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A rash prediction

With the price of crude oil holding over $50 per barrel, how long will it be before the more flexible parts of the Green movement start arguing that nuclear power is actually not such a bad idea after all?

I ask this question because it seems to me that Britain, like a lot of other western nations, could be facing a Californian-style energy shortage fairly soon. It goes without saying that such an issue is completely off the political radar right now.

Comment away!

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65 comments to A rash prediction

  • veryretired

    The Green philosophy is not just a stand against pollution, but the very existence of industrial/technical society. There might be some wobblers, but truly committed Greens have no interest in how expensive or difficult life would become if energy costs escalated, indeed, they would be happy if prices went to $100/barrel or more.

    They will never accept fission, no matter what, and I am looking forward to their arguments against fusion power, if and when that is developed.

    Deep Greens want political control over all aspects of society to enforce depopulation and regression to a pre-industrial society. These are the philosophical term setters for the movement, and every bit as dangerous as the Bolsheviks ever were.

  • It isn’t that rash of a prediction. Perhaps the ultra-Greens might not come to this conclusion, but I have seen several articles here in the states to that effect: essentially that nuclear power is a much cleaner option than spewing thousands of tons of carbon dioxide into the air every day.

    There is a good wired article on this very point: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.02/nuclear.html?pg=1

  • Marshall Clow

    Didn’t Stuart Brand speak positively about nuclear power just a couple weeks ago?

    < http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/05/05/issue/feature_earth.asp>

  • GCooper

    veryretired writes:

    “…and every bit as dangerous as the Bolsheviks ever were.”

    That is one of the truest things I’ve read about the “Greens” for some time.

    Beneath that cuddly image, they are every bit as fanatical and every bit as dangerous as the most extreme Marxists.

  • Stewart “Whole Earth Catalog” Brand did indeed broach the suggestion that “green” sorts will learn to love at least some nukes. He did so in this article:

    Technology Review – “Environmental Heresies” .

  • Verity

    veryretired writes:

    “…and every bit as dangerous as the Bolsheviks ever were.”

    And G Cooper adds, That is one of the truest things I’ve read about the “Greens” for some time.

    It’s the only true thing I’ve read about the Greens, ever. They’re dangerous, controlling fascists and they want your life. Quotas on manufacturing in the capitalistic, murderous West. They will never, never accept (not that it matters what they “accept”) nuclear power. And they’re part of the “anti-globalisation” crowd, another socialist workers’ vision of hell.

    Not that it matters, but does anyone have any theories about what these people actually want?

  • Katie

    Most public discourse these days starts on uber-geek sites, then yahoo and google news, then msn, then finally aol and eventually at dinner parties and then the mainstream. This “greens back nuclear power” idea is one of those ideas that we can see just beginning its journey, like baby salmon up the stream.

    Look here and here.

  • Julian Taylor

    Aw, thank you Samizdata for destroying my image of the attractive Julia Stephenson – she of the Chelsea social scene, part-time author and occasional prospective parliamentary candidate, whose apparent sole motive for standing in Kensington & Chelsea this election is to take a stand against “Chelsea Tractors”.

  • GCooper

    Verity writes:

    “… does anyone have any theories about what these people actually want?”

    I think veryretired is close to the mark when he suggests that what they are after is a pre-industrialised society.

    Of course, were any such thing attempted, they would be the first to start screaming in horror, as few of them have even the vaguest impression of what life for our ancestors was actually like. In a word, Hobbesian.

    But really, asking “Greens” what they want is beside the point. It is not a philosophy driven by a vision of what is wanted, it is one driven by protest at what is. Which is how we get into such a mess over wind turbines, which any countryman will tell you are abominations. Hey – but at least they aren’t nukes!

    “Greens” are driven by the same inchoate antipathy to progress, discovery and individualism that traditionally characterises the Left. They are merely the latest sport from the parent plant, neatly side-stepping associations with the failed Soviet empire by pretending to be something different, while actually peddling genetically modified versions of identically idiotic nostrums.

  • veryretired

    Deep Greens are very much akin to the most extreme animal rights people in that they find human beings to be a negative force in nature. Both groups discuss the need to depopulate the world to a level at which humans would have little or no effect on other species, or, indeed, the ecology of the planet itself.

    The figure I recall reading as a desireable goal was 100 million. It is not stated clearly, for obvious reasons, how a population of over 6 billion would be reduced to that figure, but there is little affection or respect for human life in either philosophy, so I think it is safe to bet the program would be extremely unpleasant.

    Just as the various collectivist doctrines of the past few centuries posited a flawed and malleable humanity which would be “corrected” by the conditions of economic production, or the leadership of the master race, or by immersion in the mass of the people, so too does the Green vision assert a flawed and dangerous humanity. Humanity’s rapacious selfishness must be placed under the control of those whose loyalty is not to the rights of individual humans and their aspirations for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but is directed toward limiting and restricting human activity for the benefit of a nature from which humans are explicitly excluded.

    An artist might view an isolated, wild place on earth and appreciate its beauty for its own sake. The Green viewpoint sees beauty as the abscence of human ugliness, and their program is to eliminate that source of ugliness as quickly and completely as possible.

    It is, in its own way, the logical conclusion of the utopian vision which demanded that humans become “something else” in order to achieve whatever nirvana was promised, except, in the Green utopia, it is not humans who are perfected, but nature, by their removal. Self hatred at this level is capable of ferocity at a level beside which even the savagery of the 20th century would pale.

  • Verity

    G Cooper – I take all your points. But the question remains: why?

    Have you ever watched your cat getting washed or sitting looking up at you companionably and thought: what goes on in that little brain?

    What do these people, many from the middle classes – not that that’s any guarantee of anything – actually think of the industrialised world that allows them to fly to places – using up vital greenhouses essences – and washing machines – and did they walk to the protest, or did they come by car and look for a parking place? …

    I can even understand ambitious jerks like César Chavez who claimed he didn’t want grape pickers exploited (I ostentatiously bought grapes, although I don’t really like them), but what is it with these Greens? What is their cut-off point for progress? 1962? 1910? 1740? And when did the perfect climate that benefitted the world and dolphins that they want to recover happen? June 3,1574? 28th September 1972? What are these people talking about?

    This is a genuine question. Cats, we will never figure out, but with Swampies, I think we’ll discover a simple key. It may be attached to attention-seeking syndrome.

  • rosignol

    ….essentially that nuclear power is a much cleaner option than spewing thousands of tons of carbon dioxide into the air every day.

    Not from a ‘global warming’ pov- IIRC, h2o is a more potent ‘greenhouse gas’ than co2 is.

    ….just another inconvenient fact ignored by the greenies. If it got out that most of the ‘warming’ effect that makes this planet habitable was due to atmospheric water, and that there isn’t anything we can do to regulate it short of building a barrier over the oceans, the entire ‘global warming is the impending apocalypse’ shibboleth would implode.

  • Verity

    I see the fellow who created Greenpeace has just floated off, presumably to that great windfarm in the sky.

    Very Retired – your post was very interesting, but it didn’t explain their attachment to, say, the horrific, threatening-looking windfarms. That kill birds most cruelly. Nuclear power plants kill neither humans nor birds.

