Sir David MacKay 1967 – 2016

Sir David MacKay passed away this week. He made great contributions regarding climate change and energy.

He had much respect for math, science, engineering and the laws of physics, chemistry and thermodynamics. We would all do well, for the sake of the future of this planet and all its occupants, to hold as much respect for these as Dr. MacKay did. He also had a solid understanding, to say the least, of all of these.

His eminent book “Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air” should be required reading for anyone having influence or creating energy and climate change policies. (Some consider “Sustainable Materials With Both Eyes Open” a companion book).

Dr. MacKay also played a critical role in developing the Global Calculator “The Global Calculator is a flexible tool that allows you to explore thousands of options to help you gain your own insights into the world’s energy, land, food and climate systems”.

Dr. MacKay did a TED Talk entitled “A Reality Check on Renewables“.

Bill Gates wrote “Remembering David MacKay

I’m sure there are several other publications, blog posts, lectures, etc well worth the time to explore. I’ll include one more, from the University of Oxford and “The Secrets of Mathematics” series, a lecture entitled “Why Climate Change Action is Difficult and How We Can Make A Difference“. Sir David MacKay’s good friend, Mark Lynas, wrote a touching piece “What David MacKay taught me, and taught us all” and also conducted his last interview.

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Sir David MacKay 1967 2016



On Replacing Coal and Nuclear plants in USA

Mark Jacobson (senior fellow Stanford University Precourt Institute for Energy and author of “The Solutions Project“, 100% renewable energy by 2050) claimed nuclear is being replaced by wind and solar, OnPoint podcast of December 3, 2015 (start listening at the 40:30  mark). He is likely referring to nameplate capacity, but not actual energy produced. When reviewing the USA’s Energy Information Administration stats and comparing electricity production for the entire years of 2014 and 2015, it is clear that when coal and nuclear are shut down, their production is replaced almost entirely by natural gas, which Josh Freed stated in that same podcast (39 minute mark).

This piece points out that wind and solar grew 20,659 MWh from the entire year of 2014 to the entire year of 2015. It does not mention that natural gas grew by 208,459 MWh during that same time period (although one can see that when viewing the graphics within the article).

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Mark Jacobson and Stanford U’s Precourt Institute for Energy

Mark Jacobson is the main author of “The Solutions Project”. It is a plan for all global energy to be produced from wind, water and solar by 2050 (no fossil fuels, no nuclear). The “Leap Manifesto” is based on his work.

Jacobson is a Senior Fellow of Stanford University’s Precourt Instiitute for Energy.

The Precourt Institute for Energy plays a major role in Stanford University’s “Natural Gas Initiative” . Information about Jay A. Precourt, who has an extensive background in the oil and gas industry at a senior executive level, is available here, here and here.

The co-chairs of Stanford University’s Precourt Institute for Energy support a mix of solutions, including nuclear (here).

It is puzzling to me that Stanford University’s Precourt Institute for Energy plays a major role in the university’s “Natural Gas Initiative” when they have Mark Jacobson’s “The Solutions Project” right there in front of them.

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Winning the War on Fossil Fuels (and Two Provinces Compared)

Coal is the top source of electricity generation around the world and it is set to grow. From a climate change perspective, this is obviously not good. Experts believe that coal should be the top priority as the fossil fuel to phase out.

In Ontario, it is prohibited to generate electricity via burning coal. In 2000, Ontario’s electricity generation mix was the following: nuclear 37%, coal/oil 29%, hydro 26%, natural gas 7% and renewables 1%. In 2015, the generation mix was Nuclear 60%, hydro 24%, gas/oil 10%, wind 6%, with biofuel and solar making up the rest. However, this has presented series financial issues, namely nuclear refurbishment and current grid operations. The Ontario electricity grid currently emits well under 100 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour (CO2g-e/kwh). This is also sometimes referred to as carbon intensity per kilowatt-hour (CIPK).

The USA’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory provides CIPK for electricity sources. Hydro, nuclear, wind and solar are near zero, geothermal 25-57, natural gas 450-670 and coal 980.

