Tucker 1 Lovins 0

by Iain Murray on February 10, 2009

Those who have been following the “alternative energy” fantasists for a while will recognize the name of Amory Lovins, the so-called “sage” (yet another pseudo-religious title utilized by liberal environmentalists for their heroes) of the Rocky Mountain Institute. They will also remember that he regularly advances marvelous-sounding schemes for re-imagining America’s energy mix, which never seem to go anywhere. He’s at it again, this time on the popular Freaknomics blog, where he suggests that renewable “micropower” is the future of energy:

Power plants also got irrationally big, upwards of a million kilowatts. Buildings use about 70 percent of U.S. electricity, but three-fourths of residential and commercial customers use no more than 1.5 and 12 average kilowatts respectively. Resources better matched to the kilowatt scale of most customers’ needs, or to the tens-of-thousands-of-kilowatts scale of typical distribution substations, or to an intermediate “microgrid” scale, actually offer 207 hidden economic advantages over the giant plants. These “distributed benefits” often boost economic value by about tenfold. The biggest come from financial economics: for example, small, fast, modular units are less risky to build than big, slow, lumpy ones, and renewable energy sources avoid the risks of volatile fuel prices. Moreover, a diversified portfolio of many small, distributed units can be more reliable than a few big units. Bigger power plants’ hoped-for economies of scale were overwhelmed by diseconomies of scale.

Thankfully, William Tucker, author of the excellent new book Terrestrial Energy, has responded in the comments section. His comment is worth reproducing in full:

Quite briefly, Lovins is drawing a false analogy between the miniaturization and distribution of computing and telecom instruments and the production of energy. Computers and telephones can be miniaturized and distributed according to Moore’s Law because they involve information. You can use less and less energy to store each bit. For that reason you can have as much computing power on your desktop today as Univac had in an entire room in the 1960s. Computers can be distributed because they have become so powerful.

But things don’t work that way with energy. A kilowatt is a kilowatt, whether it’s generated in your backyard or at a power station. You can “distribute” generation anywhere you want but you still have use the same amount of fuel or wind or whatever. We could replace central thermal stations with gas turbines on every street corner, but the fuel is going to be expensive and produce a lot more carbon emissions, which is something Lovins conveniently overlooks.

The real irony, however, is his suggestion that wind fits this small-is-beautiful scenario. Sure wind is “distributed.” After all, you need 125 square miles of 45-story windmills to generate the same 1000 megawatts that can be generated in one square mile at a central thermal station. You’ve got to put them somewhere! And that’s just their nameplate capacity. To produce 1000 MW of base load electricity, you’d need at least three or four 125-square-mile wind farms scattered at diverse locations around the country.

That’s the reason Lovins himself has suggested covering all of North and South Dakota with wind farms. Al Gore matches him by asking for 1/5 of New Mexico, the fifth largest state, for solar collectors. On top of this, they want to rebuild the entire national grid to 765 kilovolts in order to ferry all this electricity from the remote areas where it’s best generated to population centers. And Lovins calls 1000-MW power plants operating on the current transmission system “irrationally big!”

What Lovins never wants to acknowledge is the energy density of nuclear power. With nuclear, the energy produced from 500 square miles of windmills can be generated with a fuel assembly that would fit in the average living room. Why “distribute” all this generating capacity into big, ugly structures that litter the landscape and only work when the wind blows? Why not concentrate it all in one place? Then once every 18 months a single tractor-trailer can come in with a new set of fuel rods.

In one respect, though, Lovins may be right. Maybe we shouldn’t be building nuclear reactors to 1500 MW. Hyperion, a New Mexico company, has invented an 80-MW mini-reactor the size of a gazebo that can power a town of 20,000. You could put it in someone’s basement and no one would ever notice. While “alternate energy” has gotten more and more gigantic, nuclear is getting smaller and smaller.

Who would have thought it would be nuclear that is small and beautiful?

Indeed. As Mr Tucker explains at greater length in his book, the real problem with “renewable” energy is that it is just so distribute and dispersed that collecting in the quantity and quality we need it is a real problem, one that size alone can solve. Lovins’ argument is just about the reverse of reality.

Fox Badibanga March 9, 2009 at 6:02 pm

My book titled Global Warming and Al Gore Faustus Adventures inside the Earth, is now available in digital format at lulu.com. In order to save trees and fight deforestation, I will only print very few books in paper format.

This book is an achievement of a long time dream and belief, which Fox Badibanga has entertained since he was five years old, that there was forces working inside the earth, and that the Earth must be a gigantesque being whose body gives us food, water and habitat. Making a compilation of different theories, both scientific, metaphysical and philosophical regarding the nature and the constitution of the Earth, Fox Badibanga offers to the world an unprecedented view of our planet while enjoining his voice to those already active on the field for the promotion and the protection of the Earth Rights.

The purpose of this book is to introduce a philosophical or a fictional questioning: What if the Earth is a living being with feeling, memory and life just like human beings? It is all about making the patient to talk.

The story in this book is a centered on the escapades of a fictional character named Al Gore Faustus and is designed to explore the idea of the earth being a living anthropomorphized being with feeling, memory, and a spirit.

As the story opens, Al Gore Faustus was just turning nine years old, and was travelling with his parents to Oslo in order to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honoring his grandfather work and activism on climate changing. Inspired by his grandfather’s work, and even more by his acceptance speech, Faustus became meditative questioning the mysteries of the day. In the course of his explorations, he stumbled upon a way and found a path leading into the Earth.

Accompanied only by Beethoven’s nine symphonies on his iPod, Faustus journeys through the nine strata composing the Earth until he reaches the center of the planet where he is privy to a conversation with the Earth’s very spirit. The Spirit of the Earth explains the purpose of and the interrelationships between the different strata, and discusses several key environmental issues and the actions humans can take in relation with them. The Spirit concluded by reminding Faustus that humans were inextricably linked to the Earth, so much so that, collectively, they formed its Spirit.

When Al Gore Faustus returned to his family on the Earth’s surface, he did so determined to share what he had learned with the entire humanity. As the family returned home, Faustus birthday party was organized. During the party, Faustus gathered twelve of his friends present at the party in the underground chamber where, for the first time, he revealed to the twelve the story of his adventures inside the Earth. He and his twelve friends ended up creating the “Jus Terrea Magisterum”, a council for the Earth Rights dedicated to recruit children all over the planet in order to mobilize their parents and adults to stand and take necessary actions to stop and end the global warming.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: