‘Surface Circles’…

Oil on a water surface… A clash of curves, lines, colours and textures.

Surface circles 05.03.13

out

Advertisements

Iran, ‘according to’ The New York Times…

I was considering doing a series of posts generally titled ‘according to…’ where i’ll scan a newspaper clipping of a prominent news story or interesting event. Instead of lots of waffle from yours truly, i’ll just give a very brief explanation of what I thought stood out of the featured article, maybe using the technique developed by the Achitects Journal where a highlighted section of text is used in place of traditional ‘quotes’.

But, this being me, my creative energy is greater than my implementing energy, meaning things just get left in ‘drafts’ or in notebooks, without the time or energy to finish them off or bring them to life! Claire calls me ‘half-job’! Charming. : )

So, here is the the first ‘according to’ post, without my opinions – Facing the Prospect of a Nuclear Iran, by David E. Sanger, writing in the New York Times.

A very well written article which neatly sums up many of the relevant issues. This is a story to watch and could shape the next generation of Middle East relations.

out

Wind vs nuclear & coal – lost in energy…

So, what is the future source of electrical power?

The candidates are coal, oil, gas, nuclear, wind, solar, hydroelectric and tidal. There are other smaller options, such as biomass, but these are the main ones.

Since Fukushima, there has been a lot more of an open debate, and increasing public awareness, of the issues surrounding future energy provision. The key issue has obviously been about nuclear power, but there are equally important questions about other sources of power. If nuclear is not considered an appropriate contender, what will take it’s place?

So, according to Wikipedia, the UK’s existing nuclear output is 10,982 MW, which is 16% of the total consumption in the UK.

A comparison can easily be made with wind power, which is probably the front runner for the UK. The large off-shore wind turbines produce roughly 5 MW each (max. output) and this type of wind power seems to be the trend right now, given less planning restrictions and economies of scale. Approximately 2,196 of these 5 MW wind turbines would be needed to replace the existing nuclear output.

A few recently developed offshore wind farms give an indication of what’s possible right now.

Thanet (off the coast of Kent) is the UK’s largest wind farm and comprises 100 of the 5 MW turbines, for a total of around 300 MW (3 MW per turbine due to inefficiencies). The UK would need 36 of these (100+ turbine) schemes to equal the present nuclear output!

Greater Gabbard wind farm = 500 MW from 140 turbines, at an estimated cost of £1.5 Billion. That’s £3,000,000 (£3M) per MW produced.

London Array scheme in the Thames Estuary = 1000 MW when built, at a cost of £2.2 Billion. That’s £2,000,000 (£2M) per MW produced. This will be the biggest anywhere and will also be the most cost-efficient, due mainly to the economies of scale.

In terms of a comparison with the nuclear option, the Olkiluoto nuclear power reactor being built right now in Finland, will produce 1500 MW and is costing a fixed price of €3 Billion (£2.6 Billion), although there appear to be cost and time over runs! That’s £1,733,000 (£1.73M) per MW produced.

So, the latest nuclear power station being built produces a third more power at a lower cost per MW.

Coal in another major world power source and is the default option for any country, given the vast reserves found in many areas of the planet and the relative cost efficiency of coal. There are 12 coal power stations (over the 100MW output level) in UK, which equals approximately 23,000 MW output. This is more than double the nuclear output.

There is an apparent need to get these off-line as quickly as possible, due to their huge environmental impact (air pollution, radiation, carbon dioxide, acid rain). If all of these were to be taken off-line, this would equal another 76 (100 turbine+) wind schemes.

So to replace just the existing coal and nuclear output with wind, it would need more than 115 wind farms, each of over 100 turbines. This would be more than 11,500 turbines, at 3 MW average each.

This is one of the main problems at the moment. The cost of installing and maintaining completely new grid systems for the wind farms to feed into is massive. This is another reason why conventional land based power stations are more efficient, as they tie into existing grid infrastructure.

Add to this the energy demand of the ‘cost’ of switching every car to electric, rather than petrol, to reduce then eliminate the pollution and carbon from the transport sector. A quote from George Monbiot’s blog on this subject.