Alberta plans to stop generating electricity from burning coal by 2030. Electricity generation is scheduled to be a mix of 30% renewable energy and 70% natural gas. In 2030, Alberta CIPK will be about 400.

The following are some 2014 CIPK global statistics (source: International Energy Agency): Canada 151, Sweden 12, France 69, Denmark 257, Germany, UK and USA 475+, Japan 551, China 734, India 926. Various live electricity grids throughout the world can be viewed here. The IEA provides detailed monthly reports of OECD countries electricity generation mix (Note: The IEA categorizes biomass as a “combustible fuel”, along with fossil fuels. Others label biomass as “renewable energy”. Some forms of biomass, which is essentially wood burning, can be worse for the climate than coal) .

Japan spent 60% more for fossil fuel imports in 2013 compared to 2010, an increase of $270 billion over three years. This reversed Japan’s trade surplus…” This situation in Japan was of course the result of the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown. Fukushima raises concerns, RationalWiki has a post “FAQ on radioactivity and nuclear technology”. Germany has spent approx 200 billion euros since 2000 to deploy renewable energy and decommission nuclear power. This has had minimal impact on CO2 emissions and fossil fuel use for generating electricity. Also of note is that residential electricity rates in Germany are almost twice as much as those in France. In California, 60% of in-state electricity is generated by burning natural gas, 33% of their electricity consumption is supplied by imports. The United Kingdom is converting some coal plants to biomass, which aids in achieving renewable energy targets (Nova Scotia has also used biomass to assist in reaching renewable energy targets).

This post focuses only on electricity generation (about 20% of global energy consumption) and does not discuss transportation, agricultural, industrial, residential and commercial energy use (almost exclusively fossil fuel generated), making the war on fossil fuels all the more daunting. All clean energy sources have their challenges. The following is a list of some organizations that support an “all of the above” approach to clean energy deployment: United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, USA Department of Energy, USA’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, International Energy Agency and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. If climate change is of the utmost urgency, and rapid reduction of CO2 emissions and fossil fuel use is required, then all clean energy sources must be promoted, supported and given serious consideration.

“The Solutions Project” or…..?

The following organizations and countries support renewable and nuclear energy:

United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (here)

Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (here)

USA Department of Energy (here) and (here) (November 2016 – United States Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization) (January 2017 – second installment Quadrennial Energy Review)

USA Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz September 2016 “The Future of Nuclear Power

USA National Renewable Energy Laboratory (here)

International Energy Agency (IEA) (here)

The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (here)

International Electrotechnical Commission (here)

Mission Innovation (here)

Breakthrough Energy Coalition (here)

American Association for the Advancement of Science AAAS (here)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (here)

Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs – Center on Global Energy Policy (here)

University California – Berkeley (here)

Cornell University’s Alliance for Science (here)

Princeton University’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative (here)

Kleinman Center for Energy Policy (University of Pennsylvania) (here)

Waterloo (university, Canada) Global Science Initiative “Energy 2030 Blueprint” (here)

Brookings Institution (here and here)

Clean Air Task Force (here)

Energy Innovation Reform Project (here)

Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (here)

National Grid (electricity grid operator in United Kingdom, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island) (here)

Sense About Science (here)

Ontario (Canada) Society of Professional Engineers (here)

Asthma Society of Canada (here) “The Asthma Society of Canada advocating for the relicensing of two nuclear reactors in Canada. Succinct (10 minutes) and well stated. It does a good job drawing a clear link between the continued operation of nuclear power plants and avoided air pollution from fossil-fueled power plants.”

