Part 1: ..ENERGY (1/2)
Part 2. ..ENERGY (2/2)
Part 3: ..MOBILITY
Part 4: ..BUILDINGS
Part 5: ..FOOD
Part 6: ..INDUSTRY
Part 7: ..FINANCE
Part 8: ..SMART ECONOMY
Part 9: ..CIRCULAR ECONOMY
Part 10: PROSUMERS & SOCIAL MODEL
Part 11: EXPLORING ECONOMIC BENEFITS
Part 12: My conclusion
The Third Industrial Revolution report for Luxembourg by Jeremy Rifkin’s company TIR LLC has been released. Two official versions are available online:
- a shorter “summary” of 140 pages (link)
- the complete report of 475 pages (link) and
- the complete report with my own ongoing comments (link), mostly highlightings and sticky notes.
After starting to read the shorter version, I switched to the full mounty; the common text is practically the same. This is a huge report, so my comments are an ongoing work, planned to extend over a still unknown number of parts. This is part 1, the beginning, with some general remarks and comments concerning the energy problems.
1. An overall impression
The report is easy to read and understand: the graphical layout is no-frills and unobtrusive (some inserted pictures are a bit fuzzy), English language is clear, and logical reasoning is easy to follow (but may not always be correct!). There is hodgepodge of fashionable words, like smart, green and ambitious; the latter should be banned from serious reports, as this word has become synonymous to utopian, impossible or unreachable.
At the core of the report lies the energy question, and this rightly so. If I would summarize and simplify the implicit goal of the report, I would say this: replace a simple, relatively easy, secure and proven power system by an “energy cloud” which is an extremely complicated, convoluted and vulnerable construct. This is best shown by the next picture (screenshot from the PDF, fuzziness is in original): left the actual energy structure, right the proposed new construct.
I remember a time where a good engineer had the motto KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid); now the fashionable to-do seems to be ACAP (As Complicated As Possible). The reason for this complexity is to save the world from an impending climate catastrophe mainly caused by CO2 emissions. If this assumption of the nefariousness of CO2 emissions would be false, the major part of the report could be put into the dustbin. I say “the major part”, because there remain many aspects which are interesting to discuss and which remain valid even if the “climate consensus” would break away.
So I suggest you take the time to read the full report; do not be fooled by a slick text, but try to reflect on the content below the buzz-words.
2. Energy: interesting stuff and naivety
2.1. Luxembourg on renewables.
In 2013 Luxembourg’s energy consumption was 6.8 TWh for electricity and 12.4 TWh for heat and cold. The report suggests that the technical renewable inland sources (RES) could deliver 14.4 TWh for electricity and 20.7 TWh for heat/cold in 2050. The potential of solar PV is taken as 7.9 TWh and that of wind 5.7 TWh; for heat and cold solar thermal is assumed capable of 14.6 TWh, a really huge potential. It is extremely interesting to see that solar thermal is not loved by the greens, which are interested only in PV and the associated feed-in payments. I remember that a few years ago Minister Etienne Schneider wanted to push up solar thermal and slow the PV feed-in tariffs, but had to step back against the infuriated PV lobby.
Now solar PV and wind are intermittent sources; if they are the only ones delivering electricity, the indispensable electrical storage capacity would be enormous. 15 TWh would only be sufficient to bridge a wind still night, but not a full week of grey clouded sky and poor wind. At meteoLCD we measure approximately a yearly solar energy of 1100 kWh/m2 on an horizontal surface. With an assumed PV efficiency of 20%, 7.9 TWh would correspond to a total solar panel surface of about 35 km2. The same calculation gives a solar thermal surface of 22 km2, assuming a very generous 50% efficiency. So both renewable sources demand 77 km2 surface, nearly 1/30 of total Luxembourg.
This back of the envelope calculation is moot, as it is not the total energy delivered that counts, but the availability at every moment. So in energy questions, reasoning exclusively with integrals is more or less silly; what matters is the instantaneous available power.
The same silliness can be found at page 15, where the report says “the sun and wind are free“. This is blatantly false, as shown again and again by many papers calculating the levelized costs of electricity generation. As an example this EIA report gives the following costs (without tax credits) in US$/MWh for plants entering service in 2018:
Natural Gas Conventional Combined Cycle: 50.1
Wind on-shore: 58.3
Solar PV: 80.8
Solar Thermal: 220.3
Making such an obvious false statement casts a serious shadow on the competence of the writers of the report.
2.2. Electricity storage
The report acknowledges the importance of a large storage capacity, but seems to suggest that this a technological problem that will be solved in the relative short time span up to 250. Now we have more than 140 years of research on electricity storage, and the capacity of the best batteries is still lower by a factor 10 of the same weight of petrol or gas. There has been undeniable progress using more exotic and rare elements as lithium, but one shudders imaging the whole world jumping on the few lithium resources for its electricity storage. Now a completely new, revolutionary technology could show up, and more exotic substances like graphene look promising. Every few months a new laboratory finds a better battery system, but most are never commercialized for reasons of cost, stability and security.
Power to gas is a buzzword also showing up in the report: the authors repeat the well trodden-down suggestion to transform excess electricity into methane (power to gas) or hydrogen. The first transformation creates a CO2 emitter and negates the aim of carbon-free renewables. The second might be more promising, but I pull my hair in reading that the authors suggest storing methane and hydrogen in underground cavities. For methane, this is an old hat (a slightly leaking one!), but suggesting at page 31 underground storage of hydrogen, a gas that is devilishly difficult to store in metallic or fiberglass-woven containers, is an idiocy.
2.3. The Luxembourg Vision
A group of “experts” has developed a future where all energy needs in 2050 are delivered by renewables. Nuclear is the big absentee in this report. I am not sure if this is due to Rifkin’s personal agenda (the US climate-alarmists usually are friendly to carbon-free nuclear electricity generation), or has been imposed by the officials who demanded the report. The Luxembourg “experts” all seem anti-nuclear, even ignoring all future capabilities of secure small reactors with no long-lived radioactive spent fuel, and with the possibility of reusing the spent fuel of first and second generation reactors.
The intermittency is the crux of the renewables, so this problem will be solved by the smart grid, or more fashionable the “Energy Internet”. As all cars will be electric, they will be used as a (mandatory?) storage medium, and smart meters will be the local gateways to the Energy Internet and the Internet of Things. Energy usage will be (forcibly?) decreasing, and DM (demand management, a pious word for imposed restrictions) will help to adapt demand to production. As the individual house will also be a producer (the famous prosumer), all this asks for a very complicated net of interdependent actors and devices. The question if there exist a complexity level above which management becomes physically or economically impossible is never asked… but this could well be the case. For the elephant in the room i.e. security, is practically invisible.
We now have more than 40 years experience with connected computer systems, and all security measures until now have been broken. Piling security layer upon security layer creates systems that become unusable and unmanageable. Now the IoT is suggested to launch trillions of connected devices into the Energy Internet. The last months have shown how easy it is to create bot systems by pirating these devices and bringing down by rude DoS very big structures. The IoT will only be possible, if someone invents a feature that makes these intelligent things intrinsically secure, without asking the user to continuously check for updates, password changes etc. Until today, practically all systems have been compromised. An Energy Internet is an open invitation for hackers, crooks or malicious governments to test its vulnerability for extortion, espionage or intelligent warfare.
(continue to part 2)