The problem with Damian Carrington

And it really is a major problem.

Here\’s a piece about geothermal energy. OK, great, lovely, why not? We should indeed be looking at all possible sources.

What\’s the one really rather important thing that he doesn\’t mention?

Yup, that\’s right: price.

Sigh.

There is no shortage of energy: there\’s not even a shortage of useful energy.

There\’s just a shortage of useful non fossil fuel energy at a price we\’d like to pay. Which makes the price of alternative energy sources the most important point about them, not something to be ignored.

All of which means that Mr. Carrington gains this blog\’s highly coveted (and entirely new) \”climate change twat of the day award\”.

25 comments on “The problem with Damian Carrington

  1. I won’t bother to read the article, but as a general comment: geothermal energy isn’t such a daft idea. I live in Finland, where it’s being utilized increasingly. Sweden is also using it a lot. Not to mention the Icelanders, but they have a rather specific position at the edge of a tectonic plate, so not everyone can do what they do (grow bananas in plant rooms heated by geothermal energy).

    However, over here the market share of geothermal energy (the market of primary heating source for single-family houses) has risen from 10 % to around 25 % over the past 10 years. That is quite a lot. There are no subsidies involved in this development, rather to the contrary. I considered it seriously for my own house, although I then reverted to the easy solution of using district heating (a solution much favoured by the Greens here: a plant burning purely fossil fuels provides both electricity and heat, the latter being delivered to houses via an underground hot-water pipe network).

    Of course, even though geothermal energy is the primary source, it doesn’t work stand-alone: it needs electricity to operate. So we’re building a new nuclear site as well, and yet another one is in the plans.

  2. Apart from the usual calls for subsidy there’s an interesting insight into the writers thinking.
    “The catch is this: you’d be awfully brave to invest in it right now. Unlike most European nations, there is no licensing system in the UK. So you could sink your test wells at the cost of millions of pounds, find the right spot, then see someone else set up in the next field.”
    So what?

    The guy in the next field’s going to be spending exactly the same as you to get the same result.

    It’s the usual left wing ‘monopoly by regulation supported by tax subsidies’ model.

  3. @5

    In a sense, considering it similar to oil wouldn’t be far off.
    Any geotherm well would be capturing from a heat reservoir around the well point so a close drilling would be sharing the same source & reduce efficiency for both wells.

    Shouldn’t think that would’ve occurred to the author though More a case of I was here first so it’s not fair Mum!

    tim adds: And the joy is that, just as with oil reservoirs, the solution is well defined property rights!

  4. One does have to marvel at Mr Carrington’s rather cavalier use of data. At one point he writes:

    By mass, 99.9% of the Earth is hotter than 100C. That means that not far below our feet is the power to boil unlimited water and generate clean, renewable energy.

    This immediately conjures up the mental image that we only have to dig down a few feet to find oodles of hot water. Sadly 0.001 of the Earth’s radius (6370 km) is 6370m. That’s a bit deeper than most people might imagine. And that’s if we assume the earth’s density is uniform.

    Using the same Boys’ Own Bumper Fun Book of Facts from which I got the earth’s radius, we discover that the density of the earth changes with depth. At surface it averages something between 2 and 3 tons per cubic metre. At the core the number is 13.

    In other words lots more of the mass is closer to the centre of the earth. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that this must mean the fabled 99.9% is actually deeper than originally calculated.

    I actually do think geothermal energy offers a more realistic source of power than some other ideas (like those whirligigs that so bewitch HMG for instance) and research into making it more economic would be a good idea. Sadly making the argument with numbers pulled from somebody’s bum is not the way to go about things.

  5. Pekka,

    One of the reasons I suspect things are cheaper in Sweden and Finland is that Scandanavia is largely built on granite. Granite contains a high proportion of radioactive minerals and their decay over time heats up the rock faster then pure cooking from below. This in turn means the holes needed to extract the heat don’t have to be so deep which reduces the capital and operating costs significantly.

    I find it interesting the Greens prefer a fossil fuel solution, I suppose it’s because it ‘s centrally controlled by the apparat and the inherent socialism of this approach blinds them to the fact it uses polar bear slaughtering carbon fuels.

  6. I’m not convinced by district heating, at least as how it works in practice in Russia. Because it is provided independently of households, nobody has any incentive to conserve heat. So you end up with piping hot radiators and windows wide open to the winter air (to be fair, the Russians couldn’t regulate their temperatures any other way, the radiators not coming fitted with valves). You also end up with government mandated times when the hot water would be available, meaning cold showers between May and October every year, although probably the Finns are a bit better organised than this.

  7. Pekka

    It sounds like you are confusing Geothermal Energy with Geothermal heat pumps. Easy mistake to make, the marketing chaps who dubbed an underground heat pump “geothermal” should probably be shot.

    Geothermal energy in its usual definition is a source of electricity. Geothermal heat pumps are just a much more efficient way of using electricity.

