We will solve the Energy Problem!
We will do it with EVERYONE in mind!

We will do it T-O-G-E-T-H-E-R!

 


Our Articles on Energy & Climate Change

Report, “A Solar Transition is Possible,” Institute for Policy Research & Development (3/2011)

Article, “A Rapid Solar Transition is Not Only Possible, it is Imperative!,” in Carwell et al., Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Appropriate Technology (2012)*

“A rapid solar transition is not only possible, it is imperative!” African Journal of Science, Technology, Innovation and Development 5(4): 297-302. (2013)*
PDF available on request, email: dschwartzman@gmail.com.

2015 Critique

Article, “Restoring Ecosystems to Reverse Global Warming”?: A Critique of Biodiversity for a Livable Climate’ claims”

PDF can be obtained here link

Efforts to boost sustainable agriculture, specifically with agroecologies and permaculture, are imperative to replace industrial/GMO agriculture, both to confront the challenge of climate change and to eliminate big negatives of the present system of unsustainable agriculture. And yes, these alternatives will be very useful in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, burying it in the soil. But some even claim that a transition to sustainable agriculture alone can “reverse global warming” without the elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel sources. See this critique of Biodiversity for a Livable Climate. Regeneration International (“Cool the Planet. Feed the World”) does recognize the imperative need of coupling rapid elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels with the replacement of dominant agriculture practices with alternatives such as organic agriculture but their messaging includes the same exaggerated and problematic claims coming from Biodiversity for a Livable Climate (e.g., see
Regenerative Agriculture)

2016 Article

At this link you can download our article entitled, “Climatic implications of a rapid wind/solar transition.” This collaborative work presents the results of a modeling effort which determines an optimal scenario with respect to minimizing global warming for transition to a fully operational global solar energy infrastructure using the current global energy infrastructure and existing wind/solar technologies. This approach draws on our previous modeling (“A Solar Transition is Possible”) which computed how much fossil fuel was required to make this transition beginning with existing wind/solar technologies, a subject not addressed in previous studies (e.g., Jacobson and Delucchi, 2011). Our global warming simulations include the highest estimated methane emission factor.
We demonstrate that the following outcomes are technically achievable using current wind/solar power technologies in the next 25 years, if this transition commences in the near future: (1) the virtually complete elimination of anthropogenic carbon emissions to the atmosphere (derived from energy consumption); (2) the capacity for maximizing the probability achieving a less than 2 deg C, with a potential 1.5 deg C limit to global temperature increase over the pre-industrial level by 2100.

*Correction to Schwartzman & Schwartzman (2013) and Schwartzman & Schwartzman (2012)
Note: All articles and reports are authored by Dr. David Schwartzman (Howard University) and Dr. Peter Schwartzman (Knox College)

 

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Continued Discussion with Author of “Abundant Clean Renewables? Think Again!”

(See original article and discussion below this post.)

by Almuth Ernsting (with D. Schwartzman’s response, in bold)
published online on December 18, 2014 

Schwartzman’s intro: We warmly welcome Almuth Ernsting’s reply and willingness to engage in a discussion despite our different views.  These kind of exchanges are very helpful in reevaluating our positions, learning from each other, and this has certainly been the case for me as a result of reading Ernsting’s writings. Furthermore, only when climate activists take each other seriously enough to confront our disagreements will our movement gain the momentum needed for a strong transnational for climate justice with a chance to prevent C3 with North/South equity.   However, I am disappointed that Ernsting has not yet recognized the strong correlation between life expectancy and energy consumption per capita demonstrating the impact of energy poverty in the global South, a critical component of the huge inequities prevailing in our world.  (Note: We have not changed any of Ernsting’s submission in what follows, but should point out that the spelling of our last name is Schwartzman, not Schwarzman.)

Back in 1996, David Schwarzman first argued that the unfolding ecological and climate crises have little to do with inherent physical limits to growth: Physical limits to growth do exist – but we are nowhere near reaching them.  Transitioning to a solar economy would allow us to increase global energy use tenfold by tapping into just 1% of the solar radiation that reaches the land’s surface.

Note that I did not argue that global energy use should be multiplied tenfold, only used this as example of the solar power potential.  In our recent papers, we have supported consideration for a global consumption level approximating 3.5 kilowatt/person, with population stabilizing between 8 and 9 billion in this century, hence requiring roughly 28 to 32 TW, compared to the present level of 18 TW, hence at most an increase of 1.8 times the present.

This energy could be used to clean up the biosphere, remove toxins and radioactivity and to give everybody a decent standard of living while protecting the biosphere from further harm. His comments to my article reflect the same view, though he now includes wind energy as part of his ‘Solar Utopia’.

Of course wind power is derived from the interaction of solar radiation with the Earth’s atmosphere.

It’s an attractive vision: Who wouldn’t want to live in a world where nobody suffers energy or other forms of poverty, where polluted soils and waters can be cleaned and where carbon dioxide is scrubbed from the atmosphere, thus forestalling dangerous climate change?

Why should we instead choose a low-energy global society, one which would meet everybody’s basic energy needs but which, by definition, would curtail many of the choices which much of the population in rich countries now enjoy.  Such as the choice of visiting family and friends on another continent for Christmas, living in a tranquil rural area whilst working in a city – or comfortably wearing T-shirts indoors during a high-latitude winter.   Consumerism reliant on shipping and trading goods around the planet and manufacturing disposable junk would likewise have no place in a low-energy society.  Clearly then, the changes necessary to reduce energy use would not be popular with all.  And if there were clean and affordable ways of sucking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and cleaning polluted and radioactive environments – would we really want to forego them?

Exactly my point, humanity should not forego this goal. We argue that this is achievable only with a transnational movement powerful enough to dissolve the MIC. This transition is not only compatible with the rejection of wasteful consumption which prevails in the U.S. and other countries of the global North, but requires it.

Schwarzman has always stressed that his vision could not be realised in a capitalist society which will always put corporate profits over ecological and human well-being.  The same, however, can be said for a transition to a low-energy society – ending economic growth and cutting global energy use in order to protect planetary systems can hardly be reconciled with corporate profit motives.

And neither can the solar transition we propose, which will require radical changes in the existing capitalist political economy, beginning with radical reforms entailing a shift to technologies serving peoples and natures needs rather than profits. The critical difference between the low-energy society transition and what we propose is that ours will terminate energy poverty in the global South simultaneously with the capacity to confront the real challenges of ongoing climate change, while Ernsting’s low-energy prescription fails to address these issues.

 

The real question surely is not which of those choices we prefer – it’s whether the choice supported by David Schwarzman really exists.

The choice we support will only be realized when there is sufficient political power to make it possible.