United Kingdom’s Energy Research Partnership (here)

75 conservation scientists throughout the world (here)

Holy See, Roman Catholic Church (from 14 Sept. 2015, after the release of “Laudato Si” here)

Dalai Lama (here)

Third Way, in this 4 minute video, explains why “We Need A Mix

Canada (here)

China (here), China Sets Out Nuclear Plans for 2017 , China Canada joint venture on reactor that reuses used fuel from light water reactors

India (here) (In June 2016, India ordered six 1.1 gigawatt Westinghouse nuclear power plants from USA) May 2017 “Cabinet approves construction of 10 units of India’s indigenous Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWR)

United Arab Emirates (here)

South Africa (here)

Sweden (here) and “How to Decarbonize? Look to Sweden

Finland (here)

Switzerland (here)

France (here)

French Academy of Sciences “Nuclear energy is objectively the most effective way to reduce the share of fossil fuels in the production of electrical energy

The following is a list compiled by Ben Heard of prominent individuals who support and promote nuclear energy, be they climate scientists, former anti-nuke environmentalists, philanthropists, etc . Another list is “11 People More Excited About Nuclear Energy Than You“.

Stanford University’s Precourt Institute for Energy (here) (of which Mark Jacobson is a senior fellow and whose work The Solutions Project uses to justify their 100% renewable energy plan

(Interesting note, Stanford University chose not to divest from oil and gas)

stanford not to divest

It is important to note that Mark Jacobson is a civil engineer and not an electrical engineer. Therefore it is critical to review posts by experts in electrical engineering and have extensive experience in this field, such as Willem Post and Timothy Maloney.

The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers have made presentations available to educate the public with regards to power, energy, electricity grids, etc.

David Gattie, engineering professor at University of Georgia, writes “Nuclear vs 100% Renewable Energy: An Unnecessary Battle

Why would one be in favour of the renewables-only “The Solutions Project” instead of these other organizations and countries that support more broad-based solutions (according to the IEA “Nuclear power is the largest source of low-carbon electricity in OECD countries and second at global level”)?

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Base load Electricity

Base load electricity, as defined by Open Energy Information is “The minimum amount of electric power delivered or required over a given period at a constant rate” (This statement is from North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) glossary of terms). Open Energy Information also adds “Base load requirement (also baseload) is the minimum level of demand on an electrical supply system over 24 hours. Base load power sources are those plants which can generate dependable power to consistently meet demand. They are the foundation of a sound electrical system.” Electricity grid operators of course recognize the importance of base load electricity generation, for example, search “baseload” here, a glossary via New England Independent System Operator. A straightforward explanation of base load, along with peak load, generation is explained here. Base load (and other electricity grid operation terms) is also clearly defined here.

We have seen base load electricity described by National Resources Defense Council  “The idea of baseload itself is obsolete.” . It has also been described as a “myth” and “a myth used to defend the fossil fuel industry“. Michael Liebreich, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, has referred to it as “so 20th C(entury)!”

lieb baseload

Some examples of systems or appliances that require reliable, around-the-clock, on-demand electricity are hospitals, refrigerators, water pumping and purification, sewage treatment, street lights, electric fans in furnaces, air conditioning, Internet, computer data centres, police and fire departments, air traffic control, 7x24x365 industry, animal farms etc.

Generally speaking, modern societies use the least amount of electricity at about 3am and the most when arriving home from work and/or school (exception would be another usage peak in summer for air conditioning in mid afternoon). How much electricity is used at this minimum time (and maximum time)? You can see that for Ontario Canada here, Midcontinent Independent System Operator here New England USA here Texas USA here and California USA here.

What will supply the electricity at this minimum usage time? Some of these (fossil fuels, nuclear, hydro) are described here.

If intermittent renewable energy is to play a role in supplying electricity at this minimum usage time, then storage is critical. Far and away, pumped hydro storage is the dominant form of electricity storage today (approximately 97%), as per the International Energy Agency. Scotland closed its largest coal plant March 2016 and this will present challenges for grid stability. Pumped hydro storage could assist, but its limitations (for example, hilly terrain) are described for the UK grid here. It is unclear to me how much electricity is supplied globally by storage, but it is not even mentioned here, so I would speculate well under 1%. A detailed examination of electricity storage is here. The International Energy Agency wrote a short post regarding storage.

In summary, as global population grows, struggles to climb out of poverty, becomes more urbanized and lives more densely, it is my opinion that base load electricity generation sources will be critical to modern societies for the foreseeable future.

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