A problem with battery powered civilisation

There’s one thing we’d dearly like to know, one thing that doesn’t even get discussed here:

Ion age: why the future will be battery powered

The variable nature of wind and solar power means storing energy is a huge part of the fight to mitigate climate change

Our iiportant question being, what’s the total CO2-e emissions from the entire lifecycle when we’ve a renewables and battery powered system? Are those emissions lower or higher than a coal fired system? Than a natural gas one?

It would be reasonable enough to conclude less than coal I’d guess. But than natural gas? Do recall that the Severn Barrage didn’t quite manage that….

72 comments on “A problem with battery powered civilisation

  1. It won’t work anyway, the energy density of batteries is far too low. They will be useful in a grid but only for second-by-second load control. Musk’s battery in South Australia has been very successful for that, but useless for compensating variable wind/solar generation over hours.

  2. The problem is that nature has this energy storage thing cracked – largely in hydrocarbons and nuclear fuels

    Manmade alternatives are simply not good enough for anything other than low powered devices where frequent recharging is acceptable

    Pumped storage hydro is the closest at present and of course that is geographically dependent

    I understand Denmark has a deal with Norway where excess wind/solar generation is sent north to Norwegian pumped storage sites which are then utilised when Danish demand is high and wind/solar too low to meet it

    Greenies are simply in denial about basic power engineering and physics

  3. Starts off like a cheesy movie trailer:

    In a world increasingly anxious about climate change

    The thing is, though, this is bollocks.

    It’s like claiming the world is increasingly anxious about “toxic masculinity”, “trans rights”, or other things that don’t exist. It’s not, and no amount of Guardian editorials or woke adverts can change reality.

    The world isn’t increasingly concerned about climate change – if anything, the opposite is the case. As we get deeper into the 21st c. and warmageddon still refuses – despite record CO2 increases – to happen, the climate change religion is simply getting more shrill, as eschatological cults tend to do when their doomsday predictions don’t pan out.

    The world doesn’t give a fuck about climate change, it’s all greenwashing and astroturfing.

  4. Yes, pumped storage is a good solution for mountainous, sparsely populated (the two often going together, naturally) regions. The UK (to achieve anything more than load balancing during the commercials – is that still a ‘thing’?) would need something like 1,000x Dinorwigs to cope with cold, still snaps in winter, which would be ludicrously expensive, even if there were somewhere they could be sited.

  5. > a good solution for mountainous, sparsely populated (the two often going together, naturally) regions

    And that have already built their dams. Any new dams have to get past hordes of raving ecoloons.

  6. But Steve, the message hasn’t got through to Michael Gove. He really has been captured by the ecomaniacs

  7. Michael Gove seems to have had a major brain fart. His utterances on all sorts of subjects get more & more ludicrous by the day.

  8. @starfish – January 15, 2019 at 10:19 am

    Greenies are simply in denial about basic power engineering and physics

    Unfortunately, so are nearly all our politicians, civil servants, journalists and other “opinion formers”. ISTR that the only MPs who voted against the Climate Change Bill were those few who had scientific or engineering backgrounds… Says it all really.

  9. U.N. Predicts Disaster if Global Warming Not Checked;

    “…governments have a 10-year window of opportunity to solve the greenhouse effect before it goes beyond human control…ocean levels will rise by up to three feet, enough to cover the Maldives… one-sixth of Bangladesh could be flooded… A fifth of Egypt’s arable land in the Nile Delta would be flooded,”

    Warning delivered by Noel Brown of the U.N. Environment Program. June 1989.

  10. The issue is not so much storing power from day to night, as storing from summer to winter.
    Take a very big reservoir.
    Which reminds me of that old joke about the American, Frenchman and Englishman finding a brass lamp in the desert…
    The Frenchman’s wish is a mile-high wall around France.
    Problem solved says the Englisman.

  11. “The problem is that nature has this energy storage thing cracked – largely in hydrocarbons and nuclear fuels”
    I suppose we could make our own hydrocarbons using renewable energy. But I thought the next big thing was energy storage using hydrogen – best handled in a fuel cell.

  12. @NDReader

    I thought so too, but I read somewhere that bulk storage of hydrogen is tricky, certainly more difficult than diesel/petrol/LPG

  13. Slightly off topic but our host here often defends his wish for carbon taxes by referring to the Stern Review.

    Christopher Monkton in this article has a look at old Nick’s discount rates and finds them wanting.

    He also asks ‘how much candy do we get for our money’, a pertinent question in the case of battery installations. In other words, how many millionths of a degree of global warming will we save by spending all that money?