Schwarzman’s belief that corporate profit motives are thwarting a transition to abundant clean energy is one shared by many climate campaigners.   The view that energy corporations have a vested interested in stopping humanity from enjoying renewable cheap and clean energy – and have largely succeeded in this quest so far –  is widespread,  popular and long-standing.  It’s a view I had regarded with great scepticism even before I looked more closely at different renewable energy technology.  Why ever would energy corporations forego an energy source that was within their grasp and which offered fantastic never-before achieved energy returns on investment, would over time require ever fewer resources to exploit and would thus guarantee vast returns on financial investments over time?   Why wouldn’t a company like BP or Exxon Mobile be sinking big money into developing such a technology and patenting it?  Why would corporations powerful enough to push nations into fighting brutal wars for oil not think of ways of preventing others from using their miracle-technology in breach of patent laws?  Sure, vast amount of finances have been sunk into fossil fuel assets and companies might not just want to shed all of those assets.  And yes, profits can be made from manipulating the price of fossil fuels in a global commodity market – something that would be harder to do in with wind and solar power.  But all the same – why would every single energy company want to forego potentially astronomical profits for the sake of keeping us hooked on fossil fuels with a fast-declining energy return on investments?  And even if they did, would there really be no corporation anywhere that would want to cash in on a near-miracle energy source?  It doesn’t make sense to me…unless of course, wind and solar power are nowhere near the near-miracles Schwarzman and many others believe them to be.

Our “A Solar Transition is Possible” modeling did not assume anything else but the empirical characteristics, such as EROEI, of current wind/solar technology, along with those the existing global energy infrastructure. Further, we should recognize that the resistance shown by fossil fuel corporate power is derived not only from its perception of potential $trillions of profit embedded in fossil fuel reserves (see McKibben’s “Terrifying New Math”, discussed on this homepage) but also its political opposition to challenges to its hegemony in the global political economy, protected by imperial power (see Our Statement, this website).

Wind and solar power are, without any doubt, much less destructive and much less carbon-intensive than other energy sources.  They do need land (even if sheep might be able to graze amongst solar panels), turbine and solar PV manufacture is resource-intensive, it does rely on destructive mining, solar panel manufacture is relatively energy-intensive and neither is anywhere near zero carbon.  But there are no better alternatives.  It is imperative that we rapidly phased out fossil fuels and other destructive energy sources and find ways of relying on the least destructive forms of energy, especially wind and solar.  On this point we agree.  What I disagree is that any of this would be an option without curbing global energy use.

Let be clear, we advocate reducing wasteful consumption in the global North, coupled with increasing clean energy consumption in the global South to the rough 3.5 kilowatt/person minimum sufficient for world standard life expectancy levels. This combination translates into higher global energy use utilizing the current solar flux to Earth.

According to Schwarzman, all of the problems with wind and solar power can be addressed: Rare earth metals can be recycled (according to one scientist devoted to finding ways of doing so, there’s indeed hope of achieving a 10% recycling rate but not of reaching, say 80%),  carbon-free steel can be produced (though one of the references cited supports replacing coal with charcoal from vast tree plantations – which is hardly low-carbon or sustainable and another points out that another alternative process is only at the early research and development stages, with big hurdles yet to be addressed), and floating offshore turbines could be more efficient and use less concrete (this is possible, but the first prototypes are only just being tested).

The reference cited regarding an 80% limit on recycling does not provide justification for this claim, rather implicitly assumes a business-as-usual capitalist context.  Good point made regarding the potential use of tree plantations to provide carbon for reducing iron ore. Another potential technology for avoiding coal use for iron production should be mentioned, the use of hydrogen as a reductant (e.g.,  link). Hydrogen could of course be produced using solar-generated electricity, the electrolysis of water.  Furthermore, the necessary changes in the physical economy in a solar transition will not only free up huge amounts of materials, especially metals, from obsolete technologies, but facilitate recycling from the cleanup of scrap materials now resting in polluting dumps and landfills around the world.

No doubt there will be technological progress.  But the most important question is: Can wind and  solar power be scaled up to replace and overtake current fossil fuel and other destructive energy use during the short window of time we may still have to prevent the worst impacts of climate change?  Can such a vast energy transformation allow us to start drastically cutting carbon emissions today?

Our response is of course yes, with the highest carbon footprint fossil fuels being phased out first, using conventional liquid oil in a full solar transition; see our papers for details.

The fastest energy transition ever experienced by humans has been the 20th century transition to oil.  Sure, it’s been a major contributor to climate change, it’s caused environmental devastation in many parts of the world and it has blighted the lives of millions of people affected by oil spills and, as in Nigeria, land-grabs and violence.  But for many decades, oil was, in purely economic terms, a veritable miracle fuel.  It had the highest energy return on investments of any fuel source ever discovered – 100:1 (now historic, as most ‘easy oil’ is gone).  It’s an ideal energy carrier for fuelling transport, providing heat and generating electricity alike.  1901 is commonly seen as the start of the ‘age of oil’, with the Spindletop ‘gusher’ in Pennsylvania.  The expansion of the oil economy didn’t start until 1920 but its use then expanded faster than that of any other energy source before or after, reaching 50% in 1972.

But even if a transition to wind and solar power at the same rate as the earlier one to oil was possible, that would be far too limited and far too slow to offer much hope of avoiding catastrophic impacts from climate change.  And of course, global energy use was far lower than it is today during the transition to oil – so a similar rate of decision would mean a mean a much greater shift in real terms.

We agree, and as our studies and those of others we cite demonstrate, this transition can occur in a few decades, much faster than the transition to oil.  Previous energy transitions, in particular to coal and then to petroleum, have occurred in a profoundly different context.  Solar transition is imperative to confront the challenge of preventing catastrophic climate change, which in itself is the end game of the previous energy transitions.

And here’s what a full transition to wind and solar would have to entail: Vast numbers of wind turbines, solar panels and solar thermal plants would need to be manufactured and installed every year, much of the electricity grid worldwide would need to be replaced or upgraded, electricity storage – a vital part of renewable energy infrastructure sadly so far starved of funds – would need to be researched, developed and then scaled up in virtually no time.  Much of the world’s transport infrastructure would become obsolete and – unless ways of ending reliance on private transport were found quickly – the global car fleet would need entirely replacing (let’s  not think about the nightmare of aviation here), domestic and industrial heating systems worldwide would need to be ripped out and replaced with electricity-ones (hopefully accompanied by home insulation programmes).  All manufacturing plants for aluminium, steel and concrete would need to be replaced so as to stop using coal, using technologies that are still in their infancy – and precisely at the time when the demand for aluminium, steel and concrete would explode to facilitate renewables expansion.  Then there are the many machines and other vehicles, such as tractors, which run on oil and would all need replacing, the world’s shipping fleet would need replacing, etc. 

Clearly, the challenges of ending fossil fuel and other destructive energy use are formidable even with a significant reduction in global energy use – and the upfront carbon emissions would be particularly high if reliance on car use and aviation wasn’t greatly curbed.  It’s a challenge we can’t avoid if we want to try and avoid catastrophic climate change.

Yes, this transition is in most respects well described.  But the huge increase in global wind/solar energy capacity will actually make possible this transition in ways already mentioned in my response and in our papers.  The carbon emissions of aviation transportation is a important challenge. Nevertheless, alternatives to the use of petroleum are on the horizon, and as we mention in our 2011 report, at the completion of a full solar transition aviation we can plausibly expect carbon-neutral hydrocarbon fuels to be produced from industrial reactions, powered by solar energy, using carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and water as raw materials.

