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Peak oil debate

General discussions of the systemic, societal and civilisational effects of depletion.

Energy Debate

Unread postby abben » Sun 21 Nov 2004, 09:15:40

Hey guys! I am doing an energy debate in my physics class about energies and their viabilities/advantages and it is going to be EXTREMLEY competitive and I absolutley HAVE to win. Also, I'm a highschooler and this so far is the biggest assignment I've received of any class!

The four energies categories being debated are:
1. Fossil Fuel, Natural Gas, Coal
2. Nuclear
3. Wind/Solar/Hydroelectric
4. Fuel Cell, Hydrogen. Biodiesel, Ethanol, Methanol

I am doing #3. So far it is looking like it will be easy to tear down Oil and Nuclear for their pollution and especially oil for it's limited reserves.

Here is my simplified line of attack.

Benefits of my energies:
- Hydroeletric Power is the largest source of renewable energy in extistence today. It is 1/5 of the world's power, some countries (Norway) rely almost entirely on it.

- Oil is on the way out. A new energy source is going to have to fill the gap left by it, and do we really want it to be nuclear energy? Solar Panels can pay for themselves over time, and consistently becoming more viable alternatives for energy. There are still many oppurtunities to increase our Hydroelectric productivity.

- My energies are #1 for abundance. Hydroelectric power is basically infinite. 10 weeks of solar power energy are equivalent to all the known reserves of oil and gas on the planet!

- My energies are the cleanest of all. If we replaced the hydroelectric energy of the U.S. with oil energy, it would be the equivalent to adding 62.2 million cars on the road.

Expected Attacks
1. But Hydroelectric dams trap sediment and erode river beds. They make coastlines recede and slows rivers to a trickle, and are overall devastating to an ecosystem!
- Dams don't harm ecosystems, they change them. They create resevoirs supporting millions of fish, and increase the biodiversity of the area. Runoff streams provide added benefit to the local ecosystem. Turbines of hydro dams increase the level of oxygen in the water, giving the fish more to breath. It depends on which side you want to focus on.

2. Solar power is too expensive to be a viable alternate energy.
- Thousands of people around the country use solar panels already. Solar panels last for 20 years, and pay for themselves in the money saved by generating your own energy. Solar panels can often be cheaper than building a power plant and developing a power grid in a new area. As resources decline, the cost of oil can only go up, and as solar power continues to be accepted, the prices will continue to drop.

3. Hydropower turbines kill fish.
It's true, some fish die in hydropower turbines, but of the fish that actually somehow get into the turbine, 80-95% of them leave unharmed. Some turbines are slowed to make them less dangerous. And new technology is being developed to improve them even further.

So far that's where I am, and as you can see, I haven't touched fuel cells and the like with a 40 foot pole. How can I beat fuel cells? And also, if there is a flaw in my argument, or you have another strong point against it, PLEASE point it out!! All help is GREATLEY GREATLEY appreciated!!!
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Unread postby Licho » Sun 21 Nov 2004, 09:39:44

Any fossil fuels (oil, nat. gas, coal) increase CO2 levels in atmosphere and cause global warming, which is probably th biggest threat next generations are going to face.. This makes them very unattractive..

Fuel cells/hydrogen, are not energy sources. It's just energy carrier, they cannot compete with renewable power sources, because they are not power sources..
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Unread postby abben » Sun 21 Nov 2004, 11:10:00

Very much appreciated. One of the subjects I was thinking of bringing up was Hydrogen production and all the problems with making it real. For example:

- Hydrogen is a 'bulky' gas- it takes a greater volume of it to get the same amount of energy you'd get from less gasoline, giving you the problem of bulkier fuel tanks.

- Hydrogen is easier to ignite than gas. Greater chance of fire involved in automobile accidents, chance of increasing deaths in accidents. (Scare tactic but it might help me out.)

- Will require tons of electricity to produce the Hydrogen, if we do it through electrolysis.

Are these good? What I was hoping for was that someone who knows a lot more about the subject than I do could find some major points that could help my argument or some major things I have left out.
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Unread postby Licho » Sun 21 Nov 2004, 12:55:14

There are generally 2 ways to create hydrogen - either using electrolysis or from methane (=natural gas). Almost all "cheap" hydrogen nowadays comes from methane. It's produced by steam reforming of methane. So it's just a way to transform energy contained in natural gas to hydrogen (with high losses). Energy-wise it's much better to use natural gas directly.

Same goes with electrolytic production of hydrogen.

