Oh dear Ritchie, oh dear

As both have pointed out, if the current established reserves of the major extractive industry companies were all burnt we would incinerate the world through global warming. The precise details as to timing may be open to discussion but the conclusion is not. Unless a majority of those reserves (yes, you read that right: a majority) stay in the ground in any foreseeable future then we can kiss the long germ goodbye.

OK, so we can’t burn all of the fossil fuels we’ve found so far. Contentious and I’m not sure I agree but we’ll accept it for the moment.

And yet, despite that, as Wolf points out, energy companies continue to invest in discovering new reserves, and are valued in no small part on the basis of their success in doing so. Now, of course, there is merit in finding more accessible reserves. That I accept. But when searching goes in in high risk and deeply inaccessible areas or the search focuses on strategies with low yield ( like UK fracking and even fracking in general,where US yields are rapidly falling, as Jeremy assures me is the case) the this is a collective act of disregard for economic sense.

Well that’s because fracking produces natural gas which is rather less emmitive than coal. So it’s part of the solution to this problem of getting the energy we desire without boiling everyone.

But then we get that great leap:

There is an alternative, of course. We could invest in new energy thinking. We could insulate the UK. We could make every building a power station. We could release a carbon army to green our UK energy investment and deliver the low carbon sustainable future we need. That is what the Green New Deal group has been calling for. It is the basis for economic transformation in the UK, but right now the money is backing finding oil and gas that cannot ever be burnt. That’s the inefficiency of markets. Someone, somewhere, has to decide that this current allocation of resources is wrong. I just hope it is soon, for all our sakes.

Well, there are actually other things happening. Chinese factories to make solar cells have become so cheap that both the EU and US are levying import duties as punishment upon them. And solar PV prices are still falling at 20% per year. We’re very close in fact, certainly no more than a decade away (absolutely no more than a decade away), to having solar being the cheapest method of (intermittent) electricity generation. At which point the whole problem simply goes away. We don’t need to force anyone to do anything as they will naturally install the lowest cost technology.

Because, you know, markets.

It’s entirely possible to believe that something should have been done about climate change. You can even believe that what is happening to the price of solar is as a result of what was done (I am deeply unconvinced of that btw). But it’s extraordinarily difficult to insist, as does Jeremy Leggett for example, that solar PV is imminently going to be cheaper than coal and also that vastly more must be done.

For the moment that solar PV is cheaper than coal then no one will build new coal fired stations and everyone will install solar instead. Problem solved: because of prices in markets, d’ye see?

22 comments on “Oh dear Ritchie, oh dear

  1. “For the moment that solar PV is cheaper than coal then no one will build new coal fired stations and everyone will install solar instead”

    I find that I switch my lights on most often when it’s dark. And use leccy-powered devices more in the evening.

  2. Oil companies, pension funds, government departments…. is there anything Ritchie doesn’t know how to run better than the professionals?

    It’s as if a great polymath like Leonardo da Vinci walks among us, cunningly disguised as a twat.

  3. “There is an alternative, of course. We could invest in new energy thinking. We could insulate the UK. We could make every building a power station. We could release a carbon army to green our UK energy investment and deliver the low carbon sustainable future we need. ”

    Translated:

    There is an alternative, of course. We could spend lots of money. We could spend lots of money. We could spend lots of money. We could spend lots of money.

    VftS said: “I find that I switch my lights on most often when it’s dark. And use leccy-powered devices more in the evening.”

    I sincerely believe that we will eventually be expected to buy a fridge sized bank of batteries to get around that problem. The ‘plans’ if you can call them that often has these batteries disguised as cars but if we’re using our cars we aren’t powering our homes and if we’re powering our homes we aren’t using our cars.

  4. Not sure I buy the idea that the moment solar PV is cheaper than coal the ‘problem’ is solved. You need to have also solved the storage problem so that the intermittent solar can be stored for when the sun don’t shine…

  5. if the current established reserves of the major extractive industry companies were all burnt we would incinerate the world through global warming.

    Pish. Was this based on the same computer models that predicted we’d be living in a lake of fire by now? Falsified by the lack of global warming since 1997.

    And yet, despite that, as Wolf points out, energy companies continue to invest in discovering new reserves

    Why, it’s as if the engineers and geologists who keep the lights on and make our pharmeceutical and consumer tech industries possible know what they’re doing better than men with no technical or scientific expertise who worship Thomas Picketty.

