Posted by: energyblogwalter | November 3, 2006

Re: False dawn of solar power

False dawn on solar power

Simon Grose, Cosmos
[…]Wind and solar power are enormously appealing as planet-friendly sources of energy – but those who think we can completely rely on them in the future are dreaming.

As we head into another drier, hotter summer, we can expect that every scorching day, every drought-beaten farmer, every dust storm, and every bushfire will be cited as more evidence that we should abandon our reliance on fossil-fueled energy and turn to renewable sources to beat global warming.

…even though we could get some reliable power levels from renewable sources during the day, we will have to build new fossil-fuelled power stations at the same time to keep up with Australia’s growing demand for electricity. Those power stations will need to keep their fires burning 24/7 because they cannot be turned on and off quickly.[…]
(25 Oct 2006)

((to answer the comments in the article, computers will use 3W not 300W, there will be no more airplanes so don’t worry about the airports (fuel too expensive), few if any GAS cars will be left, replaced by railways on long distances and bicycles for short distances. If it’s going to get so hot in Australia…this is energy and can be harvested as either a Stirling geothermal engine or simple heat exchangers. Sewage will have to be gravity run, just like in Roman times. Sewage management is actually an old engineering problem long since solved so is not relevant to post-oil discussions. Also in this list is the printing press, bakeries and food production. All pre-date oil. Yes they will change, but just be more local. Aluminum will have the largest problem as it needs too much electricity. On a cost benefit analysis it might fail. But what about recycling? Maybe that can help. But many base metals will have this problem. Hence we will use them less.))

So Mr. Grose would like an answer then? Ok. But first we have to think about the problem differently. We’re trying to match the output of the oil energy industry with renewables but he’s noticed that the math doesn’t add up. Granted it will take more than one single technology to match the output of the oil energy. But in fact, this is the general fallacy when we consider our needs.

The math says that it isn’t worth it at all to consider the same energy amounts for the same uses as a design goal. This has been called by others as the Psychology of Previous Investment. We need to change more than our technology. We need to change why we use it and how. We need to find out what are needs really are.

The world has changed. It has become now what energy you really need. This will put the proper design focus on ourselves and divide out the waste in the system to begin with. This is true of any technology, from light bulbs to cars to railways to whatever. Our brains have been stuck on the supply side so long we don’t look at demand at all. This will be no more.

Oil/Gas is being depleted at an amazing rate worldwide. Even in Canada here with the tar sands oil, that oil is gas limited. When the gas goes, so does that oil. Also even to rely on gas generators will have the same replacement problems. As a world society, we are sadly used to high output single source energy and we will all need to change the parameters and definitions of our needs. Alas poor Mr. Grose seems lost with this new reality.

Another mental stumbling block on design is that we need to also recognize renewables are going to be only local in production, and they will look different depending on the local conditions. Thus taking more planning and forethought. More mental tweeking here: There will be no more centralized power plants.

Australian conditions for energy renewal will be different than Canada’s, yet the whole world can help each other contribute to new ideas as we all start shuffling along in the inevitable renewable energy research. Tweek Alert: We are in competition with ourselves locally, no longer globally as was the case for oil.

Also, we don’t need 24/7 electricity. Humans don’t anyway. We have a built in feature, it’s called “sleeping”. Only convenience will suffer, not need. We’re going to have to suck it up.

If you need more just try geothermal. The Rugby match analogy can be managed just fine. Such a large stadium can have pipes underground which are cooler than the air above, hence air-conditioning. You can have geothermal heat exhanger or Stirling engines or solar chimneys etc etc. Or everyone can pedal in the stands. Whatever you like. There are so many options.

Another concept to reconsider is that we already have hundreds of thousands of energy plants build and running right now, they’re called “houses”. Putting our investment dollar into renovation, solar, geothermal and a host of other coordinated cooperative technologies into houses has many advantages not just specific and obvious to technology. Others have mentioned them, so I’ll stick to the mental changes.

For example, if people are generating their own power, they tend to manage their energy usage at a more discreet level. Also since they will be selling their energy, that gives people an incentive to be wary. So if I know I’m wasting power running the water heater 24/7/365 when I’m not taking a shower 24/7/365, then I will have only myself to blame for wasting that energy and profit. Because our producers are far away, we don’t consider what waste can be cut. With local generation, day to day tasks that waste energy will no longer be missed. This is a fantastic savings and by no means fully determined. Millions of pairs of eyes on the problem is better than even 5. When flicking a light switch and not knowing where it comes from, we will instead become smarter.

Another point on home generation is that any government money spent on it goes back to the public and not into the coffers of a multinational or private company. Your taxes are directly working for you, not a corporate interest. This then changes the focus of corporations from producer to facilitator, if they’re not otherwise run out by home owner co-ops.

While I respect and can understand where Mr. Grose is coming from, however in my perspective the views in this article are no longer relevant for the new 21st century. I believe that once he shakes the shackles free from his mind and sees the light with local generation analysis, he will also be helpful in bringing others over to this new world view.

I think we’re all on a path to discovery, and this is both exciting and frustrating! We’re all on a different tangent, and I for one am glad that in a forum such as this we can hammer our the flaws as we go. I don’t find Mr. Grose’s idea’s unusual for where we are now. It’s a nice history lesson. I can find the same sentiments in my own country too. But this will be only the beginning, and as we learn and try new ideas new standards will also be developed. Who knows what they’ll be exactly I don’t know. But we can see shapes emerging and we need to be open to change.

best regards,




  1. Energy use and production is becoming a global issue as energy companies raise prices more and more, if we have to find new resources then for gods sake find some that is going to be cheaper as well as cleaner, keep the greedy power companies away from it.

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