    So you think they see themselves as gods of all they survey. Yet the evidence is all against them. When they ran into the London Petroleum Exchange blowing whistles, they seem to have sincerely believed they were going to shut down oil trading in London. How could anyone have so little understanding of human nature – especially as applied to commodities traders?

    I would still like to hear from them what date in human history, they would like to be preserved in amber. (I’ll bet it wouldn’t be before their date of birth.)

  • Stehpinkeln

    Help me here, please. Would the word be ‘luddites’? Maybe modern Luddits would be closer. I seem to remember that Luddites were the back to nature, lets all live in the stone age movement of the mid to early 19th century. May be they were just an American phenomenon.
    OK, I got off my lazy butt and googled ‘Luddite’. It seems the brits gave us that. Thanks a lot.
    http://www.regent.edu/acad/schcom/rojc/mdic/luddites.html
    That makes you even for inventing the crapper.
    At least you sent the felthy buggers off to Australia. Do you think they found the Bushman lifestyle appealing?

  • Stehpinkeln

    The problem with google is sometimes you get more then you bargined for. here is a URL to the “NEW LUDDITES” it’s dated in 1995, but I guess an update every decade or so is too much to expect from a luddite, new or old. speaking of old, the author refers to Ned Luddite in the 2nd person present tense. I thought ol’ ned was long dead.
    http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~socs203/luddites.htm
    I find it amusing to read ostentatious predictions 10 years later.

  • Verity

    The Luddites were against machinery because they believed it would destroy their jobs in the factories and on farms. Actually, in the long term, they were right. I don’t see that this has anything to do with the Greens who, by and large, don’t seem to have jobs they fear losing. Or even jobs they don’t fear losing. They appear to be available to disrupt money-making businesses at any hour of the day.

    I would still like to know what they expect to gain for their paradise. They must be really torn over the destruction of “the rain forests” formerly known as “jungles”. In Indonesia, it’s Indonesian logging companies power-sawing down all the teak – so, native jungle dwellers! How do they reconcile so little “respect” for the environment by people who actually live in it and don’t give a shit? Maybe they just need a non-judgemental little lecture from a girl in a batik dress and a headband who only knows two words of their language, but, can, like, convey thoughts through her sincerity?

    What are these people hoping to accomplish? I still want to know?

    Despite G Cooper and Very Retired, I still do not know what these people’s goals are. And Very Retired, despite your belief that they want a “small” world, I’ll bet not a one of them has a word to say against the behemoth EU.

  • veryretired

    Verity—

    I don’t understand their hatred either, but it is clearly stated in their writings and internal discussions. Of course, to the outside world, they are only fervent environmentalists, worried about air and water quality, global warming, and all the rest.

    Just as the animal rights groups always talk about protecting baby seals and such, Greens don’t talk openly about ideas like the belief that humanity is a cancerous malady from which Gaiea must be rescued.

    No matter what they call themselves, or what safe aspects of their beliefs they put forward for public consumption, somewhere in the verbiage about what is needed to solve the crises they claim are rushing toward us will be comments about “restructuring economic relations” or “redirecting society’s wasteful consumer habits”, etc.

    These code words only mean one thing—they will decide what is necessary, what is permitted, and individual choice will be deemed too dangerous and uninformed to continue unfettered. The political program is always one of power concentration, central control, and limiting the range of choices available to ordinary people whose consciousness has not been sufficiently raised

    It is truly fascinating how regularly the Gnostic heresy reappears in various guises down through the ages.

  • Gary Gunnels

    Ahhhh, oil is not used for the most part in power production (at least not in the U.S.); natural gas, coal and nuclear power are. You seem to be confusing oil prices, and their effect on gasoline prices, with electricity production. Or are you suggesting that we switch from gasoline powered cars to nuclear powered cars? If so, why the analogy to California’s “crisis?”

    Anyway, California’s “crisis” was largely an artificial one created by the stupid regulatory regime that the state put into place to buy off the spot market. That’s why the “crisis” no longer exists.

    As to nuclear power, I’ll support it once it gets off the fucking government tit. Why such a mature industry still rampantly depends on government handouts I cannot say.

    Katie,

    I’ve been listening to greens talk about the need for nuclear power since the 1980s.

  • Gary Gunnels

    BTW, neither France nor Britain need worry about a “California crisis.” Both you guys still SELL lots of EXCESS generating capacity after all.

    Now, Italy, Germany and a couple of other European countries might be in trouble, as was evidenced by that blackout in 2003 when French excess capacity was gobbled up by efforts to combat the heat, etc.

  • John Rippengal

    One of the major problems about the nuclear industry is that the Greens and similar nuts have created such a hysterical, over the top concern about safety and the disposal of waste that the industry has had to adopt standards where there is only a zero point 1 percent of any accident in a million years or so. (Pardon the hyperbole). This together with the political uncertainty of all the ‘activists’ mean the result is a practically impossible calculation of return on capital and commitments that stretch so far into the future that there are no likely investors. Gary Gunnels government ‘tit’ looks indispensible unfortunately.
    As a matter of interest I read in my respected engineering journal recently that the entire quantity of high level (ie the dangerous stuff) waste from the total of the UK atomic activity both military and civilian since the late ’40s could fit in the volume of four double decker buses.
    It’s strange that if indeed human energy activity will generate a global disaster it will have been the Greens and their friends that have guaranteed the result.

  • Tedd McHenry

    As to nuclear power, I’ll support it once it gets off the fucking government tit. Why such a mature industry still rampantly depends on government handouts I cannot say.

    In both Canada and the U.S., civilian nuclear power only came into existence after legislation that limited the liability of the corporations and other entities who were to develop and use it. I expect that was the case in most countries that developed nuclear power.

    I don’t think it would be inconsistent with libertarian values to say that this was a mistake. If no private insurers were willing to underwrite the risk of nuclear plants, that ought to have been taken as evidence that the technology wasn’t ready for the market yet. Had governments not effectively subsidised nuclear power by limiting liability, the technology probably would have developed along different lines. More slowly, I’m sure, but probably also more surely. We might well never have had PWR nuclear plants at all, but might have gone directly to something like pebble-bed technology.

  • Johnathan

    Gary Gunnels is of course correct to finger the state as a key cause of the Californian screwup. If memory serves, the cackhanded “deregulation” of the Golden State’s electricity industry meant that the retail end of the market was still hemmed in by price controls, hence the problem. He is also right that a lot of our electricity is not produced by oil, but some of it still is, I think.

    Verity asks what do the Greens want, ultimately? I think what appeals to them is the quasi-religious aspect of greenery, the desire for the Devine without the usual religious bit. Just a theory, anyway.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    Verity-

    but does anyone have any theories about what these people actually want?

    What are these people hoping to accomplish? I still want to know?

    I am seeing some interesting theories here. Some suggest they want society to devolve back to pre-industrial times. I’m not sure; most greenies I know are more than happy with the comforts of modernity.

    In a nutshell, I believe it’s about power. Greenies want it and they can get it by yoking their cart to a hysterical issue such as “the environment”. This is why they congregate in certain sectors of the academic establishment. Here they receive succour and credibility. They also contribute nothing to the advancement of mankind. They are envious of other peoples’ genius. They want to change the world.

