Fossil fuels are doomed
December 7, 2016 12:06 PM   Subscribe

 
Fossil fuels are doomed

Not if they can doom us first, I suspect.
posted by Artw at 12:13 PM on December 7, 2016 [21 favorites]


HELLOOOO! YOU FORGOT ME!

Seriously, searched for this term. Fail.
posted by lalochezia at 12:19 PM on December 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Now that it's an article of faith in the US government that there is no such thing as an externality, we can still take note that Koppelaar made his case without looking at them.
posted by ocschwar at 12:25 PM on December 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


I read the article, but did not read the research - there is a false equivalency going on here: comparing the power generated by solar to gas or oil doesn't take into account the portability of the latter at all. There are not many stationary power plants that use oil or gas because there are cheaper ways to generate that power - coal or natural gas. You cannot, practically speaking, power a car directly with solar power - you would use something like a charging station to store that power electrically and then pass it onto an EV. That article doesn't mention anything about the efficiency of that process (which I'd be curious to see), and barring a massive investment in transportation infrastructure, oil and gas aren't going anywhere soon.
posted by Dmenet at 12:36 PM on December 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


There are not many stationary power plants that use oil or gas because there are cheaper ways to generate that power

Generally true (about 1% of overall US power comes from oil), but Hawaii is an interesting exception (about 70% of their power comes from oil power plants!).
posted by thefoxgod at 12:39 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


See also: How cheap can solar get?
posted by gwint at 12:39 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Solar power has significant positive externalities--"The economic effects of cheaper solar power"
posted by No Robots at 12:41 PM on December 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Given that the people who own all the fossil fuels are the richest and most powerful people in the world, I tend to assume that fossil fuels will be phased out only when those people have extracted all the money that can possibly be extracted from fossil fuels, and have positioned themselves to start extracting money from the alternatives. If there was anything like fair competition, fossil fuels might eventually be threatened by it, but there ain't and they ain't. I'm no expert on any of this stuff so that is merely my hunch.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 12:41 PM on December 7, 2016 [10 favorites]


So a recent development here in Louisville Kentucky is that Louisville Gas and Electric (our local electric monopoly) just announced their intention to double their base charge: from the current charge of roughly $10 for gas and $10 for electric hookups, to about $20 for each. This means each household would go from a $20/month base rate to a $40/month.

This is worrying, because it's the base rate: not an increase in charges for the electricity one actually uses, but for just the ability to consume any electricity from their grid at all. So if 90% of your electricity comes from solar panels, you're still out that extra $20 per month to be able to use the grid for that last 10%.

In addition to fucking over the solar-panel-buyers who hoped to save cash while acting in an environmentally-friendly way, this change also fucks over anyone poor who's hoping to save money by doing simple things like replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs, turning down the electric heat from 70 to 65, etc. The interests of the poor and the green are allied here, and in direct opposition to the profits of a private company.

Politically, what's to be done? In an ideal world, local politicians would stand up to this private entity, doing the right thing for both the earth and the poor.

So: that's what's happening. Kentuckians For The Commonwealth pushed for city council to intervene in the electric company's plan to raise the base rate. City Council has announced that they will intervene in a hearing before the Public Service Commission later this month.

The political engagement in action here so far is:
A) Citizens mobilized by a
B) progressive leftist nonprofit, lobbying
C) elected politicians who are receptive to a pro-economic-justice and pro-environment message.

Saving people $20 a month may not sound like a huge thing, but here it is: in the midst of the national-level Republican-takeover shitstorm, local democratic political action that's making a practical difference for the poor and and for the earth. Good government at work.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:43 PM on December 7, 2016 [47 favorites]


There are not many stationary power plants that use oil or gas because there are cheaper ways to generate that power - coal or natural gas.