    I also like to ask ;How much wealth are we squandering on patently useless mitigation schemes and how much harder will that loss of wealth make adaptation to future climate change.

  14. “Yes, pumped storage is a good solution for mountainous, sparsely populated (the two often going together, naturally) regions.”

    Solution? To what?

    Storage is a head fake. The intermittency of wind/solar is an incurable defect. Storage is finite; outages are unbounded. Greentards declare that intermittency can be fixed with storage. It’s goofy on its face. But Greentards can be swayed by the goofy. It takes no intellect to be a Greenie.

  15. I’ve met Monckton and wasn’t, frankly, impressed. As to discount rates, yep, controversial part of Stern’s argument. Don’t really believe it myself even if I do the basic point, perhaps not his result.

  16. ‘The German firm Sonnen, which has around a 25% global market share in home batteries, said most customers today are people who have solar panels or live in storm-hit regions and want a clean, reliable backup source of power.’

    More money than brains. If your grid supply is unreliable, put in a backup generator. Finite batteries are NOT a ‘reliable backup source of power.’ Whether home or nation.

  17. @starfish
    Storage of hydrogen is very tricky. H2’s a very small molecule & will permeate pretty well anything. Put it into a pipe/tank system & it’ll not only escape through any non-welded joints but also through the actual metal itself. If it gets into steel, it can disrupt the crystalline structure of the alloy itself. Seriously reducing structural strength.

    If you want to have fun, look up the energy densities of current battery tech & then start dividing into the sort of storage capacities required. Some seriously large installations., even without the necessary transformers & cabling. Don’t forget to fold in all the efficiency losses. And those, of course, come out as heat which has to be removed from the system. So add the cooling plant

  18. Two lefty journalists (one of whom appears to be all of 16) with, at best, marginal educations in science and public policy and absolutely no experience (meaningful or otherwise) in either tell us how to solve all the seemingly intractable problems related to alternative energy in one pithy Guardian column.

    I know I feel better.

  19. Yup. The best place for H in an energy economy is in molecules with C – CH4 mostly, but gasoline, kerosene and even diesel will still be needed.

  20. The biggest problem is that if you question whether x is a good idea, “People say don’t you care about the environment?”
    How can you discuss with people like that?
    If you say maybe Nuclear Power is a good idea, people say “What about Chernobyl?”
    (With that attitude we would never had trains as the first one killed someone).

  21. The biggest problem is that if you question whether x is a good idea, “People say don’t you care about the environment?”

    Ah yes, its the greenie equivalent of ‘think of the children’

  22. Diogenes

    “But Steve, the message hasn’t got through to Michael Gove. He really has been captured by the ecomaniacs”

    Gove is rebuilding his brand after the disaster with Boris and the “experts” partial quote and is trying to curry favour with the left of the party, presumably thinking there’s a void there after Cameron. I heard one approving lefty commentator refer to him as a competent minister, which is a very low bar nowadays.

  23. “The best place for H in an energy economy is in molecules with C – CH4 mostly”

    I saw an article yesterday where someone was claiming a breakthrough in getting hydrogen from methane. Naturally, I thought, “Why not just use the methane?”

    Also, I presume the carbon resulting from the split will be oxidized, so no CO2 reduction is actually achieved. Yet we’ll hear how such-and-such is going to ‘save the planet’ because it uses ‘clean’ hydrogen.

    http://notrickszone.com/2019/01/09/german-karlsruhe-research-institutes-awarding-winning-process-for-producing-hydrogen-fuel-from-methane/

  24. @starfish
    As the tractor gent implies, the best way to utilise h2 is to attach a carbon atom. Larger molecule, raises the liquifaction temperature. Much easier to handle & store. Of course you’ve found an expensive way of making LPG, but what the hell. We,re all environmental round here, aren’t we?

  25. It’s completely pointless making CH4 from H, as you have to expend energy getting the H from, probably, CH4 in the first place. Were we to transition to a U plus Th electricity economy, perhaps even with H+D -> 3He if they ever manage to develop a practical solution. In that case, there will come a time when it becomes economic to make hydrocarbons from water & limestone in place of extracting them from the ground. They will continue to be needed for, at least, air transport and probably land & sea transport too.

  26. UK electricity demand is 40 GW (roughly)
    It’s some 20% of energy usage (transport, heating,etc) so say 200GW.
    Supplying that for the 6 months of winter is roughly 3*10^18 Joules. Allow for conversion efficiency etc, need potential energy of 10^19 joules.
    A lake of water 1km deep stores 5*10^9 Joules per square metre of area.
    So we could supply UK for the winter with a 1km deep lake with an area of 2 billion square metres or 50km by 50km.
    So we won’t need all of France, just Savoy. Mind you, the 200km of wall will be a bit of a construction challenge.
    Apologies for any bungles in the maths.