The case against reducing electricity supplies is just as clear. For example, the Zero Carbon Britain report published by the Centre for Alternative Technology urges a 55% cut in overall energy demand by 2030 – a goal I strongly support. It also envisages a near-doubling of electricity production. The reason is that the most viable means of decarbonising both transport and heating is to replace the fuels they use with low-carbon electricity. Cut the electricity supply and we’re stuck with oil and gas. If we close down nuclear plants, we must accept an even greater expansion of renewables than currently proposed. Given the tremendous public resistance to even a modest increase in windfarms and new power lines, that’s going to be tough. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/may/02/environmental-fixes-all-greens-lost

A major consideration concerning the roll out of any number of nuclear reactors is the cost of processing the nuclear waste and the long-term storage of that waste. The example from Finland also includes the world’s first (very) long-term, purpose built nuclear storage site, 3 miles from the Olkiluoto power station. Named Onkalo, it will house all of Finland’s nuclear waste, for the next 100 years. It will then be back-filled and sealed for 100,000 years.

A recent documentary on this facility, titled Into Eternity (by Danish director Michael Madsen), explores the process which the Finnish authorities went through in deciding to give permission for this facility, as well as the construction itself. I’ve just ordered this film from Amazon so will do a review once I’ve watched it!

An alternative method of dealing with the nuclear waste, and one which I fully support, is to reprocess and recycle the waste. There are many ways to do this and the conclusions to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s, ‘spent fuel reprocessing options’ report includes re-processing as an important part of the process. The report also concludes multi-national fuel centres, operating within an independent international framework, are needed.

IAEA – spent fuel reprocessing options – aug 2008

‘The design of advanced reprocessing methods must deal in a comprehensive manner with (1) safety, (2) the control and minimization of plant effluents, (3) minimization of the waste generation, (4) the production of stable and durable waste forms, and (5) economic competitiveness. International collaboration on the development of advanced reprocessing methods, considering the magnitude of the challenges, is essential to facilitate the future deployment of these technologies.’

The significant other side to the whole energy debate is the need for energy conservation and lifestyle changes. This is the tricky part, given it involves billions of individual decisions by members of the public. There is some scope for Government intervention in this issue but, call my cynical, the majority of people really don’t care, let along even accept there is a problem. Hardly furtile ground for a mass uprising towards the necessary clean and sustainable future!

Unless people, companies & organisations are forced by law into it, they generally won’t, unless it’s part of a marketing strategy. The motivated few will not make a big difference, unless that is, you happen to be a senior policy maker in whitehall, and your boss also happens to be that way inclined, and most of the Cabinet are too… etc etc.! They are not getting strong signals about this from the general public and so will be less inclined to act.

The next time you turn on your microwave, tv, computer, ipad, ipod, radio, dishwasher, wireless router, washing machine, blender, kettle, toaster, grill, clothes dryer, hair dryer, camera, fridge or freezer, oven, mobile phone, calculator, lights, car, DVD/CD player, stereo, shaver, clock, bike lights  – think how hard it’s going to be to alter billions of people’s lifestyles and reduce our reliance on these things, in an age of dependence on computers and technology.

Changing people’s perceptions, attitudes and choices is the hard, and I would say, unrealistic path to the solution. How many people still smoke, even with overwhelming evidence which says it causes cancer? Nicotine, like modern electric-eating technology is addictive. Consumerism is addictive. The internet is addictive. No wonder 4 Billion people in the developing world want to experience what we have had in the ‘west’ for the last few decades.

out

Monbiot on nuclear…

I’ve just read 2 George Monbiot articles (1 from March last year, and the article linked), and I actually agree with both of them! Normally I hate his aggressive style but he seems to be turning that down a bit more recently.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/21/pro-nuclear-japan-fukushima

A good article, which puts forward a lot of realistic points, such as many people and groups exaggerating the dangers of radiation, the batteries which are needed to store the electricity that the renewables produce are still far off where they need to be, base load still needs to be established and nuclear had less impact than fossil fuel sources.

The first fossil fuel which countries are already turning to (or sticking with in many cases) is coal. I’ve read some estimates that there are over 300 years of world coal reserves, based on present usage. It is the most abundant fossil fuel and produces are large energy output. The infrastructure and technologies are already in place to exploit coal. It is also fairly cheap to extract and to process (certainly more than nuclear). All this leads to it being the top choice for many countries.

I said in the previous post about the latest nuclear technologies potentially being a solution. I’m still not convinced but it’s far better than coal or oil. Gas is also a poor choice, given it’s relatively limited reserve and the fact that natural gas is made up mostly of methane, which as a green house gas is more than 20 times as damaging as CO2.

The solution is to develop a mix of sources, with a continued emphasis on developing the renewable technology. The combination of solar and improved battery technology can work, it will just needs more time and investment.