Pretty sure that when they say "oil or gas" that means "oil or natural gas" and not "oil or gasoline."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:45 PM on December 7, 2016 [9 favorites]



This is worrying, because it's the base rate: not an increase in charges for the electricity one actually uses, but for just the ability to consume any electricity from their grid at all. So if 90% of your electricity comes from solar panels, you're still out that extra $20 per month to be able to use the grid for that last 10%.


Sorry, but it is good and proper. When the linemen swarm in after a storm to repair the damage and bring the lights back on, they cost the same amount of money regardless of how much juice traveled that month down the wires they patch. The grid requires an enormous fixed expense to keep up and running, and the money for it has to come from some place.

What is not right is the fact that inner city residents, whose wiring is inherently cheaper to install and maintain, pay the same base rate as suburban and exurban customers, whose wiring requires more copper and more work.

What is also not right and proper is the lack of a working market mechanism that pays you what it should when your panels go to power your neighbor's AC.
posted by ocschwar at 12:50 PM on December 7, 2016 [10 favorites]


Really, Solar? Solar is going to die when China continues to pollute the living hell out of our atmosphere.

One can build a safe, stable nuclear power plant of many different safe varieties on a safe place, and safely provide power to millions of people while being safe.

Stop the hate on nuclear power. If you do it right, it's safe. Safe.

If you're argument is composed of anecdotes about Japan or three mile island, I don't want to hear it. They were both built before I was born, and I'm a middle aged guy. New plants don't have those issues. Safe.
posted by Sphinx at 12:54 PM on December 7, 2016 [4 favorites]




Really, Solar? Solar is going to die when China continues to pollute the living hell out of our atmosphere.

China's coal usage has been on the decline since 2014 and they've sped up deployment of renewables. They now have the largest amount of PV and thermal of any country. They also have 20 of your idealized nuclear plants under construction.

The US on the other hand has seen a renaissance in fossil fuels with bountiful natural gas reserves replacing coal not mass renewable deployment. Not to mention our cheeto-in-chief trying to bring coal back whether the market wants it or not.
posted by Talez at 1:04 PM on December 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


Really, Solar? Solar is going to die when China continues to pollute the living hell out of our atmosphere.

How is China's pollution going to kill solar? Do you envision solid black clouds blocking out the sun or something?
posted by rocket88 at 1:08 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Nuclear assumes there will always be enough people around to handle the waste. This is a bad assumption, even if it's a politically useful one.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 1:13 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Nuclear is a cute concept but it's basically dead and buried in the US, at this point. Solar and wind are the future and are what's going to happen.
posted by Slinga at 1:15 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


I have thought (and I'm sure it's not an original thought) that to sell solar in the US you need to stop talking about it's environmental credentials but instead start talking about it in terms of independence.

All these "rolling coal" types* need to see ads talking about self reliance and rugged independence. Going to your government on your knees begging for scraps of electricity from their big socialised grid? That's basically like communism. No a real make makes his own power. A real man goes out into the sun and tames it for his own needs. It's patriotic too, no need to be beholden to any foreign oil rich country, you got yours.
Alright it's trite and lazy, but give it to proper marketers to sort out and you'd get there.
But talking about how solar is cheaper or solar is going to save the earth or anything like that. Nah, that's liberal values. ** That'll get you nowhere.



*Yes I know, they're a minority, but an extreme one, if you can get them on board with solar you can get anyone.
**Yes, I fully admit this is lazy borderline offensive sterotyping about a place I've never been. I have no excuses
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 1:16 PM on December 7, 2016 [14 favorites]


In order for nuclear power to be safe, you need strong regulation and a government willing to police it and deal with nasty issues like waste, safety, etc. I don't trust the US government to handle nuclear power at all (I'm not sure what government I would trust, but the US government would never be on that list).
posted by thefoxgod at 1:24 PM on December 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Tesla sells big residential and solar batteries now. At preset, they are not optimizes for daily use with solar, but presumably Musk will push them that way soonish.

Investors are an important audience for this sort of news :  Oil companies must raise money from investors. Shale oil is often unprofitable already. If investors discount future earnings more, due to the fear of cheap solar, electric cars, etc., then they should demand stronger assurances, a higher P/E ratio, etc. from oil companies now, making more big oil projects impossible.

