The New Global Dictator

Last week I attended an energy conference in Aberdeen. Getting away from my desk, and the virtual world I live in, it allowed me to mix with real energy professionals and I got to wondering why it was that I disagreed with so much that was said. University professors got up and read from the renewable energy or global warming scripts and seemed to believe this was leading edge energy research.

[Image: WSW facing solar panels in the shade of a tree, University of Aberdeen. It is unlikely that badly mounted panels at this latitude will ever produce enough electricity to recoup the energy used in their manufacture.]

New energy research is being directed by policy and diktat that has been decided in advance of the research being conducted. In Europe, this has origins in the 20 20 20 policy that was decided in 2007 that itself has roots in the Kyoto Protocol and the desire to reduce global CO2 emissions. The 20 20 20 policy has the following aims to be met by the year 2020:

  • A 20% reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels;
  • Raising the share of EU energy consumption produced from renewable resources to 20%;
  • A 20% improvement in the EU’s energy efficiency.

These binding targets, created by unelected technocrats (who may not even know what the SI unit of energy is) have a profound effect on all of our lives. One of the more insidious effects is to direct university and government based research. If you happen to be a renewables enthusiast then it is easy to get a job and funding for research into the delivery of the policy. If you happen to have a mind that questions everything, and in particular the wisdom of government on such a vital issue, you may become marginalised from the process. A selection process then occurs where universities recruit like minded individuals and before you know it 97% of all energy researchers will agree that a dramatic growth in renewable energy is of benefit to the population and to the planet.

Setting targets for renewable energy has become an international sport where one government tries to outdo the other. Thermodynamics, engineering and economics are thrown to the wind in this pursuit of government popularity. Scotland, no longer able to compete on the global soccer stage, is vying for pole position in this renewables bidding war with a target to produce 100% of electricity equivalent from renewable sources by 2020. Where is the research that shows this will benefit the Scottish people and the environment? I will return to have a closer look at the Scottish Government energy policy shortly.

Last week I learned that Ban Ki-moon the Secretary General of the United Nations has now led the world  into the renewables bidding war with a new initiative called Sustainable Energy For All that has three pillars to be achieved by the year 2030:


  • Ensure universal access to modern energy services.
  • Double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency.
  • Double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

I will not take issue with the aspirations to bring “modern energy services” (electricity?) to all of the people of the world nor to improve energy efficiency. But I do suspect that the outcomes of these two pillars may not be what is currently anticipated by the UN. But as with the EU and Scottish government targets I wish to take serious issue with the renewable energy target. Where is the evidence that this will be beneficial to Mankind and Planet Earth?

I wish to make clear at the outset that I am not against renewable energy per se but wish to draw attention to the fact that there is no such thing as a free lunch in the energy world. Renewables are all too often and naively presented as clean, green, free energy. In many cases the exact opposite is true. Ban Ki-moon needs to understand that with energy, he is interfering with the lifeblood of the global economy and the welfare of the global population. Where is his mandate to do this and what is the source of his knowledge that leads him to believe his policy is right? I am sure his intentions are good ones but this could end in tears.

The first thing we need to know is what is the current share of renewable energy in the global energy mix that is to be doubled by the year 2030?  On the assumption that global energy production will continue to rise in lock step with population then renewables production will have to more than double from current levels in the next 16 years. My recent look at Global Energy Trends based on BP 2014 suggests that hydro currently accounts for 7% of global energy and new renewables (wind, solar, biofuels etc) a little over 2%. Note that BP gross up renewable electricity production by a factor of roughly 3 to take into account the thermal losses from power stations. But BP data does not take into account biomass that is an important source of fuel throughout the undeveloped world. Data I received from Rembrandt Koppelaar many years ago, based on the work of Vaclav Smil, suggests that biomass may run at around 6% of the total suggesting that around 15% of global primary energy currently comes from renewable sources. Ban Ki-Moon’s ambition, therefore, is that this should rise to 30% in 16 year’s time. I already sense a catastrophe in the making.

