Tuesday, 14 May 2013

With CO2 Levels at Dire 400 ppm, Keystone XL Marks "Wrong Direction" for Energy

Just this last weekend, I took the opportunity to see Josh Fox's Gasland after a presentation by 350 Aotearoa and this week we're seeing reports that atmospheric CO2 has reached 400ppm.  Scary if you remember that a NASA Scientist described 350ppm as "incompatible with organized life on this planet". With my country's government granting two exploration permits to drill in the Pegasus basin off the Wellington and Wairarapa coast, it seems our rightwing or "centre-right"(depending on who you ask) government is having trouble seeing the smog for the cash. With our illustrious Primeminister being a JAFFA (Just another fracking-friendly Aucklander) it is likely he will be out of office and a minimum of hundreds of kilometres away when the crude oil polluted with dead birds and fish carcases wash ashore at the southern end of the Airport to Island bay and up the Wairarapa coast.

Oil sands are described as one of the dirtiest carbon fuels available, sure you do get fuel to drive your vehicle that burns just the same as any other, but the difference is in the mining, transportation and processing. It takes 1 barrel to make 2-4 barrels of tar sands oil, compared to regular crude which has a ratio of 1:20. Tar Sands needs to be heated and have chemicals added to move through pipes. KXL is expected to transport 10 times as much oil as the pipe that leaked last month. Some pipes have been known to leak once a month on average despite promises of "new leak detection technology" and estimates of one leak per year. It one thing to know you have a leak and quite another to stop one before it starts. Oil sands are abrasive and corrosive to the pipes that transport it. These points are just some of the reason way KXL is a dumbass idea driven by greed and desperation.

America's obsession with carbon fuel is mainly limited to companies dedicated to digging up the ground. They are desperately trying the stay viable that same way dinosaurs were desperate to stay viable after a rock fell out of the sky. Essentially the industry is trying to make as much money as they can before governments or the markets make them irrelevant a sort of carbon cash grab while the bank burns.

Not sure where this new drilling site is, but it could be the one off the Otago/Southland coast

Their industry is coming to a close, even the World Bank says so, as they warn of another financial collapse similar to the sub-prime mortgage scandal. If this were all America were doing it would they like they are thy kid sitting in the naughty corner not because they have been sent there, but because they don't want to play the other kids and noise makers, party favours, cake and free flowing soda.

But, Even America is investing in wind and solar, though too many seem to think it is a liberal plot to make everyone of them live in "hobbit homes". I wonder how much they'd sneeze at a bank check for US$1500 earned from energy created by a comfort energy efficient home. That would be a conservative estimate based on a beautiful UK home that makes around £1800. The South Western US has some of the sunniest skies on the planet, surely they could do better.

As they go down we don't have to go down with them. Companies and scientists are looking toward new fuel sources that can suck CO2 out of the atmosphere. Some are looking at bacteria, others algae. Still others are looking for an enzyme to break down cellulose into glucose which could be used to create ethanol. Bamboo being a fast growing rhizome(grass) this could be a boon to Chile, parts of Africa and China. Cellulase, you're thinking? Yeah about that, it's a bit slow.

But even before these technologies go online, there is much we can do to stem the flow of CO2 into the atmosphere. There is much investment in wind and solar with 20% of world energy production already from these clean sources. Solar is already cheaper than retail grid electricity $/gigawatt even including the cost of panels and installation. In India, Solar is simply cheaper. Germany's energy policy has led to villages generating more energy than they use selling the excess back to the grid. In some parts of Australia the excess is so great it puts the grid under pressure.

The cities of the not too distant future may well generate their own electricity, especially if the storage problem can be solved. But even in the US "grid parity" for solar is fast approaching if not already possible in the US, say IEEE. Perhaps the simplest thing to do would be to pump water from below a hydro dam back into the hydro lake, especially when rain fall is low. Such a system be closed off to natural water system, except perhaps for the occasional top up.

While researching for this article, I noticed adverts for various solar panel providers and installers.  Which reminded me of a blog article that are indicative of the state of a young industry. Resulting in less than optimal installations. A pity really, such stories may tend to scare off the market. And no doubt that will make some happy, like investors in Mighty River Power, the other two generation companies. Despite the calls from the public, the opposition and international bodies Our govern steadfastly refuses to push clean energy. No doubt this is so they can flog off 49% of our main generators. Long term this cannot be a good investment, as solar gets cheaper, the market will decide to move to solar generation and simply replace the need for much of our generating capacity. Te Whai Point accounts for 14% of New Zealand energy consumption and it is expected to go offline in 5-10 years, as the price of aluminium continues to fall. The only thing working in these investors favour is that changing weather patterns seem to be giving us drier hydro lakes, but of course, no one makes money from and empty hydro lake - except hedge fund managers.

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