    I have not met a Greenie, or come across one in history who I would consider an extraordinary individual. My theory is that these are (often sub) ordinary people of (sub) ordinary intellect and ability who want to make extraordinary change, for the sake of it. They suffer from collective ‘small man disease’. They want to be something that they’re not. What they call for makes no sense; the logical extrapolation of their demands would put us back several hundred years. This is irrelevant. Their success is in creating a big scary issue – our dying earth – and they can use it to change the world. Their accoutrements, wind farms and the like, are tools. These props aren’t there for a practical purpose – the fact that they’re useless and counterproductive is not the point. The Kyotos, Rainbow Warriors and such are bricks in the ideological edifice. Power and the ability to change the world. That’s what I believe motivates them deep down inside. They want to play with the grown-ups’ toys and this is the only way they can.

  • Euan Gray

    Environmentalism appears to be the growing new religion of the west.

    It seems that for most, if not all, of our recorded history we have striven to understand and often propitiate something greater than ourselves. In the religious context, this has been a god or gods. Western society has been trending away from organised religion, at least of the conventional sort, but this deep need to look up to something greater has not gone away – since it seems to be a fundamental part of human nature, this is unsurprising.

    It is instructive to compare Christian and Green ideas. In Christianity, we have the concept of man being originally perfectly created in the image of God and living in a paradise called Eden. Man’s selfishness and arrogance caused him to fall from this level of perfection, and thus to be expelled from Eden. The Christian message is that paradise can be regained through obedience to the will of God, expressed through the incarnate Son of God, if we will but focus on the spiritual and abandon our selfishness, arrogance and greed.

    Interestingly, the Green concept appears to be that Gaia was initially perfect, harmonious and balanced, a veritable Eden. Man has upset this balance, it is argued, through his (wait for it) selfishness and arrogance, and it is only by abandoning these negative qualities that we can restore the balance and prevent further injury to Gaia. We can, it appears to be held, only do this by sacrificing our desire to control and manipulate the world – focusing on the natural and abandoning our selfishness, arrogance and greed.

    In both cases, we are subordinate to, and ultimately dependent upon, something greater than ourselves. In both cases, sacrifice and self-denial are the roads to salvation. In both cases, what we want or think we need is insignificant in relation to the requirements of the greater thing, whether God or Gaia. Environmentalism is a religion, and it has simply replaced God with Gaia. In both cases, I think, there are positive things – a polluted world is unpleasant as well as being unnecessary, and a world in which any morality is perfectly acceptable is also not entirely free of serious problems. There are also a great many negatives in each case.

    Mankind has a deep-rooted need to believe in something greater than itself. The whole course of history shows this perfectly clearly (it is variously tribe, state, religion, culture, race, nation, and so on), and it is unlikely that a few socio-economic changes are going to override such basic elements of our make-up. If you remove God from the equation, He will be replaced with something else to venerate and worship. If you then defeat the Greens and remove Gaia from the equation, that too will be replaced with something else. This needs to be understood, I think, when considering what the Greens want and why they want it. I think it should also be borne in mind when considering any alternatives to the present state of affairs.

    EG

  • Effra

    James Lovelock, who devised the Gaia theory, has said that nuclear power should be reconsidered as an option. And the other day David Bellamy, one of the godfathers of conservation in Britain, poured cold water on the idea that global warming is primarily manmade.

    There is more debate about ways and means within the green movement than scoffers about moonbattery appreciate.

    OTOH, John McCain, the rockribbed Republican senator who is second favourite to be candidate in 2008, has signed up to a ‘cyber-march on Washington’ campaign for putting GW on the national agenda. And remember that Mrs T, no less, once made warning noises about our having a ‘full repairing lease’ on the Earth, not a freehold.

    If the green warnings about pollution and non-sustainability are only half-right, it behoves us to think about how to plan. This need not entail statist controls; there is a lot of sound thinking in libertarian and free-market circles about market mechanisms for allocating scarcer resources and making polluters pay. A more serious quest among corporate R&D scientists could yield the Holy Grail of boundless energy from cold fusion, silicon, waves or whatever, with every home its own self-sufficient generator– liberation from being locked into a grid, and a way of bypassing the military and diplomatic perils of oil prospecting.

    Don’t let your rage about tree-huggers get in the way of using your brains. An a priori belief in infinite resources and the fundamental undamageability of the planet is not scientific.

  • Euan Gray

    every home its own self-sufficient generator

    In almost any conceivable energy production technology, such a scenario is horrendously inefficient. The most efficient method we have now is centralised electricity generation and grid distribution.

    The idea of individual home generation is, however, workable – given the level of human population – provided the technology used is efficient but non-scalable. One might argue that individual houses could be powered by their own fuel cells, but this still raises efficiency questions concerning the production and distribution of the fuel source. In order to extract hydrogen, one needs energy, and in order to distribute it one needs more energy. It would be more efficient and in almost every case cheaper to use the same energy for central electricity generation, especially since the energy lost in electrical power transmission is far smaller than that lost in physical distribution of liquid, gaseous or solid fuel to individual houses. One must also consider the efficiency losses in small-scale power generation, which are much more significant than in large scale plants (using current technology). It is, furthermore, pointless to look at individual generation when the vast majority of people live in more or less densely populated urban areas.

    Where it would work is likely to be where it works now – remote areas with such a light population that grid construction is uneconomic.

    The answer for the immediate future is nuclear power generated centrally and distributed electrically over a grid. It works, it is efficient, and it is sensible for the overwhelming majority of the population. For portable power (cars, trucks, etc) an alternative is likely to be something like biodiesel, plant-derived alcohol, fuel cells, or such. If a significant advance in battery technology were to be made, then electricity would become a more practical energy source for much road transport, especially cars – but even in that case, it would still make more sense to have central generation and grid distribution.

    EG

  • gravid

    Well said Effra. Too much ranting about the green menace and not much thinking going on.

    This planet has no infinite resources. We as a species really do need to think about how we are to continue. Unless the “…a long time dead” brigade shout the loudest, which is usually the case, we need to be rational about power production. Nuclear fission has extremely longlasting hazardous waste products. We can’t feasibly use this method for too long or we’ll have large dumps of waste that can’t be dealt with in millenia. There is research that has been kept from the public that gives us affordable power that is non centralised. Of course I will be vilified for even saying this. The technology exists for localised power production. I will retain my enigma by letting you do your own research. I do agree that the “deep greens” are mad much as Pol Pot was. Their vision is not the answer.

  • Jacob

    An a priori belief in infinite resources and the fundamental undamageability of the planet is not scientific.

    Indeed, but that is not what we (I) beleive.

    We hold an a priori beleif in the infinite capacity of rational human beings to cope with the problems, if only left free to do so, free from political coercion, free from the force the (dumb) greenies.

    Greenies gaining political power and enforcing their agenda will not save the environment, it will destroy it along with the wellbeing of humanity.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    I think we should also make the distinction between well-meaning but ultimately misguided people who wish to protect the future of the earth for their children, but are led astray by Lomborg’s Litany, and the fire-breathing loonies who propagate and promote that Litany. When I say “Greenie” I refer to the latter. The former can be forgiven because the Litany is so mainstream these days.

  • Euan Gray

    can’t feasibly use this method for too long or we’ll have large dumps of waste that can’t be dealt with in millenia

    It appears not impossible that a permanent solution in the form of burial at subduction zones is feasible. This would easily solve the problem now and in the future.

