How can economies continue to grow, given a finite supply of resources?

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Offline chiralSPO

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I have always been a little concerned by the way that capitalist economics demands constant growth of the economy. Given a finite supply of stuff, and assuming that at a certain point the world's population stabilizes, how can the economy grow?

Supply side:
Energy = ability to do work; constant rate of insolation (~same amount of E available to do work at any given time--you could use it as it comes in, or save it for later, but there is effectively a fixed "income")
Matter = goods; constant--at this point we are still mining the earth so the amount of available matter is still increasing, but this will slow and reach equilibrium at some point.
Order = entropy = organization or (not waste)-- there is a constant drain on economy due to inefficiency (not economic inefficiency) and decay--value will decrease over time given no input.

Demand side:
# of people; constant (once equilibrium achieved)
how much each person wants; would have to increase for demand to increase

If people use energy productively, it increases value of stuff on earth; if they use energy destructively it decreases value of stuff on earth. I find that the limit of economic growth is essentially the influx of captured energy. Total economic value at time T is <(integral of energy captured dt, from t=0 until t=T). And given the proportion of the economy that is driven by destruction, I think this upper limit is very far above the real value.

The only other thing I can come up with is innovation. If people can continuously find more valuable ways of using energy or more valuable goods that can be made from the same matter.

Does this make any sense?
« Last Edit: 09/10/2013 23:46:55 by chris »

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Offline alancalverd

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Re: economic growth and thermodynamics
« Reply #1 on: 09/10/2013 19:44:28 »
My thoughts precisely. It was back in the 1960's when I was asked what was the overall effect of human activity, and I said "it warms the planet".

If you want thermal stability you must return to an entirely solar-powered economy. If you want to enjoy a western standard of living with indefinitely sustainable energy, you need to reduce the human population to about a fifth of its present level. Unfortunately politicans and economists have no idea of how to sell such a program and guarantee themselves re-election.
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Offline CliffordK

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Re: economic growth and thermodynamics
« Reply #2 on: 09/10/2013 22:51:35 »
I have always been a little concerned by the way that capitalist economics demands constant growth of the economy.

I'm not sure if this is entirely true.

A small business, or farmer might be perfectly happy if their income and expenses merely match.  One of the biggest problems is the capital investment, but once the capital is paid off, then the income naturally will seem greater.  Inflation may be more of a pain than any benefit for the small businessman.

The investor, of course, generally only invests for the purpose of increasing the investment.  It still doesn't hurt to find an investment that has good steady returns.

As far as corporate growth, one of the big means for corporate growth, even in a stagnant economy is to move in and take market share from another business.  In a sense, this could continue until one ends up with a couple of big mega-corps (except for anti-monopoly laws).  However, the big companies are always at risk of the next upstart with a good idea coming in and starting to whittle away at their market share.

Do we need an increasing monetary supply and inflation?

And, it is beyond me why governments think they're better off borrowing money than actually balancing the budget.  Perhaps a small municipal government will need a loan for capital projects, but taking a loan to meet payroll is ludicrous.  A large government should be able to pay for capital expenses without loans by spacing the capital expenses out to match the income, and figuring out a way to budget to cover capital needs.

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Offline alancalverd

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Re: economic growth and thermodynamics
« Reply #3 on: 09/10/2013 23:35:09 »
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A small business, or farmer might be perfectly happy if their income and expenses merely match.

You have put your finger on the nub of the problem. Any organisation contains elements of production and management. Production workers' remuneration depends on the number of widgets they make per week, n. The function of managment is to change things, and managers' remuneration depends on dn/dt. Economists, politicians, consultants, and all the other parasites who sit on the workers' shoulders, need dn/dt>0 to justify their existence so they preach expansion, not for its inherent goodness, but for the sake of their own careers.

The growth of a corporation is often limited by nuclear instability. As you acquire more subsidiaries, so you spend more time and energy on corporate affairs and less time on contact with the customer. Eventually whatever stroke of genius led to the initial product, gets so diluted or attenuated by inward-looking functionaries that the company cannot respond to a challenge, and falls apart. Beware of recruiting neutrons!
« Last Edit: 09/10/2013 23:43:38 by alancalverd »
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Offline Matt

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Is it the impossibility of infinite growth that leads to the boom and bust cycle? Where growth becomes unsustainable and a bust is required to 'reset' the capitalist system?

We can all look to Gordon Brown for advice as he claimed there would never be a return to "boom and bust" economics.

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Offline wolfekeeper

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To a first approximation the answer to this question is: it can't

However, there's a number of holes in that answer:

a) not all economic activity takes raw materials, for example films in principle can be made in computers/with web cameras etc

b) the resources of the Earth are finite, but vast (we're not tapping more than a tiny, tiny fraction of wind energy or solar energy right now)

c) we have ways (which are not particularly well developed at the moment) to access the rest of the solar system, and you would not believe how much energy and resources are up there (enough resources for a hundred trillion people at current usage levels without trying hard)

Is it the impossibility of infinite growth that leads to the boom and bust cycle? Where growth becomes unsustainable and a bust is required to 'reset' the capitalist system?
Not so much, boom and bust is usually more to do with fraud and the wildly varying estimates of the value of assets.
« Last Edit: 11/10/2013 01:09:45 by wolfekeeper »

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Offline evan_au

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Given a finite supply of stuff...how can the economy grow?
You are thinking of economics like physics or chemistry, with various "conservation" laws (conservation of charge, conservation of mass/energy, etc).

Economics does not have a law of conservation of value. In fact, it only takes a natural disaster, a fire or a war or riot to destroy the value you thought you had.

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the wildly varying estimates of the value of assets
I think this is the fundamental issue - the value of many economic assets like shares, futures, derivatives, antiques, literature, music (and to some extent, currency, real estate, diamonds and gold) is only what people think other people think it is worth. It has nothing to do with any inherent value. So you can have (apparent) economic growth or economic loss merely by groupthink. This leads to a boom and bust economic cycle.

This is in contrast to "real" economic assets which cost real effort & resources to produce and which actually benefit the people who use and/or consume them; the cost of manufacture lends some stability to the value of these goods. But changes in fashion, technology and national priorities can change the value of these assets up or down.

Somewhere in-between are "services" which take only the effort of the person who produces them - but again the value is purely what value society places on them (which must be greater than the cost of feeding the person who provides the service, or it won't be sustainable). An increasing fraction of Western economies is in the form of Services, rather than Primary production (eg farming, Mining) or Secondary Production (Manufacturing). The internet has been disruptive here, since commodities like music, video, books and software are all treated merely as "data" which can be reproduced with zero manufacturing cost and almost zero distribution costs, so the economic value is purely arbitrary.

Manipulating Economic "Value"
Many governments consciously aim at a small rate of inflation (Australia likes a target of around 1.5-3% per annum). This means that the "ticket price" of a good or service will gradually increase over time (all other things being equal). A nation's central bank can control this by the rate of printing money, or by witholding money from circulation.

