The end of civilisation postponed?

Having frightened the pants off you with the possibility that we are running out of resources, energy in particular, it’s only right to redress the balance with a bit of hope. There’s been a few pieces in the press recently about the possibility that shale gas might provide the US and Europe with a significant new source of hydrocarbons. There does appear to be some controversy about the environmental impact. However, it might save our green and pleasant land from being covered in wind turbines. Let’s hope Mr. Huhne refocuses his mind on Britain’s impending energy crisis rather than the LibDem’s failures in the polls.


21 thoughts on “The end of civilisation postponed?”

  1. Robin – thanks for the interesting articles you have been sending lately. Good reading.

    I see on the BBC lunch time news that nuclear power will remain the cheapest option for low carbon energy. It seems that the UK government’s ( I guess not the Scottish government’s) main strategy is to encourage the installation of offshore wind farms and at least 3600 10 MW turbines will be needed. – The best place for them.
    A goverment committee has two main concerns that electricity could be generated more cheaply through onshore wind farms or buying renewables from overseas.

  2. Robin,

    You cannot seriously advocate shale gas can you? I’d rather take the windfarm at least it won’t poison you and you can still walk there.

    Mark who was actually saying that nuclear is cheapest? The finances of nuclear are very murky.

    1. I’m not making any judgement, just pointing out that it has been put forward as a possible energy source. It seems to have some drawbacks like methane released into the atmosphere which is a powerful greenhouse gas. Which ever way we turn the solutions are not comfortable.

  3. Hi, Wurz, not sure of the economics of clean energy and whether nuclear is the cheapest, just heard this on the news today. I think I would rather see off shore wind (and wave) rather than nuclear personally. Whilst experts say that nuclear is safe, if it goes wrong – it goes seriously wrong. I still don’t see enough money being spent on energy conservation- i.e. insulation, replacement of older heating systems etc, which would go some way to reducing our carbon footprint.

    1. Mark I think you are right. Not enough attention has been spent on energy conservation, micro generation and storage. Wind power has too many drawbacks imv not least that the grid system cannot cope with the fluctuations in power from wind.

    2. All wind power solutions are fatally flawed because they are intermittant. Hence, there has to be backup generation. Also the energy density of wind is not enough to make a significant contribution. The size of the wind farms needed (even if we could guarantee the wind blowing all the time) would be staggeringly large. Because of its intermittance, wind power is destabilising for the national grid, so significant redundancy has to built in, adding to the costs. Denmark is a good case study for these effects. Wind power is an expensive red herring in my view.

  4. Sadly, after last week’s election, Scotland is more likely to go down the onshore windfarm route than ever. Salmond was an economist during his working career and yet he still can’t see the futility of putting your faith in something over which you have no control – bizarre. At least tidal power is constant though much work needs to be done to ensure reliability. From memory, an experimental tidal generator was installed on the Pentland Firth a number of years ago and it only lasted a few days before it was ripped from its moorings.

    1. It’s strange that two prominent economists in politics (Alex Salmond and Vince Cable) seem to have forgotten all their economics learning. Perhaps that says something about politics.

      I might write something on why independence could potentially be economically disastrous for Scotland. One thing that Marx did get right was that economics always triumphs over politics, as the euro crisis demonstrates. I’m afraid Mr Salmond is likely to lead Scotland down a similar path of boom, bust and despair.

  5. I feel that in the end we’ll have to accept the fact that the energy needs of the country have to come before our personal preferences. Fossil fuels work but for a variety of reasons including carbon emissions and the fact that they aren’t a renewable resource rule them out long term. Off shore energy production whether through wind or wave is likely to be too expensive both in construction and maintainence given that neither are particularily efficient. That leaves onshore wind farms or nuclear, windfarms alone can’t meet the energy requirements so eventually we’ll have to accept nuclear. In the end we won’t accept any restriction on the amount of energy we use, it has to be affordable so sacrifices have to be made wheter it’s accepting the visual destruction caused by wind farms or the risks associated with nuclear, neither of which are particularily appealing to me.

    The thing we have to remember though is that the wild empty spaces that we don’t want to see changed through the building of windfarms weren’t wild empty spaces a few hundered years ago. Then there were people, they went to make room for something more profitable in the form of sheep. It’s really just evolution in the end.

