Monday, January 31, 2011

The World I Want to Live in Within 20 Years

"Based on our findings, there are no technological or economic barriers to converting the entire world to clean, renewable energy sources. It is a question of whether we have the societal and political will."

Mark Z. Jacobson

This is probably one of the most exciting piece of science reporting I've read in recent times, and it starts off with this rhetorical question:

"If someone told you there was a way you could save 2.5 million to 3 million lives a year and simultaneously halt global warming, reduce air and water pollution and develop secure, reliable energy sources – nearly all with existing technology and at costs comparable with what we spend on energy today – why wouldn't you do it?"

Just last month, a couple of researchers from Stanford and UC Davis published a pair of papers asking; can we replace our worldwide energy need using only clean, renewable energy sources? The answer they came up with is yes. Hell yes. They've calculated that in less than 40 years, it is entirely feasible to be completely rid of pollution from the fossil fuels by which we run our vehicles and industries and eliminate all concerns of runaway global warming destroying all life on Earth - all with currently existing tech!

Time to Turn This Blue Bitch Green
That's right, bitch.


Three words: Wind, water, sunlight. To be specific, 50% wind, 40% sun and 10% everything else.

Separately, these different sources of energy have pretty well-recognised disadvantages. Wind and solar power has geographical limitations. As we know, not all places are windy or sunny, and not all windy or sunny places are windy and sunny all the time. Additionally, solar power can only be harvested in daytime. Then, there are environmental concerns and the limited availability of suitable sites for hydroelectric dams, wave farms, tidal power stations and geothermal plants which ultimately resisted their adoption on a massive scale.

The solution is to put the whole kit and caboodle together. If you can integrate the power grid optimally, you can actually offset the variation in the wattage each particular resource contributes. Here is an illustration of the concept,

Wind and Water Combined!
Image stolen from... Bah, too lazy to credit. This is just a freaking blog - not some reputable news site or science journal.

According to Jacobson, coauthor of the papers, wind energy peaks during the night while power peaks during the day (obviously), so the two naturally complements one another. To fill in whatever gaps there is, we can simply pipe in extra energy from hydroelectricity or tidal power to meet demand. This can theoretically power all our homes and industries with little risk of brownouts and blackouts.

Another oft-mentioned obstacle in the adoption of alternative energy sources is storage - how do we store the excess energy we generated from the wind and the sun which we don't immediately need? Using their proposed system, excess energy produced during low-demand time should be diverted to produce hydrogen via water electrolysis which we are going to fuel our awesome future hydrogen cell cars with. And as we all know, they don't fart any exhaust fumes! Only water!

What? Do you think you'll still be driving your same dirty internal combustion engine dinosaurs in 40 years?

Okay, what's the catch?

Virtually none. It is all upsides! We have the tech to do it and our pockets are deep enough to afford it. The cost of making the whole shebang possible is comparable to the price tag of our existing energy model, and we can in fact significantly reduce medical expenditure in treating diseases caused by pollution. Furthermore, the plan itself requires 30% less than the current total world energy demand because it is far more efficient than deriving energy from burning stuff (i.e. oil, coal).

They also calculated how much land the whole installation is going to take. Care to hazard a guess? Whatever it number you came up with, I bet you overestimated it. It's a mere 1% footprint on the face of the earth - mostly to lay solar panels and to space wind turbines, which need to be set far apart to avoid turbulence. But the land between turbines is still totally usable for other purposes like pasture, farming or nudist colonies for those who like a strong breeze blowing at their nips and nads.

So, why isn't this happening right this instant?

You. You are the fucking problem. You and your fucked up governments and asshole politicians.

Recycle Sam Fuck You
I 'shopped Recycle Sam a couple of years ago for a recycling drive poster, and I'm going to use it however many times I want to.

To quote Jacobson, "We really need to just decide collectively that this is the direction we want to head as a society."