But Schwarzman suggests that we can somehow achieve a transition to wind and solar that doesn’t just replace virtually all other energy sources but allow global energy use to be greatly increased, enough, for example, to power millions of power-guzzling fans to scrub CO2 from the atmosphere – and quickly enough to bring carbon emissions down rapidly.  This, I’m afraid, sounds like fantasy to me.

I suggest it sounds like a fantasy because you do not yet appreciate the radical potential of a transnational climate justice movement to make it a reality. And creating this new reality is imperative to avoid C3, which would disproportionately impact the majority of humanity living in the global South.  Settling for a low-energy global energy system is giving up the fight, in essence accepting the inevitability of climate hell in this century.

Unlike David Schwarzman, I do not believe that high per capita energy levels are necessary for human well-being .  I have seen no evidence for a correlation between high life-expectancy and high energy use.

Not “high energy use”, rather a rough minimum of 3.5 kilowatt/person, which is lower than is the case for most countries in the global North, especially the United States. Apparently, you haven’t taken a serious look at the evidence, starting with Vaclav Smil’s discussion in his books we cite, for a robust requirement of this minimum to achieve the world standard life expectancy, necessary but not sufficient, recognizing the impact of income inequality.

According to a recent global survey, the country with the highest level of well-being worldwide is Panama – a country with a per capita energy use below the global average and far below what Schwarzman believes necessary.

Well-being is a subjective perception, not an objective assessment of quality of life:  “The Global Well-Being Index is a global barometer of individuals’ perceptions of their well-being” (source cited: http://www.gallup.com/poll/175694/country-varies-greatly-worldwide.aspx). Life expectancy is arguably the most robust proxy for quality of life. Perceptions of well-being are surely informed by individual’s views of what is possible in a society at a given time, and not what is actually possible if the existing constraints on quality of life are removed.  According to the most recent data available (2009), Panama had a energy consumption per capita of 1.1 kilowatt/person, about one-third of the minimum required for world standard life expectancy. Panama’s life expectancy ranks 44th in the world (link, World Health Organization (2012).  In the same year, Panama’s population below poverty line was 26% (link).  Further, it should be noted that the use of well-being and “happiness” indices is very problematic: see e.g., Pellegrini, Lorenzo and Luca Tasciotti,  2014, Bhutan: between happiness and horror. Capitalism Nature Socialism 25 (3): 103-109.

Finally, in a argument similar to that made by Ernsting here,  Ted Trainer (2014) claims  that “satisfactory quality of life” does not require a 3.5 kilowatt per capita level of energy consumption. I responded as follows: But “satisfactory” means what? A lower life expectancy than the highest now achievable, with the implication that most of humanity must settle for less while the privileged elites in the global North get the best health care? In contrast, I have rested my case on the following imperative: every child born on our planet has the right to the state-of-the science life expectancy now shared by a few countries in the global North, not simply a “satisfactory” quality of life.” (David Schwartzman, 2014, “My Response to Trainer,” Capitalism Nature Socialism 25(4): 109-115; Ted Trainer, 2014, “Reply to David on the Simpler Way and Renewable Energy,” Capitalism Nature Socialism 25(4): 102-108).

I would never question the need to overcome energy poverty.

According to the World Health Organisation, in the global South 4 million people a year – most of them women and children – die because of pollution from indoor biomass cooking.  Far more still become ill from such pollution because they have no means of cooking safely and cleanly.  Meantime, in many countries of the global North, energy poverty is blighting lives, too -  in Scotland, where I live, more than a quarter of the population officially live in fuel poverty and many cannot afford to keep warm in winter while some cannot even afford to regularly cook meals.  Clearly, energy poverty is a major injustice.  But I do not believe that overcoming energy poverty requires maintaining, let alone increasing, current global energy use.

 Yes, energy poverty does exist even in the global North for those without sufficient income, pointing again to the challenge of addressing income inequality in sync with a transition to clean energy. But again what level of energy consumption is needed to reach what every child born on our planet deserves, the world standard life expectancy and quality of life that goes with it?  Even today with a little over 7 billion people, and assuming a minimum of 3 kilowatt/person requirement, the world would need the equivalent of 21 TW, more than the present consumption corresponding to 18 TW.

People aren’t going hungry because there isn’t enough food to go round, but because they are being excluded from access to it through unfair agricultural, economic and social policies and structures.  In the same way, energy poverty is about unequal access to energy.  Addressing it will require a major redistribution in energy access – i.e. rapidly reduced overconsumption of energy.  However, many of the solutions to energy poverty don’t actually require great amounts of energy.  In Northern countries, energy poverty is to a large part due to poorly insulated homes and a major home insulation programme would cut fuel poverty and energy use at the same time.  Safer cooking methods and stoves can protect women and children from indoor air pollution.  Still, few would contest that access to electricity – including for lighting – makes a big difference to people’s quality of life.  One country that has made huge and successful efforts to provide electricity to even the remotest communities is Brazil.  99.3% of the Brazilian population now have access to it.  Per capita energy use in Brazil remains well below the global average.  However, Brazil’s energy use has been rising substantially since 1994 and the country is now the eighth largest energy consumer in the world.  Proof that greater and fairer energy access means turning low-energy into higher-energy countries?  Actually, that’s not at all what Brazil’s energy statistics suggest.  Brazil’s residential sector still only accounts for 10% of the country’s total energy use.  The industrial sector – including pulp mills, steel manufacture and sugar mills – use nearly four times as much as all households together.  Transport (both private transport and freight) accounts for 32% of Brazil’s energy use. While access to electricity has undoubtedly improved the living standards of many in Brazil, the same can hardly be said about the expansion of polluting pulp mills (linked to large-scale land-grabs and forest destruction for monoculture tree plantations), about iron furnaces and steel works – or about the lack of public transport alternatives that forces millions of urban middle class people to spend hours every day commuting on gridlocked roads.

Good discussion of Brazil’s experience and challenges. However, it should be pointed out that according to the most recent data available (2009) Brazil’s energy consumption per capita was 1.82 kilowatt/person, an energy poverty level, with a life expectancy ranking 58th in the world (link, World Health Organization 2012).

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Critique of “Abundant Clean Renewables? Think Again!”

by David Schwartzman (his text in bold).
November 17, 2014

Introduction: This article is a mixture of true, half-true and false arguments. It fails to confront two huge challenges, the reality of energy poverty affecting most of humanity living in the global South and the energy requirements required to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

(Note: original article is located here: link)

Abundant Clean Renewables? Think Again!
Sunday, 16 November 2014
By Almuth Ernsting, Truthout | News Analysis

Although “renewable” energy is growing faster than ever before, it is neither carbon neutral, “clean” nor sustainable. We need to transform into low-energy societies that meet human – not corporate – needs.

Renewable energy is growing faster than ever before. Sure, some countries are lagging behind, but others are setting widely praised records. Germany has installed over 24,000 wind turbines and 1.4 million solar panels, and renewables generate 31 percent of the country’s electricity on average – and as much as 74 percent on particularly windy or sunny days.According to the German government, 371,400 jobs have been created by renewable energy. Norway generates 99 percent of its electricity from renewable energy. Denmark already generates 43 percent of electricity from renewables and aims to phase out fossil fuel burning by 2050.