  6. Despite what happened in Japan, I think I’d prefer the nuclear option, even if we need to buy in the expertise from France.

    1. I think the Japanese experience is largely irrelevant to the UK as we are geologically stable and less likley to suffer a tsunami. However, as per my comments to R Mac, the best way to guard against a tsunami is to build the power station on an artificail mound. Technologically easy, not very expensive and as it doesn’t have to be very high, not visually intrusive. I agree that nuclear is the least bad option. It is disappointing that no progress appears to have been made on developing thorium reactors which in many ways are safer than uranium ones.

  7. On the basis of efficiency I’d tend to agree but I suspect they’d want to build a nuclear plant well away from densely populated areas which brings us back to the windfarm/landscape argument and of course there’s likely to be restricted access to areas in close proximity to a nuclear plant.

    In the end whatever happens the energy needs of the country have to be met.

    1. Nuclear power stations tend to built on the coast rather than on the top of hills. Hence thay are visually less intrusive. One thing that surprised me about the Fukushima disaster is that the plant wasn’t built on an artifical hill. If it had been on a mound of 15m, the tsunami would have gone around it rather than flooding it. It seems like a better solution than a sea wall and not as expensive.

  8. I take the comments on board regarding nuclear and my comments regarding the safety of nuclear does not relate to Japan. My concerns relate to the potential of nuclear to cause very serious environmental and health problems should there ever be an incident. I suppose it is the balance of risk v benefit which I think is still tipped towards too risky. Having said this, I am in agreement that probably it is the best in terms of cost and making a real dent in emission targets.

  9. The entire article is worth a read if, like me you missed it on tv.

    It’s interesting that nuclear is only the cheapest at the moment that is predicted to change in the near future. And as i said how is the nuclear cost calculated and does it include decommissioning?

    On the main news (UK) site there is a leader about how Cable wants to block Huhne’s carbon cutting agenda.

    1. Interesting but the wind lobby is still ignoring the fact that wind is intermittent and so can’t replace conventional power generation.

  10. There are 2 wind farms within about 5 miles of where I live, one to the east (the largest) and one to the west but even when there is wind they aren’t always in operation.

    I appreciate the concerns about nuclear energy and to be perfectly honest I’d be less than thrilled if they decided to build one close to where I live but what alternative is there? While nuclear may in time turn out to be less cost effective than alternatives the alternatives aren’t available at this time. Wind power isn’t an alternative, at best it can be used to supplement the primary source and I suspect that moving wind farms offshore makes them even less effective in real terms. It isn’t only about cost though, it doesn’t matter how cheaply you can generate electricity if you can’t generate it in sufficient quantities.

    Strangely enough nuclear has possibly the least visual impact, at the beginning of the industrial age wood was the fuel of choice which resulted in a dramatic change in the landscape, coal followed and left it’s mark, oil is pretty unobtrusive in the UK at least although it certainly has a visual impact in areas where it’s obtained onshore but nuclear doesn’t really have any visual impact apart from the actual plant.

    I totally agree though that with nuclear the trouble starts when things go wrong and then the impact is not only visual but enviornmental on a scale bigger than even a major offshore oil spill.

    The fact is that presently there is no low impact (visual/enviornmental) 100% safe means of supplying the demand.

    There’s a tendency to consider things as (more) acceptable as long as they aren’t on our own doorstep so to speak so does anyone think that those closest to the source should pay less and those further away pay more?

  11. To a certain extent proximity to supply does receive a discount, this can be seen with fuel prices. With electricity though the waters get muddied by privatisation. We now have a complex scenario with multiple generators supplying energy to companies and individuals outside their original geographic areas with a wide array of tariffs.

    Now I must admit, I have an interest here as I’m an engineer but have a degree in environmental studies. So on the one hand this subject interests me, particularly as I studied renewables vs nuclear, etc. But as an engineer I’m presently conducting study work for a windfarm off Germany and I’ve just been asked if I’d like to go on a construction job for Walney 2 off Barrow. But being ecumunical where employment is concerned about these things I think I’m going to go to Nigeria for an oil company instead. 🙂

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