  27. It’s worse if you only make the lake 100m deep.That needs 500km by 500km.
    I think fossil fuels will be around a while yet.

  28. Bother no edit!
    5*10^6 Joules pre square meter, sorry.
    So 1000 times the area I miscalculated.
    So 1500km 1500 km if 1km deep.
    France would do nicely.

    I’ll go lie down now.

  29. If you say maybe Nuclear Power is a good idea, people say “What about Chernobyl?”.

    Seems a fair point. A 1000 sq mi exclusion zone in the UK would be noticeable. Yes, ours aren’t as crap as theirs, etc; but it’s still very consequential if one goes tits up.

  30. Anecdote alert!

    Went to see friends further out in the country. Up on the hillside was a cool wooden cantilevered house.

    ‘Wass’at? sez I.

    ‘A family wot lives totally off-grid’ they replied.

    ‘And that shed there? For the cows?’ Asks I.

    ‘Nah, that the diesel generator for the evenings, hot spells, cold spells and all winter…..’

    In the words of the much missed Fred Wedlock, ‘I laughed so much the tears ran down my leg!’

  31. “the message hasn’t got through to Michael Gove”: he’s either been captured by The Blob or had just spontaneously gone bonkers. I fear it may be the latter – such a pity, he was once an able fellow.

  32. PJF: Chernobyl was a seriously crap Russian reactor design that the idiot managers decided to run in a seriously wacky operational state, with all the safety systems switched off. All the reactor accidents in the West due to technical issues have had zero effect on the surroundings, even if it killed the reactor. Yes, I know about Windscale in the 50s – I got a dose of I131 as a kid from that. But designs have moved on. Fukushima was an undesigned-for environmental issue with a relatively small local impact.

    I believe it is possible to design & operate nuclear reactors safely, but it needs a continuing industry to do it so that institutional knowledge doesn’t get lost. Sadly the UK no longer has that.

  33. Aberfan. Deep Water Horizon. And many many more.
    There’s always a downside.
    Or you could choose Pol Pot’s Year 0.
    I note that those advocating a 99% population cull and a return to Bronze Age subsistence farming are never at the front of the cull queue, setting an example.

  34. “. . . why the future will be battery powered”

    The past was battery powered too. What do they think oil is? Wood? Cow dung? They’re stores of energy/energy transport mechanisms – IOW, a battery.

  35. @starfish January 15, 2019 at 1:06 pm

    As bis said, Hydrogen storage & transmission is difficult:

    1. Molecules so small they leak easily

    2. Embrittles many materials

    Also, energy density much lower than petrol and if it leaks much more likely to combust.

  36. May’s Deal Rejected

    For: 202
    Against: 432

    May to consider calling confidence vote under Fixed Term Parliament Act

    Corbyn calls no confidence vote.

  37. While living downwind of a nuclear power station has its risks, (and in SE England we live downwind of a few of ours along with a lot of the French ones on the coast just across the channel), I do reckon that living downwind of London in the event of a week long power cut might be more immediately dangerous than a small leak of radiation from a nuke.

    In fact, a two day power outage to a major city will certainly cause a lot of problems to the surrounding area.

  38. “A family wot lives totally off-grid”

    “Nah, that the diesel generator for the evenings, hot spells, cold spells and all winter”

    Virtually all the “Off Gridders” featured in various TV programmes have some sort of generator, even if it’s just a small petrol jobbie. Of course this might only be there for when the “renewable” generation lets them down, but it’s still available, nonetheless. Most also have a gas cylinder (or several) to do the cooking, and in cold climates, run a fridge/freezer. This latter sounds a bit bonkers, but when the alternative is chopping blocks of ice from a nearby river (using a petrol chainsaw!), and building a large insulated store, the convenience of fossil fuels usually wins the day. Oh, and don’t forget, they get to their off-grid sites by train (see “Alaska Railroad”), Snowmobiles, Quad Bikes, outboard powered boats, wheel, ski & float equipped planes, as well as helicopters. One team chartered an enormous Erickson Skycrane to haul several tons of stuff in a shipping container! None of this is going to be replaced with battery power any time soon…

  39. “May to consider calling confidence vote”: none of us has any confidence in you, dear. Just fuck off.

  40. “Fukushima was an undesigned-for environmental issue with a relatively small local impact.”

    Still led to a vast, on-going social catastrophe, though.