Many view such news as rays of hope in a rapidly destabilizing climate. We all need some good news – but is renewables expansion really the good news people like to think? Can we really put our hopes for stabilizing the climate into trying to simply replace the energy sources in a growth-focused economic and social model that was built on fossil fuels? Or do we need a far more fundamental transition towards a low-energy economy and society?

Yes, we do need a transition to lower energy consumption in the global North, especially in the U.S., with its wasteful consumption,  but simultaneously a transition to higher energy consumption in the global South, now bearing the human costs of energy poverty, a transition powered by wind/solar technologies. See publications and discussion at: solarUtopia.org and “Confronting Not Only Climate Collapse But Energy Poverty” at link. Now humanity consumes the equivalent of 18 trillion watts. Assuming a conservative minimum of 3.5 kilowatt/person to reach the world standard of high life expectancy will now require 3.5 x 7 billion = 25 trillion watts.

Here’s the first problem with celebratory headlines over renewables: Record renewable energy hasn’t stopped record fossil fuel burning, including record levels of coal burning. Coal use is growing so fast that the International Energy Authority expects it to surpass oil as the world’s top energy source by 2017.

Perhaps the 1,500 gigawatts of electricity produced from renewables worldwide have prevented a further 1,500 gigawatts of fossil fuel power stations? Nobody can tell. It’s just as possible that renewables have simply added 1,500 gigawatts of electricity to the global economy, fueled economic growth and ever-greater industrial resource use. In which case, far from limiting carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, renewables may simply have increased them because, as discussed below, no form of large-scale energy is carbon neutral.

Yes, carbon emissions must be rapidly and radically reduced, starting with the highest carbon footprint fuels (coal, tar sands, natural gas because of its direct leakage to the atmosphere, and biofuels) to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

As long as energy sources that are as carbon-intensive and destructive as fossil fuels are classed as “renewable,” boosting renewable energy around the world risks doing more harm than good [italics added].

It all depends what so-called “renewable” energy is boosted!; see further comments.

Germany’s Energy Transition illustrates the problem: Wind turbines and solar panels have certainly become a widespread feature of Germany’s landscape. Yet if we look at Germany’s total energy use (including heating and transport), rather than just at electricity, energy classed as renewable accounts for just 11.5 percent. The majority, 87.8 percent, of Germany’s energy continues to come from fossil fuels and nuclear power (with waste incineration accounting for the difference of 0.7 percent). Coal consumption, which had been falling until 2008, has been rising again since then. Germany remains the European Union’s (EU) top coal consumer. Net electricity exports are being blamed for the rise in coal burning and carbon dioxide emissions, yet they account for just 5 percent of Germany’s electricity – and electricity accounts for less than half of the country’s energy use.  The picture looks even worse when one examines the mix of energy classed as renewable in Germany: Solar photovoltaic (PV) makes up 11.5 percent of renewables, wind, 16.8 percent. The bulk of it – 62 percent – comes from bioenergy, much of which is far from low carbon or sustainable. It includes biofuels, many of them made from imported soya and palm oil that are being expanded at the expense of tropical forests and peatlands and that destroy the livelihoods of small farmers, indigenous and other forest dependent peoples worldwide. It includes biogas made from 820,000 hectares of corn monocultures in Germany – a key driver for biodiversity loss in the country. And it includes wood pellets linked to forest degradation across Central Europe. On closer examination, therefore, 24,000 wind turbines and 1.4 million solar panels have scarcely made a dent in Germany’s fossil fuel burning and carbon emissions. Norway’s situation is unique in that virtually all of the country’s electricity is generated from hydro dams, which were gradually expanded over the course of more than a century. Fossil fuels (mostly oil) still surpass renewable energy in Norway’s overall energy mix (with electricity accounting for less than half of the total), though only marginally so, and Norway’s economy remains heavily dependent on oil and gas exports.  Norway’s own hydro dams – many of them small-scale – have raised little controversy but the same cannot be said for Norway’s efforts to export this model to other countries. The Norwegian government and the state-owned energy company Statkraft have been at the forefront of financing controversial dams and associated infrastructure in Laos, India, Malaysian Borneo and elsewhere. One example is Statkraft’s joint venture investment in a new dam in Laos that has displaced 4,800 people and is causing flooding, erosion, and loss of fisheries and land on which people relied for growing rice.  Another example is Norwegian aid for transmission lines for mega-dams in Sarawak, a Malaysian province in Borneo which has seen vast areas of tropical rainforest – and the livelihoods of millions of indigenous peoples – sacrificed for palm oil, logging and also hydro power. One dam alone displaced 10,000 people and at least 10 more dams are planned, despite ongoing resistance from indigenous peoples. Far from being climate-friendly, hydro dams worldwide are associated with large methane emissions – with one study suggesting they are responsible for 25 percent of all human-caused methane emissions and over 4 percent of global warming. The disastrous consequences of Norway’s global hydro power investment illustrates the dangers of the simplistic view that anything classed as renewable energy must be climate-friendly and merits support.

What about the much-heralded renewable transition of Denmark? There coal use is falling and around 21 percent of total energy is sourced from renewables. Denmark holds the world record for wind energy capacity compared to population size. Unlike many other countries where wind energy is firmly controlled by large energy companies, Denmark has seen strong support for locally owned wind energy cooperatives, widely considered an inspiring example of clean, community-controlled energy. Nonetheless, wind energy in Denmark accounted for just 3.8 percent of Denmark’s total energy use in 2010.

Bioenergy accounts for a far greater percentage of Denmark’s “renewable energy” than does wind – and indeed for a greater share in the country’s overall energy mix than is the case in any other European country. As in Germany, Denmark’s bioenergy includes biofuels for transport, which studies show tend to be worse for the climate than equivalent quantities of oil once all the direct and indirect emissions from deforestation, peatland destruction and other land use change associated with them are accounted for. And it includes wood pellets, with Denmark being the EU’s, and likely the world’s, second biggest pellet importer after the United Kingdom. Most of those pellets come from the Baltic states and Russia, from countries where clear-cutting of highly biodiverse forests is rampant. Studies show that burning wood from whole trees can be worse for the climate than burning coal over a period of decades or even centuries.

Thus, on closer inspection, many of the “great renewable energy successes” don’t look so great after all.  Clearly, the current catch-all definition of “renewables” is a key problem: Defining methane-spewing mega-dams, biofuels, which are accelerating deforestation and other ecosystem destruction, or logging forests for bioenergy as “renewable” helps policy makers boost renewables statistics, while helping to further destabilize planetary support systems. As long as energy sources that are as carbon-intensive and destructive as fossil fuels are classed as “renewable,” boosting renewable energy around the world risks doing more harm than good.

Yes, all excellent points!

A saner definition of “renewable energy” clearly is vital but would it open the door toward 100 percent clean and plentiful energy? Comparing the rate of wind energy expansion in Denmark and wind and solar power expansion in Germany with the tiny contribution they make to both countries’ total energy supply indicates otherwise [italics added].

