Fight the (Fossil Fuel) Power

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environment, Europe

It can’t happen here

On Sunday, May 8, Germany hit a new high in renewable energy generation. Thanks to a sunny and windy day, at one point around 1pm the country’s solar, wind, hydro and biomass plants were supplying about 55 GW of the 63 GW being consumed, or 87%.

Power prices actually went negative for several hours, meaning commercial customers were being paid to consume electricity.

The U.S. has lots of sun and wind. You’d think we’d be able to manage a shift to renewable energy. But we may never know — in our lifetime, anyway –because the fossil fuel industry owns too many politicians. And if we did go to renewable energy, it would be private and inefficient, and we’d still be price-gouged.

As near as I understand it, Germany has done a lot of work to reduce fossil fuel usage, and apparently this effort has been a huge success, a model for the world. They aren’t afraid to use government to do stuff, and they aren’t afraid to let the fossil fuel industry dwindle away.

I see also that Germany is shutting down its nuclear reactors. I’ve been running into people who are still advocating for building more nuclear reactors. And I say, um, Fukushima? And this is brushed off as some kind of technicality. Turns out Hillary is in favor of building more nuclear reactors, while Bernie is not.

I’m sorry, but we’ve been messing around with nuclear reactors since freaking World War II, and they still can’t build a foolproof reactor. The risks are too great, and as Germany is showing us, there are other ways to go about things.

At least it appears even the Republicans have stopped being outraged about the halting of the Keystone XL pipeline, or at least they’ve shut up about it lately.  Oil prices are too low to make it profitable, I understand.

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On a personal note, I have had a rough couple of days. The company that owns About.com has shut down a large number of the sites there, including my Buddhism site. The old articles will be online for the foreseeable future, but the site won’t be updated. I’m very sad; I’ve been writing the articles there for more than eight years. It was a big chunk of my life. Oh, well.

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19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. c u n d gulag  •  May 11, 2016 @4:52 pm

    I’m sorry about your cache of Buddhist writings?
    That’s a loss for all of us!

    About energy, you mention Germany.
    Germanymis in Y-rope,mand we kicked the Kaiser’s ass and Hitler’s too, so, what can we possibly learn from them?

    Oy!
    We are a stupid country.

  2. maha  •  May 11, 2016 @4:56 pm

    Y-rope is also known as Yurp.

  3. erinyes  •  May 11, 2016 @5:09 pm

    Sorry about your about.com site problem.
    I’ve commented about renewable energy (in Florida ) on this site several times. We could have plenty of solar, wind, and ocean power. These are the ways we will be powered in the future, no doubt. Tesla has developed very good storage battery banks, the batteries were the sticking point in the past, but as someone famous said, “the past is over”.
    Nuclear generating plants are time bombs. One at Turkey Creek near Miami is having problems, Crystal River has taken their Nuke generators off line.
    I’ve been hearing there are problems with the Indian Point plant up your way.

  4. bill bush  •  May 11, 2016 @8:58 pm

    Here in NC, two of Duke Power’s wholly-owned subsidiaries in the legislature are sponsoring a bill to require a 1.5 mile setback on all sides from solar panel installations, meaning a square plot of 6,000 acres is required at minimum. They are evidently afraid there will be no sunlight left for the beaches.

  5. Tom_b  •  May 12, 2016 @12:40 am

    Bill, off-topic, but the legislature is also engaged in racketeering now, related to hb2, the anti-LGBT law. Companies that publicly criticize the law can lose tax breaks or other considerations from the General Assembly. They threatened our sanctuary cities today with loss of school and highway funds. They’re running the state like a giant gulag– no free speech, no representation.

  6. David Evans  •  May 12, 2016 @4:59 am

    Fukushima was a disaster because they didn’t design for the size of tsunami they experienced, and compounded the mistake by putting the emergency generators where they could be flooded. None of that was inevitable.

    Agreed, the current generation of nuclear reactors are far from foolproof. But I keep reading about smaller, modular designs which would be much safer. We will need something for the weeks when there isn’t enough rain or wind.

  7. David Evans  •  May 12, 2016 @5:00 am

    PS I meant, of course, enough sun or wind.

  8. Alan Barbour  •  May 12, 2016 @10:49 am

    I’ve been using hover.com as a domain name server and earthlink.net (and one of its predecessors) as a physical host for my web sites for a long time; no problems. About.com has been having troubles for years and years. You should be able to move the files to a new home.

  9. maha  •  May 12, 2016 @1:56 pm

    Hi, Alan. I’ve made an html copy of the site with HTTrack already, but as long as About is hosting the files they have an exclusive right to their use in electronic form. My sections has been getting 350,000 page views and more a month, and as long as that’s the case I suspect they’ll hang on to the articles. They just don’t want to pay for new ones. I am free to use the material in a print book, though, and might get to that eventually.