"Electric vehicles could displace oil demand of 2 million barrels a day as early as 2023. That would create a glut of oil equivalent to what triggered the 2014 oil crisis." (via)
posted by jeffburdges at 1:47 PM on December 7, 2016 [4 favorites]



From that link:
"OPEC maintains that electric vehicles (EVs) will make up just 1 percent of cars in 2040"
Ha! Yeah, I bet they do.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 1:54 PM on December 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


This really is good news, but as others have said, externalities are not being accorded the proper respect. The Royal Society of London paper linked in the initial article doesn't really grapple with issues like - costs of maintenance, renewability of solar panel components, and the greater environmental impact, like it always is with oil, is minimized.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 1:58 PM on December 7, 2016


ocschwar : Sorry, but it is good and proper...What is not right is the fact that inner city residents, whose wiring is inherently cheaper to install and maintain, pay the same base rate as suburban and exurban customers, whose wiring requires more copper and more work.

I couldn't disagree more. Power is a common good, much in the same way as education or the fire service. This constant obsession with costing every interaction with a common good or service is the mechanism that is being used by the "small government" crowd to privatise and commodify everything. It erodes the very notion of a common good. Apart from anything else, the effort and cost that it takes to meter usage of the common goods/services typically outweighs the gains from usage charges. It makes us all worse off in exchange for some vague feeling that we've eliminated freeloaders. In fact, the opposite is the case because we've just created a class of rentiers.
posted by Jakey at 2:00 PM on December 7, 2016 [20 favorites]


In order for nuclear power to be safe, you need strong regulation and a government willing to police it and deal with nasty issues like waste, safety, etc. I don't trust the US government to handle nuclear power at all (I'm not sure what government I would trust, but the US government would never be on that list).

Cite please.

France has none of these, and they're running some seriously old plants quite well. I'm going to go to my grave wondering just how the anti-nuke group won this game that isn't a game. It's worse than the pro gun lobby. By the way, how's Canada doing with their reactors?
posted by Sphinx at 2:34 PM on December 7, 2016


France has none of these, and they're running some seriously old plants quite well

These = "strong regulation and a government willing to police it" or "nasty issues like waste, safety, etc". If the former, I doubt that it is actually in good shape. If the latter, then you're just agreeing with me and maybe France actually does a good job! But the US clearly does not as we still have no real plan for waste and have a terrible record of keeping businesses of any kind to account for safety. Japan's industry failures with transparency and safety have been extensively documented in the last few years.

My point was that I agree it's technically feasible. And maybe there is a responsible government who can do it. The US is not a responsible government (and its only going to get much much much worse in the next 4 years on the "holding businesses to account" point).
posted by thefoxgod at 2:42 PM on December 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


I couldn't disagree more. Power is a common good, much in the same way as education or the fire service.

So what?

Fire service is a common good, but the more sprawled a community is, the more it costs for the fire trucks to arrive in a timely manner to a fire.

Education is a common good, but the more sprawled a community is, the more it costs for the school buses to bring everyone in to school every day.

Power is a common good, but the more sprawled a community is, the more it costs to set up the copper to deliver it.

The same applies to water lines. And road service. And telecoms. And police protection.

The same applies to anything. It has to be paid for one way or another, and if you insist on ignoring the cost imposed to provide these services, you're in effect saying "price is no object." Yes, you're using progressive arguments derived from wanting all people to live in a minimum of safety and comfort. But you're still in effect saying "price is no object." And that's not something you want to say very often.
posted by ocschwar at 2:43 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Solar is a resource that some states have more than others. Just like coal and natural gas. The federal government should either encourage the development of these resources or at the very least get out of the way. Favoring fossil fuels over renewables is just plain favoring certain states over others. I'd have less issue with the incoming administration trying to help the coal industry if they didn't also intend to destroy federal subsidies for solar and wind. There are people with jobs in renewables, and they are fast growing indutries in both so called red and blue states.
posted by Mister Cheese at 2:51 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Sphinx,
I think part of it is that when nuclear power has gone wrong, it has gone wrong in very photogenic ways. E.g. the colossal concrete domes and eerie forests of Chernobyl, or the 700 foot ice wall around Fukushima that we will need to maintain a Watch over for the next N decades. Whereas coal power just quietly shoves tens of thousands of people into an early grave each year.