If you consider electric powered train/tram, losses of electrical energy are only about 10-20%, 80-90% is finally converted to useable work. But if you have car with fuel cells, more than 50% of original electric energy is lost (due to losses in creation of hydrogen and further losses in fuel cells which convert it back to electricity). Hydrogen is just ecological, yet very expensive way to tranfer energy ..
Think about hydrogen like about any other energy source (nuclear, fossil) with the extra possibility of convenient way to transport and store energy at the price of 50% losses. If someone speaks about hydrogen, ask, how is he going to generate that energy.. If he plans to power all cars in USA with hydrogen, it would require hundreds of new nuclear plants..
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Re: Energy Debate

Unread postby Bytesmiths » Sun 21 Nov 2004, 14:49:23

abben wrote:The four energies categories being debated are:
1. Fossil Fuel, Natural Gas, Coal
2. Nuclear
3. Wind/Solar/Hydroelectric
4. Fuel Cell, Hydrogen. Biodiesel, Ethanol, Methanol

I am doing #3.
Consider another option:

5. a combination of technologies appropriate for their given bio-region.

I'd be especially distressed if #3 were implemented to the exclusion of some of the items in #4, and I don't like some of the groupings, particularly lumping "hydrogen" together with biofuels. Hydrogen is actually more like a transmission medium, like wire or pipelines.

But I guess the teacher made the rules, and you have to follow them.

Perhaps as part of your argument, you can introduce the notion that no single approach will solve the problem.
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Unread postby Devil » Mon 22 Nov 2004, 02:35:30

You seem to be quite sold on hydroelectricity. It is not as great as you pretend.

1. It is not infinite. Many countries have no possible HE resources, such as where I live. One of the largest generators of HE power, Switzerland, which is ideal for the kind of terrain, has had to rely on nuclear, because it is impossible to produce any more for its domestic needs. At this time, nuclear is about 35% of the production capacity and HE 65%. France is in an even worse situation, because a smaller percentage of its land area is suitable for HE: 76% nuclear, 24% HE.

2. It kills. Over the last 50 years an estimated 250,000 deaths have occurred globally, because of dam bursts and similar accidents. If the Three Gorges bursts, an estimated death toll of ~6,000,000 will occur.

3. It reduces crop growth. Valleys flooded upstream from dams are generally the most fertile land. The Three Gorges dam, for example, will have a retention lake of largely good crop-producing land 600 km long, in a country where it is difficult to produce enough food. Furthermore, because the land downstream no longer floods, natural fertilisation by silt deposits has to be replaced by chemical fertilisers, the production of which requires huge oil and energy resources.

4. It is seasonal. The supply of water to fill the dams varies with seasons. There is often too much at some seasons and not enough at others, which causes great difficulties for water management.

5. It is not perpetual. The Alpine HE systems rely on glacier melt-off to fill the dams in summer. The glaciers are disappearing. What then?

6. It is not true that ecosystems are hardly affected. They cause great changes. For example, the Yangtse has much fish which rely on the current for food and cannot live in still waters. Those caught downstream will not be able to pass Three Gorges to spawn. Those caught upstream will die because the character of their habitat will have changed. Millions of people rely on these fish for their protein. What then? River marshes take thousands of years to develop to a stable biosystem with unique species, including migratory birds. Putting 180 m of water on top of them will destroy the wildlife there for ever. Furthermore, the climates round large HE systems undergo changes. For every 50 m² of extra still water surface, you lose 1 tonne of water per day from evaporation on a summer's day.

7. Imagine how much CO2 is released from making and transporting the cement used in the concrete of a large dam: megatonnes. Worse, the silting behind the dam results in anaerobic fermentation of organic matter, releasing huge amounts of methane. Methane is ~35 times worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas causing climate change.

Wind is the only viable renewable technology available today in reasonable quantities, but no grid system can support more than ~20% of its energy coming from variable or intermittent sources. It is therefore necessary to ensure stability from constant generating sources, such as HE, thermal (fossil fuel, nuclear, biomass) etc.

Hydrogen is pie-in-the-sky as a mass energy carrier. Only electrolytic H2 is environmentally acceptable. If the fleet of cars in any country were replaced either with H2 FC or electric cars, the generating capacity of the country and its grid system would need to be doubled or tripled to provide sufficient energy to drive the cars.

I'll grant you that it is specific to the island on which I live, but you may find http://www.cypenv.org/ useful. What I would like to emphasise is that any study on energy, of any sort, must be done holistically. This means that you have to research the impact from the conception through to the decommisioning at the end-of-life, financially, environmentally and humanly, from the cradle to the grave. There is no easy answer.

