Climate change-alternative energy
by Gerry Miller, P.Eng. (retired)
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been discredited in recent years, particularly in the last two years. In fact, there is nowhere near a scientific consensus on the dramatic and sensational claims made by this panel.
Their famous “hockey stick” shaped graph of recent world temperatures has been shown to be fraudulent. Their mathematical models on long term climate change, which I have looked at, are packed with guesses, called “parameterizations” to replace unknown and unmeasurable quantities and feedback gains which are needed by the models.
It’s no wonder that none of their models can track or explain the known climate changes in the past, or even predict climate changes even one year ahead.
Last winter was so severe that it broke cold records all over the world and set global warming back by at least 10 years. The current winter underway now in Australia, and the current summer in Canada, are continuing this cooling trend.
Many climatologists are concerned about the global cooling, which began around the year 2000. What’s more, this cooling trend correlates with the sun’s activity as measured by the number of sunspots.
It is known that the medieval mini ice age, which lasted for 400 years, is correlated with a period of little or no sunspot activity called the Maunder Minimum. It was very cold. The Thames River froze over annually and the Baltic Sea froze hard enough for people to walk from Sweden to Poland.
The relevance of this to our climate today is that the number of sunspots has been declining since about 2002. Solar Cycle 23 ended two or more years ago, and Solar Cycle 24 has not yet started. Solar scientists are worried because they do not know the reason. No one knows when the sun will start up again.
Last winter was the most severe in a chain of recent cold winters, which indicates that we may be in a trend. I hope not, but our coming winter will be very interesting indeed.
CO2 concentration is another non-problem. Many climatologists are now saying there is very little, if any, correlation between CO2 and world temperatures. One even said that we need triple the CO2 concentration that we have now, to optimise plant growth and food production.
So instead of trying to reduce CO2, we should be increasing it.
Nevertheless, we should not be burning fossil fuels for energy, and not because of any adverse climate effects. Oil, in particular, is far too valuable for other uses, such as making plastics, paints, and the chemicals we need for industry.
So, what is the best way to replace the power generated from fossil fuels? The US gets 50 percent of its electricity from coal, 20 percent from nuclear, and about 20 percent from natural gas.
The obvious solution is to build more nuclear power stations. They burn uranium, which useless for anything else, and produce no pollution at all. There are new designs which are modular, compact, intrinsically safe, breed more fuel than they use, and produce very little waste.
For example, the new Hyperion Power Generator, can produce 25 megawatts for 10 years on one fuel charge, requires no moving parts and fits into a small space. It will be shipped as a modular, sealed, unit at an estimated cost of $25 million.
Can wind power, solar power, wave power, tidal power, geothermal power, algae power, ever produce the concentrations of energy that we need to run our industries?
No, they are far too dilute. Solar energy is only 1200 watts per square meter, out of which only 240 watts can be harvested using our most efficient solar cells. Thin film solar cells are only 10 percent efficient.
For example the 560 megawatt thin film solar power plant recently announced in California will cover 9.6 square miles, and will only work when the sun shines.
Wind power is also too dilute. The most popular wind turbines generate one megawatt under optimal wind conditions, requiring 1,000 of them to equal the output of one standard fossil or nuclear fueled power plant. And, once again, only when the wind blows.
Geothermal plants have many problems, including pipe corrosion, scaling, plugging and cooling the geothermal reservoirs from which they draw their heat. Because of low temperatures, around 300 deg. F maximum, their steam cannot efficiently drive steam turbines.
I know of no alternative energy commercial power plant, existing or planned, which does not require public funds and subsidies.
The national electrical grid is not designed to supply the whole country. It is designed to carry power between load points, and depends on large generating stations to anchor those load points.
For example, New York’s recent power outage was caused by New York not having enough of its own power generation. Its power demand simply overloaded the power grid.
I am mentioning this because it costs a lot of money to install and maintain power grids. You just cannot hook up diverse wind turbines to any power grid, unless they are supplying enough power to make it worthwhile.
Depending on distance, terrain, and other factors, you may need thousands of megawatts to justify feeder lines to the nearest power grid.
This works in favour of large fossil or nuclear power plants, and against solar or wind power. The place for solar and wind is on rooftops, or in neighborhoods.
The trouble today is that no one seems to think in terms of overall system efficiency and cost.
The Internet and press are chock full of hype that will never see the light of day. Most of them are chasing public money, trying to find investors or bureaucrats who are dumb enough (not hard to find) who will give them money.
Ideas that are not even close to being practical are being announced every day, for example, oil from algae.
All this does is confuse the public. It’s way past time that the powers that be start asking for overall systems analysis before wasting our taxpayers’ money. For heaven’s sake, why do not they hire a few independent systems engineers to make a public report before committing our money on what are usually hare-brained schemes?
Letter: Climate change-alternative energy