According to BP 2014, 7% of global energy came from hydro and a little over 2% from new renewables in 2013. Adding an estimate of 6% for biomass (wood) suggests a global renewables total of 15%.

Current levels of biomass use are leading to slow deforestation. Forests play a vital role in stabilising Earth’s climate and ecosystems and if anything the use of biomass should be reduced and not increased. Most, if not all of the expansion of renewables must therefore fall to hydro and the suite of new renewable technologies.

[Image: the ugly face of deforestation in Indonesia. Setting global renewables targets may unwittingly lead to more habitat destruction.]

Let me begin by considering hydro electric power my and most other peoples favourite renewable energy source. Hydro electric power provides a renewable energy store, that like fossil fuel and nuclear energy stores, can be used when we need it. Hydro can be switched on at 17:00 hours every day to meet peak electricity demand and to be sold at top prices. It is the Rolls Royce of renewable energy. But there are costs, it is not a free lunch. Building dams and creating large lakes can have a profound impact on people and the environment. It is estimated that 1.5 million people were displaced by the recently built 3 gorges dam in China. In Scotland, migratory salmon and sea trout are becoming extinct in hydro river systems. Adult fish may use a fish ladder when ascending the river but many young fish may be mashed by turbines on their return journey to the sea. But this is as good as it gets in the renewable world. It is a delicate trade off between the cost of certain environmental destruction and human suffering and the benefits of having a sustainable energy resource.

After hydro and biomass, wind power is the next largest source of renewable energy today. Used mainly by city dwellers, onshore wind has blighted the lives of thousands of country dwellers who are consulted and then ignored by wind power developers. The landscape impact of onshore wind is being increasingly acknowledged resulting in an accelerating move off shore where costs escalate. Offshore wind is among the most expensive forms of electricity generation yet deployed. And the high cost of construction does not begin to take into account the cost of load balancing the grid that is currently borne by fossil fuel (FF) generators. Until grid-scale, cheap, energy efficient electricity storage is invented, and I doubt it ever will be, then wind power is locking the world into a future that MUST continue to burn FF.

Another negative aspect of wind power is the use of the rare earth element neodymium in the manufacture of turbine magnets. This greatly improves the performance of the turbine enabling the development of the 2 to 6 GW monsters that are now being deployed. Rare Earth mining and processing is particularly nasty, so much so that China is one of the few countries to permit the activity at scale with a high environmental and human cost. Wind enthusiasts seem able to simply wave this harm away, since it takes place in someone else’s back yard.

[Image: rare earth element mining in China is required to build wind turbines in Germany and the USA.]

The talk of smart grids, interconnections, energy markets and load shifting incrementally adds costs while collectively failing to provide a workable solution. The way things stand, wind fans are locking the world into a FF future, the exact opposite of policy goals. The impact on populations are higher electricity bills (the result of consumer paid subsidies), infrastructure everywhere, landscape and environmental degradation and the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. Is Ban Ki-moon absolutely certain this is the future he wants for our world?

Moving on to solar photovoltaics we have a renewable technology that may have potential to sensibly contribute to the global energy mix in certain very specific niche circumstances. Correctly deployed solar panels in sunny climates may, for example, be used to power air conditioning units in advanced economies, where demand and supply are well-correlated on diurnal and annual demand cycles. In Africa solar cells have been used to power cell phone networks that have a liberating impact on undeveloped communities. It seems possible that solar photovoltaics may liberate off grid communities that are not already tied into a very specific demand pattern and for so long as maintenance services can be provided and roaming militias do not vandalise the investments.

But none of this begins to make a dent in achieving a doubling of renewables in 16 years time. And it is at this point that mindless mass deployment takes hold, subsidised by consumers, regardless of benefits. Solar, like wind, can create large swings in diurnal power that needs to be balanced by FF, once again locking the world into a FF future. And at high latitudes, where annualised loads are <10%, it seems unlikely that solar photovoltaics will ever recover the energy costs of manufacturing, deploying and maintaining these complex devices. The Co2 associated with these schemes is emitted before any energy is produced. This is fast tracking emissions production, again, the exact opposite of the policy goal.