Not really, the tiny percentage simply means that the creation of wind/solar power capacity must be accelerated! The potential to replace the present unsustainable infrastructure is huge (see solarUtopia.org).  They can be realized, not with “Business as Usual, Relying on the Capitalist Market” but rather with radical changes in both the physical and political economy of 21st capitalism. These changes will only happen with much stronger climate justice mass movements, from the local to the transnational.

Wind and solar power require far less land per unit of energy than biomass or biofuels, but the area of land needed to replace fossil fuel power stations with, say, wind turbines is vast nonetheless. According to a former scientific advisor to the UK government, for example, 15 offshore wind turbines installed on every kilometer of the UK coastline would supply just 13 percent of the country’s average daily energy use. And offshore turbines are more efficient than onshore ones.

On the alleged challenge regarding land area for wind power, hear what Mark Jacobson says in: linkSpecifically on how wind farms and agriculture can coexist.

Researchers agree that the life-cycle impacts of wind and solar power on the climate and environment are definitely smaller than those of fossil fuels, as long as turbines and panels are sensibly sited (not, for example, on deep peat). But this doesn’t mean that the impacts are benign. Generating that 13 percent of UK energy from offshore wind would require wind turbines made of 20 million tons of steel and concrete- more than all the steel that went into US shipbuilding during World War II. Steel manufacturing is heavily dependent on coal, not just as a fuel for the furnaces but because it is needed to enrich the raw material, iron ore, with carbon to make it stable. And concrete is hardly “carbon neutral” either – cement (a key component) accounts for 5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

The life-cycle impacts are captured in the COemission and high Energy Return over Energy Invested (EROEI) values for wind/solar, especially for off-shore wind, showing they have much lower CO2 emissions than fossil fuels. With improvements in wind, especially off-shore (floating turbines) the concrete requirements can be much reduced. As far as the need for coal to make steel, new technologies can also greatly reduce this requirement, see link (“Can We Make Steel Without Coal?”, posted on April 24, 2013). New research points to a technology without using carbon as the reductant (link; Study: new steel production method cuts out carbon dioxide emissions. posted on May 9, 2013, citing Allanore, A. et al., 2013, “A new anode material for oxygen evolution in molten oxide electrolysis.” Nature 497: 353–356).

Solar PV panels are up to four times as energy and carbon-intensive to produce as wind turbines: Aluminum – used to mount and construct solar panels – is about as carbon and energy-intensive as steel. Silicon needs to be smelted at 2,000 degrees Celsius and materials used to replace silicon have an even higher environmental footprint. Then there’s an array of highly toxic and corrosive chemicals used during manufacturing. Yet with regards to pollution, building wind and marine turbines is likely worse than making solar panels, because efficient and lasting turbine magnets rely on rare earth mining and refining. One 5-megawatt turbine requires a ton of rare earths, the mining and refining of which will leave behind 75 cubic meters of toxic acidic waste water and one ton of radioactive sludge. Two-thirds of the world’s rare earths are refined in one town in China, where people have become environmental refugees and virtually all who remain suffer from ill health associated with toxic chemicals and radiation. In the quest for “clean energy” rare earths mines are being sought and opened around the globe. The only US rare earths mine, Molycorp’s in California, has been reopened, after having been shut down due to a long history of repeated spills of toxic and radioactive waste. Since reopening, the operators have already been fined for spilling yet more hazardous waste.

Zero-carbon, clean energy? Well, no. And yet, there are no large-scale energy sources with lower carbon emissions and less harmful environmental impacts than wind and solar power. As one scientist argues from the perspective of thermodynamics: “To talk about ‘renewable energy’ or ‘sustainable energy’ is an oxymoron, as is ‘sustainable mining’ or ‘sustainable development.’ The more energy we use, the less sustainable is humanity.” [italics added]

This quote is from Steven Smith’s article, posted at: link. His argument is based on a confused understanding of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Of course renewable referring to energy does not mean reusing the same energy, rather the nuclear fusion reactor 93 million miles away, the sun,  continuously renews the supply of low entropy energy which after doing work ends up a waste heat dissipated into space, as a very good approximation is non-incremental to the natural flux. For a detailed critique of this argument which is very similar to Georgescu-Roegen’s so-called 4th law of thermodynamics see my The Limits to Entropy: the Continuing Misuse of Thermodynamics in Environmental and Marxist Theory, 2008, Science & Society v. 72, No.1, 43-62, posted at link.

“As global wind/solar power grows and replaces all other energy sources, humanity will have a much increased capacity to not only mitigate global warming, but also reduce mining with recycling of materials powered by this energy supply.

The energy base of the global physical economy is critical: global wind/solar power will pay its “entropic debt” to space as non-incremental waste heat, unlike its unsustainable alternatives. …The critical metric for economic growth should be its overall ecological and health impacts with respect to the artificial and natural environments, including of course its carbon footprint, and not simply the level of material production, whether measured by spending or some physical unit such as mass. … Further, with solarization and decarbonation of global energy supplies, recycling and industrial ecologies powered by wind/solar power will greatly reduce the need for mining … a global solar power infrastructure can increase material production and consumption as needed, without the negative impacts now witnessed by unsustainable capital reproduction powered by fossil fuels and nuclear energy. … Further, with solarization and decarbonation of global energy supplies, recycling and industrial ecologies powered by wind/solar power will greatly reduce the need for mining. For example, recycling rates of the rare earth metals, including neodymium used in wind turbines, are currently very low, less than 1% (Reck and Graedel, 2012). Increasing these rates, as well as implementing alternative technologies, could greatly reduce mining for these and other metals used in modern technologies. A growing renewable energy capacity should be dedicated to the cleanup and repair of the biosphere after many years of assault by the MIC, as well as the imperative need to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to reach the safe limit of less than 350 ppm.  In other words a global solar power infrastructure can increase material production and consumption as needed without the negative impacts now witnessed by unsustainable capital reproduction powered by fossil fuels and nuclear energy (Schwartzman 2014, 238–239).” (from Schwartzman, David. 2014. “Is Zero Economic Growth Necessary to Prevent Climate Catastrophe?” Science & Society 78 (2): 235–240.)