Governments can also manipulate the value of their currency by judiciously buying and selling it. Unfortunately, the recent economic woes of some countries in the European Union have been made worse because their currencies are "locked in" with the Euro, and the traditional mechanism of revaluing currencies are no longer available to them.

Companies also consciously manipulate the value of their products by selling to one demographic at once price, and relabel it to sell to a different demographic at a different price. The internet has actually interfered with this model in that people can now often buy from the lowest-cost source.

For many goods, people are mostly paying for the label, not the quality of the product itself. The value of the label may be high, but the cost of the label is effectively zero. This mostly applies to "fashion" goods.

Energy
It is true that any physical process requires energy to process goods and even to counter the decay of entropy.

It is also true that since the start of the industrial revolution we have had access to highly concentrated forms of energy in the form of coal, petroleum, natural gas, nuclear etc at a very low cost, which have allowed us to manufacture goods more cheaply than ever before. You can calculate an energy intensity of manufacture eg you need X barrels of oil (or kWh of electricity) to produce $Y billions of goods.

Some economists got this relationships backwards, and took the short-cut of drawing up estimates of future petroleum production by looking at forecasts of future economic growth, making an implicit assumption that petroleum resources are infinite. It was only when some researchers looked at the the capacity of existing petroleum fields and comparing that with the capacity of newly opened fields that this was revealed as a degree of wishful thinking.

A change towards less energy-intensive goods and services (eg from driving private cars to public transport or telecommuting) can reduce the energy inputs required for a certain economic output. This can be assisted or hindered by fashion, technology and government policy. If next year someone invents a "Mr Fusion", energy intensity will cease to be a problem, otherwise we will progressively need to adapt our energy consumption to live within our means.

Human Effort and the future...
To some economists, the cost of a good is the wages of all the people who contributed to its production.

This may be one reason why economists have struggled for so long to measure an economic return from computers.
  • A modern home computer does far more than the average home computer 20 years ago, but costs less. In some economic measures, economic production has reduced, despite our experience to the contrary.
  • As computers/robots/AI progressively generate a greater fraction of the world's production, they need a greater contribution of economic output to maintain the computer technology rather than the people who produce the economic output. 
  • I wonder when the first automaton will earn a wage?  (This question was raised in Isaac Asimov's book/movie "The Bicentennial Man".)

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Offline wolfekeeper

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It actually looks like to me that the cost of energy might go down.

The forces that cause this are wind power becoming ever cheaper- it's already cheaper than coal; and solar is now crossing over the cost of domestic electrical energy. In addition, gas power is cheaper than coal as well; and other forms of bio energy or energy storage are likely to emerge to fill in for when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow.

Energy affects economies, so any reducing cost of energy is likely to improve the economy.

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Offline alancalverd

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In fact, it only takes a natural disaster, a fire or a war or riot to destroy the value you thought you had.

The conundrum of investing in art: Why would anyone bid $1,000,000 for a pickled herring? Because if he didn't, the pickled cucumber for which he paid $1,000,000 last week, would be worthless.

The reason wind is apparently cheaper than coal is because coal-fired generators pay a huge subsidy to windfarmers, and you have to use the stuff whenever the wind blows, which means shutting down the coal station - and idle capital costs money. Windfarming without storage is parasitic and opportunistic, not a sound economic proposition.
« Last Edit: 12/10/2013 17:18:37 by alancalverd »
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Offline wolfekeeper

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No, that's not true. The cost of energy of (onshore) wind is typically below that of coal.

The reason is because the amount of equipment you need to make wind energy is relatively modest, just a big windmill, a generator and a long cable to the nearest part of the grid.

The wind doesn't blow all the time- only about 1/4 to 1/3 of the time, but it's still very economic, and the economics improve as the windmills get bigger.

For coal, you have to have boilers, condensers, furnaces, you have to truck the coal in, get rid of the waste. During operation, you tend to get clinker in the furnace, so you have to shut-down periodically to clean it. The net upshot is that a coal station is only running about 60% of the time, but there's a lot more expensive equipment than wind.

A gas powered generator can run much longer between services, they can have over 80% usage, and that brings the cost down. Also fracked gas is looking really cheap (whether fracking is a good thing is a separate question entirely).

For onshore wind, wind is rather cheaper than coal in many, but not all, places.

Wind of course is a variable resource, but provided you don't go above getting ~30% of your total power average electricity from it it usually doesn't matter that much; when the wind blows you get your energy from there, when it stops you ramp up the other generators. Although variable, wind is pretty predictable, so you have the ability to shut down generators and start them up again.
« Last Edit: 12/10/2013 22:04:04 by wolfekeeper »

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Offline peppercorn

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The net upshot is that a coal station is only running about 60% of the time, but there's a lot more expensive equipment than wind.

Sixty percent is a much lower figure than I would have imagined. I don't suppose you have some data to back that up?
If that's really the kind of ballpark a coal station will be running then (as you say) it really changes the energy landscape.  I'm sort of surprised I've not heard proponents of renewables shouting this from the rooftops all ready.

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Offline wolfekeeper

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capacity_factor#Typical_capacity_factors

I haven't checked the reference.

The main problem with wind is NIMBY-type issues; but onshore is down to commercial pricing.

Solar is more user friendly, but it is only just getting down to even domestic kWh prices and commercial pricing may not be achieved.
« Last Edit: 12/10/2013 21:59:38 by wolfekeeper »

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Offline CliffordK

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When a government adds money to the economy, then the price of everything increases (due to inflation).

I'm not quite sure where all the influx of money comes from.  Some is from spending more than revenue.  Loans?  One option would be rather than taking out "government loans", to intentionally overspend the revenue by a couple of percent, and make up for it by printing new money (or the electronic equivalent).

Of course inflation encourages people to reinvest rather than keeping their money in cash, but otherwise doesn't increase any buying power.

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Offline wolfekeeper

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Yup, inflation is a deliberate thing done by the government.

What they do is they issue government bonds, these are bought by the major banks and used as collateral which they lend against. The government spends the money.

Governments usually target for a small, always positive amount of inflation.

This isn't a conspiracy theory, it's very, very deliberate. Governments try desparately to avoid deflation, where holding onto your money makes its value go up which means everyone reduces prices to attract spending, but that's more deflation.

That puts the economy into a death spiral.

So governments keep the economies with a small amount of inflation and vary the amount of 'money' in circulation to keep it there.

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Offline alancalverd

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the amount of equipment you need to make wind energy is relatively modest, just a big windmill, a generator and a long cable to the nearest part of the grid........when the wind blows you get your energy from there, when it stops you ramp up the other generators.

There's the rub! The whole point of retail electricity is that it is there whenever you need it at the point of use. Your food won't spoil, the lights stay on in the operating theatre, and so on.