    The vastness is the issue. As you say, there are downsides to all things. But all those other things’ downsides are local and short lived. They don’t render a substantial part of the country uninhabitable for 10,000 years.

  41. “They don’t render a substantial part of the country uninhabitable for 10,000 years.”

    Chernobyl is inhabited. Dumbass.

  42. “‘What DO you want then?’ May’s scathing reply to MPs after they reject her Brexit deal by a crushing 230 votes – the biggest government defeat in history”

    Brexit. Duh. Drop the stupid ‘deal’ stuff. Just say, “Bye bye! Love you! Mean it!”

    Pls splain to this ‘Merican what ‘the biggest government defeat in history’ means. She lost the vote. But biggest defeat in history??? Are they saying no bill ever lost this big before? What are they saying?

  43. “Chernobyl is inhabited. Dumbass.”

    Not in any meaningful civilizational sense. But you already knew that before you decided to be an obnoxious twat. Go and live there. Take your family.

  44. “uninhabitable for 10,000 years”

    This remains profoundly stupid. You are only off by 9970 years. Dumbass.

    Information on reoccupation of Chernobyl is readily available on the internet.

    Your bizarre argument “Go and live there. Take your family,” tells me that you are not stupid, but lying.

    “Uninhabitable for 10,000 years” is a lie.

    Lies like this are responsible for our not implementing nuclear energy more broadly. Lies like this are responsible for nuclear plants costing 10 times what they should.

    The lack of these plants has raised electricity costs. The cost of electricity has resulted in some marginal people not adequately heating their homes, and dying from it.

    PJF, you have blood on your hands. You lie. And your lies are easily checked on the internet. It is my duty to be an obnoxious twat when people say things that get people killed. I stand up to evil.

  45. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl
    “Today Chernobyl is mostly a ghost town, but a small number of people still reside in houses marked with signs stating: “Owner of this house lives here”.[2] Workers on watch and administrative personnel of the Zone of Alienation are stationed in the city on a long-term basis. There are two general stores and a hotel for tourists.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster
    “An area originally extending 30 kilometres (19 mi) in all directions from the plant is officially called the “zone of alienation”. It is largely uninhabited, except for about 300 residents who have refused to leave. The area has largely reverted to forest, and has been overrun by wildlife because of a lack of competition with humans for space and resources. Even today, radiation levels are so high that the workers responsible for rebuilding the sarcophagus are only allowed to work five hours a day for one month before taking 15 days of rest. Ukrainian officials estimated the area would not be safe for human life again for another 20,000 years[71] (although by 2016, 187 local Ukrainians had returned and were living permanently in the zone.”

    Gamecock:
    “PJF, you have blood on your hands. You lie. And your lies are easily checked on the internet. It is my duty to be an obnoxious twat when people say things that get people killed. I stand up to evil.”

    You preposterous knobcheese.

  46. @GC

    It’s rare for governments to lose a House of Commons vote here since under a parliamentary rather than presidential system, they needed to control (or at least, have the support) of the House to form the government in the first place.

    If a government is badly struggling, its “working majority” may erode over time, as happened to John Major. If a few of their party’s MPs have defected to other parties and there have been deaths/legal issues/retirements resulting in by-elections the government has lost, or they’re reliant on the support of a minor party for key votes, then they might lose some votes by a dozen or so. To lose by, say, fifty usually requires a big rebellion of back-benchers (ie those without government jobs – bear in mind a large number of MPs have jobs in the executive and are virtually guaranteed to support the government) but those are pretty rare since parties wield a variety of threats against non-compliant MPs, including deselecting them as candidates at the next election. Pretty much no tradition of “primaries” here, which gives party officials more clout.

    To contest a vote on your flagship policy and lose by this many hundreds is apparently without historical precedent. But there’s some quibbling about what counts as “losing a vote” as eg not all votes have a legally binding effect and governments sometimes don’t even bother contesting them – there’s a pretty decent guide at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46879887

  47. Chernobyl isn’t a reasonable example of anything – even the Russians don’t build such unstable types type of reactor any more. Fukushima shows that if you take one of the oldest operating reactors, poorly designed (even by the standards of the time) and poorly run (the failings of East Asian deference culture in safety critical operations such as civil airlines have been well-documented for decades) and then hit it with a magnitude 9 earthquake followed by a 14m tsunami, it will kill absolutely no-one at all.

    The exclusion zone around it mostly consists of areas that are less radioactive than Cornwall or Aberdeen. And yes, I’d be happy to move my family to such a ‘deadly’ area.