We certainly need to swiftly end fossil fuel burning and the destruction of ecosystems and that will require us to rely on the least harmful energy sources such as wind and solar power. But the myth of plentiful “clean” energy stops us from focusing on the far deeper changes needed – a transformation toward a low-energy society. A depressing conclusion? Not necessarily. As UK climate change campaigner and author George Marshall has pointed out, we could cut flights (and probably all transport emissions) and slash energy used for home heating by 80 percent overnight by going back to the way people used to live as short a time ago as 1972, provided we used home insulation and efficient boiler technology developed since then. Instead, 40 years of efficiency gains have been wiped out by ever-greater consumption. Yet UK “personal satisfaction” surveys show that people’s sense of satisfaction or happiness peaked in 1970. Once people’s basic needs for energy are met, rising energy use remains vital for corporate profits and economic growth, but not for people’s quality of life. Most readers will have never lived in a low-energy society. Imagining what such a society might look like and how to move toward the transformation required to get there, and to overcome the corporate interests that depend on profits from ever rising energy use, must be priorities for anyone aware of the seriousness of climate change. Daunting no doubt, but once we’ve abandoned faith in plentiful “clean” energy, we can finally make a start. [italics added]

Recognizing the welcome impact of energy efficient technologies, this prescription of a low-energy society for most of humanity living in the global South will condemn them to even more misery than now, especially since humanity needs more energy consumption than the present level! I wrote:  ”taking into account the near future context for energy transition, the ever-mounting threat of catastrophic climate change… the following challenges make 3.5 kW/person a conservative estimate:

1. the energy required for carbon sequestration from the atmosphere into the soil and crust to bring down the atmospheric CO2 level below 350 ppm (including a very ambitious program for reacting carbon dioxide and water with mafic crust to bury carbonates; this is not clean coal or releasing dissolved calcium and bicarbonates into the ocean!);

2. the energy required to clean up the biosphere, notably toxic metals and other chemical and radioactive waste from the nuclear weapons, energy, and chemical industries—a heritage of its long-term assault from the MIC; and,

3. the energy required for adaptation to ongoing climate change, especially by the global South with its disproportionate impacts.

All three imperatives will require very significant energy supplies from wind/solar development, incremental to present uses. The actual level of this increment needs study but some preliminary estimates are now available.” David Schwartzman, 2014, “My Response to Trainer,” Capitalism Nature Socialism 25(4): 109-115.

Almuth Ernsting
Almuth Ernsting helped to found Biofuelwatch in 2006. She has researched and published about a wide range of issues related to bioenergy, including the climate, social and biodiversity impacts of biofuels and wood-based biomass, public health impacts of biomass and biofuel power stations and the science and policy debate related to proposed use of biomass for geoengineering, especially biochar and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage.

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What is “The Good, the Bad, and the Really, Truly Ugly”?

This is our response to Michael Klare’s essay (Re: World Energy Report 2012, The Good, the Bad, and the Really, Truly Ugly, 11/27/12) link.
It was sent online as Comment to TOMDISPATCH (11/28/12 8:30 am)

Michael Klare claims in his TomDispatch article that there is ” No Hope for Averting Catastrophic Climate Change”. I disagree with this claim which is not even consistent with what the 2012 World Energy Outlook report says.
Klare goes on to say “Of all the findings in the 2012 edition of the World Energy Outlook, the one that merits the greatest international attention is the one that received the least. Even if governments take vigorous steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the report concluded, the continuing increase in fossil fuel consumption will result in “a long-term average global temperature increase of 3.6 degrees C. [bold added]”

The key section in the above quotation is in bold. I don’t have the full report (the cheapest full text, a pdf, costs 130 euros), but this is what the online available Executive Summary of the report says:

“Energy efficiency can keep the door to 2 °C open for just a bit longer Successive editions of this report have shown that the climate goal of limiting warming to 2 °C is becoming more difficult and more costly with each year that passes. Our 450 Scenario examines the actions necessary to achieve this goal and finds that almost four-fifths of the CO2 emissions allowable by 2035 are already locked-in by existing power plants, factories, buildings, etc. If action to reduce CO2 emissions is not taken before 2017, all the allowable CO2 emissions would be locked-in by energy infrastructure existing at that time. Rapid deployment of energy-efficient technologies – as in our Efficient World Scenario – would postpone this complete lock-in to 2022, buying time to secure a much needed global agreement to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 °C goal, unless carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is widely deployed. This finding is based on our assessment of global “carbon reserves”, measured as the potential CO2 emissions from proven fossil-fuel reserves. Almost two-thirds of these carbon reserves are related to coal, 22% to oil and 15% to gas. Geographically, two-thirds are held by North America, the Middle East, China and Russia.
These findings underline the importance of CCS as a key option to mitigate CO2 emissions, but its pace of deployment remains highly uncertain, with only a handful of commercial scale projects currently in operation.”

In other words, if there is any chance left to avoid catastrophic climate change (C3) reduction in global carbon emissions must start very soon, with robust substitution of fossil fuels, starting with coal (and non-conventional petroleum such as tar sands and fracked gas*) by wind and solar energy as well as carbon sequestration from the atmosphere to the soil and crust. Thus, while C3 looms ever closer, it is not inevitable as Klare claims it is, based on this report.

What is most problematic about Klare’s pronouncement of inevitability is that it is disempowering to say the least. It is a huge disservice to our children and grandchildren to give up now, accepting the inevitability of C3. Our global challenge is to mount the necessary transnational political power while there is still time to act, even if our chances of success are rapidly diminishing. Readers can find more detail, including quantification of the carbon sequestration technologies mentioned (not so-called ‘clean coal’) at www.solarUtopia.org (homepage). A rapid phaseout of coal and non-conventional petroleum, with a maximum of 40% of conventional petroleum being consumed in a full wind/solar transition (taking 20-30 years) will be compatible with what the IEA says above, namely “No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 °C goal, unless carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is widely deployed. ” Actually the goal should be 1.5 °C or less. Hansen recently (2011) said that the current official goal of a 2 deg C global temperature increase over pre-industrial (about 1 deg C warmer than now) roughly equivalent to 450 ppm CO2 is a “prescription for disaster”.

*Note that fracked gas may well have a similar carbon footprint to coal, because of leakage of methane to the atmosphere, so the substitution of fracked gas for coal will not likely result in a reduction in greenhouse gas warming impacts. This critical point is not mentioned in Klare’s otherwise informative piece, aside from his claim for the inevitability of C3. Rather Klare states inaccurately “One aspect of this energy “revolution” deserves special attention. The growing availability of cheap natural gas, thanks to hydro-fracking, has already reduced the use of coal as a fuel for electrical power plants in the United States. This would seem to be an obvious environmental plus, since gas produces less climate-altering carbon dioxide than does coal.”

P.S.

Actually the goal should be 1.5 °C or less, not 2 °C. Hansen recently (2011)* argued that the current official goal of a 2 deg C global temperature increase over pre-industrial (about 1 deg C warmer than now) roughly equivalent to 450 ppm CO2 is a “prescription for disaster”. Is this technically achievable? Only with near future (within 5 years) peak in carbon emissions, followed by very aggressive reductions coupled with robust wind/solar deployment and carbon sequestration from the atmosphere. Is this politically achievable? This is the immense challenge to our national and transnational climate justice movements. But lets not accept the inevitability of catastrophic climate change yet!

* Hansen et al., 2011, The Case for Young People and Nature: A Path to a Healthy, Natural, Prosperous Future. http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/.

Hansen, J.E. and M.Sato, 2012, Paleoclimate implications for human-made climate change. arXiv:1105.0968v3 [physics.ao-ph]

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Living long and having access to energy!

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McKibben’s climate math is too narrow and too broad

by David Schwartzman (published in Climate & Capitalism’s BLOG, 7/24/12, link)

This article is in response to Bill McKibben’s Rolling Stone article, Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math (link)

McKibben’s article could not be more timely, highlighting the growing danger of our world plunging into irreversible catastrophic climate change (C3) if rapid and radical reduction of carbon emissions is not implemented. He is right to point to the fossil fuel industry as an enemy, but I find his focus both too narrow and too broad.

