Written by Dr Klaus L.E. Kaiser
Much of the western world assumes electric power to be available 24/7 with an unlimited supply to boot. Indeed, “Hydro” (still) is and was a readily available energy source for every household, office and industry in most of the developed nations.
Less developed nations still suffer from widespread availability, frequent electric power interruptions, and “bandwidth” problems. The electricity providers cannot deliver the quantity desired, particularly to rural areas, and the grid simply cannot carry the currents needed.
Are the “Smart Grid,” “Smart Meters,” “Smart Appliances” and “Alternative Energy” systems going to solve the problem? I don’t think so.
In fact, reliance on these systems will exacerbate the problems in the making. To elaborate, let’s start with some simple numbers on electric power generation.
Electric Power Generation
Electric power generation involves the process of converting the energy inherent in another energy source to usable electric power fed into the grid for anyone’s consumption. There are few energy sources that have sufficient capacity to supply the need. The table below gives some rough data on electric power (EP) generation, by energy source (ES) in percent of the total EP (source Wikipedia) mostly for the year 2009, U stands for uranium (nuclear power).
As is clearly evident from the numbers in the table above that most of the world’s countries rely on just three sources for their electric power generation, namely fossil resources (mainly coal, oil, and natural gas), hydro (water), and nuclear (U, uranium).
Together they make up more than 90% of all electricity generated around the entire world. Moreover, the largest percentage of electricity generated in the world is from fossil resources; in fact from coal, at a clip of 40+%. Other than hydro, renewable source (solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, ocean) energy accounts for less than a few percent of the total generation.
Alternative Power Generation
So-called “alternative” (electric) energy sources primarily are from wind and solar power installations. Worldwide, their actual (and usable) production is in the order of one percent only. That is with some 100,000 “megawatt” wind turbines in the world and photovoltaic systems on nearly every roof in Germany. The problem is that none of them produce any power when “the wind doesn’t blow” or the sun “doesn’t shine.” Then, all people rely on the local “hydro” system to generate the power they like to consume. As noted above, that mostly comes from coal.
Power Generation from Coal
Power generation from coal is the standby for any shortfall of electricity needs that cannot be supplied from other sources at the time. However, that option is disappearing rapidly as coal-fired power plants are being forced to close right, left and center. In the USA, it’s because of the Environmental Protection Agency’s new MATS (Mercury and Air Toxics Standards) rules that are slated to come into effect soon. In Europe it’s their “greenhouse gas [carbon dioxide, CO2] emissions” regulations and new “energy-savings” laws. Elsewhere, politicians have used derogatory terms for coal, such as “dirty coal” and similar descriptions of the western world’s major energy source over the last two centuries.
But even without such external influences, it is obvious that coal faces an uphill struggle these days, not because of it being an inferior energy source, but because of the fact that it takes a little while to get it ignited and burning hot enough to generate energy. There simply is no way to get that done in milliseconds when clouds move over the sky to make the solar power drop to nothing or when the wind suddenly stops blowing. As a result, many of the coal generating stations are either fully fired up but cannot feed their electricity into the grid when the sun shines or, alternatively, cannot produce enough to satisfy the demand stemming from a sudden lack of sun or wind.
In practice, that means that coal generating plants have not just substantially higher operating costs but also more uncertain long-term capital recuperation costs; altogether simply higher business risks. All that additional risk translates into substantially higher electricity costs to the consumer. No wonder coal mines and coal-fired power plants are closing in several western countries.
However, in the Far East it’s a different picture. Coal-generated electricity is growing faster than ever. China is said to build a new plant at the clip of one per week. India and other eastern countries are not far behind. They all need power, lots of it and coal is the most energetic and cheapest material for that, at least at this time. South Africa also converts coal to gasoline at a large scale.
Nuclear power became abundant in the decades after 1950. Since then it has been a steady supplier of “base load” electricity in much of North America, Europe, Japan, Russia and, more recently, also China. For example, the data in Table 1 show that the U.S., Germany, and Japan have or had more than 20% of their electricity generated from uranium in nuclear power plants. The unfortunate incident in Fukushima, Japan, was entirely avoidable if proper plant-location, design and emergency procedures had been followed. Regrettably that was not the case just like in Russia’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant, where several fail-safe mechanisms were manually overturned to execute unapproved experiments. If anything, that proves that nuclear power is very safe when the plants are located, designed, and operated in the best possible way.
The Fukushima event was used by some politicians, for example in Germany, in a knee-jerk reaction, to “throw out the baby with the bath water” and call for expedited closure of all nuclear power plants in the country. Most interestingly, their neighbor to the west, France, decided to do exactly the opposite, namely to increase the electricity generation from uranium to close to 100% of the country’s needs. The consequence, as one might have suspected to develop at the time, is that Germany now needs to import “nuclear” electricity from its neighbors.
You wouldn’t know that if you saw the lavender fields in southern France when they are in bloom, but that power is not only more reliable than all the “alternative” (wind and solar) electricity generated in Germany, it’s all considerably cheaper. No wonder, power-intensive manufacturing plants in Germany are considering relocation to places with cheaper rates.
The upshot of the “war on coal” as waged in the USA and elsewhere is slowly coming to roost. If you have become accustomed to cheap electricity, don’t count on it to be around much longer. In some bureaucrats’ minds, the question is not what is most beneficial to the country, or the industry, or the consumers like you and me, but what they and “Agenda 21” proponents in the UN are thinking of as good for the world. Their most cherished view of an “equitable world” involves everyone having the same lack of available energy, sort of like in Cro-Magnon or Neanderthal people times several 10,000 years ago. Their new “smart meters” and “smart” household appliances are just euphemisms to have you buy into their thinking that allows them to curtail your energy use at their whim.
If you happen to find yourself unexpectedly without electricity, don’t be surprised.
Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser Bio
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Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser is author of CONVENIENT MYTHS, the green revolution – perceptions, politics, and facts
Dr. Kaiser can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org