So whenever you build a windmill, you have to build a fossil or nuclear generator with the same peak capacity, to cover the times when the wind doesn't blow, and then only run the non-wind machine at about 60% of capacity. And you now need two connections to the grid (not a trivial "cable".... HV wiring, pylons, switchgear, isolators....)  So the inherent capital cost of wind power is more than twice that of conventional energy, and the overall return on capital is about half that of an all-conventional system.   

By privatising electricity supply, requiring a significant installed base of windmills, and imposing a renewables levy on conventional power generators, government has killed the electricity industry or doomed us to rising prices. There is no point in investing in new conventional plant unless the retail price of energy is allowed to double, because you could get your money back quicker elsewhere - e.g. by buying a useless windmill! - and there is no longterm commitment to supply anyway. The power companies were sold off below market value and bought by investors looking for a quick killing, not by philanthropists.

If wind power really is that cheap, why are the owners paid not to generate electricity when demand is low? 

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The main problem with wind is NIMBY-type issues; but onshore is down to commercial pricing.

Have you ever lived 2 miles downwind of a 10 MW windfarm? No windfarm owner does - the racket is astonishing (on the few days when it is working, that is). Imagine an airport running 24/7 with no gaps between arrivals.

The other problem is that all the "good" onshore sites in the UK (i.e. sites where annual output can exceed 10% of rated peak) are already occupied. There are plenty of offshore sites remaining with 20% potential, but the cost of an offshore windmill is horrendous (you need to burn thousands of tons of coal to make the concrete foundations and steel pylon, for a start) so only the "best" sites are worth developing.
« Last Edit: 13/10/2013 00:58:16 by alancalverd »
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Offline peppercorn

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I notice some claims here are beginning to get a bit rhetorical in nature again.
Can we base our statements of actual figures please?  Like noise and embodied carbon.

For example, what is the Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) over the lifetime of these sources?

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Offline alancalverd

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OK, let's put some numbers together.

The energy required to make 1 tonne of steel is about 20 gigajoules

A 200 kW (peak) windmill, including the support column and foundation, weighs around 30 tonnes

So you need to invest 600GJ to make it.

Assume 10% mean power output (UK maximum is about 20%, some run at 5%). So you need to run for 600,000,000/20 = 30,000,000 seconds (about a year) to generate the energy expended in making the machine.  Add something to generate the energy used to make the backup generator, and an allowance for the necessary switchgear.... does this look like a sensible investment of fossil fuel?

Remember that a 200 kW diesel generator only weighs about 3 tonnes and will produce its full rated output 95% of the time (5% maintenance time is fairly generous).   
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Offline wolfekeeper

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10% average????

No. The AVERAGE 'capacity factor' of the UK wind generators is about 27%. I don't have the exact figure to hand, but the maximum would probably be over 35%.

So it pays back in under 5 months.

And wind power in the UK does not have a single extra generator built to accomodate it, not a single one, nor are any planned.

The UK grid is perfectly used and designed for plants coming online and leaving again. The coal fired plants are online only 50% of the time. And in some ways wind is better than other plants, wind power doesn't unexpectedly fail, they know from weather forecasts what it's going to do a few days in advance and individual failures make no significant difference to the overall power generated.

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Offline wolfekeeper

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the amount of equipment you need to make wind energy is relatively modest, just a big windmill, a generator and a long cable to the nearest part of the grid........when the wind blows you get your energy from there, when it stops you ramp up the other generators.

There's the rub! The whole point of retail electricity is that it is there whenever you need it at the point of use. Your food won't spoil, the lights stay on in the operating theatre, and so on.

So whenever you build a windmill, you have to build a fossil or nuclear generator with the same peak capacity, to cover the times when the wind doesn't blow, and then only run the non-wind machine at about 60% of capacity. And you now need two connections to the grid (not a trivial "cable".... HV wiring, pylons, switchgear, isolators....)  So the inherent capital cost of wind power is more than twice that of conventional energy, and the overall return on capital is about half that of an all-conventional system.   
No, you probably read The Daily Telegraph or something. They systematically lie about this kind of thing, I think they think their readership hate wind power, so every wind power story gets spun.

It has been studied extensively by the megabrains and that's not what happens in practice, at least till you get past 20% of all your power from wind (current value is about 3%, growing at 25% per annum or so.)

The current grid has NO extra backup capacity directly or indirectly associated with wind power, nor is any planned.

The thing is, the capacity factor of wind isn't that much worse than coal plants, which are only operating 60% or less (actually the figures for the UK are under 50% for some reason). So in practice you inevitably end up with a lot of extra capacity anyway.

So it's a just a question of juggling the network; and the National Grid are very, very good at doing that, and overall, in practice, wind works out about the second cheapest source of electricity- for new builds.

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By privatising electricity supply, requiring a significant installed base of windmills, and imposing a renewables levy on conventional power generators, government has killed the electricity industry or doomed us to rising prices.
That's not really right at all. The wind option is cheaper than other options, with the possible exception of fracked gas; that's the only current new-build power supply that's cheaper than wind.
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There is no point in investing in new conventional plant unless the retail price of energy is allowed to double, because you could get your money back quicker elsewhere - e.g. by buying a useless windmill! - and there is no longterm commitment to supply anyway.
No, that's not it. What is happening is that the coal plant is paid off (and aging). It's being forced to shutdown because it's polluting. Although I said that wind power is the second cheapest, it's not cheaper than plant that's paid off. Wind power, or ANY new generators are more expensive than paid-off generators; and nuclear, is usually much more expensive than wind.

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The power companies were sold off below market value and bought by investors looking for a quick killing, not by philanthropists.

If wind power really is that cheap, why are the owners paid not to generate electricity when demand is low? 
That very rarely happens. It's usually that there's a fault in the network and the power can't get to the consumer from the generators. Also, the wind power industry is being guaranteed a profit by the government so that they can borrow from the bank to build the generators. Otherwise nobody would build new plants of any description, so occasionally they get paid even when there's a problem, and no power is being produced. This is also true of other generators though, but you don't hear about it so much. And the gas powered peaker plants, they get paid hand over fist when their plants are running, very very expensive electricity.
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The main problem with wind is NIMBY-type issues; but onshore is down to commercial pricing.

Have you ever lived 2 miles downwind of a 10 MW windfarm? No windfarm owner does - the racket is astonishing (on the few days when it is working, that is). Imagine an airport running 24/7 with no gaps between arrivals.
That's absolute and complete bullshit, who told you that? Windmills don't have supersonic jets like aircraft do. They're ridiculously quieter than aircraft. Aircraft are 130 dBs, whereas Windmills are like 80-90 dB when it's really windy. And even a whole farm of them are not much noisier. A lot of farmers have them on their own land. Actually, people that live near windfarms usually quite like them; the opinion polls go up after they're installed.
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The other problem is that all the "good" onshore sites in the UK (i.e. sites where annual output can exceed 10% of rated peak) are already occupied. There are plenty of offshore sites remaining with 20% potential, but the cost of an offshore windmill is horrendous (you need to burn thousands of tons of coal to make the concrete foundations and steel pylon, for a start) so only the "best" sites are worth developing.
IRC it's about 1.5 times the cost at the moment, but it's coming down. But the best sites issue can be dealt with, sometimes they put a bigger windmill in.
« Last Edit: 13/10/2013 14:41:23 by wolfekeeper »

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Offline peppercorn

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1 tonne of steel is about 20 gigajoules... ...around 30 tonnes... ...20%, some run at 5%...95% of the time (5% maintenance time... 