Too narrow because this industry is an integral component of the Military Industrial Complex (MIC), more precisely the Military Industrial Fossil Fuel, Nuclear, State Terror Complex.

And too broad because he lumps all fossil fuels together with the main focus on hydrocarbons (petroleum), rather than prioritizing the rapid phase out the consumption of coal and non-conventional petroleum (mainly tar sands and fracked gas).

Why focus on MIC, more specifically on militarism and the imperial agenda of the US and other major capitalist countries in connection with the threat of C3? McKibben has long ignored this issue, in contrast to other prominent environmentalists such as Lester Brown and Jeffrey Sachs who have called for big cuts in the military budget. I doubt it is because the Pentagon is “going green,” i.e., boosting biofuels and solar power in Afghanistan. As Michael Klare put it the Pentagon is the “oil protection service,” the military arm to make the world safe for transnational capital.

Most critically, the imperial agenda blocks the global cooperation and equity required to prevent C3, witness the failure of Durban and Rio 20. The U.S./Israeli war threats to Iran and continuing U.S.-led demonization of Chavez and Correa are all about regime change to widen the control of MIC over global hydrocarbon reserves. And there are wider targets for what should be called the “resource protection service”, including rare earth metals. lithium and coltan used in aerospace and wind technologies.

Yes, McKibben does recognize that “even if you could force the hand of particular companies, you’d still have to figure out a strategy for dealing with all the sovereign nations that, in effect, act as fossil-fuel companies.” But all sovereign nations are not equal with respect to exerting power in the present world. Is Venezuela really the equivalent of the U.S.?

And now returning to his too broad focus advocated in this article. To be sure, McKibben’s heroic efforts to block the X-L Keystone Pipeline identified big carbon-footprint tar sands as a “game-changer for the climate” (Jim Hansen’s words). In this article McKibben urges “effective action” that “would require actually keeping most of the carbon the fossil-fuel industry wants to burn safely in the soil, not just changing slightly the speed at which it’s burned.”

But only conventional petroleum can supply the energy needed to create a wind/solar power infrastructure to replace the fossil fuel-dominated existing supply of global energy, while simultaneously minimizing future carbon emissions bringing us closer to C3. Coal and unconventional petroleum (tar sands, fracked gas and oil shale) have significantly higher carbon emissions per energy delivered and should be rapidly phased out. And this is exactly what is on the agenda of 350.org.

McKibben points out “even if we stopped increasing CO2 now, the temperature would likely still rise another 0.8 degrees, as previously released carbon continues to overheat the atmosphere.” Hence, carbon sequestration with transfer from the atmosphere to the soil and crust is imperative to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels below the safe limit of 350 ppm (hence “350.org”). This is not “clean coal”!

In our own study, we show that a full wind/solar transition is achievable in no more than 30 years with the consumption of less than 40% of the proven reserves of conventional petroleum, while supplying sufficient energy to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere using a combination of global agroecologies increasing soil carbon storage and solar-powered-industrial-burial of carbonate in the crust. This approach would maximize the possibility of reaching a safe atmospheric CO2 level before the tipping points to C3 are reached as well as ending energy poverty in the global South, reaching a rough minimum delivery necessary for state of the science life expectancy for everyone on Earth (for details go to www.solarUtopia.org).

Finally, McKibben points to a strategy:

“If people come to understand the cold, mathematical truth – that the fossil-fuel industry is systematically undermining the planet’s physical systems – it might weaken it enough to matter politically. Exxon and their ilk might drop their opposition to a fee-and-dividend solution; they might even decide to become true energy companies, this time for real.”
And while McKibben quotes George Monbiot, here is something more relevant to this issue from this Guardian columnist, writing about Rio 2012:

“World leaders at Earth summits seem more interested in protecting the interests of plutocratic elites than our environment… To see Obama backtracking on the commitments made by Bush the elder 20 years ago is to see the extent to which a tiny group of plutocrats has asserted its grip on policy.…

“The environmental crisis cannot be addressed by the emissaries of billionaires. It is the system that needs to be challenged, not the individual decisions it makes. [ In this respect the struggle to protect the biosphere is the same as the struggle for redistribution, for the protection of workers’ rights, for an enabling state, for equality before the law….

“Without mass movements, without the kind of confrontation required to revitalize democracy, everything of value is deleted from the political text. But we do s not mobilise, perhaps because we are endlessly seduced by hope. Hope is the rope from which we all hang.” (June 18, 2012)
I submit that McKibben is not being as radical as reality itself.

Will Exxon go green because of political pressure? Or are the requirements for a robust Global Green New Deal higher, the actual transfer of power from the 0.1% to the 99.9%, including nationalization of the energy industries?

The political requirement for realizing the “other world that is possible” is transnational, multidimensional class struggle. Class struggle in the 21st Century transcends the narrower conceptions of the 19th and 20th centuries centered around the activity of the industrial working class. 21st Century class struggle encompasses the creative activity of the 99%. It is profoundly democratic, aimed at expanding democracy to all spheres, political, economic and social.

Maybe McKibben is thinking along these lines already, but he is not yet willing to advocate this path. But it should be ours.

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New Energy Calculator released for use!

Our Energy Calculator provides users quick and useful information regarding power & energy. Questions answered include:
(1) How much  energy do you use?
(2) How much does energy cost you?
(3) How many solar panels or wind turbines does your house/city need?
(4) How much electrical energy should you expect to get from solar panels or wind turbines?

Check it out at LINK or under “Our Calculators” menu tab.

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Peoria Talk (11/2011)

Peter spoke in Peoria to share his thoughts on our Food & Energy Future.

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New Findings: How much Fossil Fuel will it take?

(UPDATED, January 2014)

How much Fossil Fuel is needed for Solar Transition & Which one should be used?

(Open accompanying slide show. It will open in a new tab.)

Let’s first be clear that solar transition must be parasitic on existing energy supplies, just as the industrial fossil fuel revolution was parasitic on biomass energy, so-called plant power, until it replaced the former supply with sufficient capacity. The higher the EROEI* value of the wind/solar technology used, the less unsustainable presently-used-energy is needed to effect the solar transition. Mainly because of its lower carbon emission footprint compared to coal, the preferred fossil fuel to make a solar transition is petroleum (oil and natural gas, but excluding tar sands, fracked natural gas, and dangerous drilling on deep water continental shelves). Just how much petroleum is needed in our preferred solar transition model to insure a steadily increasing global energy supply with a minimum 3.5 kilowatt/person globally, accompanied by an early phaseout of coal, nuclear, big damaging hydropower and most biofuels?

Power Needed

Recall this model has the following assumptions: conservative value of EROEI = 20, 20-30 year transition, and at its completion 2x the current global energy delivery is generated comprised of all wind/solar, no fossil fuel/nuclear/biofuels. We estimate that no more than 40% of the proven conventional reserves of petroleum (oil and natural gas, excluding tar sands and fracked gas reserves) is needed, roughly 7 ZJ. The latter requirement will be reduced as higher EROEI wind.solar technologies are developed and put in place in this transition.

