – reduce the population of the world. This is all a tall order to meet and is the human race capable of meeting such a challenge?