Sorry, maybe I should have said 'can we have some -referenced- figures?' ... otherwise we just have proof based on assumptions/guesses don't we.

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Offline wolfekeeper

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Offline alancalverd

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And wind power in the UK does not have a single extra generator built to accomodate it, not a single one, nor are any planned.

That is the problem in a nutshell. We are phasing out reliable sources and replacing them with unreliable ones.

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That very rarely happens. It's usually that there's a fault in the network and the power can't get to the consumer from the generators.

Alas, it happens for several weeks of each year. No fault, just no demand for expensive windpower, so the supply contract ensures that the taxpayer pays anyway.

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Aircraft are 130 dBs, whereas Windmills are like 80-90 dB when it's really windy.

Which is why I mentioned arrivals, not departures. Quite a different noise spectum.

It does seem that windfarm capacity factors have improved, I will grant you, but that masks the underlying problem that the capacity factor of a coal or nuclear station is determined by economics whereas that of a wind farm is determined by the weather. We have some control and discretion over the former but not the latter, and it is a sad but inevitable fact of meteorology that the days with the highest power demand are those with the lowest wind speed (persistent anticyclones).

I would be delighted if all our energy needs could be met by renewables, but present policies are not helping.   
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Offline wolfekeeper

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And wind power in the UK does not have a single extra generator built to accomodate it, not a single one, nor are any planned.

That is the problem in a nutshell. We are phasing out reliable sources and replacing them with unreliable ones.
Actually reliability, wind is more reliable. If the forecast says you'll get a certain amount of power, you do get that. With other sources, the power station can get a fault and disappear, all at once.
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That very rarely happens. It's usually that there's a fault in the network and the power can't get to the consumer from the generators.

Alas, it happens for several weeks of each year. No fault, just no demand for expensive windpower, so the supply contract ensures that the taxpayer pays anyway.
You're not listening, it's not expensive energy, on-shore wind energy has reached or exceeded grid-parity costs in very many places in the UK; that's without any subsidies, and doesn't factor in the effect of pollution which add costs and large number of deaths throughout the UK (did you know that air pollution kills far more people than car crashes?) The medical costs of coal powered power stations are huge, nevermind the human costs.

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Aircraft are 130 dBs, whereas Windmills are like 80-90 dB when it's really windy.

Which is why I mentioned arrivals, not departures. Quite a different noise spectum.
Then you're just being deliberately deceptive. Wind farms are just not very noisy at all.

You said:

"Have you ever lived 2 miles downwind of a 10 MW windfarm? No windfarm owner does - the racket is astonishing (on the few days when it is working, that is). "

This is a flat-out lie, unless you mean astonishingly quiet.

Come to think of it, I've lived about that distance from an airport, and I never even noticed the aircraft that were landing. The ones that took off were vaguely annoying, but not the ones that were landing, they pretty much glide in, they're very quiet.

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It does seem that windfarm capacity factors have improved, I will grant you, but that masks the underlying problem that the capacity factor of a coal or nuclear station is determined by economics whereas that of a wind farm is determined by the weather. We have some control and discretion over the former but not the latter, and it is a sad but inevitable fact of meteorology that the days with the highest power demand are those with the lowest wind speed (persistent anticyclones).
Wind power is basically used as top-up, the energy used means that you've reduced pollution, locally in the UK, and also reduced imports. Also contrary to what you say, the UK gets the most wind power in winter, where it's more useful.

Denmark are currently running with about 30% wind energy; and they don't have the wind resources the UK does, and Denmark will hit 50% by the end of the decade. They've seen negligible extra costs, a fraction of a penny per kWh.

If the UK gets a lot more wind installed then the grid will probably get better connections to the continent, and the UK can be a net exporter of electricity, it can make money.
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I would be delighted if all our energy needs could be met by renewables, but present policies are not helping.   
The policies actually just put wind on an even footing with coal and gas, there's lots of hidden, very large subsidies for both, that wind doesn't have or need.
« Last Edit: 13/10/2013 20:23:49 by wolfekeeper »

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Offline cheryl j

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If a person looks at capitalism or the economy from a kind of  game theory point of view, at what point does it start to resemble a pyramid scheme and threaten to collapse? Even there were unlimited resources, would it not require unlimited population growth to keep it going?

The other idea that sometimes crosses my mind is the relationship between capitalism, technology and increases in productivity. When agriculture in North America began using tractors, combines, and other machinery, there was a big increase in productivity. And since the farmer was capitalist, management and labour, all in one, he profited either way.  But I would argue that increases in productivity from automation and computers in other industries haven't always resulted in higher wages, or more leisure time, for all workers.  If profits  from increased productivity continue to be funneled to the people at the top, (company owners, CEOs, share holders) and you reach a point where the majority of workers can't adequately house and educate themselves or the next generation, that seems unsustainable as well.

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Offline CliffordK

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In general, I believe the average worker today in the USA, and most of Europe is better off today than one century ago, two centuries ago, or three centuries ago.

However, one concern is that not everything follows the same inflation curve. 

Land and housing prices often go up at 5% to 10% a year, while wages and the price of commodities increase at a much slower rate of perhaps 3% a year. 

Part of the increase in land values is pushed up by an increasing population, and rarity. 

A century and a half ago, the government could hardly give away land, especially on the frontiers.  Today, that land giveaway is all but gone, and there is increasing competition for the land due to population growth.

There is, of course, always the goal to get "bigger and better", but I presume if the population would stabilize, then home prices would also stabilize. 

But, obviously with supply and demand, anything that becomes rare with respect to demand will also cause the inflation disjoints.

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Offline alancalverd

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Actually reliability, wind is more reliable. If the forecast says you'll get a certain amount of power, you do get that. With other sources, the power station can get a fault and disappear, all at once.

We live and learn. On my planet, all rotating machinery is subject to occasional breakdown and surface wind forecasts are at best an educated guess. But what do I know? I only fly around in the stuff, propelled by rotating machinery. And whenever I fly near a windfarm, I notice a substantial proportion of windmills are not turning: clearly there is no demand for free electricity on Earth, since they are all 100% reliable.