You're right that nuclear power has had an unfairly bad reputation for the last several decades, especially relative to our other realistic choices. And it seems like a (relatively) good option for providing base-load power in the future. That being said, with the price of solar dropping by 50% every few years, and with its cheap initial investment, graceful degradation, lack of security concerns, and distributed generation, solar seems like the best candidate for providing the bulk of our power going forward.
posted by Balna Watya at 2:52 PM on December 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


That article doesn't mention anything about the efficiency of that process (which I'd be curious to see), and barring a massive investment in transportation infrastructure, oil and gas aren't going anywhere soon.

Battery costs are dropping all the time, and new technologies with lower costs, greater environmental friendliness, and better performance are being developed continuously. For example, European Rivals Line Up Against Tesla in the Race to Build Gigafactories. This massive investment and competition is going to make the Tesla/Solar City approach of solar+battery+electric car a reality. Battery technology will also enable greater penetration of wind, and help the grid manage the so-called duck curve.

Really, Solar? Solar is going to die when China continues to pollute the living hell out of our atmosphere.

Nope. The black carbon and smog that comes from coal pollution is primarily a local problem. Also China is one of the biggest producers and installers of solar, and is betting big on that as part of their future economy. When it comes to coal pollution versus solar sales, solar will win.
posted by Existential Dread at 3:31 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


I should add a correction: smog and particulates are primarily a local problem as far as the familiar light-scattering grey haze are concerned. The health effects are a massive public health issue and tourism issue, and so phasing out those polluting vehicles and factories is a win-win for the Chinese government.
posted by Existential Dread at 3:33 PM on December 7, 2016


The flip side to the discussion is that fossil fuels as a power source for our current civilization is doomed regardless of what happens on the solar (or wind or nuclear) side. There was a discussion before the election at Naked Capitalism / Automatic Earth. The starting point was a thermodynamic analysis of the oil industry by the Hills Group, which suggests that the average *net* energy available from each barrel of oil will drop below 1:1 in ~ 10 years or so. If they're even close to right, the real question is do we even have enough time or resources to replace the oil based infrastructure with whatever takes it's place before the energy needed to build the solar cells / wind generators / nuclear reactors becomes unavailable at the scale needed.
posted by cfraenkel at 3:48 PM on December 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Jakey,

Your common good argument actually goes deeper. An obsession with accounting leads to *false data*. For example:

You go to the hospital. Somebody has to handle the incoming mail for the hospital. You need to pay for that somebody. But it can't be a line item on the bill, payors will say, we aren't responsible for your mail. (They will say this, in a letter, that had to be opened.)

So great! It's overhead, distributed across every line item. But now, one Tylenol costs $14. More importantly, if you did not take that Tylenol, the hospital would not actually save $14.

Oh, they do try. Lots of systems do.

Overhead -- common good -- exists in every system. The more we deny it, the less we understand the systems we live in. There's always room to optimize, but wow, we're really weird at it. All this obsession with numbers and it does seem political and personal relationships are the predictors.
posted by effugas at 3:54 PM on December 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


France has strong regulations, Sphinx. They also have an extremely strong culture in engineering, including education, unions, and hiring engineers and scientists for management in engineering companies. All French nuclear plants are owned and operated by EDF, which is owned by the French government and fairly well run. Afaik, all executives at EDF attended École polytechnique, the strongest engineering school in Europe. Also, unions set high standards because they remain strong and doing so benefits them.

