Comments on: The Cure is Worse Than the Disease: Can We Afford a Build Out? http://sharonastyk.com/2008/01/29/the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-can-we-afford-a-build-out/ Sharon Astyk's Ruminations on an Ambiguous Future Sat, 30 Aug 2008 03:13:45 +0000 #?v=2.3.2 By: Oil and apples Pt. 3 « A Day Closer to Fate http://sharonastyk.com/2008/01/29/the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-can-we-afford-a-build-out/#comment-3846 Oil and apples Pt. 3 « A Day Closer to Fate Tue, 25 Mar 2008 03:55:50 +0000 http://sharonastyk.com/2008/01/29/the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-can-we-afford-a-build-out/#comment-3846 [...] what will happen in X years when it all starts breaking down? Sharon explains this much better right here. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m all for some miracle solution that involves lots of [...] […] what will happen in X years when it all starts breaking down? Sharon explains this much better right here. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m all for some miracle solution that involves lots of […]

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By: bellringer http://sharonastyk.com/2008/01/29/the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-can-we-afford-a-build-out/#comment-3643 bellringer Mon, 17 Mar 2008 13:00:59 +0000 http://sharonastyk.com/2008/01/29/the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-can-we-afford-a-build-out/#comment-3643 ...and Happy St. Paddy's day to you two, too. As a virgin blogger & general late-comer to the medium, I am moved to observe that your topic and exchange with Kyle is incredibly valuable. Thank you for exemplifying respectful discord carried on with clear language, concepts and references. Rana …and Happy St. Paddy’s day to you two, too.

As a virgin blogger & general late-comer to the medium, I am moved to observe that your topic and exchange with Kyle is incredibly valuable. Thank you for exemplifying respectful discord carried on with clear language, concepts and references.

Rana

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By: jewishfarmer http://sharonastyk.com/2008/01/29/the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-can-we-afford-a-build-out/#comment-32 jewishfarmer Sat, 02 Feb 2008 19:28:00 +0000 http://sharonastyk.com/2008/01/29/the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-can-we-afford-a-build-out/#comment-32 Kyle, I think it is easy to underestimate the sheer infrastructure energy costs of a giant project like this, particularly if you haven't spent a lot of time around one. But part of what is being discussed here is building *massive* energy infrastructure, over a decade or more, in places, like major deserts, where there is no existing support infrastructure. <br/><br/>So in order to do this, you have to import skilled workers by the thousands, and fly them to the nearest airport, and transport them. And while they are working on these huge projects, the workers need places to sleep and eat, and ways to run water into where they work. They need light and power sources for heavy equipment and for precisely electrical work. In some cases, if they are going to be there for years, their families will come and live with them - requiring all the support services that go with that. Or it will work like the Alaskan North Slope, where you fly people in for two weeks and then fly them home to Europe or India every couple of weeks. <br/><br/>This will involve getting legal rights of lay cable in very desolate, and very populous areas, and building all the infrastructure to go with that.<br/><br/>This is much more like building military bases - a bunch of them - than it is like building a windmill in places that already have all the industrial infrastructure in place, and a skilled labor pool in place. So again, I'm going to say that the point holds.<br/><br/>Sharon Kyle, I think it is easy to underestimate the sheer infrastructure energy costs of a giant project like this, particularly if you haven’t spent a lot of time around one. But part of what is being discussed here is building *massive* energy infrastructure, over a decade or more, in places, like major deserts, where there is no existing support infrastructure.

So in order to do this, you have to import skilled workers by the thousands, and fly them to the nearest airport, and transport them. And while they are working on these huge projects, the workers need places to sleep and eat, and ways to run water into where they work. They need light and power sources for heavy equipment and for precisely electrical work. In some cases, if they are going to be there for years, their families will come and live with them - requiring all the support services that go with that. Or it will work like the Alaskan North Slope, where you fly people in for two weeks and then fly them home to Europe or India every couple of weeks.