There is however a more serious side to "reliability". The point of electricity, gas, JETA1, coal, or cow dung, is that you can get the power you need when you need it, not when the wind thinks fit. And if you need more, you just turn on the tap or shovel more peat into the furnace: "no wind" won't appease the train traveller or the victim on the operating table. Without even going into details of general meteorology and cyclone genesis, I might ask windmill enthusiasts to step outside around dawn and dusk. Remarkably, just when electricity demand is highest, surface windspeed is least.
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Offline CliffordK

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By connecting a large number of wind generators, one can improve the odds of 24 hour coverage.  Somewhere in the USA, the wind has to be blowing.  Of course, there are transmission losses with moving wind power from Nebraska to California.

There are also batteries and various methods to store the power, although difficult to do on a MW or GW scale.  I have suggested that hydroelectric installations could be designed to vary output to compliment solar, wind, and other renewable power generation.

But, it is a good point that much of our society is organized around power on demand.

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Offline alancalverd

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But I would argue that increases in productivity from automation and computers in other industries haven't always resulted in higher wages, or more leisure time, for all workers.
I told this tale on another thread, but it bears repeating. Some years ago I was offered a job in a confectionery factory. The plant employed several hundred workers and produced several tons of sweeties every day. The job on offer was to double the output and replace nearly all the staff, by automation. I didn't take it, but somebody did, and the redundant staff are now buying the product at full price with their dole money, instead of half price at the company shop. That's capitalism working hand in hand with socialism to make the rich richer!

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Land and housing prices often go up at 5% to 10% a year, while wages and the price of commodities increase at a much slower rate of perhaps 3% a year.
I don't think this is entirely due to scarcity or population density, though it is much more apparent in the UK than in the USA (and you can get a nice plot in suburban Detroit for $10 nowadays).

What happened in the UK was an interesting sociological phenomenon. Houses had always been affordable (average UK house price in 1940 was 1.5 times the average wage) but the supply was not plentiful - and why should it be? There's little point in having more houses than families, and people rarely moved house. Mortgages were limited to about 2 x one man's salary as there was little prospect (or indeed need) of a wife continuing to earn. Thus price was limited by the availability of money.

In 1960, it suddenly became feasible to undertake to repay a mortgage from joint salaries, thanks to oral contraception. Within 5 years, house prices had doubled simply because more money was available to buy them. Now if you have just bought an asset whose value seems to be appreciating at 12% per annum, it's very tempting to "move up the housing ladder", and the housing market moved from a slow trade in essentials to a fastmoving speculative commodity market, with people moving from house to house every year instead of once in a lifetime. 

The forces of nature asserted themselves and people began to reproduce once again, so wages had to rise to pay for the mortgage burden now mainly falling back on men. But since all transactions are counted as part of Gross National Product, even if nothing is actually being produced, and GNP per capita is the parameter or prosperity, it suited successive governments to allow raging inflation both of speculative house purchases and he wages to pay for them. The pound collapsed against the dollar (from $4 in 1950 to $2 in 1970) but that simply made exports of luxury cars all the more attractive, even if less profitable.

And here we are, with absurd house prices and a government once again doing its best to stimulate a bogus market because it looks good to have lots of money changing hands, even if no value is being added to any product.

AFAIK the same thing happened, though on a less absurd scale, in the USA, and it all fell apart because deregulation encouraged people with no secure income to join in the speculation.         

 
 
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Offline wolfekeeper

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Actually reliability, wind is more reliable. If the forecast says you'll get a certain amount of power, you do get that. With other sources, the power station can get a fault and disappear, all at once.

We live and learn. On my planet, all rotating machinery is subject to occasional breakdown and surface wind forecasts are at best an educated guess. But what do I know? I only fly around in the stuff, propelled by rotating machinery. And whenever I fly near a windfarm, I notice a substantial proportion of windmills are not turning: clearly there is no demand for free electricity on Earth, since they are all 100% reliable.
I never said they were 100% reliable. They're 99+% reliable, and there's always 2-3 days warning when they're generating.
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There is however a more serious side to "reliability". The point of electricity, gas, JETA1, coal, or cow dung, is that you can get the power you need when you need it, not when the wind thinks fit. And if you need more, you just turn on the tap or shovel more peat into the furnace: "no wind" won't appease the train traveller or the victim on the operating table.
No, because they can break. And when they do, you need a great big back-up generator. The UK has got some old fuel-oil generators it uses for that (probably mostly diesel). The UK has plenty of capacity.

FWIW there's an interesting chart here which shows you the current UK generating pattern, and historical for the last year:

http://gridwatch.templar.co.uk/

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Without even going into details of general meteorology and cyclone genesis, I might ask windmill enthusiasts to step outside around dawn and dusk. Remarkably, just when electricity demand is highest, surface windspeed is least.

Really? Can you point to that in the above chart for the last week, because I can't see that ever happening.

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Actually reliability, wind is more reliable. If the forecast says you'll get a certain amount of power, you do get that. With other sources, the power station can get a fault and disappear, all at once.

We live and learn. On my planet, all rotating machinery is subject to occasional breakdown and surface wind forecasts are at best an educated guess. But what do I know?

Well, you're clearly not a meteorologist.

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There is however a more serious side to "reliability". The point of electricity, gas, JETA1, coal, or cow dung, is that you can get the power you need when you need it, not when the wind thinks fit. And if you need more, you just turn on the tap or shovel more peat into the furnace: "no wind" won't appease the train traveller or the victim on the operating table.
Wow, nobody have ever thought of your clever argument against wind power, I'm glad you've pointed that out!

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Offline alancalverd

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The UK has plenty of capacity.

Not according to our glorious government

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/48132/2175-emr-white-paper-exec-summary.pdf
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●● security of supply is threatened as existing plant closes: over
the next decade we will lose around a quarter (around 20 GW) of
our existing generation capacity as old or more polluting plant close.
Modelling suggests that de-rated1 capacity margins could fall below
five per cent around the end of this decade, increasing the likelihood
of costly blackouts. In addition to this huge reduction in existing
capacity, the future electricity system will also contain more intermittent
generation (such as wind) and inflexible generation (such as nuclear).
This raises additional challenges in terms of meeting demand at all
times, for example when the wind does not blow;

but what do they know?

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Well, you're clearly not a meteorologist.

Obviously not. Meteorologists forecast the weather. I'm  pilot. We fly in actual, not forecast, conditions - the difference can be lethal.

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Really? Can you point to that in the above chart for the last week, because I can't see that ever happening.

http://www.weatheronline.co.uk/cgi-bin/expertcharts?LANG=en&CONT=euro&MODELL=gfs&BASE=00&VAR=pslv&HH=24 shows a typical UK anticyclone, last Tuesday. Widely spaced isobars so buggerall wind over most of the UK - 10 kt max at 3000 ft midday, down to zero on the surface at dawn and dusk (as convective mixing decreased - happens every day to some extent). Just a random day when I happened to be airborne and the forecast was pretty close to actual. You can listen to the air traffic control tapes if you wish: inbound to Nottingham at 10 am I was told "Runway choice at your discretion. There's no wind."