    We could invest in new energy thinking. We could insulate the UK. We could make every building a power station. We could release a carbon army to green our UK energy investment

    We could smash all the windows in Britain so as to stimulate the economy.

    the search focuses on strategies with low yield ( like UK fracking and even fracking in general,where US yields are rapidly falling

    Ritchie wants to save energy companies money now.

    That’s the inefficiency of markets

    Because nobody’s ever tried central planning before.

    Someone, somewhere, has to decide that this current allocation of resources is wrong.

    Some sort of Duce like in the original Courageous State.

  6. “There is an alternative, of course. We could invest in new energy thinking. We could insulate the UK. We could make every building a power station. We could release a carbon army to green our UK energy investment and deliver the low carbon sustainable future we need. ”

    There are further alternatives of course. We could turf people out of homes which (to judge by relative house prices) are approximately more than twice the size of the average properties in their area and whose carbon footprint is therefore demonstrably unnecessarily large. People like those who are so affluent that they have spare rooms and use them for socially useless and power-consuming functions such as running model railways and outputting a vast load of digital crap across all media?

  7. Solar power the cheapest?. No . It might well end up as the cheapest once all the other possibilities have been so fucked-up by state meddling and state-induced cost spiralling that comes out of said meddling–but cheapest on its own merits–never.
    Solar power has some merit if you live in Arizona or somewhere as hot and sunny. Even then there is a limit on how much energy gets thro’ the atmosphere (and a good thing otherwise we would be enjoying a really solar rich environment just like Venus).Solar power is too difuse and will always remain piddle-power.

  8. Yep, you must take away the state subsidy on solar price before we can actually compare price. There is also the problem if things call night and cloud that limits power generation of solar power. But in all seriousness, Progressives and Environmentalists are for all forms of energy production except the ones that works. That’s why we must invest on unicorn power.

  9. Now, I’m no conspiracy theorist, but this and recent posts have convinced me that we are, after all, subject to intermittent invasion from the planet Boz.

    Bozos are constructed approximations of human beings. Early models never made it into production. The TB1, the GB1 and the PM1 were all examples of early prototypes put on Earth as a trial run. Although the initial impact of the Bozos was spectacular, it is clear that they are all now decomposing, endangering the whole project.

    The Bozos place their faith in later marks, such as the NG1 and sub marks M (D) and M (E). Although somewhat improved, these later models still leave an uneasy feeling in true humans, who feel uncomfortable in their presence.

    The main asset the Bozos have been able to exploit is the burgeoning public sector, in which the main deficiencies of the constructs – the low intelligence, absence of logic circuits and a miniscule attention span – are viewed as strengths, not weaknesses.

  10. If solar approaches coal in cost it will still be far more expensive than nuclear. Nuclear has, at many periods, been cheaper than coal and there is undisputed proof (at least undisputed by any renewablist) that around 98% of the cost of nuclear I government regulatory parasitism.

    Solar will NEVER come close to matching that. Inherently the minimum cost of power source depends on how concentrated, hot and expensive the energy source is. There may be engineering reasons getting in the way (fusion doesn’t work yet) or political (everything) but that is the bottom line.

    We have not yet entered the era of cheap energy – purely because of politics.

  11. I really hope that solar power works (if I didn’t believe in climate change, destroying the economy of OPEC states would be great). However how do we store the power for when the sun is not shining.

  12. ‘However how do we store the power for when the sun is not shining ?’
    You don’t need to worry about that. The courageous state will look after it for you

  13. If the problem is “boiling the planet”, then the financial cost of something is irrelevant.

    The question is whether the new green technologies we are being asked to invest in are actually more energy efficient than the ones they replace.

    The energy efficiency is not just the fuel being used, it is the energy cost to produce the technology in the first place, plus the energy cost to maintain, install and replenish, over the lifetime of the generator.

    The last new green technology was the CFL bulb, and that not only turned out to be a net energy waste (due to the short lifetime and expensive production energy cost), but it was already out of date once LED bulbs became available, so more energy waste as we build replacements.

    So let’s look at energy efficiency.

    Energy is sunlight.