    Incidentally, there have been big improvements in lower temperature geothermal technology, meaning that the world’s potentially exploitable resources is rising.

  8. Tim

    meter the hot water, and district heating would work, likewise district cooling.

    Unfortunately in Russia, it was to each according to his need…..

  9. meter the hot water, and district heating would work, likewise district cooling.

    True. And they have district cooling on the artificial islands in Dubai.

  10. tim adds: And the joy is that, just as with oil reservoirs, the solution is well defined property rights!

    And LVT.

  11. I remember reading, many years ago, a screed from a former head of the Danish Generating Board in which he complained about having, by law, to purchase all power generated by windmills, (at an inflated price).

    A situation occured during the long Christmas break. The wind was blowing steadily so the windmills were producing their full amount, it was extremely cold so all the district heating/power stations were operating full blast, all the factories were shut so demand was low and their neighbours like Sweden, to whom they usually flogged off their surplus at a loss, were in a similar boat. He related that they came very close to shutting down a baseload generator, and those huge, coal-fired, behemoths take about a week to stop and re-start.

    It ain’t easy incorporating different systems into a grid.

  12. The Remittance Man,

    I don’t think you can work out the volume of a sphere by assuming it is uniform across its radius.

    By my half-baked calculations, a sphere 99.9% the radius if 6370 kilometres would be 6367.9 kilometres.

    So in a constant mass Earth, the hot stuff is 2.1 km down. Of course as you say the Earth is not constant mass.

  13. A sphere of 99.9 % the volume of a given sphere has a radius of 99.9667% so for radius 6378km (to use the equatorial value) , ~ 6375.9 or about 2. 13km less.

    What’s important is the geothermal gradient, which is of the order of 25 – 30 mK/m or about 80 – 90 °F for every mile you drill. It gets mighty hot at the bottom of a deep gold mine, so much so that if the A/C goes down you have to evacuate before your miners get cooked. Obviously this gradient is not sustained in the mantle and core (we’re pretty sure it’s not over 100000 K at the centre.)

    Geothermal poses some severe engineering challenges. Very hot, mineral-rich water is highly corrosive, and that makes plant expensive for a start. It’s also not emissions-free (although it releases less CO2 than coal etc.)

  14. pete – “The guy in the next field’s going to be spending exactly the same as you to get the same result.”

    Not really. Hot rocks are not uniform. Some places have them much closer to the surface than others. So you can, as with oil, spend a lot of money searching for the good places.

    Also rocks cool. Geothermal power plants usually take out heat faster than it can be replaced from the core. So if they guy next door is doing it too, he is taking heat you need and so shortening the life of your hole.

  15. Okay, so I goofed the calc – sue me.

    My point about Mr Carrington being unnecessarily cavalier with numbers still stands I believe, especially when one takes into account the increase in density towards the Earth’s core.

    Mr Subtlety, I’m guessing that this depletion problem also occurs in the oil and gas industry.

    Contrary to the beliefs of many people (some mining types included) geology does not conform to man’s artificially imposed boundaries. In the mining industry this isn’t a big problem as minearls rarely follow the rules governing osmosis but I imagine oil and gas do. That must mean that there could be cases where Chap in Field A extracts oil faster than his neighbour and thus filches some of Mr B’s stuff.

    If this is possible, then I imagine the ol industry has worked out a formula to resolve any disputes. Perhaps Mr Newman could enlighten us?

  16. The Remittance Man – ” I’m guessing that this depletion problem also occurs in the oil and gas industry.”

    You would think so.

    “That must mean that there could be cases where Chap in Field A extracts oil faster than his neighbour and thus filches some of Mr B’s stuff.”

    Worse with oil and gas because you can drill diagonally into someone else’s field. As we have seen with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, when this happens some people take it very badly.

    “If this is possible, then I imagine the ol industry has worked out a formula to resolve any disputes.”

    Sure. There is no reason why people can’t sort these problems out if there is a will and the Government is willing to impose sensible regulations.

  17. slightly off at a tangent, but this looks potentially good news.

    One of the key economic factors in climate change was the significant risk of climate sensitivity (the global temperature change caused by a doubling of atmospheric CO2) being greater than the ‘best estimate’ of 3 Deg C. So if there was a 5% chance of climate sensitivity being 6 Deg C, multiplying the relatively small risk with the potentially very expensive consequences significantly increased the economic cost (the ‘fat tail of the Probability Distribution Function’)

    This http://www.jamstec.go.jp/frsgc/research/d5/jdannan/probrevised.pdf from the very much mainstream James Annan , constrains this probability distribution function so there is only a 5% chance of the climate sensitivity exceeding 4 Deg C (consequently much less expensive) so you would need a much smaller ‘pigouvian tax’ to counter it .

  18. As we have seen with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, when this happens some people take it very badly.

    I think that was a handy excuse, in my year tramping around the oilfields of Kuwait the only mention I heard of slant drilling into somebody else’s reservoir was at Khafji, where the Saudis and Kuwaitis share a field.

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