During the summer the high pressure tends to center further north and the condition can last for weeks at a time. Sorry I can't quickly find a better example as I wasn't around for most of this summer but the visible symptom is interesting: after a few days you get a dust haze that leaves vertical visiblity fairly clear, but restricts horizontal vis during daylight hours to the point that visual flying is dangerous - you can see the ground but not other aircraft.  And no wind.

PS I just plotted a flight along the south coast of England and into south Wales for this afternoon. Coldish, gloomy autumn day. Forecast surface wind: 0 to 5 kt, decreasing to calm by nightfall.
« Last Edit: 14/10/2013 12:32:36 by alancalverd »
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Offline alancalverd

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Incidentally I'm intrigued by the high capacity factors now being claimed. These don't match up with the wind roses, so I wondered how to get a high capacity factor without breaking the laws of physics.

It turns out to be very easy. If I put a 100 kW wing on a 50 kW alternator, I will get twice the capacity factor because the alternator is working flat out when the wing is only at 50% power. It all depends on what you mean by "installed capacity", and knowing how politicians like their statistics massaged, you can get any answer you like.
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Offline wolfekeeper

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You see, this is the thing, while I'm sure you're a fine pilot you have no clue what you're talking about when it comes to wind power.

Many of the wind farms are in Scotland. On that particular day (Tuesday October 6, 2013) the graph I sent you a link to shows the UK wind farms produced a rock-steady 2G of power the whole day, which is almost exactly average, and showed no dip in production in the early morning or any other time at all.

The local wind conditions you mentioned had no impact at all on the overall energy production (although they probably meant the southern generators weren't running, the northern ones were); and you took this to mean that none of the wind farms were operating in the whole of the UK, and even further to claim that wind power is useless!

In science terms, you have an interesting theory, but the evidence of the real world graphs of wind power production do not back it up.

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Offline wolfekeeper

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Incidentally I'm intrigued by the high capacity factors now being claimed. These don't match up with the wind roses, so I wondered how to get a high capacity factor without breaking the laws of physics.

It turns out to be very easy. If I put a 100 kW wing on a 50 kW alternator, I will get twice the capacity factor because the alternator is working flat out when the wing is only at 50% power. It all depends on what you mean by "installed capacity", and knowing how politicians like their statistics massaged, you can get any answer you like.
That is one of the factors that influences capacity factor, it's a completely legitimate strategy. But the bigger blades cost more money of course. Another strategy is to build taller, or to place them in windier places (offshore wind has a higher capacity factor.)

Note that any subsidies and other income that get paid for building a wind generator at all, are not paid for capacity factor, they're paid for the actual energy generated and the income has to pay for the windmill. It's the builder that risks losing money if they artificially push up the capacity factor not politicians.
« Last Edit: 14/10/2013 13:06:16 by wolfekeeper »

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Offline alancalverd

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Nice charts, indeed. How interesting that

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On that particular day (Tuesday October 6, 2013) the graph I sent you a link to shows the UK wind farms produced a rock-steady 2G of power the whole day, which is almost exactly average,

Now since the average wind speed varied a lot in the previous week, but output didn't, we must presume that most of the 2 GW came from offshore, which is admittedly more reliable.  But it's worrying that with 10 GW installed capacity, the annual graph never exceeded 50%, and it warms my heart to note that total wind output fell to near zero for most of July, when the anticyclone covered the North Sea as well as the landmass.
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Offline wolfekeeper

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The wind is always lower in summer, and higher in winter. There's also 10GW lower demand then, to some degree this balances out.

But it is definitely a variable source of power.

Denmark currently has enough wind power capacity that if and when the wind blows hard across the whole country, they generate more than enough power to power the whole country from the wind alone, and they sell the extra energy abroad, particularly to places like Norway. Norway then turn down their hydrogenerators, and collect the water. When the wind goes away, they turn the taps back on, and sell it back to Denmark.

The UK could do much the same thing, it already has some taps to Europe.
« Last Edit: 14/10/2013 18:07:49 by wolfekeeper »

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Offline alancalverd

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The wind is always lower in summer, and higher in winter. There's also 10GW lower demand then, to some degree this balances out.

Not according to the graphs you quoted. Demand was close to its minimum in late December, and wind output was at or above 30% of capacity during June and September.

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The UK could do much the same thing, it already has some taps to Europe.

All we need is (a) a friendly neighbour with vast overcapacity of hydropower (b) vast overcapacity of windpower and (c) a massive transmission grid. As of now we have a 2GW transmission capability and
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Since the commissioning of the 2,000 MW DC link in the 1980s [i.e. under an agreement between nationalised industries] the bulk of power flow through the link has been from France to Britain.
  mostly nuclear.

Nice science, Mr Wolfe,  but a long way from engineering reality!
« Last Edit: 14/10/2013 19:37:25 by alancalverd »
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Offline wolfekeeper

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The question of this thread is asking how can economies continue to grow, but you don't think countries should build infrastructure such as grid interconnections???

If you look at that link it mostly flows into the UK.

There's also an interesting thing going on with nuclear power that most people don't realise; nuclear power needs hydro as well!

The reason is that the nuclear infrastructure is particularly expensive, so the cost per watt (peak) is much higher. Although you can turn nuclear power output up and down quite easily, to bring the kWh price down to sane levels the nuclear plants have to run as close to flat-out as possible. But the actual demand varies.

France actually have to use hydro to deal with this problem, as well as dumping excess power to its neighbours.

So nuclear actually has similar problems as wind power does, due to the variations in load.

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Offline alancalverd

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I don't think it's pedantic to point out that a fluctuating demand that can be met, albeit at a cost, is quite different from a fluctuating supply that can't be matched to demand because it is not under human control.

It would indeed be very helpful if nations could share resources, but as far as the UK is concerned we don't have a national electrical system anymore, just a ragbag of noncompeting retailers with no interest in the future supply of anything. The fact that parts of the "privatised" grid are owned by the French and German governments doesn't seem to make it work any better. 
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Offline wolfekeeper

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You sound like you read the Daily Telegraph. Most of the stuff written in The Daily Telegraph comes from 'Renewable Energy Foundation'.

The Renewable Energy Foundation sounds like it would be an unbiased source, but actually, it's headed by Noel Edmunds. Noel Edmunds, inspite of his cuddly on-screen image, is a man who believes there's energy orbs floating over each shoulder that can only be seen on digital cameras i.e. imaging technology compatible with photoshop. I am not making this up.

But REF is not about renewable energy, it's about making sure that there isn't any renewable energy near Noel Edmunds house. That's why he joined them back in 2004. I am not making this up.

So they publish information, but deliberately the information is cherry picked and packaged and released to make sure that it appears that wind power is useless.