    There is research that has been kept from the public that gives us affordable power that is non centralised

    Of course, because there is a global conspiracy between states and oil corporations.

    The technology exists for localised power production

    What is it? How does it work? What is the fuel? How is the fuel produced and distributed? How and why is it more efficient than central generation? Why, if it is so good, has it not been done?

    I will retain my enigma by letting you do your own research.

    Which presumably means you don’t know and are speculating. If you do know and aren’t speculating, post it.

    EG

  • Daveon

    I know a few Greens, not many, who have been effectively drumed out of their local FotE groups for daring to say that Nuclear is a good option. Couple of comments:

    To Euan: Depending on the production means, local and individual power generation could be quite effective as a means of reducing over all domestic demand. Some of the new manufacturing techniques make solar electrical generation very compelling, even in a country like the UK. The cost is prohibitive currently running for the cells, AC/DC converters, tap back into the grid and battery pack at around £20K – but that’s going to drop dramatically in the next decade or so. New techniques are producing more flexible and cheap photo-cells so that should be a major direction to look in.

    Greens and Fusion: Fusion is not a panacea. Hell, I’m not even convinced we’ll crack that one anyway. It isn’t radiation free – Neutrons are released in the fusion process that will leave the reactor core and other compotents pretty damn “hot” and in need of removal and storage for quite some time. He3 fusion is a lot cleaner, but that will require a lunar mining operation which might render the economics pointless. So, there are plenty of non-Green problems to be had with Fusion.

    Fast breeder reactors, on the other hand, are a potential winner.

    The sooner we start moving to a nuclear/hydrogen economy the better.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    Euan’s right, a nuclear waste dump that could service the entire world is very definitely do-able. Australia would be a prime construction spot, mainly due to its geological stability. Similar sites were found in China and Argentina, but Australia’s political stability made it the obvious choice.

    I remember reading the specifications for the design they wanted to build in the desert – it involved a hole with a 15 metre diameter being drilled 2km down through incredibly hard rock. Then, at 2km down, the waste would be dumped along horizontal tunnels arranged in a hub and spoke pattern. Then down a few dozen metres, and another hub and spokes. This would go on for about a kilometre. When the dump reaches maximum capacity, the entire hole is filled with concrete all the way to the surface. An enormous engineering feat.

    Sadly, hysteria sunk the project, which could have been a great money-spinner for this country. All the NIMBYs intervened, even though the area where the dump was to be build is enormous and utterly empty. The project was handballed around the Australian states the area covered. They smelt a political poisoned chalice, despite its potential as a hefty revenue raiser for many years into the future, and the miniscule risk posed.

    Another victory for the Greenies.

  • Euan Gray

    Daveon,

    What are the energy costs of making the solar cells? Why is it more economically sensible to have individual power generation? How do you cheaply tie thousands of individual home power sources into the grid and guarantee they remain synchronised? Even if it becomes significantly cheaper in the near future, what is the compelling economic reason to favour localised generation over central generation? Since you’re still going to have the grid anyway (to handle surplus power, make up for shortfalls, etc) why is it not sensible to use much more efficient central generation?

    The main reason for having breeder reactors is the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. The economics of power generation don’t necessarily come into it.

    EG

  • Daveon

    Euan,

    You are always going to need central power generation and a grid – the reason for having localised power generation is basic conservation without impacting on the economy in a negative way.

    The good thing is the infrastructure to handle this already exists. The grid and your home are already set up to be 2 way and there are already people running their homes like this – essentially the key point is your metre runs backwards as well as forwards. If you want a premium for the power you sell back then it’s a problem, otherwise it’s a nett calculation at the end of each billing period. Have you used a positive or negative amount from the grid.

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “efficient” in this context though. Having local “small” plants or individual diesel generators would be much less efficient, particularly in terms of fuel use, maitenance and so forth – but that’s not what I’m suggesting. It’s a different paradigm designed, over time, to releive the reliance on external fossil fuel. I am greatly concerned that in 25 years or so, we’re going too be having to import Natural Gas from “stable” places like Russia and Indonesia to keep all those shiny new Gas Fired Power Stations running.

    For running production, offices and factories and so forth, having central large plant, ideally nuclear is essential. For running homes and some offices, having building based PV cells makes a lot of sense – it’s a paradigm shift in how we look at electricity and power generation but I believe a necessary one. Just like moving to something like hydrogen for cars.

    The only things we should be saving the fossil fuel for are plastics and aircraft where the fuel density of hydrogen makes it a sub-optimal solution at the moment.

  • Verity

    “If Green warnings about pollution and non-sustainability are only half-right …” Effra. don’t worry. They’re not. Ever notice they are not engaged in any science discipline? They go by ersatz quasi-science known to us as “feelings”.

    Effra adds: “An a priori belief in infinite resources and the fundamental undamageability of the planet is not scientific.” Thanks. We knew that. We do, however, have a proven belief in the infinite ingenuity of man.”

    Suffering – I think your explanation comes closest to what I believe myself about them. I think it is a power grab by inadequates who need to elevate themselves in some way that doesn’t require brains, education or effort.

  • Sheriff

    Efficient means you get more energy out than you put in, and at less cost than the grid.

    How would going from gas an oil fired plants to domestic diesel generators reduce the reliance on fossil fuels? It would increase the reliance on them, unless you will miracle the diesel to each home.

    What evidence do you have that the world has approx 25 years of NG from stable countries?

    Paradigm shifting sounds great in PowerPoint, but in the real world, it begs the question, why?

  • Euan Gray

    Daveon,

    The efficiency question comes in when one considers whether it is more efficient to build one 30-year-lifespan nuclear plant and plug it into the grid or to build several tens of thousands of small scale photovoltaic arrays, plus the batteries, plus the inverters, plus the replacement cost as the batteries wear out, or possibly several tens of thousands of small fuel cells, etc., etc.

    Consider “renewable” energy sources:

    Not one of these can provide stable predictable output on a small scale. On a larger scale, only tidal arrays or geothermal plant can probably do this. The need remains for central generation to even the load, so your going to have a grid and central power stations anyway, whatever else you do.

    Consider fossil fuels:

    These are grossly inefficient in small scale use. Period. You can buy quite efficient small gas turbines, but they are not as efficient as large CCGT stations, and the difference is greater than the transmission loss over the grid. Furthmore, the physics of turbines means they are only efficient over a narrow speed and power band – if your load falls into this band, then great, but outside that it is wasteful.

    Consider more modern technology:

    Fuel cells are efficient, but you still have to make the fuel. If you’re using hydrogen, you have to spend a lot of energy making it, then you need to distribute and store it. We don’t have an infrastructure for distributing and storing hydrogen, nor for that matter for making it on the huge scale necessary. All this has to be developed from scratch.

    If you’re going to generate electricity to make hydrogen, generate more electricity to pump that hydrogen around, then use more energy again to distribute it locally so that the end user can put it in a fuel cell to make electricity …. would it not just be easier, cheaper and more sensible to send the electricity direct to the user over the existing grid?

    Centralised power generation is more efficient because: it can take advantage of large-scale technologies like nuclear; it can more readily use mitigation equipment for burning fossil fuels; it can more easily extract usable energy per unit of fuel; and it is more efficient to distribute electricity over a grid than to have hundreds of trucks delivering fuel by road.