As an aside, EDF has bought up much of the U.K. power infrastructure, after the British finance buffoons repeatedly failed to operated it profitably, meaning their privatization scheme ultimately transferred control to France. lol
posted by jeffburdges at 3:55 PM on December 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


I think part of it is that when nuclear power has gone wrong, it has gone wrong in very photogenic ways.
It's car crashes vs. airplane crashes. One kills orders of magnitude more than the other annually, but it isn't the one you'll see news coverage of.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:03 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Solar and wind are the future and are what's going to happen.

The very first offshore wind turbines in the USA began operating off Block Island RI just last week. Deepwater Wind is the group developing these installations with many more to come in the area between Block Island and Martha's Vineyard. The energy generating potential in that area is huge. The area has a broad continental shelf with relatively shallow water, the wind is strong and fairly constant, it peaks between 3-8 PM daily, which is when energy usage peaks, and it is very close to the major cities in the northeast corridor. Europe is way ahead of the USA, of course, but I met some reps from Deepwater Wind last week and they are predicting rapid development and innovation off the southeast New England coast over the next 10 years. And the federal permits are already in place.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 4:31 PM on December 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


As an aside, EDF has bought up much of the U.K. power infrastructure, after the British finance buffoons repeatedly failed to operated it profitably, meaning their privatization scheme ultimately transferred control to France. lol

EDF was able to afford to buy up UK capacity because the French government allowed it to use the money it got from that part of its income from selling nuclear energy that is intended to finance plant decommissioning. The UK does not allow this kind of spending.

Low oil prices currently mean the value of EDF is low and they will effectively be betting the company on the new nuclear power station at Hinkley in Somerset going well. Their CFO has already quit as he felt it was a poor investment. French taxpayers are looking at an expensive future if they go tits up.
posted by biffa at 4:53 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Fossil fuels should be doomed. They should have been doomed for a long time. (I recall Carter having solar panels on the White House roof, and his promotion of Synfuels. The Synthetic Fuels Corporation was created by Congress in 1979.)

We've had a long time to get this right, but we chose to ignore the first scientists who pointed out our problem. Nowadays, some progress is being made on *potential* carbon-neutral and portable synfuels, and given an intelligent world, this would be a hot trail.

Instead we're fighting over tar-sands pipelines with science-deniers whose ignorance is sold far-and-wide using technology made possible by science. Ironic, ain't it.
posted by Twang at 5:34 PM on December 7, 2016 [10 favorites]


Politically, what's to be done?

Decentralize. They're a monopoly because they control the distribution network. So, you find a hydrogen filling station that uses hydrogen trucked in or piped in from a plant that uses modern solar to make hydrogen from water using one of the new breed of catalysts, or even from collected natural gas that's a byproduct of fracking. You fill up your Toyota, and drive home to plug into your Tesla Wall. Your car will charge your house to make up for what the solar roof, which is now cheaper and more durable than a tar shingled roof, has not fed into your Tesla Wall due to weather or season. You'll still have enough H to make it to work and back and all the errands in the AM.

This is expensive, and will require maintenance and component replacement, but at $40/mo for the life of your mortgage? You'll see biiiig savings.

The one thing the modern internet mostly gets wrong - distrust authority, promote decentralization. Line One of the Hacker Ethos. Apply this to energy distribution.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:47 PM on December 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


I have thought (and I'm sure it's not an original thought) that to sell solar in the US you need to stop talking about it's environmental credentials but instead start talking about it in terms of independence.

This has been a key selling point for some time. Look up Obama's speeches on renewables and he is at least as likely to play up energy independence as emissions reduction.


Stop the hate on nuclear power. If you do it right, it's safe. Safe.

If you're argument is composed of anecdotes about Japan or three mile island, I don't want to hear it.