This will involve getting legal rights of lay cable in very desolate, and very populous areas, and building all the infrastructure to go with that.

This is much more like building military bases - a bunch of them - than it is like building a windmill in places that already have all the industrial infrastructure in place, and a skilled labor pool in place. So again, I’m going to say that the point holds.

Sharon

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By: green with a gun http://sharonastyk.com/2008/01/29/the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-can-we-afford-a-build-out/#comment-31 green with a gun Fri, 01 Feb 2008 01:16:00 +0000 http://sharonastyk.com/2008/01/29/the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-can-we-afford-a-build-out/#comment-31 There's precision and then there's precision. If you can't even get within a few orders of magnitude, your analysis that "the cure is worse than the disease" is in trouble. <br/><br/>The link I gave is to a pdf, put your cursor over the link, right-click, save as, then open from your own desktop.<br/><br/>The life-cycle analysis talks about total CO2 emissions. Commonly people think of wind turbines as causing no emissions, but of course their construction, maintenance and decommissioning does. The biggest chunk is in the concrete bases - concrete is made with cement, which is made by roasting limestone and that lets off CO2. Basically, each tonne of concrete gives you a tonne of CO2. Still a hell of a lot better than coal, but not "zero carbon."<br/><br/>In a power system for a state or country, you have basically only four things: the generators, the transformers, the power lines and the offices for the people working on it all.<br/><br/>The transformers, the power lines and the offices for a power system in the West already exist. Building them over the past century did not produce more CO2 than everthing else, so building a few more won't, either. So the only extra CO2 emissions we get are from building the power generators themselves. That's why that lifecycle analysis is relevant. <br/><br/>Military bases have an enormous CO2 emission per dollar spent because they use a <i>lot</i> of concrete, and the machines they use to build it, and around it while it's working, they get really crappy gas mileage. An Abrams tank, for example, gets 0.6mpg. In general, cost and emissions are never an issue for the military. The public will pick up the tab. So a military base is definitely going to be on the high end of the emissions per dollar.<br/><br/>You've taken a made-up figure that could be off by orders of magnitude, and tossed in your own made-up figures. All those "about so-and-so, more or less" multiply out to "way out of the ballpark, maybe in the next state, or the other one, but we're not sure in what direction."<br/><br/>Just stick to your point that Staniford hadn't considered the emissions of such a grand project. And you could also point out that if getting everyone to do everything locally is unrealistic, well then building a global energy grid sure as hell is, too. Staniford suddenly forgets his "market forces which will dominate forever" when it comes to Big Shiny Toys. There’s precision and then there’s precision. If you can’t even get within a few orders of magnitude, your analysis that “the cure is worse than the disease” is in trouble.

The link I gave is to a pdf, put your cursor over the link, right-click, save as, then open from your own desktop.

The life-cycle analysis talks about total CO2 emissions. Commonly people think of wind turbines as causing no emissions, but of course their construction, maintenance and decommissioning does. The biggest chunk is in the concrete bases - concrete is made with cement, which is made by roasting limestone and that lets off CO2. Basically, each tonne of concrete gives you a tonne of CO2. Still a hell of a lot better than coal, but not “zero carbon.”

In a power system for a state or country, you have basically only four things: the generators, the transformers, the power lines and the offices for the people working on it all.

The transformers, the power lines and the offices for a power system in the West already exist. Building them over the past century did not produce more CO2 than everthing else, so building a few more won’t, either. So the only extra CO2 emissions we get are from building the power generators themselves. That’s why that lifecycle analysis is relevant.

Military bases have an enormous CO2 emission per dollar spent because they use a lot of concrete, and the machines they use to build it, and around it while it’s working, they get really crappy gas mileage. An Abrams tank, for example, gets 0.6mpg. In general, cost and emissions are never an issue for the military. The public will pick up the tab. So a military base is definitely going to be on the high end of the emissions per dollar.