    Furthermore, the sorts of “clean” generating technology usable for localised generation are only clean when you consider the byproducts of operation. When you factor in the energy needed to make thousands of little things (instead of one big one) and the chemical/industrial processes involved, they are not all that clean after all.

    Localised generation is not at all conservation. It is highly wasteful and inefficient.

    EG

  • Euan Gray

    What evidence do you have that the world has approx 25 years of NG from stable countries?

    Britain will become a net oil importer 2005/2006, and a net gas importer by about 2010 as North Sea reserves taper off. The shift in power generation in the UK is away from oil and coal and towards combined cycle gas turbines (a gas turbine coupled to an alternator and using exhaust heat to generate steam which drives the alternator via a steam turbine – it’s pretty efficient). The problem is that we need gas supplies to feed this, and the likely source is Russia – in fact, this is what the Baltic Pipeline is for. Russia already supplies about a fifth of Europe’s energy needs.

    The concern is that there will be a strategic overdependence on a single source of supply. Admittedly, the Russians are rather more rational that the jihadist loonies, but it is still a weakness. This is why the British government has not closed the door on nuclear power in the future, and seems to be giving it some quiet consideration.

    EG

  • Daveon

    Euan, you’re missing the core point here. We’re not “building” tens of thousands of PV arrays for the purpose solely of generating power for the grid. We are incoporating PV cells into an existing grid by co-locating them with existing infrastructure that already uses power in those locations. It’s a subtle but extremely important difference. PV cells work because of the reliability of them and low maintenance requirements. You couldn’t do the same with Fuel Cells or turbines or anything remotely similar because the ongoing costs would make it pointless. The new generation of flexible, cheap PV cells will potentially shift things to that.

    The Batteries will slowly wear out but again this is measurable and predictable in comparison, to, for example, a bearing assembly on any reciprocating or rotating equipment. Additionally once in place there’s not the added energy cost of fuel supply and so forth.

    This type of generation is a radically different paradigm to the ones you are rightly dismissing as highly inefficient.

    If you’re going to generate electricity to make hydrogen, generate more electricity to pump that hydrogen around, then use more energy again to distribute it locally so that the end user can put it in a fuel cell to make electricity …. would it not just be easier, cheaper and more sensible to send the electricity direct to the user over the existing grid?

    Not if you want them to be able to use it in the way we have got used to using personal transport. Simply put, the energy efficiency of the systems of converting and storing electricity are not up to the task of running personal vehicle transport in the way that we have got used to working it. I’d rather not give up the flexibility of my car so the only sane alternative for the medium term at the moment is hydrogen – there *might* be a dramatic improvement in battery or transmission technology but I’m not holding my breath. Fuel based cells are more portable, easy to change/charge and flexible than distributed electricity.

    When you factor in the energy needed to make thousands of little things (instead of one big one) and the chemical/industrial processes involved, they are not all that clean after all.

    It depends on what those “little” things are. If it is PV cells for integration into new homes and buildings, then no, I don’t think this is true. If it is other generation mechanisms then certainly yes.

    Perversely, one of the more efficient and safest methods of using nuclear would be smaller, self contained localised generators – but the public would not stkand for that.

  • dearieme

    A central problem with nukes is that they are dominated by political risk rather than commercial risk.

  • Euan Gray

    We’re not “building” tens of thousands of PV arrays for the purpose solely of generating power for the grid. We are incoporating PV cells into an existing grid by co-locating them with existing infrastructure that already uses power in those locations

    Yes, but you still have to build them first in order to do this, don’t you? Essentially what you are arguing for is that we don’t build a replacement/additional power station but instead spend the resources on localised power generation – you wouldn’t actually reduce the total amount of energy consumed, and given the inefficiencies in small scale generation you’d probably end up increasing it. My point is that it is likely to be more efficient and sensible to build the larger central power station.

    This type of generation is a radically different paradigm to the ones you are rightly dismissing as highly inefficient.

    But WHY would you do it this way when you already have a perfectly good, cheap, reliable and efficient system? What advantage does it give?

    Not if you want them to be able to use it in the way we have got used to using personal transport

    What’s that got to do with it? How does a solar array on your house affect how you drive your car? I don’t understand your point here. In any case, it isn’t true – see below.

    Simply put, the energy efficiency of the systems of converting and storing electricity are not up to the task of running personal vehicle transport in the way that we have got used to working it

    I hate to disappoint you, but that’s not actually true.

    The vast majority of car journeys are very short urban trips. Here in Britain, I understand that about most car journeys made are less than three miles in length, and the average is somewhere between 8 and 10 miles. I looked into this is some detail a couple of years ago, but unfortunately don’t have the scribbled notes any more. I recall concluding, though, that it is absolutely the case that for well over three quarters of all UK car trips a battery electric vehicle is more than adequate. Charging is remarkably quick – you can put 85% charge into a car-sized battery pack in about 15 minutes.

    I also looked at energy efficiency in the context of a lengthy discourse on transmission types. Overall, a battery-electric car charged from the mains is about twice the thermal efficiency of a conventional car, and this includes transmission and storage losses. Given that battery cars don’t consume power when stopped in traffic and actually generate it when slowing down, practical driving cycles yield even greater gains.

    As for performance, you might look at a proven prototype electric sports car that (a) gives a range of 100 miles on one charge when driven sensibly, (b) can out-accelerate most petrol cars and (c) comes with an add-on power trailer to cover long distance (i.e. continuous) driving when needed.

    So, really it’s BS to say electric cars cannot provide what we are used to. They can, easily.

    Fuel based cells are more portable, easy to change/charge and flexible than distributed electricity

    Perhaps so, but you STILL have to generate and distribute the fuel.

    EG

  • Bernie

    Verity,

    As to your question about why. I think it is the same as the anti tobacco people, the facist movement in whatever guise and whatever age. Pretty much any kind of devout statist is basically and fundamentally trying to do one thing…. stop life. What they ostensibly attack are the outward signs of life and what their solutions would result in is basically death.

    I wouldn’t expect any of them to tell you that outright as I wouldn’t expect any of them to have that much self awareness.

  • Daveon

    But WHY would you do it this way when you already have a perfectly good, cheap, reliable and efficient system?

    Because this only makes sense if you assume that the current power generation paradigm doesn’t change. In the last decade we’ve shifted from largely sustainable coal fired power stations to gas powered ones we’re not going to be able to fuel sensibly in about 20 years time – we will be able to import the fuel but frankly I’d rather we didn’t for a bunch of reasons.

    Building a lot more central nuclear power stations goes a long way to removing this bottleneck, but it should be Supplemented by renewables where practical. Local PV cells do that without creating other un-necessary overheads.

    My point about a PV array on new buildings is it is a low impact supplement to a real problem that isn’t really solved by new central power stations, particularly fossil fuel ones that are non-coal.

    The vast majority of car journeys are very short urban trips.

    For individuals, sure they might well be. Not for me, mind you. My journeys tend to be work related involving distances of about 100-150 each way which I do every week or so. Even that doesn’t include the vast bulk of road use in the UK which are road based professionals such as reps, support people, national delivery light weight vehicles or cars and then the mass of large scale heavy road transportation vehicles by truck.

    I also think you underestimate the negative implications of 85% after 15 minutes on a long distance road journey, nor the practicalities of a “power trailer”. Besides, this would also require a radical shift in distribution – you’d need mains points at all carparks and end points in order to re-charge and a mechanism for charging for that service.