Finally, biofuels are worthy of brief consideration. Sugar cane ethanol, produced in the tropics where there is a large amount of solar energy to capture, does indeed provide a means of creating a liquid fuel with significant positive energy return. In other words significantly less energy is used in the production process compared with the final energy produced. But moving to temperate regions plants are much less efficient at producing starch and sugars. This is in part due to lower levels of insolation and in part due to a different photosynthetic pathway. Multiple studies have shown that temperate latitude bio fuel production – corn ethanol and bio-diesel, barely achieve energy break even. The energy inputs by way of methane gas used in the manufacture of ammonium sulphate based fertilizers, diesel used in planting harvesting and transporting the crops and electricity in refineries all add up to a similar amount of energy contained in the bio-fuel produced. Nothing is gained. Crop land and water once used for growing food is now used for fuelling traffic jams. This process is enabled by badly informed government policies and by the transferal of money from poor to rich.

Providing all of the world’s people with electricity services and improving energy efficiency will have two certain outcomes. More people and more energy consumption. It will result in greater prosperity and more comfort. Where the increased amounts of energy will come from should be left open to debate. Placing this in a straight jacket of inefficient renewable energy at the outset may guarantee the failure of the whole Sustainable Energy For All Initiative. Replacing the renewable energy aspiration with a non-FF aspiration may be a wise move at this juncture. There are a very large number of engineers and scientists who envisage nuclear fission as the near term bridge to a nuclear fusion future. The United Nations should take care not to prejudice this possible outcome that may turn out to be the better course for humanity.

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43 Responses to The New Global Dictator

  1. I take it you don’t agree with IRENA’s estimate that renewable supply 18% of global energy now and might expand to 30% or more by 2030

    • Euan Mearns says:

      The difference between 18% and 15% today is actually not that material. All numbers are wrong. Is IRENA objective? Is BP objective? If it is 18% today that sets the bar at 36% by 2030 for the UN which is cloud cuckoo land bonkers.

      The global renewable energy share can reach and exceed 30% by 2030. The technologies are already available today to achieve this objective. Energy efficiency and improved energy access can advance the share of renewables in the global energy mix to as much as 36%.
      Business-as-usual will only result in an increase of this share from 18% in 2010 to 21% by 2030.
      As the use of traditional biomass decreases, the share of modern renewables will more than triple. As energy demand continues to grow, this requires a quadrupling of modern renewables in absolute terms.
      Renewables growth needs to take place across all four sectors of energy use: buildings, transport, industry, and electricity.
      Transitioning towards renewable energy is possible at negligible additional cost. The economic case for the renewable energy transition is even stronger when we include socio-economic benefits – with these factors are taken into account, switching to renewable energy results in savings of up to USD 740 billion per year by 2030.
      The analysis shows that the deployment of renewable energy can reduce annual CO2 emissions by 8.6 Gt by 2030. Such emissions savings, combined with energy-efficiency gains, would be sufficient to set the world on a path to preventing catastrophic climate change.

      My emphasis: A quadrupling of modern renewables – easy to say but what does it mean? Negligible additional costs is total BS. The socio economic benefits are what I have been trying to highlight here.

      • Euan Mearns says:

        Just to clarify a bit. 36% of energy used in the UK is in electricity generation, the rest space heat (natural gas) and transport. I don’t know what the global break down is off the top of my head, but its likely that 36% of all primary energy from renewables by 2030 would likely mean 100% of electricity since temperate latitude biofuels don’t add anything. As discussed in the article we probably need more than 50% of FF on the grid to balance it, so the 36% aspiration is physically impossible without massive build out of hydro – I doubt there are the sites the time or money to do it. And when do we pause to ask “is this a good idea?”

  2. Gidon Gerber says:

    Just to set the record straight, the 20-20-20 policy was not decided by unelected technocrats, but agreed by the EU heads of state and government in 2007, and then made binding by EU Member States (Council of the EU) and the (democratically elected) EU parliament.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Gidon, happy to be corrected on that. But my understanding of the workings of the European Parliament is that The Commission prepares legislation that is by and large rubber stamped by the elected Parliament. If it was a 20-13-35 target I might treat it a bit more seriously since this would impart the notion that some calculations had been done to determine the optimum outcome for Europe. How much time does it take and how much money gets spent on coming up with 20-20-20?