You’ve taken a made-up figure that could be off by orders of magnitude, and tossed in your own made-up figures. All those “about so-and-so, more or less” multiply out to “way out of the ballpark, maybe in the next state, or the other one, but we’re not sure in what direction.”

Just stick to your point that Staniford hadn’t considered the emissions of such a grand project. And you could also point out that if getting everyone to do everything locally is unrealistic, well then building a global energy grid sure as hell is, too. Staniford suddenly forgets his “market forces which will dominate forever” when it comes to Big Shiny Toys.

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By: jewishfarmer http://sharonastyk.com/2008/01/29/the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-can-we-afford-a-build-out/#comment-30 jewishfarmer Thu, 31 Jan 2008 17:07:00 +0000 http://sharonastyk.com/2008/01/29/the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-can-we-afford-a-build-out/#comment-30 Kyle, I don't deny it would be useful to be more precise. The link you gave doesn't work, so I can't look at the actual analysis you provide. It sounds to me though, you're running this by payback, which wouldn't be relevant - my argument is that the payback doesn't come fast enough. But perhaps I'm misunderstanding you. I'd be interested to see what is included and excluded in the full lifecycle analysis.<br/><br/>That said, however, we don't mind silicone with wind power, or transport workers around the globe with solar powered plains, so it seems pretty reasonable to me to place the estimate of energy required to be consistent with energy intensive activities and rich world dollars. <br/><br/>A useful analysis would be the comparison of a major infrastructure building project, not simply the construction of a single turbine. The only example I've been able to find is cited in Chalmers Johnson's _Nemesis_ and goes over the energy costs of Military Base construction - but those come out rather higher than the 1/2 lb per doller, at about .83lbs per dollar. If you've got a better model, let me know, but I think that otherwise, rough averages are probably a reasonable starting point.<br/><br/>Sharon Kyle, I don’t deny it would be useful to be more precise. The link you gave doesn’t work, so I can’t look at the actual analysis you provide. It sounds to me though, you’re running this by payback, which wouldn’t be relevant - my argument is that the payback doesn’t come fast enough. But perhaps I’m misunderstanding you. I’d be interested to see what is included and excluded in the full lifecycle analysis.

That said, however, we don’t mind silicone with wind power, or transport workers around the globe with solar powered plains, so it seems pretty reasonable to me to place the estimate of energy required to be consistent with energy intensive activities and rich world dollars.

A useful analysis would be the comparison of a major infrastructure building project, not simply the construction of a single turbine. The only example I’ve been able to find is cited in Chalmers Johnson’s _Nemesis_ and goes over the energy costs of Military Base construction - but those come out rather higher than the 1/2 lb per doller, at about .83lbs per dollar. If you’ve got a better model, let me know, but I think that otherwise, rough averages are probably a reasonable starting point.