    Perhaps so, but you STILL have to generate and distribute the fuel.

    We have a pre-existing fuel distribution mechanism that has worked for tens of decades – we don’t have to develop anything new, nor particuarly change personal habits. We might not get the range out of a fuel cell car, but refueling will be pretty familiar to anybody here now and it will be fast.

  • John Rippengal

    Gravid

    thinks nuclear energy cannot be used for too long because of the build up of massive amounts of dangerous waste.
    Just to put the waste problem in perspective I noted in my respected engineering journal that the total amount of high level waste produced by ALL Atomic activity in UK both military and civilian since the late ’40s can be fitted in a volume equivalent to 4 double decker buses.
    How the Green hysteria has clouded rational thinking about this energy source.

  • Julian Taylor

    Officially the Greed Green Party’s manifesto regarding nuclear energy is,

    We do not accept the argument that only through the expansion of nuclear power can we hope to solve the energy and climate change problem. The hidden costs of nuclear power (e.g. waste disposal and the threat to health) are huge and the disposal of radioactive waste does not conform to a Zero Waste policy (see section 6). In addition, the DTI’s own figures show that the cost per unit of nuclear energy production is comparable to off-shore wind and greater than onshore wind power, making nuclear power much more expensive overall.

    We will decommission all nuclear power stations as they come to the end of their life. All research and development subsidies for the nuclear industry will be transferred to the development of renewable alternatives.

    Now that is a rather cleverly worded little paragraph seemingly designed to appease both the rabid lentil faction and the Jonathan Porrit FoTE types. Note the “as they come to the end of their life – many of the more modern reactors in the now have an estimated current renewal life of between 40 and 60 years. Indeed Dungeness A reactor comes up for renewal in a few months time, a matter that Margaret Beckett and her boss are desperately trying to avoid bringing up before the Labour Algaes (distinctly green, smelly, slimy and generally unpleasant) and have managed to defer this until after the election.

    A full renewal on a modern reactor – Hinkley Point B in the West Country is a good example – can now be estimated to extend its life way beyond that figure. Hinkley Point now reckons on their main generating reactors lasting in their current form until well after 2060 and, just to REALLY irk the greens, Hinkley Point’s water purification plant apparently now produces mineral water for a local bottling plant from its surplus.

  • Verity

    Unexception people with no skills, talent or charisma often try to carve out a little niche for themselves with a cause. Cases in point include Jack Straw a lefty president of the socialist NUS. Charles Clarke was also a president of the NUS. John Reid, communist and former researcher for the Scottish Union of Students. Trevor Phillips, president of the NUS. Egad, Holmes! I’m beginning to see a pattern here!

    Peter Mandelson Former Communist and chairman of the British Youth Council (although this may have been for the youths, not the politics) and led a delegation to Cuba where he was no doubt welcomed by Castrol. Oh, and Trev’ also went to Cuba with Mandy.

    Etc. A bunch of charisma-free, brain-free losers.

  • Euan Gray

    Because this only makes sense if you assume that the current power generation paradigm doesn’t change

    And why would it? Centralised power generation and grid distribution is efficient and reliable – there is NO NEED to change it. So why bother? The only real issue you raise is security of fuel supply, and unless you’re planning a seriously hostile aggressive state this is not as important as you might think.

    Building a lot more central nuclear power stations goes a long way to removing this bottleneck

    Exactly, and it is this rather than personalised solar arrays which makes more sense.

    My point about a PV array on new buildings is it is a low impact supplement to a real problem that isn’t really solved by new central power stations

    What problem? Importing fuel? Most countries need to do this, and the trading system seems to work well enough. If you’re paranoid about reliance on Arabs or Russians, you might see this as a problem, and if you’re foolish enough to put 100% of your energy supply at the mercy of a single supplier you likely would have problems. Bet we don’t do this, and I can’t see that we are likely to either. The “problem” you purport to solve doesn’t really exist. If you think it does, perhaps you could explicitly state what it is, preferably avoiding the use of corporate drone phrases such as shifting paradigms.

    Even that doesn’t include the vast bulk of road use in the UK

    Yes, it does. It is the average UK car journey distance. It doesn’t include trucks and vans, which are a different thing. It does include cars both business and private. Electrical power is more than adequate for the overwhelming majority of car use, although there are always going to be cases where an alternative is more appropriate.

    you’d need mains points at all carparks

    Electrical cable, transformers and inductive couplers. All off the shelf stuff readily available and easy to splice into the existing power grid – the same one that is already in place to provide lighting for the car parks, of course.

    and a mechanism for charging for that service

    Like parking meters, perhaps? It’s hardly rocket science, is it?

    We have a pre-existing fuel distribution mechanism that has worked for tens of decades

    It won’t work for hydrogen, though, for a variety of perfectly good engineering and physics reasons. Alcohol also has issues as a bulk fuel which people overlook – like petrol, it is toxic, but unlike petrol it is miscible in water. Think about it, because that’s actually a big problem.

    We might not get the range out of a fuel cell car, but refueling will be pretty familiar to anybody here now and it will be fast

    Refuelling an electric car is as complicated as pushing a sealed plastic disk into a receptacle. I imagine even the average sales rep could manage this on the second attempt. And it’s actually safer than dispensing flammable liquid fuel.

    EG

  • Gary Gunnels

    Tedd McHenry,

    There isn’t a country on the planet with nuclear power that doesn’t heavily subsidize nuclear power. France, Japan and South Korea (the world’s “superpowers” when it comes to nuclear power plant energy production) are all heavily involved.

    The U.S. has done more than simply provide a liability cap of course. Its spent a heck of a lot of money on research as well and many states were openly encouraged to directly subsidized nuclear power at one point.

    Johnathan,

    About 2%-3% of our electricity production comes from oil-fired plants. In the past couple of decades almost every new power plant has been a natural gas-fired plant (as a reaction to pollution controls). We still have a number of coal-fired plants but they are generally rather aged.

    Euan Gray,

    De-centralized production would be more helpful in the developing world (over the short term) than anywhere else.

  • Daveon

    So why bother?

    Because it’s also sensible to conserve and suplement core generation capacity. It’s not just about hostile powers it’s about relying on fuel sources from potentially unstable partners like Russia. Just because most countries import power, I don’t think that’s a particularly sensible justification for anything really. I can’t really see why you don’t see this as a problem. We have a bottleneck in Nuclear power construction, we’re already commited to importing vast amounts of fuels from Russia and Indonesia and the like – if we don’t get alternatives moving, we’re going to be stuck with increasingly fragile energy production means.

    I’d like to see your raw data for British car journeys to see that this includes small vans and typical professional travellers. I can only find data for individuals on line. I’m also interested in your raw data for claiming that it is more efficient to centrally generate and distribute to batteries. When I studied this at University, albeit 15 years ago, that was certainly not the case.

    We don’t have parking meters in all car parks, we don’t have the necessary power distribution and it’s not as easy as you make out. Would you like to work out the substation requirements for a 100 car carpark and the fusing and cable sizes? It’s nowhere near as simple as you alude to. Just because it seems easier, it isn’t. It might be something a sales rep could figure out, but I trained as an engineer and incorporating this infrastucture into typical street scenarios is out of the question economically.