      • Mike Parr says:

        Then your understating is wrong. The targets were decided by the member states – period. The Commission worked out the details, the EP approved the package – although not before considerable argument between the MS, EP and Commission (called triologues) – I know this for a fact – because I have the meeting minutes of these discussions – which were “robust”. There was too much hyperbole in the article – you don’t like RES – period – the article reflect this. .

        • Euan Mearns says:

          Mike, I’m happy to be corrected on the veracity of the decision making process. Can you post a link to the minutes – I found Hugh’s link to the minutes of the debate on the CC act to be most instructive. My views on European decision making are coloured by a documentary I saw about Nigel Farage leading up to the elections. A good title for the program would have been “How I single handedly saved the British brewing industry” – I’d accept that this is perhaps not the best objective source of information.

          But you miss some key points. I am not against renewables per se, but I am against solar panels being mindlessly deployed in Scotland on N facing roofs where it seems most unlikely that the energy used to create the system will ever be recovered. And I think we need to question the mass deployment of wind, creating grid balancing issues, expensive power and infrastructure everywhere.

          On Europe, I guess I’m in favour of them setting efficiency standards for domestic appliances. That seems like a good idea that can only benefit everyone. But I’m dead against the EU (and the UN) dictating energy policy period and especially one based on Green whimsical ideas. How would you like it if the EU were to demand that all EU states produce 30% of primary energy from nuclear power by 2030?

          • Mike Parr says:

            I do not have a link for the meeting minutes. The PV-panels in Scotland are a red-herring. The climate on RES has moved on and, at least in mainland Europe there is acceptance of a) an end to subsidies b) deployment where LCOEs match retail (or wholesale prices). Your comment on “expensive power” is disingenuous, you know that RES has driven down wholesale prices, in, for example Germany so that on average they are the same as prices in 2007. Yes, the price that the retail sector pays is high – due to taxes. Speaking to Hans Ten Berg of Eurelectric last week, his concern was low wholesale prices. In the case of balancing, the problem is overstated (pace Nat Grid) and Ten Berg agreed that a move to electrical heating would solve both the low-load growth/low price problem whilst also resolving the intermittency problem and how to address it (plus of course Euro dependency on Russian gas). Your views on Europe and energy policy are irrelevant – most member states want to move to a European Energy Union (Conclusions of the last European Council) and this will happen. Your comment on “Green Whimsical ideas” shows how out of touch you and many of the commentators on this site are. In the case of nuclear, the French are abandoning it due to costs – something which Camoron & Co (& DECC) have yet to understand – but nevertheless seem happy to impose on the UK population.

          • Euan Mearns says:

            Mike, we may be out of touch with European Green pipe dreaming. But I do not believe we are out of touch with science, thermodynamics and engineering.

            you know that RES has driven down wholesale prices, in, for example Germany so that on average they are the same as prices in 2007

            High cost and low price doesn’t sound, sound to me. Its strange, I always thought the price was high because the devices were expensive to build and are becoming increasingly expensive to install and maintain as wind moves off shore. This combined with THE FACT that the main costs with RE are in the devices and therefore all fall up front. I’d be interested to see how any of this stuff would survive in a 7% base rate environment. Your assertion is that RE is expensive because of high taxes 🙂

            I’d also look forward to see how this stuff survives without the consumer paid subsidies. Tax rebates were abolished in the USA and investment fell close to zero.

            In the case of balancing, the problem is overstated (pace Nat Grid) and Ten Berg agreed that a move to electrical heating would solve both the low-load growth/low price problem whilst also resolving the intermittency problem and how to address it

            Can you please explain the technical detail of how electrical heating will solve the intermittency problem, preferably with some charts. My simplistic view is that there is over supply of solar in summer when heating is not required and under supply in winter when it is. A perfect negative correlation on the annual cycle. Combined with a perfect negative correlation on the diurnal cycle.