Good luck with your project. Put a link to it here, when it is finished.
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Unread postby mikela » Mon 22 Nov 2004, 03:32:01

abben wrote:Hydroeletric Power is the largest source of renewable energy in extistence today. It is 1/5 of the world's power, some countries (Norway) rely almost entirely on it.

Yeah, but you can't just add another fifth to the world's power capacity with hydroelectric projects. Small hydro projects may have a furute, but nearly all the favorable sites for big hydro have been developed, both in the U.S. and abroad, and the few remaining opportunities in geological terms are arguably not worth the sacrifice of arable land and displacement of people. The Three Gorges dam on the Yangzi River required the demolition of several cities, resettling some 1.9 million people without compensation for many, and by 2009 will inundate 15,600 hectares of farmland that cannot easily be created elsewhere with irrigation as has been created in the U.S.

abben wrote:3. Hydropower turbines kill fish.

Well, I don't know if it's the turbines themselves that kill the fish or just the big wall that doesn't let them go up or down the river. Dams may be unfairly singled out as causing the decline of salmon in the Pacific Northwest, but they do kill more than their fair share. Here's one assessment:
The Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife officially estimates that all Tribal, commercial and recreational fishing combined accounts for less than 5% of all human-caused immediate salmon mortality within the Columbia River Basin, and that roughly 90% of the remaining mortality is caused by the dams by killing baby salmon migrating downstream or as returning adults.

They're actually removing some albeit smaller dams because it's cheaper than building fish ladders, which don't work that well, anyway.

About the energy categories, hydrogen can be an energy carrier created by natural gas, nuclear, wind, hydro, or the various ocean power options--virtually anywhere you have water and a lot of electrcity that would either be going to waste or is too far from the makets for powerlines to be cost effective.
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Unread postby k_semler » Mon 22 Nov 2004, 14:28:19

LOWER GRANITE DAM MUST STAY!!! SAVE THE DAMS!!! We already fucked up the natural ecosystem when the dams were built, why fuck up the ecosystem that has developed around the reservoir. Also, don't you remembers back in 1994 when they drained the reservoir to 30% of volume? They ended up killing more fish in Wawawai park than were saved by the flushing of the reservoir. About the only good thing that resulted out of this was that I got my net back that I lost 3 years earlier. It was still at the boat landing. I remember how bad those rotting fish stunk, and how far the water level fell. I would never want to see that again.

Living only 8 miles away from Wawawai park, this would have a great effect on me. I want the dam to stay. About as far as I agree, is that they should re-institute the dredging that was suspended 4 years ago, so the barge ways can be cleared out, and put stainless steel netting over the intake to the turbines so fish cannot go in to them. Also, have you ever been in the room where you can watch the fish ladder? In less than 5 minutes, I counted 250 fish passing through the ladder system. That is quite a significant number of survivors.

Also, consider what the removal of the dams would do to the transportation of wheat, barely, lumbar, paper, and other commodities. The rail lines, long since a mainstay of transportation have become rather unused. Only one train a day uses those rails, but the river usually carries 3 barges per day. Considering the amount of tonnage that the barge carries, and the inadequacy of the rail system, it would be a foolish economic move to remove the dams and restore the river to a free flowing state.

As far as I am concerned, to hell with the damn fish. Commerce is more important. I do not want this region to dry up as an agricultural center, and to re-build the rail system that was in use prior to 1972 would require millions of dollars in capitol. Hell, not one train has stopped in colton since the late 60s. If we did not have the river system, how else could we get our grain to market? The roads around here would not be able to cope with thousands of trucks during harvest season without a very significant upgrade which would cost millions of dollars. I live on a gravel road for Christ sakes. How would 25 80,000 trucks be able to transverse this road without severe destruction of the roadway? Keep the dams, they provide more benefit than drawbacks. One ecosystem was already fucked up, lets not fuck up another developing ecosystem as well as our agricultural economy.

SAVE THE DAMS!!!
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Unread postby k_semler » Mon 22 Nov 2004, 14:32:01

^ I meant twenty-five 80,000 pound trucks.^
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Unread postby abben » Mon 22 Nov 2004, 15:45:12

Thanks Devil, for your post, that's exactly what I'm looking for.

Devil wrote:1. It is not infinite.

... At this time, nuclear is about 35% of the production capacity and HE 65%. France is in an even worse situation, because a smaller percentage of its land area is suitable for HE: 76% nuclear, 24% HE.

Good point. But there is still room for expansion.

Here's a quote from the National Hydropower Association website: "there are 29,780 MW of hydro generation-most of which can be developed without the construction of a single, new dam." http://www.hydro.org/hydrofacts/facts.asp

That would allow for a 31% increase in hydropower production in the US, without building more dams. The same site also says that 4,316 MW of power can be added by increased capacity and efficiency at existing dams, for a total 36% increase in power. (Anyone know what the prospects of increasing hydroelectric production around the world are?)

It's capacity at any given time is not infinite, true. But the timeline for how long into the future this energy will exist for us to harvest, that is. It is not finite like oil or coal.

But overall, I still have the problem of capacity that won't be able to rise to that of Nuclear or Coal in the U.S., and so its not going to have as big a part in the future as I make it seem like it will. At this point I think my best move is to emphasize the necessary expansion of solar and wind power in the U.S., because those are my energies also.

2. It kills. Over the last 50 years an estimated 250,000 deaths have occurred globally...

Not only that, but in one incident in 1975, 62 dams broke in China drowning 230,000 (which makes me think your 250,000 number is low.) This is a serious problem. But if there are figures which can somehow compare the damage done by coal, oil, and nuclear power to the environment and directly to deaths of people, HE energy will quickly look prettier.

3. It reduces crop growth.

China also has energy problems, and the Three Gorges dam will be the equivalent to adding 15 nuclear plants to the country, so its not without its economic benefit. The Yangtze River has always been unpredictable, and besides fertilizing crops, it has drowned millions. Providing that the dam does not burst, it may save more lives than it harms. But that's still without getting to all the villages that will have to be displaced, and entire towns becoming submerged. The best I can offer here, is to compare the damage to the equivalent produced by a coal or gas plant. They are about 40% less efficient than HE dams and I would guess that they release way more CO2.

4. It is seasonal.

One of the great things about hydroelectric dams are their flexibility for capacity. They can adjust the water flow into the dams. To again quote from the National Hydropower Association: "Hydropower's operational flexibility - its unique ability to change output quickly - is highly valued, and will become even more so in a competitive market. Its unique voltage control, load-following and peaking capabilities help maintain the stability of the electric grid ensuring economic growth and a high quality of life."

5. It is not perpetual. The Alpine HE systems rely on glacier melt-off to fill the dams in summer. The glaciers are disappearing. What then?

Didn't know that. But MOST hydroelectric energy is renewable, and runs off of flowing rivers which replenish regularly using the water cycle.

6. It is not true that ecosystems are hardly affected. They cause great changes.

Definitley true. But at the same time, the resevoirs created have been used as wildlife preserves, and runoff streams and the like have improved the biodiversity in the area behind the dam. But there is still no avoiding the fact that damage is done. The Aswan Dam on the Nile river has resulted in coastal erosion of 10-15 meters per year.

I agree that I will have to concede on HE's shortcomings, but I still have to take special care to defend the benefits of it as well, because the other groups surely aren't going to do that.

Again, thanks Devil.
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Unread postby abben » Mon 22 Nov 2004, 15:59:55

Oh, and does anyone have any figures for how much a completley off the grid solar system would cost, for someone using 866 Kw/H a month, living in New England? Because that would be awesome.
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Unread postby small_steps » Mon 22 Nov 2004, 23:08:37

abben wrote:Oh, and does anyone have any figures for how much a completley off the grid solar system would cost, for someone using 866 Kw/H a month, living in New England? Because that would be awesome.


866 kW-hr/ month?

How? What are you growing in this household :)

This is where you learn how difficult is it to produce an obscene amount of electric power with a reliable off-grid system, and how wasteful the current home really is.

Change habits, replace old inefficient appliances, and see how much your usage changes, realize how little you have to change your lifestyle to save significant energy, then take a look at how much powering your abode with renewables costs, and compare that to how much it would cost to live at current levels of consumption powered by renewables.

Gain a respect for the current system, and realize how difficult it will become to replace fossil sources with non-fossil sources.

Get an idea of how the various sources compare to each other, and get some perspective on how little doubling of any of your topics relates to the total energy mix. figure out how much growth in wind (your best topic option for growth) it would take to overcome any decline of x% in any of the fossil sources.

Be honest about the numbers, don't try to skew them, make everyone realize how difficult it is to increase the absolute supply, while you may focus on oil, don't forget natural gas, and even coal for fossil supplies. LNG has serious problem with conversion losses, and even our (assuming you live in US) 250 year supply of coal (at present rate of consumption) looks quite small when you factor in the rate of growth of consumption of this resource.