Sharon

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By: green with a gun http://sharonastyk.com/2008/01/29/the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-can-we-afford-a-build-out/#comment-29 green with a gun Thu, 31 Jan 2008 02:00:00 +0000 http://sharonastyk.com/2008/01/29/the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-can-we-afford-a-build-out/#comment-29 My critique is that you've very likely vastly over-estimated the level of emissions.<br/><br/>That building something causes emissions is not in question; that it'll cause a particular level is in question. <br/><br/>And the exact level is important to your argument, that the "cure" may be worse than the "disease". <br/><br/>I've already provided a link showing that some spending is more or less greenhouse gas intensive than your 1/2lb per dollar. <br/><br/>For more detailed examples, <a HREF="fti.neep.wisc.edu/pdf/fdm1092.pdf" REL="nofollow"><i>Net Energy Payback and CO Emissions from. Wind-Generated Electricity in the Midwest</i></a> tells us that for three different wind farms in the US Midwest, the life-cycle emissions - mining the material, building the thing, maintaining it, then pulling it apart at the end of its life - were 9-20t CO2e per GWh, or 0.009-0.020kg CO2e/kWh. The delivered retail cost is around 20c/kWhr. That's 0.0018-0.004kg per dollar spent, or around a tenth of an ounce per dollar. <br/><br/>This compares with coal at around 2kg CO2e/kWh, and a delivered retail cost of about 12c/kWh. That's about 17kg CO2e per dollar, or 38lbs. <br/><br/>So, coal produces <i>ten thousand</i> times more emissions per dollar spent than wind.<br/><br/>Thus neither you nor Staniford can blandly assert that building a worldwide network is good or bad; we have to know the details. How much of this or that, using what materials? <br/><br/>A difference of a factor of ten thousand would certainly determine whether the cure is worse or better than the disease.<br/><br/>I don't claim to know whether it is or not. I'm looking at this in my <a HREF="http://greenwithagun.blogspot.com/2007/12/ecotechnia-introduction.html" REL="nofollow">Ecotechnia</a> series, at what's physically possible in terms of electrical power. It's a complex problem, and can't be reduced to something as simple as "1/2lb per dollar, times $400 trillion." <br/><br/>You have not even an order of magnitude guess of the cost in dollars or emissions, so that your analysis fails to prove its point, that the cure is worse than the disease.<br/><br/>Nonetheless, as I said, you are at least considering the emissions, which Staniford from the comfort of his office did not. My critique is that you’ve very likely vastly over-estimated the level of emissions.

That building something causes emissions is not in question; that it’ll cause a particular level is in question.

And the exact level is important to your argument, that the “cure” may be worse than the “disease”.

I’ve already provided a link showing that some spending is more or less greenhouse gas intensive than your 1/2lb per dollar.

For more detailed examples, Net Energy Payback and CO Emissions from. Wind-Generated Electricity in the Midwest tells us that for three different wind farms in the US Midwest, the life-cycle emissions - mining the material, building the thing, maintaining it, then pulling it apart at the end of its life - were 9-20t CO2e per GWh, or 0.009-0.020kg CO2e/kWh. The delivered retail cost is around 20c/kWhr. That’s 0.0018-0.004kg per dollar spent, or around a tenth of an ounce per dollar.

This compares with coal at around 2kg CO2e/kWh, and a delivered retail cost of about 12c/kWh. That’s about 17kg CO2e per dollar, or 38lbs.

So, coal produces ten thousand times more emissions per dollar spent than wind.

Thus neither you nor Staniford can blandly assert that building a worldwide network is good or bad; we have to know the details. How much of this or that, using what materials?

A difference of a factor of ten thousand would certainly determine whether the cure is worse or better than the disease.

I don’t claim to know whether it is or not. I’m looking at this in my Ecotechnia series, at what’s physically possible in terms of electrical power. It’s a complex problem, and can’t be reduced to something as simple as “1/2lb per dollar, times $400 trillion.”

You have not even an order of magnitude guess of the cost in dollars or emissions, so that your analysis fails to prove its point, that the cure is worse than the disease.

Nonetheless, as I said, you are at least considering the emissions, which Staniford from the comfort of his office did not.

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By: jewishfarmer http://sharonastyk.com/2008/01/29/the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-can-we-afford-a-build-out/#comment-28 jewishfarmer Wed, 30 Jan 2008 13:50:00 +0000 http://sharonastyk.com/2008/01/29/the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-can-we-afford-a-build-out/#comment-28 Kyle, I'm not sure I understand your critique. That is, why am I saying that building a giant new grid made up of huge solar panels and cables that have to run from the world's deserts entirely around the planet will create new emissions ;-)? I'm clearly misunderstanding your question. The problem is that we'll essentially be replacing the old grid.<br/><br/>As for the costs, Staniford is estimating them in USD, and I think Hall's estimate is a fairly good metric - even if we buy some of this in other currencies, the production of a world-wide grid is unlikely to be as low energy as, say, buying a bag of millet in Ghana - its emissions levels are likely to be much more on the order of spending USD. <br/><br/>If anything, I think the 1/2lb *underestimates* things - remember, even in the US that figure includes all transactions, lower and higher energy. The building of a global electric grid is likely to be a very, very energy intensive project - the mining of silicone, the digging of conductor cables with heavy equipment, etc... <br/><br/>Sharon Kyle, I’m not sure I understand your critique. That is, why am I saying that building a giant new grid made up of huge solar panels and cables that have to run from the world’s deserts entirely around the planet will create new emissions ;-)? I’m clearly misunderstanding your question. The problem is that we’ll essentially be replacing the old grid.