            The details of France abandoning nuclear power would also be appreciated. Last time I checked in they still had about 65 reactors running flat out.

          • Mike Parr says:

            “Your assertion is that RE is expensive because of high taxes”
            I did not assert that – I said that retail prices in Germany were high due to high taxes – & most of these high taxes do not go to RES.

            In the case of project finance: I was talking to edp the other week, 3rd largest RES operator in the world. They fund their own projects (typically at 3 to 4% interest – raised on bond markets) and in a presentation to the UK financial community noted that on-shore wind was by far the lowest cost form of generation (without subsidy).

            In the case of the USA, I notice that Vestas has just won a 450MW project – according to you tax rebates have been abolished in the USA – this being the case renewables still seem to march on. Sorry to intro facts into your “interesting world”.

            In the case of electrical heating – houses with high thermal inertia (well insulated ) & elec heating can be used to balance intermittency. You make much about being an engineer – work it out for yourself – I’m not inclined to educate you – but as you observed “my simplistic view” pretty well sums it up your view – simplistic. Germany: PV in the summer wind in the winter – they provide a balance of sorts with 8/14GW of interconnectors for import/export – which means there is not a big problem, ditto Denmark.

            France after Flammenville will not build more reactors & instead will focus on RES. Naturally, they will still run their reactors – but you knew that all along.

            Your “jokey style” coupled to an apparent desire to mis-interpret what people say trivialises your arguments

          • Euan Mearns says:

            I am getting pretty fed up with this. The purpose of the comments section on this blog is to exchange ideas and to educate. If you cannot be bothered educating my readers then you have no business posting comments here.

            Your solution to intermittency appears to be to demolish the European housing stock and replace it with a form of Passiv Hus. Good luck with that.

            Following withdrawal of tax benefits, US expansion of wind capacity fell to 1.8% in 2013. Warren Buffet, a major investor said, the only reason for investing in wind was to get the tax breaks.

          • robertok06 says:

            @ Mike Parr:

            “Your comment on “Green Whimsical ideas” shows how out of touch you and many of the commentators on this site are.”

            “In the case of nuclear, the French are abandoning it due to costs – something which Camoron & Co (& DECC) have yet to understand – but nevertheless seem happy to impose on the UK population.”

            I beg your pardon??? The French are doing what? Who’s out of touch here?

            C’mon! The French have stated that by 2025 they will generate “only” 50% of their electricity via nuclear, and that the 63 GW NOMINAL power will not be increased…meaning once the EPR in Flamanville will start the 2 reactors in Fessenheim will be stopped… but knowing that the capacity factor of the French fleet is “only”75%… even with no extra GW there is ample space for improvement.
            On the other hand, talking about costs of the MWh generated, a recent report by the Cour des Comptes has addressed the “renewables”…and the picture is not so rosy… at all!


  3. Hugh Sharman says:

    The Climate Change Act was the first spade-full dug into the ever deepening hole into which the UK is digging itself deeper every day, was one of the least contested Acts ever passed in Parliament.
    quote “The House having divided: Ayes 463, Noes 3.” unquote. The “debate” is worth re-reading.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Hugh, many thanks for posting that. It reads like the best of UK political satire. Lemmings!

    • “I have benefited hugely from the expertise of Friends of the Earth and many other campaigning organisations. They may even have helped us draft the odd amendment.”

      As I understand it Friends of the Earth, either directly or indirectly, drafted just about all of the major provisions of the Act.

  4. Joe Public says:

    “One of the more insidious effects is to direct university … based research. ……… it is easy to get a job and funding for research into the delivery of the policy. ”

    Was it at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen? The source of the flawed research which completed a study that tried to link climate change and obesity.

    Yet the researchers of that study chose to ignore the fact that the obese have a shorter life expectancy, and tend to be less energetic, so have a smaller lifetime carbon footprint.

  5. Ed says:

    Interesting article Euan. Illustrates that there is no plan B for when fossil fuels start to decline in the next decade or two. Renewables and Nuclear are “fossil fuel extenders” AT BEST. It might give us a little extra time to reduce world population and world GDP by a little if we choose to. No chance of that happening though. In fact the opposite will happen. Renewables and Nuclear will be used to bolster GDP while doing nothing about population growth.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Ed, population is going to do what it is going to do. The current logistic trend will see a peak this century followed by decline that will bring its own set of socio economic problems. At a conference presentation a couple of years ago I made the proposition that Capitalism was founded upon growing supplies of cheap fossil fuels. I think that age (Capitalism) is past and still stand by that proposition. But the economy is now so entwined with state interventions etc (QE) that the majority do not notice – yet!

      I think you likely do not like the idea and therefore block out the potential of nuclear power. We will with the next oil shock march inexorably towards electrification of everything that will produce huge efficiency savings. Its just that now many are brainwashed into believing it will be renewable electricity when in fact it will be abundant and stable nuclear electricity that will power the shrinking world. It will be a different world to now, but the world has always changed.

      • Ed says:

        You’ll have to convince me about Nuclear. I have an open mind. I need figures on the ER/EI of Nuclear which include the mining and processing of the fissile material; construction, maintenance and decommissioning of the plant and storing of the waste. Also of the resource base of the fissile material.

        • Euan Mearns says:

          Life cycle energy and greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear energy: A review Manfred Lenzen *
          Energy Conversion and Management 49 (2008) 2178–2199

          The increased urgency of dealing with mitigation of the looming climate change has sparked renewed interest in the nuclear energy option. There exists a substantial stream of research on the amount of embodied energy and greenhouse gas emissions associated with nuclear generated electricity. While conventional fossil fuelled power plants cause emissions almost exclusively from the plant site, the majority of greenhouse gas emissions in the nuclear fuel cycle are caused in processing stages upstream and downstream from the plant. This paper distils the findings from a comprehensive literature review of energy and greenhouse gas emissions in the nuclear fuel cycle and determines some of the causes for the widely varying results.
          The most popular reactor types, LWR and HWR, need between 0.1 and 0.3 kWhth, and on average about 0.2 kWhth for every kWh of electricity generated. These energy intensities translate into greenhouse gas intensities for LWR and HWR of between 10 and 130 g CO2- e/kWhel, with an average of 65 g CO2-e/kWhel.
          While these greenhouse gases are expectedly lower than those of fossil technologies (typically 600–1200 g CO2-e/kWhel), they are higher than reported figures for wind turbines and hydroelectricity (around 15–25 g CO2-e/kWhel) and in the order of, or slightly lower than, solar photovoltaic or solar thermal power (around 90 g CO2-e/kWhel).

          My gut feel is that the figure of 5 that Lenzen comes up with is too low, This article would be better if it focussed on energy and not CO2. You just have to look at France to know that nuclear works though it will be interesting to see how France manages when faced with decommissioning 65 reactors whilst building a new fleet.

          I once looked into the ERoEI of U mining up to the stage of producing yellow cake. The figure was in the 10s of thousands – that is in a comment on The Oil Drum somewhere. The trouble with all energy analysis is vested interests and the ability to spin data whatever way the writer wants. It is very hard to stay objective. U is so energy dense that mining extreme low grades is still possible, hence there is likely a vast resource. But the nuclear future likely lies in new, more efficient reactor technologies.

    • Leo Smith says:

      I think nuclear is more than a fossil fuel extender.

      Given reasonably cheap nuclear, it displaces vast amounts of FF consumtion in nearly all areas. There are significant exceptions.

      I’ve put my thoughts on the future here:

  6. clivebest says:

    There is primary energy (transport, heating, industry and electricity generation) and then there is Electricity energy generation alone. Figures are often misquoted between the two. Renewable energy currenty only contributes to electricity generation and UN/EU figures quoted often refer to their percentage contribution to that component alone. If in the future the world were to move to low carbon energy, then transport, industry and heating would all need to rely on electricity generation – so the primary energy component is the correct figure to use. After 30 years of effort new renewables meet just 2% of primary energy needs. Yeo don’t have to be a genius to see that the UN/EU goals can never be met.

    Today most of the UK’s 8000 wind turbines were becalmed as happens quite frequently and even worse – completely randomly. Renewable output averaged just 500 MW over the last 24 hours. This is barely enough to run 10 trains up and down HS2 let alone fuel 2 million cars and trucks, heat the nation’s 20 million homes, let alone smelt iron ore! Nuclear power on the other hand produced a guarenteed 7.8 GW – beating coal ! Just 5 new nuclear stations could replace gas, but nuclear is evil and bad so must be opposed. We are like the children of Hamlyn being led over a cliff by the International Pied Piper for Climate Change.

    • Ed says:

      Wind provided the UK with almost 1kWh of energy per person per day in 2012 averaged over the year. That is enough to light a 40W light bulb for 24hours or a 10kW shower for 6mins.

  7. Euan:

    Somewhat off-topic, but as a mining man I feel obliged to set the record straight regarding the human and environmental costs of rare earth mining and processing.

    To make my point all I need do is show what a modern rare earth mining and processing facility in the US looks like:

    Mountain Pass was in fact the world’s main supplier of rare earths until it got buried by the Chinese a few years ago:

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Its a great vid Roger. All that steel and machinery and stuff, where did it all come from? I’d like to see the whole thing being powered by wind electric.

      • Ed says:

        Maybe nuclear does have a future! Build them by the side of the rare earth mines to power the extraction so we can get on with building out our wind turbines. If the ER/EI of nuclear is 5 and that of wind turbines is 10, combined this will give us 50. That should be enough energy to grow our world population to 20 billion I reckon. Sorry, I couldn’t resist this flippant comment. Forgive me.

    • Rui Rosa says:

      What happened to the RE industry in the US is a clear example of lack of critical understanding of real economy.and of the overiding power of financial interests. It is not unique regarding mineral commodities, it was not an accident but a consequence of world view.

  8. topflatSam Taylor says:


    You seem largely pro nuclear, which I can’t say I really disagree with having worked in the industry for a time. However the issue of peak uranium might well rear it’s ugly head. Michael Dittmar’s predictions seem to be accurate so far ( A rapid build of nuclear would seem to strain uranium resources beyond their limits and would lead to shortages. Do you have any thoughts on this?

  9. EnergyExpert says:


    You have put together another stellar piece.

    That said two things are missing:
    1) Science was never mentioned, and is THE ingredient lacking in these energy policies. There is zero Science behind such political dictates as 20-20-20, especially the renewable part. Certainly we have energy (and environmental) issues, so we should be open to better alternatives. But before any alternative is allowed on the public grid (a privilege), there should be Scientific proof that it is a NET societal benefit. That has yet to be done for any alternative.

    2) IMO, of all the “renewables” geothermal holds the greatest promise. However almost no one is interested due to the artificial economics set up by governments that hugely favor wind and solar. Those biases (arranged by lobbyists) are what needs to be fixed.

  10. Nate Hagens says:

    For most part Euan this is a well written insightful essay, despite our strong disagreement on ocean acidification/carbon risks. But I fully agree with you when you say:

    “Until grid-scale, cheap, energy efficient electricity storage is invented, and I doubt it ever will be, then wind power is locking the world into a future that MUST continue to burn FF.”
    We have not yet reached “Peak Delusionality”…

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Nate, I do not see us as having a strong disagreement on ocean acidification. You seem to have believed and accepted at face value dire warnings from those who issue dire warnings. I have yet to make up my mind how serious this issue is. As I understand it, two monitoring sites, both by active volcanic islands, and a tiny decease in pH. Ocean water is still alkaline. And I wonder about changes in the ocean’s ability to remove CO2 / HCO3 from surface waters due to over-fishing / exploitation, i.e reduction in the biological pump. And so like the boy who Cried Wolf, I’m a bit reserved about listening to Greens who Cry Catastrophe 😉 This could be a problem for the world, since as we all know, wolves do exist and eat people.