Sure its safe, I've heard that before. Before Chernobyl, all nuclear was safe. After Chernobyl, it was no Western designed reactor could go wrong, they were safe! Then Fukushima. So you might like to keep buying into the idea that reactors are safe but the same people peddling that line have already been found out twice. Dismissing evidence that Chernobyl and Fukushima were major nuclear disasters as anecdotal is laughable. They actually happened. Here are some info sources:

What We Know, and What We Have Not Yet Learned: Triple Disasters and the Fukushima Nuclear Fiasco in Japan

Fukushima accident: What happened?
posted by biffa at 2:06 AM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was coming by to talk about decentralisation also.

A side benefit to distributed solar (i.e. every house having it's own solar roof) is that you can drastically cut back on grid capacity. If every house mostly generates it's own power, with localised banks to store excess or top up when needed you can stop building huge power links.
Sure you need some, but the more local the generation the less capacity the grid needs.

The grid started out (and still is) a very analogue system.
Big power plants monitoring the demand and turning on and off as needed, but we've come along way with smart systems. You can put a computer in anything and make them talk to each other. I once got a computer free on the cover of a magazine. So we can react to changing grid states quicker and more efficiently.
But this is never going to happen with these big centralised plants running the show, and it requires completely changing how we think about our energy infrastructure.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:10 AM on December 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think the ultimate picture will be decarbonised with renewables making up around eighty percent of supply and nuclear around twenty. Electric vehicles will just about double electricity consumption, which will accelerate the whole smart grid/smart battery movement - but I doubt this alone will provide baseline security, hence the need for some nukes. France is over-nuked by any standard and Germany under-nuked (and cheats by importing coal-based power from Poland and nuclear-based power from France), but everywhere else in Europe is moving towards that sort of 80/20 mix in the long term.

There's been a lot of movement in nuclear power design - I think there are seven or eight new designs for large reactors, and many more for small to medium. The new nukes are smaller, simpler, easier to maintain and more fail safe; against that, they're still hard to build properly and, yes, the waste issue is still being kicked down the road. But there's a huge amount of uranium out there and it's dirt cheap, so the economics of nuclear are not as stupid as they were.
posted by Devonian at 5:48 AM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Though i'm pro solar and wind we sometimes forget about all the things made from petroleum products..ie; the computer you're using right now. until we advance materials research we are going to be using oil for quite some time.
posted by judson at 7:43 AM on December 8, 2016


until we advance materials research we are going to be using oil for quite some time.

This is a good point and all the more reason to stop torching those petroleum fractions for a one-off hit of heating inefficient homes.

so the economics of nuclear are not as stupid as they were.

The practical evidence of current new build nuclear economics from Olkiluoto and Flamanville undermine this argument somewhat.
posted by biffa at 7:54 AM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Stop the hate on nuclear power. If you do it right, it's safe. Safe.
If you're argument is composed of anecdotes about Japan or three mile island, I don't want to hear it.


I don't want more nuclear power plants - nor more reliance on the ones we have - under a president who's sworn to remove all the regulations he can track down.

Nuclear power may be safe if the correct procedures, established after many decades of evaluation, are followed. I have no faith whatsoever that they will be, during the upcoming administration.

---
Oil use is going to go down as the biggest "tragedy of the commons" humanity ever met. It's not a case of any particular group being "greedy" (not even the oil companies); it's a matter of "a resource previously believed to be infinite is suddenly not - and not only is there no established way to allocate it, there are no systems in place to sort out who should make those decisions. Additionally, all the costs for failure to allocate correctly are distributed over a very wide population."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:11 AM on December 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Though i'm pro solar and wind we sometimes forget about all the things made from petroleum products..ie; the computer you're using right now. until we advance materials research we are going to be using oil for quite some time.

We're getting better at using natural products as feedstock. PET is done. They can use FDCA instead of PTA and used bio based MEG to make a 100% plant derived soda bottle.

They've almost got a bioplastic that's basically ABS. They can already replace the styrene in ABS with lignin and that's already underutilized. They can use lignin in the production of carbon fibre.

