Low Carbon Renewables as a Function of Area

Many of us have been intrigued by the possibility of alternative power sources to replace the dependence of petro-chemical sources due to their finite limits as opposed to the less finite and potentially more abundant sources from so-called renewables such as solar, wind, tidal and biomass. This past March in Warwick, UK there was a TEDx conference and one of the talks was delivered by Professor David MacKay, a physicist who thinks we should quit shouting at each other about the merits of one solution over another and step back a few minutes and look at the problem of replacing Petro-chemicals with renewables with some arithmetic.

He analyses the issue and creates a data set of consumption as watts/Square meter and then maps that against population density in different countries. A surprising result turns out to be that the UK could be a picture of what might happen to other countries in our world where the areas are small and population density continues to grow.

So, take about 15 minutes and watch the video and then we'll continue the discussion.
TEDx link


Professor MacKay presents an interesting proposition. Biofuel based energy production takes just about all of UK to replace the fossil fuel dependency. PV and thermal solar is better at producing watts/Sm and nuclear is better yet. His argument is we need a balance of solutions that are rational and intentional, not the haphazard implementation we have been working through the past 20 years.

In the US, Canada and Australia we have a distinct advantage, lots of land area and a much lower population density. We have a lot of room to grow into. Even when you take out the unusable areas of swamps, protected lowlands, mountain ranges and other protected areas, we have a huge land area to use for alternative energy production. In fact we have the ability to produce energy from every alternative energy form mentioned in the talk.

Our here in the US we still have huge fossil fuel reserves in the form of heavy oil and natural gas, but they are still finite. We have time to replace a huge amount of that energy demand with alternative energy producing technologies if, and only if we start working now.

Production is only one side of this discussion. Use patterns is the other. Professor MacKay relates the energy consumption for transportation, building conditioning and other miscellaneous uses. He looks at the efficiency of these processes and how can we introduce a lower level of consumption by raising the efficiency of the machines we use and how we use them. In an earlier post about an interview with the CEO of Shell, Mr. Vosser indicated that without aggressive conservation efforts, our fossil fuel reserves might not be able to meet the demands on it by 2050. For some of us we likely won't have to face that due to our age, but many of you reading this post may be witnesses to this event. That's a scary possibility.

Given the difficulty of changing modes of energy delivery and transmission this will take a huge effort by the entire global community. Given the proclivity of humans to argue, we had probably get started yesterday. This is one of those wicked problems I keep talking about. It takes more than a village or even an entire country to solve this one. David MacKay is one of the voices advocating a sane and reasoned approach to a difficult economic, political and social problem. Read, study and begin to find out how the information fits together and I think you will find that there are possible and probable solutions which can meet our needs. Never forget 'Collaboration is the Glue of Success.'

This blog is a continuing series on the interrelationships of energy, water and the built environment. It is a String of the Connections concerning energy and environment.

No comments:

Post a Comment