While you may be looking at the short term "victory" in this class project, when you gain knowledge and respect of the system, and what everyone is up against (not to mention your future offspring) you will come out much furthur head than you may possibly realize.
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Unread postby Bytesmiths » Mon 22 Nov 2004, 23:44:15

abben wrote:Oh, and does anyone have any figures for how much a completley off the grid solar system would cost, for someone using 866 Kw/H a month, living in New England? Because that would be awesome.
First task: cut that by 75%.

The <b>real</b> question should be, "How much will it cost to enjoy a comfortable standard of living off-grid?" Then you start adding up things you <b>need,</b> and shedding things you don't.

See that VCR sitting there, blinking "12:00, 12:00, 12:00..." It could be using upward of 7kwh a month, just sitting there reminding you that you lost the manual and have no idea how to set the clock! :-)

Your house is <b>full</b> of these "phantom loads." Do you leave your computer on? "Yea, but it goes to sleep after a while." Did you know that Energy Star specifications say a computer that is asleep can use as much energy as an incandescent light bulb? There goes another 33kwh/month or so!

A VCR here, a computer there... pretty soon, you're talking real energy!

Most people who spend their own money on PV systems put all their phantom loads on outlet strips, and switch them HARD OFF when not in use.
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Unread postby Devil » Tue 23 Nov 2004, 04:31:40

abben wrote:
2. It kills. Over the last 50 years an estimated 250,000 deaths have occurred globally...

Not only that, but in one incident in 1975, 62 dams broke in China drowning 230,000 (which makes me think your 250,000 number is low.) This is a serious problem. But if there are figures which can somehow compare the damage done by coal, oil, and nuclear power to the environment and directly to deaths of people, HE energy will quickly look prettier.


The 62 dams story has not been substantiated, nor the 230,000. I've seen various figures down to 75,000 deaths. It is unlikely we will ever know the real story. All we can say is that there were a large number of deaths.

Coal has certainly killed as many, if not more, if you count miners and the effects of pollution. Oil, purely for electricity generation, is safer but still produces dangerous pollution as HFO is not desulfurised, so certainly causes many deaths, impossible to number. If you count in the pollution from burning other oil products (transport, heating etc.), the detah rate must be in the millions. Only lately, I saw that ¾ of the population of New Delhi has lung problems with over 1,000,000 with potentially fatal diseases, due entirely to cheap diesel fuel and poorly maintained vehicles. Multiply that by the number of other cities in a similar state of pollution (e.g., Bangkok, Mexico City, Cairo, Chongqing, etc., etc., etc.) and what do you have? Strangely, the safest method of thermal electricity generation is nuclear. OK, we think of Chernobyl which may (unsubstantiated) have caused 10,000 deaths worldwide, but this is nothing compared to other thermal methods. I suppose the real measure is the global number of TWh generated per death and I'm sure nuclear would come out tops, even counting Chernobyl, which must be an exceptional event. If you discount Chernobyl as being a one-off, world-wide deaths from the civil use of nuclear are possibly a few hundred and most of those would be in mining the uranium ore. This is why I'm convinced that nuclear is the way to go in the short term. 76% of France's production of electricity and that is a large country and it has an excellent safety record.
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Unread postby abben » Tue 23 Nov 2004, 08:28:50

small_steps wrote:866 kW-hr/ month?


Sorry about that. That was the national average in 1999, but our consumption levels are still rediculous, and changing our energy without chaning our consumption is not the answer.
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Unread postby abben » Tue 23 Nov 2004, 08:45:19

small_steps wrote:While you may be looking at the short term "victory" in this class project, when you gain knowledge and respect of the system, and what everyone is up against (not to mention your future offspring) you will come out much furthur head than you may possibly realize.


Thanks, I appreciate the advice, and its definatley something I should do.
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PO debate continuing - currencies and reserves discussed

Unread postby Graeme » Thu 24 Mar 2005, 22:51:08

I thought you all would be interested to read this!!!

http://www.counterpunch.org/mazur03242005.html

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Unread postby maverickdoc » Thu 24 Mar 2005, 22:56:40

good post
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Unread postby MarkL » Thu 24 Mar 2005, 23:10:25

..
Last edited by MarkL on Sat 25 Aug 2007, 13:55:36, edited 2 times in total.
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Unread postby Ebyss » Thu 24 Mar 2005, 23:28:14

Very interesting. I'm not going to lie and pretend I understood everything. Lynch did make it sound all ok, he gave me the impression that "They know something we don't" about oil reserves. I'd love to hear the opinion of some of the more well versed forum members.
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