|The Week That Was
March 15, 2003
1. New on the Web: RENEWABLE ENERGY: A COLD APPRAISAL OF A HOT TOPIC (for publication in Geotimes)
2. HYDROGEN VEHICLE WON'T BE VIABLE SOON, SAYS MIT LABORATORY FOR ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
3. THE UK WHITE PAPER ON FUTURE ENERGY: WHAT A JOKE!
4. THE UK WHITE PAPER ON ENERGY GETS A STERN APPRAISAL
5. THERE'LL ALWAYS BE AN ENGLAND - WE HOPE
6. OTHER COMMENTS ON NUCLEAR POLICY IN EUROPE.
7. RADON THERAPY GOING STRONG IN EUROPE
8. UN CLIMATE EFFORTS CONTINUE: RUSSIA MAY RATIFY KYOTO (OR MAYBE
2. MIT study opts for diesel-hybrid car
Even with aggressive research, the hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle will not be better than the diesel hybrid (a vehicle powered by a conventional engine supplemented by an electric motor) in terms of total energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, says a study recently released by the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment (LFEE).
And while hybrid vehicles are already appearing on the roads, adoption
of the hydrogen-based vehicle will require major infrastructure changes
to make compressed hydrogen available. If we need to curb greenhouse gases
within the next 20 years, improving mainstream gasoline and diesel engines
and transmissions and expanding the use of hybrids is the way to go.
3. UK unveils greener energy plans
The UK Government has unveiled plans for a switch towards cleaner forms
of energy, and away from fossil fuels and nuclear power.
4. An energy policy full of hot air
Well, knock me down with a feather. The Government is actually, finally, about to publish its very long-awaited Renewables Policy. Oops! What I meant to say is that the Government will tomorrow publish its White Paper on the UK's future energy policy. Some policy.
As far as I can tell, the energy White Paper will be something between a fudge and a farce. To those in the industry it has been obvious for months that it will focus almost entirely on renewable energy such as wind farms (for which it is nigh impossible to get planning permission) and wave power (which is still almost non-existent in the UK today).
The target, ludicrously, was to have hugely uneconomic renewables accounting for 20 per cent of the UK's energy needs by 2020.
Now, it seems, the Government has got cold feet even on that. I am told that the "target" has become an "aspiration". The reason given is that the Treasury ain't too hot on targets. The reality is that even the most eco-friendly minister knows that we don't stand a snowball's chance in hell of getting to the 20 per cent goal by the end of the next decade.
The sad fact is that this White Paper is destined to be one of the biggest lost opportunities in the history of this Government. It will not tackle the real energy issues facing the country. It will bottle out of any commitment (or otherwise) to nuclear power. And, for fear of upsetting John Prescott, the deputy prime minister and planning supremo, it will even fail to sort out once and for all the very real planning problems faced by its precious renewables industry. You know - not in my back yard.
The one breakthrough, I gather, is that the Government has finally realized that you can't just switch on the wind. Now, this may not seem like rocketscience, but it's been a long time getting through to the collective ministerial brain.
That leaves the Government with a dilemma. Does it back up electricity generated by the fickle wind with power from that nasty old (but carbon-free) nuclear stuff? Or does it use good old UK coal? For an anti-nuke government committed to a carbon-free future, that's quite a tricky one, really.
Maybe we should just let the lights go out. Not much of a vote winner,
but as far as solutions go, it sure is carbon free.
5. Wind power
In a prodigious emission of gaseous verbiage, Tony Blair, taking a few moments off from his precious war, told a gathering of environmentalists that the destruction of the environment was as great a threat to the world as poverty, inequality, deteriorating relations between Islam and the West, weapons of mass destruction or any other current menace you can think of.
He announced that to help the environment there would be a target to reduce fossil fuel emissions in Britain by 60 per cent by the year 2050. This is said to be part of his vision of a future "sustainable" world in which "renewable" sources of energy will mitigate the effects of the dreaded fossil fuels.
All this depends on the belief that it is possible to foretell the future by extrapolation from the present. This belief is no more valid than divination by crystals, eggshells or the entrails of dead animals. But for gullible people it justifies the sacrifice of present good for the sake of a supposedly better future.
The Prime Minister's words were backed up by the issue of a government White Paper recommending such "renewable" sources of energy as wind, tidal and solar power. The captains of the booming wind industry, who want to spread their horrible wind farms over all available parts of the country, must be rubbing their hands. Others, who abhor the intrusion of these hideous, noisy, towering, bird-slaughtering structures into the few remaining quiet and beautiful parts of the country, will be wringing their hands. This is not a small matter.
It does not concern only a few old-fashioned aesthetes and Luddite romantics ("landscape fascists", a wonderful coinage by fanatical "Friends of the Earth"). It concerns everyone who hopes, forlornly perhaps, that England, in spite of everything, may still be a country fit for human beings to live in. What will become of us when there are no places of refuge or respite from ever advancing industry in a world of unending industrialised war?
It may be worth mentioning that wind power, though a very profitable business for some, is expensive, unreliable and inefficient; that not all scientists believe in global warming anyhow and that there are scientists who believe that fossil fuel emission is only one of the innumerable factors that control the world's climate.
However, global warming has become as firmly fixed in the popular mind
as an unquestioned article of faith, as any much-derided medieval superstition.
In Britain, the Royal Society plans to release its White Paper in support of nuclear energy in mid-2003.
EU Energy Commissioner Palacio declares there is no possibility that nuclear powerplants can be replace by renewable energy sources.
In the German Bundestag, Gudrun Kopp. energy speaker for the liberal party FDG, sees no possibility of shutting down nuclear reactors, as currently planned.
Russia budgets 700 million Euros for 2003 for modernizing nuclear powerplants.
Meanwhile, India is pushing ahead with its 500 MW fast-nuclear-breeder prototype reactor and may soon lead the world in the eventual use of plentiful thorium resources as nuclear fuel. Construction is to start in April 2003, with operation scheduled in 2009.
7. Radon therapy going strong
Eight German spas offer radon therapy against arthritis and other illnesses, using radon-containing water and air inhalation. Typical exposure in a 3-week treatment is 8-9 mSv (800-900 millirem) -- compared to the average natural background of 2.4 mSv/yr.
8. UN climate efforts continue
The next Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP-9) is scheduled
to be in Milan Dec 1-12, 2003. Meanwhile, rumors have it that Russia will
announce ratification of Kyoto at the next Summit on Sustainable Development
in August, putting Kyoto over the top. Then again, they may not. With
Kyoto binding on all ratifiers, it would go into operation and Russia
will be able to sell its CO2 allowances. Let's see if this comes to pass
and what the market says about the price for the allowances.