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Hopium for the masses, renewable energy edition

Hopium for the masses, renewable energy edition thumbnail

fuel cell car

The hydrogen economy always seems to be 20 years away. Photo: The Chosun Bimbo/Flickr.

As Derrick Jensen points out, this “culture as a whole and most of its members are insane.”

Third Industrial Revolution

The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World by Jeremy Rifkin, Palgrave Macmillian, 304pp, $17.

For my part, I continue to be surprised at the number of people who believe in infinite growth on a finite planet. I continue to be amazed at the number of people who believe a politician cares about them, and that their favorite politician will act in their best interests. I continue to be surprised at the number of people who actually believe in the political process.

I continue to be amazed at the number of people who support civilization, knowing it is killing us all. I’m even more surprised, though, at the number of people who claim ignorance about the costs and consequences of industrial civilization.

It’s worse than all of the above, though. There are a significant number of people who believe we can continue the omnicide, and that doing so is a good idea. Consider, for example, proponents of the Third Industrial Revolution.

The five pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution infrastructure are listed below. After pasting a brief description directly from Wikipedia (as blockquotes below), I dismantle each of the pillars.

1. Shifting to renewable energy

Renewable forms of energy — solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, ocean waves, and biomass — make up the first of the five pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution. While these energies still account for a small percentage of the global energy mix, they are growing rapidly as governments mandate targets and benchmarks for their widespread introduction into the market and their falling costs make them increasingly competitive.

“Renewable” sources of energy are derivatives of oil. Oil is the master material. The availability and price of oil control every other “resource.” I’ve pointed out the absurdity and hopelessness of switching the extra-oil sources here, here, here, here, here, and here (in chronological order).

2. Buildings as power plants

New technological breakthroughs make it possible, for the first time, to design and construct buildings that create all of their own energy from locally available renewable energy sources, allowing us to reconceptualize the future of buildings as “power plants.” The commercial and economic implications are vast and far reaching for the real estate industry and, for that matter, Europe and the world. In 25 years from now, millions of buildings — homes, offices, shopping malls, industrial and technology parks — will be constructed to serve as both “power plants” and habitats. These buildings will collect and generate energy locally from the sun, wind, garbage, agricultural and forestry waste, ocean waves and tides, hydro and geothermal — enough energy to provide for their own power needs as well as surplus energy that can be shared.

First, see my comment above regarding “renewable” energy sources. They are a well-promoted myth. Second, consider if you will, the reality of our collective situation 25 years from now. If human beings persist on this planet — and that’s a significant if, based on the various paths by which we are vigorously pursuing human extinction — then it’s difficult to imagine a scenario that includes an industrial economy at the scale of the globe. We can have an industrial economy or we can have a living planet, but we cannot have both over another quarter century.

3. Hydrogen and battery storage

Deploying hydrogen and other storage technologies in every building and throughout the infrastructure to store intermittent energies. To maximize renewable energy and to minimize cost it will be necessary to develop storage methods that facilitate the conversion of intermittent supplies of these energy sources into reliable assets. Batteries, differentiated water pumping, and other media, can provide limited storage capacity. There is, however, one storage medium that is widely available and can be relatively efficient. Hydrogen is the universal medium that “stores” all forms of renewable energy to assure that a stable and reliable supply is available for power generation and, equally important, for transport.

As a carrier of energy — but definitely not a source — hydrogen is neither stable nor reliable. The notion of stability is dismissed with a single word: Hindenburg. The hype about hydrogen is extreme and extremely ridiculous.

Transporting hydrogen is prohibitively expensive and requires distillates of crude oil. In addition, automakers will not make hydrogen fuel-cell cars until the hydrogen infrastructure is in place, and the infrastructure will not appear until there are a sufficient number of fuel-cell cars on the road.

4. Internet-connected smart grids

Using Internet technology to transform the power grid of every continent into an energy sharing intergrid that acts just like the Internet. The reconfiguration of the world’s power grid, along the lines of the internet, allowing businesses and homeowners to produce their own energy and share it with each other, is just now being tested by power companies in Europe. The new smart grids or intergrids will revolutionize the way electricity is produced and delivered. Millions of existing and new buildings — homes, offices, factories—will be converted or built to serve as “positive power plants” that can capture local renewable energy — solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, hydro, and ocean waves — to create electricity to power the buildings, while sharing the surplus power with others across smart intergrids, just like we now produce our own information and share it with each other across the Internet.

Never mind the endless hopium associated with producing “renewable” energy for more than seven billion people. Never mind the war-based industrial economy of the world’s sole remaining superpower. If we’re counting on technology currently under testing in Europe, we’re also assuming Europe will exist as a political entity for a long time. We’re also assuming Europeans will continue to play nice with each other as well as people in other countries. The very idea of surplus power is being revealed as a horrifically bad joke as the Middle East and northern Africa come under daily attack from several more-industrialized nations.

5. Electric and fuel cell cars

Transitioning the transport fleet to electric, plug-in and fuel cell vehicles that can buy and sell electricity on a smart continental interactive power grid. The electricity we produce in our buildings from renewable energy will also be used to power electric plug-in cars or to create hydrogen to power fuel cell vehicles. The electric plug-in vehicles, in turn, will also serve as portable power plants that can sell electricity back to the main grid.

Car culture is a huge source of many of our worst problems. Cheering for the never-ending continuation of car culture is a death sentence for the living planet. In addition, as indicated above, transporting hydrogen is unsafe, expensive, and dependent upon distillates of crude oil. And then there’s that chicken-and-egg issue associated with construction of infrastructure to support hydrogen fuel-cell cars.

When these five pillars come together, they make up an indivisible technological platform — an emergent system whose properties and functions are qualitatively different from the sum of its parts. In other words, the synergies between the pillars create a new economic paradigm that can transform the world.

When these five pillars of sand come together, they make up an undistinguished pile of dysfunctional hopium — a pile of sand whose properties and functions are qualitatively and quantitatively irrelevant to the industrial economy. In other words, the synergies between the meaningless pillars create a new pile of false hope for those who wish to continue destroying the living world. Fortunately, the hopium is running out.

Contrary to conventional wisdom among civilized humans, we don’t need an industrial economy to survive. In fact, all evidence indicates the opposite is true, yet we keep cheering for this culture of death, cheering for continued destruction of all we need for our survival.

Insanity has won, proving Ralph Waldo Emerson correct: “The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.”

– Guy McPherson, Transition Voice

 



9 Comments on "Hopium for the masses, renewable energy edition"

  1. J-Gav on Mon, 4th Nov 2013 10:31 pm 

    Good ‘ole McPherson. Doesn’t mince words, does he? I suppose it doesn’t matter all that much since we’ll all be going back to the stardust we came out of one day … But just as a matter of pride (you know: “Go team!), wouldn’t it be nice if we could muster the collective courage to push that ‘defining moment’ out as far as we can?

  2. MrEnergyCzar on Tue, 5th Nov 2013 12:06 am 

    I never understood why hydrogen would even be considered a fuel for cars since you have to use twice the energy you get out just to crack or make the hydrogen in the first place…

    MrEnergyCzar

  3. DC on Tue, 5th Nov 2013 1:05 am 

    While his point it well taken, I have to take issue his equating Hindenburg=instability trope. Its now generally acknowledged it was the material construction of the coating of the airship that caused the accident. Not the fuel itself. Being an amerikan, Mr Mcpherson would not be aware the Zeppelin company had logged over 3 million passenger miles without a single fatality or injury prior to the accident. 36 people died yes, but 3x or more will die(100% fatalities not uncommon) when a jet plane goes down.

    Nor does Mr Curren seem fit to mention that 1000’s of people have died in gas-powered jets. Hydrogen necessarily wouldn’t be my first choice for a fuel either, but he does a great disservice by smearing airship technology(which we should be reviving) as death traps. They were far safer than the exploding high-octane death traps called the ‘modern’ jet-liner.

    Yea, Rifkin his ‘3rd’ industrial revolution’ have been permanently deferred. If anything, we see our corporate overlords doing everything they can to make sure we remain firmly stuck in the first industrial revolution-at least until it runs out gas and kills everyone off.

  4. BillT on Tue, 5th Nov 2013 1:31 am 

    “… When these five pillars of sand come together, they make up an undistinguished pile of dysfunctional hopium — a pile of sand whose properties and functions are qualitatively and quantitatively irrelevant to the industrial economy. …”

    Emerson just didn’t realize that the end would be so soon. ^_^

  5. rollin on Tue, 5th Nov 2013 3:06 am 

    How are those non-industrial future primitives, envisioned by Guy, going to keep all those nuclear waste storage sites from failing to cool themselves and contaminating the planet?

  6. GregT on Tue, 5th Nov 2013 3:16 am 

    Guy is on the fence as to whether or not there will actually be any “non-industrial future primates”. He is walking the walk, however, as hopeless as it may seem, and his motto is ‘resistance is fertile’. Oh, and if you visit his blog, you will understand that nuclear waste is a very big concern for the future of the human race. If any of us manage to make it through the next 40 years.

  7. Arthur on Tue, 5th Nov 2013 11:24 am 

    “Renewable” sources of energy are derivatives of oil. Oil is the master material.

    Can’t stop being amazed at how far-spread this superstition really is.

    Buildings as power plants… They are a well-promoted myth.

    This building is NOT a myth, sir:

    http://deepresource.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/zero-energy-home/

    Hydrogen and battery storage

    Do agree that the ‘hydrogen economy’ is (probably) a joke.

    Internet-connected smart grids

    The smart-grid is a fact of life already in Europe and probably elsewhere as well. Recently this blog presented the plans of a large German energy producer (RWE?) in transforming itself into a smart grid company.

    Electric and fuel cell cars

    Agree that mass mobility like in the past few decades will probably a thing of the past, regardless of the fuel.

  8. PrestonSturges on Tue, 5th Nov 2013 1:26 pm 

    Rifkin is still around? he was never what anyone would call a deep thinker.

  9. steveo on Tue, 5th Nov 2013 1:46 pm 

    “I never understood why hydrogen would even be considered a fuel for cars since you have to use twice the energy you get out just to crack or make the hydrogen in the first place…”

    It goes back to the “electricity too cheep to meter” fallacy. When I was a kid in the 60s, I recall reading articles that said that by the year 2000 most of our electricity would be generated by “clean”, “safe” nuclear power and it would be too cheep to meter. Assuming electricity is free, it becomes economical to do electrolysis. Funny how it didn’t quite work out that way.

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