Alternative? Not Really.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Responding to a reader who dislikes coal and nuclear power, and wants everyone to stop using them, Cecil Adams summarizes the results of an academic paper about the future of the world's aggregate energy demand versus how that demand might be met. The inadequacy of "alternative" energy sources to meet even a modest average level of demand is striking, especially in the context of the unrealistic assumptions behind their maximum outputs:

[Daniel] Nocera conservatively pegs annual global energy usage circa 2050 at between 28 terawatts -- which assumes average consumption at the same rate as in present-day Poland -- and 35 terawatts, roughly the rate now seen in Samoa. You may say: Samoa sounds like a lifestyle I could get used to. That's sporting of you, but it still means we'll need about 15 to 20 more terawatts of energy than we're consuming right now.

Where will it come from? Nocera runs through some possibilities:
  • First, biomass. If we devote all the arable land on earth to energy production rather than food crops and presumably just don't eat, we could generate 7 to 10 terawatts.
  • Next, wind. If we build wind farms on 100 percent of the sufficiently windy land, we could produce 2.1 terawatts.
  • Third, hydroelectric. If we dam all the remaining rivers, we could come up with 0.7 to 2 additional terawatts.
  • Finally, nuclear. I know you don't like nukes, Randvek, but the professor's evident aim was to tote up all power sources that aren't net emitters of greenhouse gases. He thinks we could produce 8 terawatts by constructing 8,000 nuclear power plants, which would mean one new plant every two days for the next 40 years.
Total: around 18 to 22 terawatts. In other words, if we squeeze out every available watt of alternative energy on the planet, and build nukes at an impossibly aggressive rate, we'll barely keep up with the energy needed to support even a modest standard of living for the world's people.
"Alternative" energy is anything but an alternative, if the goal is to sustain human life.

-- CAV

--- In Other News ---

Frank J. Fleming offers some free "Tips for Not Appearing Crazy on the Internet."
[O]ften crazy people will just read until they see a word or phrase that sets them off and then go off on a big, crazy rant before even reading the whole thing they're reacting to. Often, then, they're completely missing the point or missing that something is satire and taking it seriously.
Is this a satirical piece or a diagnostic tool? Based on the above, I'd say it's both. Heh!

From a contest at Cracked: Here's what would an over-the-hill King Kong would look like.

From Armed and Dangerous comes this latest tech press headline from the smart phone wars: "Apple's iOS 5 Directly Lifts Features from Android."

This story about the latest government-funded "bullet" train gives the phrase, "faster than a speeding bullet" an ironic new meaning. It sounds to me like there's a humorous ad for a competing bus line just waiting to happen here.


Mike said...

While tech companies are focused on delivering the next great device, software, or feature, Apple's sole focus is on the end-user outcome. That is, the device and OS are just vessels that do whatever they have to do to enable users to easily consume media, share photos, keep up with email and web, etc, by a carefully tailored vector. The device becomes a subsidiary consideration.

My guess is that the general anarchy of open-source Android will give rise to huge numbers of great features, and then Apple will let the market pareto-sort, revealing which features mean the most to the user experience, and then will do the best job of executing those features in the iOSX ecosystem.

It's true that Apple sues over anything and everything, but generally other companies can proceed without fear as long as their product is on the "idea" side of the idea-expression divide (the fundamental principle of intellectual property law).

The reason so many companies lose lawsuits to Apple (or settle) is that they aren't just borrowing an Apple idea, but are copying Apple's carefully developed expression of that idea (the total implementation of it). The open-source community likes to crow about "Let's all work together," but when it's genuine infringement and clearly coattailing, Apple (or any other IP developer) has every right to sue to defend the value of their work and product. It's a shame many in the open-source community don't like to recognize that.

Also, fantastic article link to the Straight Dope energy rundown. I admit I had hoped that nuclear and/or geothermal could supplant the heavy-carbon options, but it looks like that's just not in the cards at this point, and it's a shame that it's not.

Gus Van Horn said...

The frequency of disdain for intellectual property rights within the OSS community,which you allude to, is probably the thing I dislike most about it.

That said, you point about the Android ecosystem being fertile for innovation is pretty much the take-home of the ESR article, and free of the "cluebat" rhetoric I thought it could do without.

A different Mike said...

Mike: "I admit I had hoped that nuclear and/or geothermal could supplant the heavy-carbon options, but it looks like that's just not in the cards at this point, and it's a shame that it's not."

You'd want to look at Nocera's assumptions. Does he assume the same old designs currently used or more advanced designs already capable of production, or various types of fast breeder reactors that use a lot more than 0.7% of the fuel? There are articles along the same line at BraveNewClimate well worth checking out. (I searched for Nocera's study on the site but found nothin, which is curious because I was confident I'd read discussion of that study there.)

Gus Van Horn said...

That's an interesting point you raise, ADM. Thanks for pointing out those further discussions.

Inspector said...

Mike: "I admit I had hoped that nuclear and/or geothermal could supplant the heavy-carbon options, but it looks like that's just not in the cards at this point, and it's a shame that it's not."

Why is that a shame? Contra 'viro propaganda, carbon is a harmless gas.