As for the costs, Staniford is estimating them in USD, and I think Hall’s estimate is a fairly good metric - even if we buy some of this in other currencies, the production of a world-wide grid is unlikely to be as low energy as, say, buying a bag of millet in Ghana - its emissions levels are likely to be much more on the order of spending USD.

If anything, I think the 1/2lb *underestimates* things - remember, even in the US that figure includes all transactions, lower and higher energy. The building of a global electric grid is likely to be a very, very energy intensive project - the mining of silicone, the digging of conductor cables with heavy equipment, etc…

Sharon

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By: green with a gun http://sharonastyk.com/2008/01/29/the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-can-we-afford-a-build-out/#comment-27 green with a gun Wed, 30 Jan 2008 04:34:00 +0000 http://sharonastyk.com/2008/01/29/the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-can-we-afford-a-build-out/#comment-27 But Sharon, how can we take you seriously if you don't have any graphs? :p<br/><br/>I don't really see how you can equate dollars spent with carbon emissions; after all, if you look at different countries and areas, you'll see some have quite a lot of emissions for each dollar of GDP, and others not so much. See <a HREF="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_ratio_of_GDP_to_carbon_dioxide_emissions" REL="nofollow">here</a> for some rough figures.<br/><br/>I'm also confused as to why a global electricity grid will cause more emissions in being built than we've caused with the grids we've already built. <br/><br/>So I think that because of those two things, you've over-estimated the emissions such a project is likely to cause in building. <br/><br/>That said, your critique is worthwhile, since it was a topic that Staniford (characteristically) ignored. Like his assumption that economic growth continues forever, it's one he makes where he ignores the reality in favour of formulae and graphs; characteristic of people who have never had to grow their own food, or done other practical work. <br/><br/>Things are much neater in labs. But Sharon, how can we take you seriously if you don’t have any graphs? :p

I don’t really see how you can equate dollars spent with carbon emissions; after all, if you look at different countries and areas, you’ll see some have quite a lot of emissions for each dollar of GDP, and others not so much. See here for some rough figures.

I’m also confused as to why a global electricity grid will cause more emissions in being built than we’ve caused with the grids we’ve already built.

So I think that because of those two things, you’ve over-estimated the emissions such a project is likely to cause in building.

That said, your critique is worthwhile, since it was a topic that Staniford (characteristically) ignored. Like his assumption that economic growth continues forever, it’s one he makes where he ignores the reality in favour of formulae and graphs; characteristic of people who have never had to grow their own food, or done other practical work.

Things are much neater in labs.

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By: Phil http://sharonastyk.com/2008/01/29/the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-can-we-afford-a-build-out/#comment-26 Phil Tue, 29 Jan 2008 21:07:00 +0000 http://sharonastyk.com/2008/01/29/the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-can-we-afford-a-build-out/#comment-26 Relocalisation Cuban-style;<br/><br/>Monty Don reported on Cuba's gardening tonight on BBC2.<br/><br/>It's available on the BBC's iPlayer here for the next 5 days:<br/><br/>http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/page/item/b008wf8l.shtml<br/><br/>The Cuban piece starts around 39 minutes in. Well worth a watch. Relocalisation Cuban-style;

Monty Don reported on Cuba’s gardening tonight on BBC2.

It’s available on the BBC’s iPlayer here for the next 5 days:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/page/item/b008wf8l.shtml

The Cuban piece starts around 39 minutes in. Well worth a watch.

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