  10. JohnB  •  May 12, 2016 @11:43 am

    We’ve known how to build meltdown proof nuclear reactors since the 1940s, but the US navy’s desire for nuclear powered vessels pushed development towards less safe but more compact and faster to develop nuclear reactors during the middle 20th century. Meltdown proof designs like the pebble bed are more likely to be used in this century. China’s bringing a pebble bed reactor online in 2017 and planning more to increase power production without increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

  11. DMC  •  May 12, 2016 @3:56 pm

    Thorium based reactors don’t melt down and don’t produce the spent fuel rods that are most of the problem with Fukashima and all the conventional comercial reactors. Properly configured they can even be used to consume such high level nuke waste, so we probably want to think about building a few if only for that.
    What will kill fossil fuels is simple economics. Renewables, as an aggregate, get cheaper every day, as greater efficiencies are discovered and more capacity comes on line. There is a VAST anount of money in the financial sector looking for an investment that has long term potential and sooner or later even the dullest witted of them is going to be shown the same charts enough times that the notion to start buying cheap land in the desert southwest, occurs to them. The potential is limited only by the land mass of the Earth, and not even that really. When said investors get serious about this and we get really massive construction for utility scale generation(picture square miles of photo-thermal dishes), expect the price of a kW/h to PLUMMET. When oil and coal and propane are vastly more expensive than renewables, people will stop using them. When petroleum became cheaper than whale oil, most people stopped killing whales.

  12. Laie  •  May 12, 2016 @6:18 pm

    You’re aware that it’s not all good, are you? On average, we now get 30% of our electricity from renewables; that sounds impressive, but it’s only 10% of our total energy demand. And the remaining 90% are quite dirty. We still burn lots of 2nd-grade coal; our carbon footprint is abysmal.

    Yes, the Energiewende can be a model for the world; but the better part of it’s value is identifying the issues one has to deal with if one seriously wants to get into renewables. Peak sunshine is disruptive in the nasty sense: ordinary plants have to be brought to a halt, only to be fired up again just a few hours later. This is bad for many reasons.

    I think it can be coped with, suitable storage solutions can be developed, 100% renewable electricity seems difficult-but-possible. It would require a degree of determination that I don’t see at the moment, though. On par with the Apollo program, in that several percent of GDP would need to be funneled into the project for at least a decade.

    For all that, it’s unlikely to be sufficient. We need a lot more than just electricity, and I don’t think renewable heat will work out for us.

  13. maha  •  May 12, 2016 @7:25 pm

    I keep thinking that so much of the southwest U.S. is desert. Ought to be good for something.

  14. paradoctor  •  May 13, 2016 @12:19 am

    I like to refer to ‘renewable energy’ instead as ‘owned power’. If you own a solar panel or a windmill, then you own a flow of energy; a quantity known in physics as power. If you own a barrel of oil, then you own a fixed quantity of energy; after you use it up, you’ll have to buy more oil. Therefore I like to call fuel-based power sources ‘rented power’.
    The economic and political advantages of owning rather than renting your power are obvious.

  15. Racer X  •  May 13, 2016 @12:47 am

    Maha,
    I sympathize with the loss of your articles, I recently lost 4 years of my writing labor in similar circumstances. I miss being able to reference them. But no one promised me they would last forever… I had fun researching and writing them and was overjoyed with the discussion they elicited.
    Renewable energy is the biggest no-brainer of our lifetimes. Remarkably our citizenry has managed to fumble this opportunity. Germany? Why can they succeed where we fail?

  16. maha  •  May 13, 2016 @7:57 am

    The articles are still online, although they’ve taken my name off of them (they possibly didn’t notice I often write in first person), but I am the copyright holder. About has exclusive rights for the Web, but soon as About takes them down, they’re mine to do with as I will. And I have copies.

  17. Doug  •  May 13, 2016 @10:05 am

    There are two irreconcilable issues with fission – fuel and waste. Somebody has to produce the highly refined uranium fuel. The companies who cane have a virtual monopoly and they will exploit the company knowing the cost can be passed on to the consumer. The worst issue is disposal of waste. The spent fuel is toxic as the embers of hell for thousands of years. What do you do with it? How do you transport it? Knowing that ecological poison is raw material for a terrorist, how do you guard it forever?

    Engineers can handle the safety issue – Three Mile and Fukusima were old designs – Chernobyl was a bad design. As has been pointed out, there are others that aren’t so risky.

    The real kicker is fussion, a theoretical form of nuclear power that does not need expensive refined fuel and has NO waste by products. It will take money to do the pure and applied research – the oil industry has blocked any public or private attempt to do serious research. This solution would completely change energy as a factor in climate change.

    Barbara, the ‘trick’ seems to be redirecting your ‘About” audience to a new forum in the future. As long as the old writings are up, they are being read – as soon as they come down, they are yours. Maintaining the audience you have is the main trick – getting paid is then the second objective.

  18. riding.the.path  •  May 13, 2016 @10:30 am

    I poked around the About.com blog for a spot to post a complaint, and found no way to contact the administrators (probably they don’t want to be found) I have enjoyed the About.com articles for many years and am hopeful that you will find another venue. What is Tricycle doing these days?

  19. maha  •  May 13, 2016 @11:39 am

    riding.the.path — I’m networking and talking to people, never fear. Nothing I can announce just yet, but it looks hopeful.



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