So why's it called the 'Renewable Energy Foundation'? It's because if it was called the more accurate title of 'Down With Wind Energy', even the Telegraph wouldn't be able to publish it.

Anyway, there's a whole report about the costs of intermittency here, from UKERC, who were set up to be as balanced as possible, unlike REF:

http://www.ukerc.ac.uk/Downloads/PDF/06/0604Intermittency/0604IntermittencyReport.pdf
« Last Edit: 14/10/2013 23:51:01 by wolfekeeper »

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Offline alancalverd

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I guess I probably would read the Telegraph if I agreed with its politics - I certainly approve of its use of polysyllables, which give it a reading age of about 12, by far the highest in the UK. But I loathe Mr Edmonds, his repellent on-screen persona, and all he does.

Fact is that I'm a physicist by trade, so I just look at the numbers and ask "will it work?" Doctors and engineers pay me to do this. If the job is to supply electricity sustainably and affordably to the UK, windpower without at least 5 days' storage or 100% backup simply won't. If the job is to supply "clean" energy for all purposes, there is no sustainable source that can support the UK population. I commend  http://www.withouthotair.com/download.html by Prof David MacKay for unbiased numbers.

I abjure "balance". Science is not democratic and the laws of physics do not bend to consensus.

It seems to me that the UK could be indefinitely sustainable in both biofuel (much more useful than electricity) and food with about 10% of the present population. This could be achieved in 100 years at no cost to anyone but (a) democratic politicians only think in 3 year horizons and (b) there's no short term profit to be made,  so our grandchildren are doomed and we have to pay over the odds to subsidy farmers in order to distribute the green vote and keep shortsighted incompetents in parliament and off the dole queue.
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Offline wolfekeeper

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Oh well then.

The Prof David MacKay is pretty good, and I was very impressed the first few times I looked at it his stuff, but he tends to be a 'there's needs to be A solution to all this' kind of guy; 'oh and by the way it's nuclear.'

But it doesn't look like it's going to be like that. There's going to be a mixture of different power sources. Great gobs of intermittent wind, some biofuels to fill in when the wind isn't working, and solar for midday, battery cars which can act as temporary storage for a month or two, hydro wherever that is available and some fossil fuel plants probably with carbon capture or only as a backup.

In combination these things have been proven to work, they massively reduce pollution and aren't much more expensive than the current network, and in the long run will probably be cheaper, maybe even massively cheaper due to mass production- wind is still getting cheaper and cheaper, and solar has reached grid parity for consumers already pretty much.

Nuclear is theoretically really good, but Chernobyl and Fukushima. And if anyone ever says 'oh they were old plants, badly designed' just point them to the Wikipedia page:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_accidents

which shows there's been a serious incident every two years, with absolutely no signs of improvements. Bad design is a thing that is impossible to stamp out by dictat; it takes many generations of designs to do that, and there just haven't been enough nuclear generations. And each generation probably has a Fukushima in there.

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Offline alancalverd

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Depands on your definition of "serious". The interesting column in the "nuclear accidents" article is "deaths". Apart from Chernobyl, the total is 11, all plant workers. That's about one week's worth of dead coalminers or construction workers, spread over 55 years. And no civilian deaths to date, compared with 12000 from coal smog in London in 1952 alone. Chernobyl wasn't a proper accident - it was caused by operators intentionally contravening the instruction manual, which was written precisely to prevent this sort of thing happening.

Fukushima is an ongoing cockup but entirely containable, unlike the tsunami that caused it and killed 20,000 people in a day - why does nobody talk about that anymore? Baseless public anxiety sites nukes on the coast, where they are most likely to be damaged by the forces of nature!  Apart from the pressurised water reactor, which is (a) inherently not failsafe and (b) the avowed choice of the UK government for future expansion, all the current civilian power reactor designs are OK as long as nobody tries to destroy them, as at Chernobyl. 
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Offline cheryl j

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In general, I believe the average worker today in the USA, and most of Europe is better off today than one century ago, two centuries ago, or three centuries ago.

However, one concern is that not everything follows the same inflation curve. 

Land and housing prices often go up at 5% to 10% a year, while wages and the price of commodities increase at a much slower rate of perhaps 3% a year. 

Part of the increase in land values is pushed up by an increasing population, and rarity. 

A century and a half ago, the government could hardly give away land, especially on the frontiers.  Today, that land giveaway is all but gone, and there is increasing competition for the land due to population growth.

There is, of course, always the goal to get "bigger and better", but I presume if the population would stabilize, then home prices would also stabilize. 

But, obviously with supply and demand, anything that becomes rare with respect to demand will also cause the inflation disjoints.

I would also agree that in general workers are better off today than they were a hundred or two hundred years ago. Many of the benefits to people, though, are the result of things that were sort of all/ or nothing benefits for society as a whole, and could not be withheld from anyone at the lower end. There is either clean water running through city pipes, or there is not. There is either a fire department that puts out fires or there is not. There are either health and safety rules in a factory or offices or there are not. It became harder in some ways to withhold certain benefits provided to others, or perhaps another way to phrase it is that everyone benefited from advances that were only created to benefit a few. But despite that overflow effect, at some point if you keep paying workers less and less, they can't sustain themselves. For example, it costs me one day out of five to pay for the gas to drive to my job the rest of the week. If my child was still in day care, it would  cost another day to pay for five days of daycare.

So what I guess I am asking, is there a way that mathematicians can predict when an economical system becomes unstable. A small example would be the number of people paying into social security and the number withdrawing from it. At some point, the predicted numbers of people paying in can no longer support it. The other unsustainable aspect is that things that used to be small luxuries (store bought clothes, appliances) are incredibly cheap, but big ticket items, like a university education or houses or land (which you mentioned), are becoming more and more expensive, almost out of reach for an increasing number of people, which only seems to increase the economic divisions in society more and more, and if one dies poor, with uneducated children and no inheritance to pass on, those economic divisions only increase.
« Last Edit: 16/10/2013 04:06:11 by cheryl j »

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Offline alancalverd

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So what I guess I am asking, is there a way that mathematicians can predict when an economical system becomes unstable.

I think the one thing that is certain about economics is that economists are not very good at prediction - especially about the future!

 
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The other unsustainable aspect is that things that used to be small luxuries (store bought clothes, appliances) are incredibly cheap, but big ticket items, like a university education or houses or land (which you mentioned), are becoming more and more expensive,


The difference here seems to be between those things that are mass-produced in third world sweatshops, and individualised one-offs produced in or native to the western world. It's not entirely clear to me what will happen in the future. As I grow older I'm less inclined to buy clothes and gadgets but pretty obviously vast amounts of money are moving eastwards in small quanta as people change their iphones and underwear for this year's model, and major Chinese and Indian capital funds are now rescuing undercapitalised western enterprises (like Jaguar Land Rover) from extinction. Two other huge financial gyres are oil revenues (which start wars) and illegal drugs (which keep crime and poverty on the streets), all of which drain money from the developed world and concentrate it in a few hands. Whilst the oil sheikhs seem to be investing openly in western industry and homeland development, it's not too clear where the drug money is being spent - largely, I suspect, on the revenue costs of running the trade by supporting small criminals along the supply route.