  11. Syndroma says:

    BN-800 fast breeder reactor went critical today at 3 pm local time. It’s a huge step forward for the energy security of the world, in gaining access to the energy locked in natural uranium. Russia proved that it retained the skills and expertise necessary to design and build a fast breeder reactor. The previous one, BN-600, went critical on Feb 26, 1980 at the same site and is still operational.

    Btw, I live 30 km away from the site. My energy security just got a little bit better. 🙂

  12. A C Osborn says:

    RE Ed says:
    June 23, 2014 at 9:17 pm

    Interesting article Euan. Illustrates that there is no plan B for when fossil fuels start to decline in the next decade or two.
    I am not sure what world Ed lives in with regards to Fossil Fuels, but declining in the next decades they are not.
    If anything with Clathrates likely to be coming on line there could be an explosion (not literally) in fossil fuels.

  13. A C Osborn says:

    I suggest you tell the Japanese that, so they can stop wasting their money.
    As they have already brought up the gas off their coast and expect to be doing so commercially within 10 years I don’t think they will take much notice of Your’s and Ed’s negativity.

    So the world’s Coal is going to decline in the next few decades?
    Everyone else is looking at major increases in it’s production and use.

    You guys just don’t seem to get the “Need is the Mother of all invention” principle. The shorter the easy stuff gets the more imperative to get the hard stuff, or the price goes completely astonomical for what you can get, it is not going to run out, if it gets more expansive to get out it will get more expensive to buy and use.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      AC – I agree with most of what you write here. But our societies are currently configured to run on growing supplies of cheap FF. Sure price goes up and we access resources that are harder to get at. But the price cannot go above what society can afford.

      The Japanese may not pay attention to my negativity but they will have to pay attention to thermodynamics. If they use more energy to access submarine clathrates (methane hydrates) than they recover, their plan will not work. They are working in deep water. Relatively small amounts of gas per locality. Where does it get produced to? Floating LNG?

      Maybe you could post some links?

    • Euan Mearns says:

      AC – 5 of 6 links all telling the same story. The 5th link, the pdf, I believe has nothing to do with submarine methane hydrates but rather discusses the use of clathrates in some thermoelectric technology.

      50 km offshore, 1000 m of water, a 300 m deep well (below the seabed) and technology to lower the pressure in the “reserve” – which I imagine will be rather like sucking on Earth’s atmosphere. Once you lower the pressure enough, gas and water disassociate and the pressure will rise again. I imagine they will have to use some form of huff puff system.

      Have you any idea how much all this hard ware costs to manufacture and operate? This is research that is being done – and good on them. I suspect they have to be upbeat to get funding. I would doubt that you or I see commercial gas hydrate production in our life times. But there again I may have said the same about shale 8 years ago.

      In conventional off shore drilling, great care is taken to actually avoid shallow gas since if it is disturbed it can erupt to surface dropping the density of overlying water that normally results in the offending drilling vessel sinking.

  14. Kit P says:

    Some people think that the number of times the same BS press release is repeated is evidence of something. It reminds me of the time a nice young man with a new MS in nuclear engineering was surprised to find I was an AGW skeptic. He proceeded to send me 35 links to BS.
    I am always skeptical of energy theories that do not explain the thermodynamics. Maybe Osbone could provide some links that do not support Euan’s point. Let me know when it a feasible way to produce power that is easier than with fission.

  15. Euan, I served as technical editor of IRENA’s REmap 2030, which is quoted in the comments above. I’d like to point out that you move from IRENA’s “tripling” to a quadrupling in your own words without explaining why. IRENA initially investigated Moon’s doubling of renewables, and I pointed out to them that the shift from traditional to modern biomass in particular implied a tripling of modern renewables, so that eventually became an equally important finding.

    Concerning a different post, I wanted to ask you whether you would be interested in reposting or perhaps simply having your guest author comment on my critique of the UK Energiewende text. How can I contact you? I don’t see a contact form here or an email address.

  16. Pingback: AWED Energy & Environmental Newsletter: July 7, 2014 | EarthNews.US

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