  48. As I understand it, Fukushima only blew up because the standby diesel generators needed to power the orderly shut down procedure were knocked off line by the tsunami, and that was only because they had been installed IN THE BASEMENT! The reactor itself survived the earthquake, despite that being twice as powerful as the design had allowed for…

    Then you have the imbecile Merkel using this event as a reason for shutting all of Germany’s nuclear plants!

  49. “And yes, I’d be happy to move my family to such a ‘deadly’ area.”

    But you can’t. Because exclusion zone.

  50. “Then you have the imbecile Merkel using this event as a reason for shutting all of Germany’s nuclear plants!”

    The Japanese have shut all theirs, too.

    The reasons for consequences may not be real, but the consequences are. It’s ludicrous to invest so much in an industry that will inevitably be shut down due to an inevitable incident.

  51. @ PJF
    The shut-down is not inevitable – the USSR did not shut down its remaining nuclear plants after Chernobyl: in fact it has extended the life of some RBMK reactors. The USA did not shut down its active nuxlear plants after Three Mile Island.
    The German Greens used Fukushima as an excuse to bully Merkel into shutting down German nuclear plants (probably the safest in the world) when that was totally unjustified with the consequence that Germany has gone back to burning filthy brown coal (aka lignite).
    More people have been killed in Chinese coal mines since the Communists seized power than by all nuclear incidents since the beginning of time (more than twice as many as Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined).
    The anti-nuclear lobby (which conspicuously excludes Russia from its list of targets – guess why?) has the blood of coal-miners everywhere in the world on its hands.

  52. PJF

    Still led to a vast, on-going social catastrophe, though

    Still led to a vast, on-going social media catastrophe, though.

    FIFY

  53. “The Japanese have shut all theirs, too”

    Japan is in a highly active earthquake zone, Germany is not, and Merkel’s knee-jerk reaction had absolutely no rational basis.

  54. Gamecock said:
    “Pls splain to this ‘Merican what ‘the biggest government defeat in history’ means. She lost the vote. But biggest defeat in history??? Are they saying no bill ever lost this big before? What are they saying?”

    Basically yes, numerically probably the biggest ever vote against a substantive government measure. For the reason MyBurningEars said – you don’t get to be the government in the UK system unless you’ve more or less got majority support in the House of Commons, so a big government defeat is rare.

    There are sometimes big losses on procedural votes, particularly if the opposition springs a surprise when they’re not expecting a vote (some procedural things are usually just nodded through, so the opposition can get a symbolic big victory by calling a surprise vote when there aren’t many government MPs actually present, but it doesn’t mean very much). But that’s very different to a planned vote on a main plank of government policy, especially one that was known to be contentious so everyone was prepared.

    To put it in context, other famous ‘big’ losses in recent decades (substantive votes only, ignoring procedural votes) were:
    – Cameron, 2016, Sunday Trading, 317–286 (government lost by 31);
    – Coalition, 2013, military intervention in Syria, 285–272 (government lost by 13);
    – Brown, 2009, Gurkha residence rights, 276–246 (government lost by 30);
    – Blair, 2005, detention without charge for suspected terrorists, 291–322 (government lost by 31);
    Major, 1994, VAT on domestic fuel, 319–311 (government lost by 8);
    Thatcher, 1986, Sunday Trading (again), 282–296 (government lost by 14).

    So losing by 230 on a substantive vote is huge. For it to happen on such a major policy issue is enormous.

    It seems no-one is quite sure whether it is technically the biggest defeat or not. You need to define it carefully – the Labour government lost some votes by a bigger margin in the 1970s, but that was because the government decided not to contest it, so the votes were in the order of 280-0 (bigger margin of loss than May’s, but fewer actual votes against); if the government had voted, they’d still have lost but only by a small margin. But yesterday is still the biggest number of votes against a government proposal.

    It also seems no-one knows what the margins were on pre-20th century votes (I don’t know whether this is because the numbers weren’t recorded or just because no-one has bothered to trawl through all the paperwork). I’ve seen mention of Catholic Emancipation, Irish Home Rule and even Walpole’s attempt to replace land taxes with excise duties, which are said to have been big defeats for the government, but no-one seems to have any numbers.

    It’s probably the biggest known number of votes ever cast against a government measure. It may also be the biggest margin of defeat on a government measure that the government actually voted for. More to the point, it’s an enormous vote against by UK standards.

  55. I observe that PJF has made two replies , neither to me, since my post.
    Nuclear power saves lives. FACT

  56. @ PJF
    Oh yeah?
    More than a quarter of a million coal miners killed in mining accidents in China, let alone all those killed slowly by silicosis, and you answered me? Where?
    I was born in County Durham so I have a reason to care about this.

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