Yes, at the culmination of this solar transition a global increase in energy would be delivered to the world not a decrease, with many countries in the global North such as the U.S. decreasing their wasteful consumption, while most of humanity in the global South get a significant increase. To reach the minimum 3.5 kilowatt/person now (7 billion people) requires a delivery equivalent to 25 Tera Watts, with the present delivery equal to 16 Tera Watts (Energy consumed = Power x Time, so just multiply 16 TW by 1 year to get the energy consumption per year, units TWyears). The factors impact on this estimate are discussed in our Report posted on solarutopia.org.

In a robust solar transition, generating progressively increasing global energy delivery over 25 years, with an EROEI value of wind/solar power equal to 25 (same as their lifetime in years) then a total of 18.5 ZJ is consumed, with RE-derived energy generating 54%, and industrial carbon sequestration energy requiring 5 to 20% of the total. This requirement would of course be reduced by the use of agriculturally-driven carbon sequestration into the soil.

Here is the function used for progressive phase-out of non-RE energy sources over the assumed 25 year transition period, with t being the time in years:
FF = 1 – 0.015 t – 0.001 t2 ; ∫FFdt from t = 0 to 25,
gives a non-RE energy sources equal to 15.1 times the present annual global energy consumption level (18 TW year = 0.57 ZJ) or 8.6 ZJ.

Smil (2008) cites Ahlbrandt et al. (2005), who estimated the proven conventional natural gas reserves equal to 7.24 ZJ (55% of 415 Tm3). With an assumed 1,354 bb for the proven conventional oil reserve (equivalent to 7.9 ZJ) this gives a total equal to 15.1 ZJ for proven conventional oil plus gas reserves (“petroleum”). Then the 8.6 ZJ for non-RE energy computed from our robust solar transition is equal to 57% of this proven petroleum reserves. (The ‘proven’ reserves cited do not include tar sands, oil shale or fracked gas). From Figure 2, Hansen et al. (2013), the total of “estimated” plus “recoverable resources” of conventional oil and gas can be computed, roughly equivalent to 26 ZJ (14 ZJ gas, 12 ZJ oil*). For this estimate, the 8.6 ZJ computed from our robust solar transition is equal to 33% of potential energy of recoverable conventional petroleum still in the crust. Since coal, nuclear power as well as hydropower and biofuels now contribute to global energy consumption, and will during their phase-out in a full transition to RE, the computed petroleum contribution is a maximum.
* Assumed values of 51.4 Gt CO2/ZJ for gas, 68 Gt CO2/ZJ for oil.

References cited:
Hansen et al., 2013, Assessing ‘‘Dangerous Climate Change’’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature. PLOS ONE 8 (12) e81648.

Other references are given in Schwartzman and Schwartzman (2012), available for download on this website.

Aggressive energy conservation and rapid phaseout of coal use in energy-wasteful countries such as the U.S. is imperative, and must start in the very near future to begin radical reduction in carbon emissions. Further, as the solar transition proceeds, energy conservation in the gobal North would free up petroleum needed for rapid solar development in the global South. Oil rich countries in the Mid-East and South America (e.g., Venezuela) will be valuable partners in this solar transition by providing the needed petroleum. We are persuaded that this hopeful scenario requires global demilitarization a necessary condition for a global cooperative regime of transition. But if we wait too long without making a vigorous transition, then and only then will we likely face the gloom and doom scenario of Peak Oil and the virtually inevitable onset of catastrophic climate change, barring near future revolutionary solar technologies with much higher EROEIs. Nevertheless, carbon sequestration powered by agroecologies and solar power is imperative, and must start asap to have any hope of preventing the onset of catastrophic climate change (“C3″). The longer the excess carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere the more likely the tipping points for C3 will be reached, therefore radical and early cuts in carbon emissions and carbon sequestration go hand in hand. And now we may have only 5 years left for global carbon emissions to peak, to be followed by radical cuts (“World headed for irreversible climate change in five years, IEA warns If fossil fuel infrastructure is not rapidly changed, the world will ‘lose for ever’ the chance to avoid dangerous climate change” , Fiona Harvey,guardian.co.uk, November 9, 2011).

* EROEI is the Energy return over energy invested ratio, i.e., how much energy does the technology such as a photovoltaic array or wind turbine generate in its usable lifetime divided by the energy needed to construct it and maintain it.

By, David Schwartzman

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Carbon-sequestration is key ingredient!

(Updated 1/10/14)
Carbon-sequestration from the atmosphere must be a component of a Solar Transition

By David Schwartzman

Following Hansen et al.’s (2008) analysis, a prevention program to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change (C3) must include carbon-sequestration from the atmosphere to achieve an atmospheric CO2 level at or below 350 ppm (it is now 400 ppm) ASAP. His group recommends a 6% cut/year in fossil fuel consumption starting now, with 100 Pg of carbon sequestered from the atmosphere by reforestation from 2031-2080 leaving 350 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere by 2100 (Hansen et al., 2013).
Lal (2010) estimates 2-4 Pg per year of carbon from the atmosphere could be sequestered globally as soil carbon from the atmosphere using agroecological approaches. Assuming a rate of 2 Pg/year, in 50 years 100 Pg of carbon could be sequestered from the atmosphere.

A likely complementary approach is solar-powered industrial carbon sequestration from the atmosphere. For an energy requirement of 110 to 442 KJ/mole CO2 (House et al., 2011; Zeman, 2007), 100 Pg of carbon could be industrially sequestered from the atmosphere requiring 0.91 to 3.7 ZJ, equivalent to 1.6 to 6.5 years of the present global energy delivery (18 TW). In a robust solar transition, with an EROEI value of wind/solar power equal to 25 (same as their lifetime in years) then a total of 18.5 ZJ is consumed over 25 years, with wind/solar generating 54%, and industrial carbon sequestration energy requiring 5 to 20% of the total (see methodology and assumptions in How much Petroleum is needed for this Solar Transition?). This requirement would of course be reduced by the use of agriculturally-driven carbon sequestration into the soil.

References

Hansen, J., Sato, M., Kharecha, P., Beerling, D., Berner, R., Masson-Delmotte, V., Pagani, M., Raymo, M., Royer, D.L., and J.C. Zachos, 2008: Target atmospheric CO2: where should humanity aim? Open Atmos. Sci. J., 2, 217-231.
Hansen et al., 2013, Assessing ‘‘Dangerous Climate Change’’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature. PLOS ONE 8 (12) e81648.
House, K.Z., Baclig, A.C., Ranjan, M., van Nierop, E.A., Wilcox, J., and H.J. Herzog, 2011, Economic and energetic analysis of capturing CO2 from ambient air. PNAS 108, No. 51: 20428-20433.
Lal, R., 2010, Managing soils and ecosystems for mitigating anthropogenic carbon emissions and advancing global food security. BioScience 60: 708-721.
Zeman, F., 2007, Energy and material balance of CO2 capture from ambient air. Environ. Sci. Technol. 41: 7558-7563.

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