It's a far cry from the techno-capitalism of Brunel and Ford, or the philanthropy of Bazalgette and the New York Water Board.
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Offline MarkPawelek

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Nuclear fission still can still give us plentiful cheap energy for thousands of years to come.

The main factors driving the high price of nuclear fission energy have been bad reactor designs, draconian regulation, and bad (for the customer) business models.

Most of today's reactors are pressurized light water reactors. This design goes back over 60 years. It was developed to power US navy submarines. It is inefficient in many ways.

1) By running a reactor at a higher temperature than the PWR more of the heat produced can be transferred. e.g. LFTR. The PWR is inefficient at using the heat produced.

2) Waste. PWR creates a lot of waste. Fuel must be periodically replaced. Only a tiny fraction of the fuel added is used. The remaining spent fuel is then most likely waste. It would be OK if it could be recycled but there are only 3 reprocessing plants on the planet. The spent fuel just festers away somewhere giving nuclear energy a really bad rep.

Because today's reactors almost all use Uranium as a fuel, they create a lot of plutonium and actinide waste. Very nasty.

A better design, such as a LFTR, would burn up all its Thorium fuel, leaving no spend fuel. At the end of the reactor life the waste would be a tiny fraction of that made by a PWR, and such waste would be low in plutonium and other actinides. It's even waste, as such, because it can just be added to another reactor.

3) Today's PWRs use Uranium as a fuel. Thorium is less damaging to the environment. 1 ton of Uranium needs 800,000 tons of ore to be mined. Thorium is often found in nature with the lanthanides. All the Thorium we need (to power the world with electricity) can be obtained as a by-product of lanthanide mining, with the vast majority left over for the future.

4) The LFTR is far safer than the PWR. It's reaction vessel is not pressurized. It intrinsically safer.  Melt-down is impossible, even if hit by a meteor, earthquake, terrorist attack, your worst nightmare, etc.

Next generation IV GEN reactors are far better than today's obsolete, 60 year old, reactor designs.

Coal and gas electricity plants both emit far more radiation than nuclear plants, orders of magnitude more. Coal also emits particulates responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths annually. We should replace all electricity from fossil fuel with IV GEN reactor designs.

Recommended: Thorium remix 2011 [nofollow].

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Offline evan_au

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big ticket items, like a university education ... are becoming more and more expensive, almost out of reach for an increasing number of people.
Education is partly a problem of getting information and experience from those who have earned and learned it to those who have an incentive to learn.

Unconventional sources of education are now available from the Khan Academy, and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are now available from a number of universities.

At this point, it is not clear how to get a recognised certification from these institutions - or how these institutions are going to charge a reasonable fee for the course material.

What is clear is that a lecture that was once given to 100 students can now be viewed by 10,000 or more; and it doesn't cost the lecturer much more effort to deliver it. The challenge will be for students to get help when they get "stuck" - the equivalent of the traditional tutorial. Some institutions are letting students work together in online discussion forums to help each other.

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Offline MarkPawelek

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We have a lot of energy reserves: Global energy resources in ZetaJoules [nofollow]
- chart compiled by 1984 Nobel physics laureate Carlo Rubbia

We'll be fried before we run out of oil and gas.

The slide can still be found on page 7 of : Carlo Rubbia's ThEC13 presentation [nofollow]
« Last Edit: 06/11/2013 11:34:35 by MarkPawelek »

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Offline alancalverd

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big ticket items, like a university education ... are becoming more and more expensive, almost out of reach for an increasing number of people.
Unconventional sources of education are now available from the Khan Academy, and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are now available from a number of universities.

At this point, it is not clear how to get a recognised certification from these institutions - or how these institutions are going to charge a reasonable fee for the course material.


Not a problem! London University ran correspondence courses, initially for military personnel and prisoners and later for anyone (?possibly limited to Commonwealth citizens) leading to BA and BSc degrees, and also operated a worldwide scheme for mentoring PhDs. I guess that represents the expensive end of the scale - certainly extremely hard work for the students.

Not sure whether LU still do, but the Open University developed the concept in the Sixties with radio and TV lectures and demonstrations supplementing the correspondence material. They now offer 250 modular degree and diploma courses to over 250,000 students in the British Isles and Europe, with partnerships worldwide. The standard, at least in mathematics (I took some modules some years back) and physics (several of my engineering colleagues have OU physics degrees on top of factory or military apprenticeships - perfect preparation for a professional) is excellent and the postgraduate supervision seems to follow the old London model of mentoring workplace research - rather more practical than most "internal" PhD projects. How do you get a recognised qualification? Usual method: hand in your coursework, take the exams (usually held in school halls during vacations), and turn up for a viva. It's very tough (60% dropout in undergraduate maths!) but very satisfying and I think represents the future of education.
helping to stem the tide of ignorance

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Offline evan_au

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We have a lot of energy reserves

I agree that there are a lot of currently untapped fuel reserves.

A number of countries are actively looking at Thorium reactors (like India). Despite being demonstrated in the 1960s, I imagine that they attracted little interest from the superpowers because its not so easy to make nuclear weapons with a Thorium reactor.

I think the important measures of energy extraction are:
  • How much energy do you need to inject to get energy out, over the whole lifecycle?
  • How much environmental damage do you create in the process?
There have been places in the world where you drill a hole, and the oil spurts out. But those oilfields are now spent, or in decline.

For liquid/gas fuels, now we have to look at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, where methane turns into a solid and gums up all the pipes, arctic oilsands, or in deep-ocean clathrates. It is getting more expensive to produce a unit of energy, because we have used most of the easier options.

Similar scarcity is striking other industries like fishing - we are using more powerful and sophisticated technology to chase fewer and fewer fish - leading to the collapse of some fisheries. Defining a sustainable fishing industry is a major political challenge in Europe at the moment.

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Offline alancalverd

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I imagine that they attracted little interest from the superpowers because its not so easy to make nuclear weapons with a Thorium reactor.

More to the point, it's not so easy to make a thorium reactor! 

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Defining a sustainable fishing industry is a major political challenge in Europe at the moment.

Exactly. It's a political challenge, not a scientific one. The object of the EU fisheries policy, as with every other aspect of EU regulation, was to protect the market, not the stock, of fish. So there's a minimum market size for every species, a quota for landed fish above  the minimum,  and  all the "by catch" goes to waste or fertiliser. Contrast that with the Norwegian rule: you have to sell everything you catch, and there's a limit on total catch. Consequently Norwegian waters are just as productive as they ever were, and the rest of the North Sea is a desert. 
helping to stem the tide of ignorance