If nuclear is ACTUALLY less polluting than coal, oil or gas, it should be seriously considered, particularly as renewable technology is not at the stage where it can contribute to the majority of the country’s power needs – I wish it could and hope one day it will be different!

out

* since I posted this: not sure how I missed the reference but Monbiot’s article title… ‘Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power’, is a reference to Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’! A nod to humour there and I don’t believe he actually does ‘love’ nuclear.

Libya, energy and Peak Oil…

I don’t normally need an excuse to start going on about energy production and climate change but…

Have you seen the cost of petrol? In our general area (SW England), the price now roughly stands at £1.30 per litre, which has gone up from the £1 per litre level roughly 4 years ago. In 4 years, the price has gone up by 23%. This is very important not just for running your family car but for everything which a large part of our human civilisation needs to survive, including energy and food production.

This is a bit of a jumbled post, but i’m trying to bring together a few related, but also different subjects. I’m trying to comment on the things going on in Libya right now (without launching into a full-on analysis of Middle-Eastern politics – i’ll save that for another post!), energy supply and demand, and a pinch of Peak Oil!

A “bumpy plateau” with a downward trend in extraction.

This is how The UK Energy Research Council described the pattern of oil production in the coming years. This ‘bumpy plateaux’ is describing the upcoming period of activity where we enter the period of oil production known as Peak Oil, where the level of extraction starts to level off. The human population is growing fast (this year the world population will hit 7 Billion) and our dependence on mechanised transport, food production etc is also growing fast. This creates a large and increasing demand for oil to power and sustain the human population. The supply of easily extractable oil is levelling off, and will start to fall in the short-term. This means demand will outstrip supply.

Peak oil is not a “theory.” Because oil is a finite resource, it is an inevitability. The debate is all about its timing.

From the report: ‘Reserve estimates are uncertain, reporting is restricted, auditing is insufficient, harmonisation is limited, distortions are likely.’

The ‘bumpy plateaux’ also refers to the process of needing to find harder to reach supplies of oil than we previously needed to, just to stay at the same level of supply. These new supplies will be harder to find and extract and it will cost more. This will lead to price fluctuations and supply problems, which will have a massive impact on our society. It has emerged recently that the Saudi oil reserves have been over-estimated by maybe 40%! This is the world’s top oil producer saying it has nearly half the reserves of oil that it claimed to. This is part of the bumpy ride which will contribute to the ever-increasing price of oil.

Spanish Government intervention…

A frankly amazing example of what will need to start to happen is being provided by Spain (this is where Libya comes in!). A Guardian article recently, talked about the connection between Libya and Spain, via oil production (see pdf below if the link doesn’t work anymore).

PDF document: Spain to lower speed limit as oil prices rise

The Spanish Government is proposing to reduce the maximum motorway speed limit, a 5% reduction of train fares and an increase in the amount of biofuel added to the petrol that the oil companies produce.

It’s a really interesting article, particularly in terms of the reaction to the crisis in Libya and in terms of the scale of change that can be brought about in response to a perceived threat. The key financial thing here is the 15% less cost of running a vehicle at less than 10 mph reduced speed. This is a large shift.

After reading this article, I did a little test while driving to West Brom yesterday: I checked what the rev counts were at 65 mph and 75 mph. Well, there were 2700 revs at 65 mph and 3300 revs at 75 mph. This is a 500 revs difference, or 15% less revs at 65 mph.

At £1.30 per litre for petrol, it now costs us £50 to fill up the car! Maybe one side effect of the unrest in a number of key oil producing countries will be to wake people up a bit to how totally dependent we are on this vital and diminishing resource.

out

Where has all the oil gone?

Ok, now we get the true story. I must say I was surprised to hear Obama talking about much of the oil in the Gulf of Mexico having dissipated.  Crude oil doesn’t just vanish, even if their Government would love that to be the case!

Another Guardian browse = another post! I’m going to have to look into this sureal connection! : )

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/aug/19/bp-oil-spill-scientist-retracts-assurances

BP oil spill: US scientist retracts assurances over success of cleanup.

NOAA’s Bill Lehr says three-quarters of the oil that gushed from the Deepwater Horizon rig is still in the Gulf environment while scientists identify 22-mile plume in ocean depths.

Anyway, the bit about the oil plume which is deep under the water, measuring 22 miles long, 1.2 miles wide and 650ft high is a bit worrying. I know the Gulf is a big body of water, but over 4 Million barrels of oil doesn’t just pack its bags and get on the next flight to a random lake somewhere in Siberia!

out