    Fossil fuel is effectively stored sunlight, it takes time (a few million years) and great effort to extract it, but it’s benefits are density and conversion efficiency.

    Renewable power uses sunlight converted directly, either through solar or wind/wave, but it is much less dense due to the distance (150 million km) it needs to travel first and the wide area it is spread over (250 million km2), and the availability (50% in the case of solar, less for others). The much decreased density and need for storage means this rarely is as efficient as fossil fuel.

    Wouldn’t it be good to have direct sunlight with the density of fossil fuel? What you need is a little piece of the sun in your hands, from which you can get your energy direct without all that messing about converting it and none of the distance, time or storage constraints. Well, that’s exactly what nuclear is, or rather, today’s nuclear fission is similar to, and tomorrow’s nuclear fusion is exactly.

    So “new” green technology is not new at all, it is already behind the curve at inception, it is the way of the CFL bulb, the future is already here and that is what needs investment.

  14. among the LHTD’s other bollocks, a friend of mine who works in the area tells me that thanks to the Government’s Warmfront grant scheme something like 80% of properties that can be properly insulated in the UK have been, so there’s little headway to be made there

  15. However how do we store the power for when the sun is not shining ?

    We have an inexhaustible supply of sunlight – all we have to do is to get Ritchie to bend over…

    Cheers,
    Fatty

  16. I’m fortunate enough to live in an area with more than its fair share of sunlight hours (and more than its fair share of rain too – hence why the place is so effing green and you can’t step outside without getting a nose full of pollen).

    About a year ago I signed up to a solar scheme whereby I pay a fixed flat rate of $70 each month and have a few decent sized solar panels fitted to my roof. These are mated to a battery unit that lives under the house. During the day the house draws from the panels and stores extra in the batteries, once the batteries are full it exports to the grid (at about 50% of the cost of imports – we don’t have feed in tariffs or any form of solar subsidy – but we also don’t have stupid import tariffs). When we get home in the evenings and overnight we drain the batteries. The $70 a month covers recycling and replacing the batteries over their lives.

    As an accountant I’ve done the sums over the course of the year and average out at savings, after paying the monthly charge, on electricity purchases from the grid approaching $20 a month. In summer it is substantially more, and in winter it costs me more than I save.

    So, for my family, and in my region, solar is already cost effective – but only when mated to a battery bank so that you can use what you generate. You also have to be connected to the grid.

    There are other benefits too: in summer the air con is on more often as it is effectively free; last week we had a big storm which cut power to the whole neighbourhood – except for us; and getting a “bill” for -$4 from the electricity company covering 2 months of use over summer definitely brings a smile to my face!

    So I agree with Tim on this one – at the moment we are just about there in terms of solar becoming a no-brainer for some people, in some areas. And with solar becoming cheaper and more efficient the number of people that it makes sense for, and areas, will only continue to grow.

  17. As I’ve said before, those like Ritchie that say coal, gas and oil are evil and renewables are the only way should be the first to have smart meters. When the demand from these people exceeds the generated renewable energy they can be randomly cut off, I’m sure they will be willing to accept that.

    As always, http://gridwatch.templar.co.uk shows how well the 10GW of wind capacity is actually performing (currently 0.87GW).

  18. In South Africa (where I currently live) there have been various green energy deals going through the markets (where I work).

    SA has a problem with supply, and these deals are market related in terms of price, and are petty varied in their composition (everything from large solar/wind farms to micro-generation, fuel-cells etc).

    From what I have learned in the course of these deals, there is nothing particularly wrong with the technology – especially solar. The biggest problem is actually energy storage post capture. It’s a case of trying to store the energy so it is useable all day long, rather than just when the sun is shining. Batteries, cells and capacitors do solve the problem but are not massively efficient, and hugely expensive (and often toxic). The real trick is storing the energy in something as simple as oil or coal.

    Gravity itself is probably the best available option today. Use excess energy during daytime to pump water uphill – then let it flow downhill through turbines at night. This obviously comes with its own geographic problems though.

    Generating energy in a “green” way is not the problem. Making it cost efficient, storing it and making it portable is.

  19. “the moment that solar PV is cheaper than coal then no one will build new coal fired stations and everyone will install solar”

    Just as soon as have humungous interconnectors to the other side of the world, of course. A mere peccadillo as I am sure everyone will agree.

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