    We already transport hydrogen on mass around the place and there are plenty of engineering ways of doing it.

  • Euan Gray

    De-centralized production would be more helpful in the developing world (over the short term) than anywhere else

    I know, but Daveon was talking about Britain. We don’t need it, would not benefit from it, and in fact would just end up paying even more for our energy. I fail to see the merit in the idea.

    In the Third World, personal solar arrays have to be better than early death through wood-and-cow-shit indoor fires. Having said that, getting rid of the corruption and incompetence widespread in developing countries (a major reason why they are still developing) would be even better and is a necessary precondition for the efficient operation of the extant power grids.

    EG

  • Tim Sturm

    Euan Gray

    Can you please explain what you mean by “central generation”. The UK, and almost every other Western country except perhaps France does not have “central generation”, but a competitive generation market with free entry and exit, just as electricity retailing is not centralised but competitive.

    In regard to transmission, every country has more or less “centralised transmission”, if that is intended to mean that transmission is owned by licensed monopolies. That may be efficient in terms of economies of scale, but it is certainly not efficient in terms of a competitive market.

    In a free market for the transport of electricity, duplication of resources, either through competing large scale networks or through small-scale local generation and/or distribution systems is exactly what you would expect to see. There is nothing inefficient about that.

  • Euan Gray

    Because it’s also sensible to conserve and suplement core generation capacity

    We have no shortage of core generating capacity. There is no pressing need to conserve it.

    Just because most countries import power, I don’t think that’s a particularly sensible justification for anything really. I can’t really see why you don’t see this as a problem

    It isn’t a problem. Few countries generate all the power they need entirely from domestic resources. Some countries have a gross surplus of fuels and can do this, exporting the remainder, but most cannot. I don’t see why you are so convinced it is a problem. Are you alarmed at the prospect of Uncle Volodya turning off the tap unless we do his bidding? How likely is this?

    I’d like to see your raw data for British car journeys to see that this includes small vans and typical professional travellers

    All the sources I have seen (some in books I no longer have, many government and transport organisations publishing online, etc) say much the same thing – most journeys very short, UK average car trip somewhere between 8 and 10 miles. Here’s some stuff from the Scottish Executive, which interestingly enough includes vans and trucks in their average (still about 8-9 miles, though). There’s plenty more out there, all saying the same thing.

    I’m also interested in your raw data for claiming that it is more efficient to centrally generate and distribute to batteries. When I studied this at University, albeit 15 years ago, that was certainly not the case.

    You do understand I’m talking about the relative efficiencies of ICE versus battery-electric cars? The overall efficiency of the electric system is about double that of the ICE system. The stages in the process are thus:

    refine crude into petrol or diesel;
    truck fuel to filling station (10-15% effic.);
    burn fuel in an engine that, if you’re lucky, runs at 30% thermal effic.;
    transmit the power through an inexpertly controlled multi-ratio transmission (combined, takes it down to about 10-15%)

    OR:

    refine crude into furnace oil;
    pump by pipeline to power station (more efficient than truck to petrol station);
    burn oil to generate electricity (about 35% effic.);
    transmit over HT grid, substations, etc., to the house (about 92% efficient station-to-socket);
    rectify to DC, charge battery, invert to AC in the car (about 75%);
    pass through a computer controlled induction motor connected directly to the axle (no gearbox, about 90-95% AC-wheel effic.)

    The well-to-wheel thermal efficiency of an electric car using modern electrical gear is about double that of an equivalent petrol or diesel car. Probably the key thing which has changed since your university studies is the ready availability of the microprocessor controlled polyphase induction motor, and this really has transformed the situation.

    Note also, though, that the above takes no account of the savings from regenerative braking in the electric car (which feeds power back into the battery), nor does it consider that the electrical power is controlled by computer and not a human and nor does it consider battery technology more advanced than lead-acid.

    We don’t have parking meters in all car parks

    How hard would it be to install them? How hard to design one which uses the monetary input in conjunction with a watt-hour meter? You’re an engineer, so you must realise this is hardly a difficult task.

    we don’t have the necessary power distribution

    But it’s not insuperably difficult to install, is it? Of course you would need additional generating capacity and additional/uprated distribution at a local level – but that’s it. None of this is impossible or particularly difficult. People manage to run power cables in pretty much every street for lights and domestic distribution. They also manage to run hefty power supplies into new factories and office blocks.

    An electric car can be charged in a few hours from a 13A domestic outlet. Suppose you build a car park with room for 1,000 cars. You need the equivalent of 1,000 mains sockets. But suppose you’re building a new 10-storey office block – how many 13A outlets would you need? How hard is it?

    It’s nowhere near as simple as you alude to.

    But it’s a lot simpler than you seem to think.

    We already transport hydrogen on mass around the place and there are plenty of engineering ways of doing it

    We don’t transport hydrogen on the scale we transport petrol and diesel. We don’t have the widespread hydrogen storage facilities we have for petrol and diesel. We don’t have the ability to make hydrogen on the same scale. Much of the distribution and storage infrastructure we have for petrol and diesel is not suitable for large quantities of explosive gas. Of course it’s possible to build all these things, and of course it can be done safely – but for an electric solution you don’t need to do much more than build some additional power stations. And then, of course, how are you going to make these vast quantities of hydrogen on a daily basis?

    EG

  • GCooper

    Euan Gray writes:

    “Are you alarmed at the prospect of Uncle Volodya turning off the tap unless we do his bidding? How likely is this?”

    Likely enough to be a consideration by anyone but the determinedly blasé.

    Our over-reliance on oil from the Middle East has been the cause of endless grief since WWII. One would have hoped lessons had been learned from this, but apparently not.

  • Euan Gray

    Can you please explain what you mean by “central generation”.

    Given that the discussion was about the relative merits of individual versus large-scale power generation, I would have thought it was pretty obvious that by central generation I mean the production of electricity for a given area in a single centralised power station.

    There is nothing inefficient about that

    Yes, there is. It is grossly inefficient to have multiple parallel distribution grids in the absence of a compelling technical need. A distribution grid is extremely expensive, both in construction and in maintenance, and thus the unit cost of electricity in a scenario where we had multiple parallel grids would be rather high. This is why we don’t have them, and it’s why there cannot be a true free competitive market in power generation and supply.

    However, you’re missing the point. If you generate electricity centrally, distribution over a high tension grid to your wall socket is about 92% efficient. Inverting DC (from a fuel cell or solar array, for example) is at best about the same or slightly less – but depends on the loading of the inverter. A domestic inverter would need to be capable of supplying the maximum load envisaged, but would almost always run at a fraction of this load, so it’s reasonable to assume a domestic setup would be somewhat less efficient than mains distribution. On top of that, you have the conversion efficiency from fuel source to electricity, and whatever the method it is likely to be more efficient centrally done than locally simply because large dedicated plant can more easily be optimised and can have all manner of efficiency improving features that are not feasible on small-scale setups. Central electricity generation and grid distribution is, with current technology, more efficient than local generation. It’s also more cost effective, since this is one field in which economies of scale most definitely apply.

    Since in the UK we do not generally have problems of power failure, brown-outs, spikes, etc., that seem to affect some other areas, there is no real advantage to be had by switching to a less efficient and more expensive system, and I cannot for the life of me see why anyone would think that doing so is a good idea.

