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Christy Crock #7: Expensive and inaccessible (Part 2)

Posted on 11 August 2011 by Sarah

Cheap and Accessible

Christy Crocks (200 x 70 pixels)

Improving energy efficiency and advancing to new energy sources will make energy cheaper and more accessible to those who lack electricity. Serious studies contradict John Christy's repeated assertions that preventing climate disaster will make energy "expensive and inaccessible".  We can decrease emissions both by increasing efficiency and converting to renewable sources of energy. Neither of these increase costs or decrease access.

Increasing efficiency makes energy less, not more, expensive. If you spill half of every bottle of beer you buy, then you are not consuming it efficiently.

If you can improve your pouring technique to avoid spillage then you will spend less, not more, on that liquid fuel.  And spilling beer makes a mess, further increasing the cost of inefficiency (which someone else might have to pay if you don't take responsibility for your own beer plume).

splashing beer

Likewise, the amount of energy contained in a barrel of oil can be used more or less efficiently. In fact, global energy efficiency over the last 100 years has improved because we have learned better ways to extract useful work from a gallon of gas or a kW-hr of electricity (Lewis and Nocera, 2006). An example of improved energy intensity is the modern LED light bulb, which uses 75% less energy than old incandescent bulbs to produce the same light output. Similarly, an electric car goes about 5 times further per unit of energy than one with an internal combustion engine, which was itself a big improvement on combustion/steam-powered vehicles. According to Jacobson and Delucchi, converting from fossil fuels to electric power from renewable sources would reduce the world's power demand by 30% simply because electric power is more efficient than combustion engines.

Energy efficiency saves money as well as energy.

Christy's argument that reducing emissions will make energy expensive and inaccessible also assumes that all energy comes from fossil fuels through central distribution. In fact, we are entirely capable of harvesting and distributing energy from renewable sources that produce little or no CO2.

Several recent analyses have shown how projected global energy needs in the year 2030 can be met entirely with carbon-neutral sources (Jacobson and Delucchi, 2011). A recent UN report, while more conservative, found that a conversion to nearly 80% renewable sources by 2050 is possible. These projections do not depend on unproven, futuristic technologies, but can and should be implemented immediately. 

Far from decreasing access to energy, as Christy claims, the UN report states (emphasis added):

"Renewable energy (RE) can help accelerate access to energy, particularly for the 1.4 billion people without access to electricity and the additional 1.3 billion using traditional biomass.  Basic levels of access to modern energy services can provide significant benefits to a community or household. In many developing countries, decentralized grids based on RE and the inclusion of RE in centralized energy grids have expanded and improved energy access. In addition, non-electrical RE technologies also offer opportunities for modernization of energy services, for example, using solar energy for water heating and crop drying, biofuels for transportation, biogas and modern biomass for heating, cooling, cooking and lighting, and wind for water pumping."

Renewable energy provides at least 2.3 million jobs and investments in green energy continue to drive economic progress (IPCC, 2011). Green energy can provide jobs both in the US and in developing countries. Many countries, including China, India, and Nepal, have invested in renewable energy projects for job creation and economic development, as well as to expand their local energy resources. For example, in India an estimated 150,000 workers are employed in a project to convert 9 million small inefficient biomass stoves to new technology (UNEP, 2008). In Mozambique, Jason Morenikeji's Clean Energy Company employs local people to design, manufacture and install small scale wind turbines providing both jobs and inexpensive energy. William Kamkwamba is bringing both jobs and locally built wind power to his home in Malawi. An analysis of 13 separate studies concluded that renewable energy generates more jobs than dirty fossil-fuel based energy development. See also

Furthermore, the dependence of many developing countries on imported fuels means that access to energy, especially for poor households, is controlled by price fluctuations on the world market and an underdeveloped centralized infrastructure. Why should a African country pay to import and distribute dirty fuels requiring massive expensive infrastructure when abundant solar or wind energy is available right where it's needed? And who pays the true price for coal power?

Christy has it backwards: conversion to efficient renewable energy sources will make energy cheaper and more accessible.

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Comments 1 to 4:

  1. Most analysis misses a few subtle points: 1) How is current society shaped by a monopoly provider of electricity and gas to each home (as opposed to each building providing its own energy)? 2. How are we shaped by using fossil fuels? Simple example: most people set the thermostat lower in winter to save money (energy). Renewable energy customers, to get the most efficiency out of their systems, spend most of the winter with a HIGHER thermostat setting. Buildings designed to not need heat/AC are even more comfortable yet. 3. How much of money does the average person spend, over their lifetimes, on fossil fuel? Renewables are always cheaper when you look at "lifecycle" costs (and I mean this in both ways here).
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  2. Energy efficiency can be revealed in part by a nations carbon footprint per capita, at least while fossil fuels still dominate. The US carbon per capita is much higher than other countries, with the exception of the middle east. This is also obvious visually as well in that American vehicles have always been bigger, homes less insulated, obesity on the rise, buildings spread out more etc. Some of this is due to cheap resources, make things cheaper and there is no incentive to be more efficient. Also, when considering fossil fuels, every bit of inefficient use means the energy wasted is literally lost for ever. If you drive a car that consumes 3 times more fuel than other cars, to travel from A to B, that energy is lost forever when it could have helped other people to travel from A to B, or used to do more journeys from A to B. Even if you don't like renewables, your making things even worse for future generations by driving gas guzzlers, by denying them (some of whom will be your offspring) what you had. It is quite bizarre to oppose renewables and use fossil fuels inefficiently. You can't really be more irresponsible by doing both.
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  3. Energy does not get lost. Old term for unusable energy is more appropriated: Anergy. And that can be catch by processes like ORC nowadays. Any truly RE source (that is, the device could be made with the help of RE generated energy and is fed by a replenishable source or very long term source like a sun) might be inefficient in its first instantiation: it is not going to harm anything except some (man-made) economical systems.
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  4. This thread makes some good points but it is time to stop quoting Jacobson and Delucchi as an authoritative source. They have been fairly strongly debunked by a source who could hardly be called climate change deniers (indeed the opposite). Having said that clearly energy efficiencies are part of the answer and we should pursue them with vigour, along with reduction in consumption as much as we can in the profligate west. I do like the points about distributed power and Solar PV. I believe the cost per KWh is becoming more and more attractive - particularly when we realise that we really need only compare the cost of production (on the rooftop) NOT with the cost of production from a large power station but with the delivered cost from a centralised source. Given that transmission and distribution costs can be almost half of the delivered cost this is a significant factor. I do wonder if we can help the world's poor (who lack access to a proper grid) to go the de-centralised track and (for example) have lots of local Solar PV. Of course this won't work everywhere but superficially one might suspect it would be a great approach for large parts of the poor regions in sub-Saharan Africa? Perhaps the authors could expand on the relevant examples they quote of this in a separate thread?
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