Renewable material science is a hell of a lot better than it used to be compared to the PLA that would dissolve on contact with a finger.
posted by Talez at 8:17 AM on December 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


I think the ultimate picture will be decarbonised with renewables making up around eighty percent of supply and nuclear around twenty.

I do still worry a little bit about what the effects of really large-scale wind power -- say 20-30 terawatts, or about twice current total energy usage -- will be.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:30 AM on December 8, 2016


I do still worry a little bit about what the effects of really large-scale wind power -- say 20-30 terawatts, or about twice current total energy usage -- will be.

Hurricanes will decline.
posted by Talez at 10:01 AM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've seen the research on hurricanes, and it's interesting.

Wind turbines remove energy from the weather system. So that should impact global warming, right?
I have no conception of the scales involved, and they're probably not comparable at all, but perhaps sucking energy out of wind might reduce the impact of global warming?
It's research that I'd like to see.
I'm not sure I even know enough about the science to phrase the question properly.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 11:30 AM on December 8, 2016


Wind turbines remove energy from the weather system. So that should impact global warming, right?

Nope. That whole entropy thing. Wind power moves energy into electricity, using that electricity turns it right back into energy into the environment.

Climate change is the effect of an increasing amount of aggregate energy in the biosphere because of increased amounts of retained solar energy. Unless you find a way to dump that energy out of the system instead of just moving it around it ain't gonna do jack.
posted by Talez at 12:06 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wind turbines remove energy from the weather system. So that should impact global warming, right?


Turbines exploit the convection of warm air from the equator to the poles, and in so doing, they slow it down, causing the air to linger en route, and radiate more of itself upwards. The result is localized warming around the turbine, and the slowing of the process that delivers war air to the poles, which is OMG a good thing.
posted by ocschwar at 12:11 PM on December 8, 2016


In fairness, so do trees, buildings, mountains etc...
posted by Artw at 12:30 PM on December 8, 2016


Wait...wind turbines affecting climate or weather systems on a large scale? How is that even possible? Most wind farms consist of sparsely spaced turbines that reach only tens of metres above the ground, so at worst they could have only a small effect on surface winds and zero effect on high-altitude winds.
posted by rocket88 at 2:28 PM on December 8, 2016


The wind turbines lessen hurricanes study projected 78,000 of them in the path of the hurricane. So approximately twice the entire US utility installed base. All installed in the path of the hurricane.
posted by Mitheral at 3:07 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I do still worry a little bit about what the effects of really large-scale wind power -- say 20-30 terawatts, or about twice current total energy usage -- will be.

From Wikipedia:
Scientists estimate that a tropical cyclone releases heat energy at the rate of 50 to 200 exajoules (1018 J) per day, equivalent to about 1 PW (1015 watt). This rate of energy release is equivalent to 70 times the world energy consumption of humans and 200 times the worldwide electrical generating capacity, or to exploding a 10-megaton nuclear bomb every 20 minutes.
In other words, any effect would be extremely subtle, at most.
posted by hangashore at 3:12 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Nuclear power in the US has been a mess because the Government wanted to optimize the production of Plutonium for nuclear weapons, which required Uranium based fuels. Uranium isn't reactive enough to use as a fuel in an oxidized state, which then means you have a metal that is just itching to get hold of oxygen, surrounded by a thin protective coating, in water.... a failure just waiting to happen.

Thorium is more reactive, and thus doesn't need to be used in a chemically unstable state, but can rather be used as a molten fluoride salt, which simplifies the heck out of criticality problems, as you just dump it into multiple separate smaller containers, and let it cool off. We also have far more Thorium available than uranium.

It also cools faster once it's not critical, only retaining 1% of its heat output, as opposed to the 10% that makes cooling ponds like the one at Fukushima a nightmare still waiting to give us cancer should it go dry.

On the solar part of things...

We need a more resilient grid, designed to handle solar and wind sources... it would be nice if it could just be done at cost-plus like everything else was, instead of rent-seeking profiteering.
posted by MikeWarot at 9:46 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]




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