    EG

  • D Anghelone

    I see the fellow who created Greenpeace has just floated off, presumably to that great windfarm in the sky.

    Patrick Moore was another Greenpeace founder who has reformed to form Greenspirit.

  • Verity

    I see Greenpeace man was called Hunter. So he will have gone off to the happy Hunter grounds.

    Euan – No offence, but can I ask you a simple question? Are you Kodiak?

  • Euan Gray

    No offence, but can I ask you a simple question? Are you Kodiak?

    Other than a species of bear, who or what is Kodiak? And why do you ask? If you have a point, what is it?

    EG

  • Tim Sturm

    I would have thought it was pretty obvious that by central generation I mean the production of electricity for a given area in a single centralised power station

    Well then its a pretty crap term. The electricity generation market is no more centralised than the global market for oil production. It is the transport of electricity that is centralised. Why not just call it “large-scale generation” if that is what you meant?

    It is grossly inefficient to have multiple parallel distribution grids in the absence of a compelling technical need.

    Surely then it is also inefficient to have multiple supermarkets and multiple gas stations in the same area, all served by multiple transport companies, and multiple producers? Why not simply have one (regulated) supermarket chain?

  • Euan Gray

    Well then its a pretty crap term

    In fact, it’s precise and meaningful.

    Why not just call it “large-scale generation” if that is what you meant?

    Because the term generally used to describe the situation where power is generated centrally and distributed is (fairly logically) “central generation.” Tough if you don’t like it, but that’s what it’s called.

    Surely then it is also inefficient to have multiple supermarkets and multiple gas stations in the same area, all served by multiple transport companies, and multiple producers?

    Of course it isn’t. You’re comparing apples with orchards.

    You go to the supermarket. You drive along a road which is used for many other things than going to the supermarket. You make a choice between supermarkets A and B, perhaps no more difficult than turning left instead of right at the junction.

    You need electricity for your home. It comes along cables which are used for no other purpose. You make a choice between suppliers, but if it were a true choice like the supermarket example you would have to have multiple power cables coming into your house and select which one to connect your wiring to.

    See the difference?

    No? OK, try this:

    The road is a “common carrier” system which is used for many things, not just enabling people to go to a specific supermarket. If people use the road for other things, it does not bother the supermarket. If nobody uses the road for anything else other than going to the supermarket, it does not bother the supermarket (assuming the supermarket didn’t actually build the road, of course). It makes sense then that many organisations and people benefit in many different ways from the roads, using them for different things. It also makes sense that you could have multiple roads.

    The power cable coming into your house is a single purpose object – it isn’t used for anything else. If you have four competing power suppliers and each of them has a cable running to your house, then at any one time three of these cables are going to be doing nothing. Big deal, perhaps, but extend that all the way back such that you have multiple competing grids from (say) the local substation to the houses within a given area. At any one time, at least three quarters of the installed capacity will be unused, making the amortisation of the capital costs of installation somewhat painful. It makes no sense whatever, either technically or economically, to duplicate such expensive single-purpose installations.

    EG

  • Tim Sturm

    At any one time, at least three quarters of the installed capacity will be unused, making the amortisation of the capital costs of installation somewhat painful.

    It’s called competition.

  • Euan Gray

    It’s called competition.

    It’s called stupidity. Nobody is going to build multiple very expensive single purpose power distribution grids only to see at least 50% of the capacity unused. And funnily enough, people don’t actually do it – I wonder why that could be?

    How would you justify the increased electricity price that would necessarily result from such a scheme? Competition is supposed to keep the costs down, not increase them.

    EG

  • Tim Sturm

    Nobody is going to build multiple very expensive single purpose power distribution grids only to see at least 50% of the capacity unused. And funnily enough, people don’t actually do it – I wonder why that could be?

    Erm, because the tariffs are regulated perhaps?

    In actual fact, in countries where tariffs are unregulated, duplication of networks is common.

    Notwithstanding this, the wider points, Mr Gray, are as follows:

    (a) the centralised electricity transportation is a state system that may never have arisen in practice in a free market – therefore you are making some pretty hefty assumptions about your ability to know what is “efficient”;

    (b) under the system of regulated tariffs we currently have for transport networks economic viability for the development of alternatives is negated (i.e. the so-called “dynamic efficiency” criterion is not fulfilled);

    (c) duplication of networks is one possibility for introducing actual competition, and one that in many circumstances is *entirely* consistent with economic efficiency, given that it has been observed in practice;

    (d) an alternative to duplication in a fully privatised, unregulated market is consumer ownership of assets, i.e. co-operatives, under which any “monopoly power” is negated by the fact that any economic rents are returned to the consumer anyway in the form of dividends (this, also, is a result that has been widely observed in unregulated network markets).

    (e) Notwithstanding your love of collectivist controls, and the possible alternatives I have suggested against regulated networks above, the free market may develop all kinds of alternatives that I, and certainly you, could never predict.

  • Effra

    “…liberation from being locked into a grid”

    What a lively discussion I sparked. Almost electrically lively, one might say, though with a danger of going critical. I’ll just pat myself on the back.

  • bigdaddysamson

    There seems to be a bit of paranoia about those concerned for the environment. The clearest rallying cry I’ve heard for the sustainable green movement has been ‘providing for the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations’. With that in mind, nuclear power is not a cause of concern because it involves progressive technology, but because it creates a problem that we have yet to solve, safe disposal of nuclear waste. While it is far more efficient than fossil fuels, and on a large scale more immediately feasible than solar/hydrogen because of the early stages of the development of these technologies, it will face resistance as long this potentially catastrophic amount of waste is still a factor. Its not about some absurd pre-industrialized agrarian philosophy or the elimination humans, its about implementing a system which keeps in mind the present human population, without forgetting the future.

    A paradigm where business and progress and business are pitted against one another will never accomplish this, so blanket generations about greens as anti-human and anti-progress accomplish nothing but creating division. We need the planet as much as we need the technology that helps us to live the lifestyles we do, but by compromising it we compromise ourselves. It is my faith in technology that makes me resistant to nuclear power. If we have a constant input of power, the sun, we’re a smart enough species to learn to harness and distribute it without creating nuclear waste.

  • bigdaddysamson

    There seems to be a bit of paranoia about those concerned for the environment. The clearest rallying cry I’ve heard for the sustainable green movement has been ‘providing for the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations’. With that in mind, nuclear power is not a cause of concern because it involves progressive technology, but because it creates a problem that we have yet to solve, safe disposal of nuclear waste. While it is far more efficient than fossil fuels, and on a large scale more immediately feasible than solar/hydrogen because of the early stages of the development of these technologies, it will face resistance as long this potentially catastrophic amount of waste is still a factor. Its not about some absurd pre-industrialized agrarian philosophy or the elimination humans, its about implementing a system which keeps in mind the present human population, without forgetting the future.

    A paradigm where business and progress and business are pitted against one another will never accomplish this, so blanket generations about greens as anti-human and anti-progress accomplish nothing but creating division. We need the planet as much as we need the technology that helps us to live the lifestyles we do, but by compromising it we compromise ourselves. It is my faith in technology that makes me resistant to nuclear power. If we have a constant input of power, the sun, we’re a smart enough species to learn to harness and distribute it without creating nuclear waste.