That's right. We need to stop swigging from the six pack of apathy and
demand our better world (and yeah, that's a Green Day lyric reference, bitch). It was projected that we'll run out of oil in 50 years and even before that comes around, we can expect oil prices to become prohibitively expensive not too far in the future. An overwhelming proportion of our power right now still comes from fossil fuels. Almost all of our cars still run on petroleum/gasoline, not to mention other transportations like airlines, ships and trains; the production and transportation of our food supplies; our essential use-and-discard sterile medical equipments which are also mostly made out of plastic derived from petroleum and natural gas...

Imagine a world without oil.

Then, there's runaway climate change to worry about as well because when it does happen, it's going to end our sorry terran asses. Honestly, what will it take to get you peeps to give a shit?

Better World for Nothing
The nail of the anthropogenic global warming "controversy" - it was hit on the head.

The final bit of soapboxing.

For the longest time, I was under the impression that restructuring our power systems entirely to green energy entails either technology we don't possess at present, or that there is some sort of insurmountable logistical and economical hurdle we cannot overcome, but Jacobson and Delucchi's little thought experiment clearly demonstrated that my preconceptions are dead wrong. And believe me, I'm honestly glad to be proven wrong.

Now, I don't expect people to willingly accept radical adjustments to their lifestyles to champion a crucial social cause such as the environment - I know it's bloody unrealistic and most people are selfish pricks. As it turns out, no one needs to give up any luxury or comfort to make this work (unless you reeeally like the smell of exhaust from your car's tailpipe).

So, let's fucking start a revolution! Here's the least of the things I think you can do,
  • Pass this science article to as many people as possible. For less scientifically literate folks, you can show them my dumbed-down write-up on this page. Blog or tweet about this. Spread it on Facebook. If you know any anyone in broadcast media such as radio or television or journalists, encourage them to take this cause up. If you know any teachers or lecturers in the field engineering, physics, social sciences, et cetera, ask them if they know that change is possible right now and if they are passing that info on to their students. Awareness is key.
  • Write to your local politicians and tell them that most voters find environmental issues to be the in-thing these days. It should be easy to do; simply point out our national large scale anti-plastic bags movement or the popularity of Earth Hour amongst wannabe hipster environmentalists (who would go on to fuck up the planet the other 8759 hours of the year).
  • Write to our Department of Environment and our Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water (and if you know any insiders, even better) about this study - they have e-mails addresses. DO NOT show them my post here because I'm a potty-mouthed, vitriolic godless activist and no one listens to someone like me no matter how excellent my points are. Use the published papers I had linked to below instead. The science will inform policy-making.
  • If you are part of a non-government environmental organisation regardless of whether it's on a high school, university or national level, bring this up. Get everyone to write individually to the ministries I've mentioned above. Use a template. Volume counts.
  • Tell me if you have any suggestions so I can list them here.

Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part I: Technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure, and materials.
Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part II: Reliability, system and transmission costs, and policies

A YouTube video of Mark Z. Jacobson lecturing on some salient points of his published papers

Mean, green blogging machine,
k0k s3n w4i


Dr.Vishaal Bhat said...

Well written Mate! I have linked to this post of yours on the Manipal Blog. Haven't added much, just posted the first para from yours and linked back! Also have adapted an image from the article.

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What kind of World? Pollution free or Not!!

février said...


I like this. "DO NOT show them my post..."

c3rs3i said...

Society is dictated, quite significantly, by its economy and fundamental to that is capitalism. Unfortunately for mother earth, capitalism, in turn, thrives on scarcity. I don't doubt that every penny will be milked out of carbon-based fuel before we ever see a change to renewable energy.

This article struck me as quite reminiscent of The Zeitgeist Movement although 1 googling minute did nothing to establish a direct link between the two besides Prof Jacobson's research being in support of some of their propositions.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Dr. Vishaal Bhat: thanks! i was a little disappointed (but unsurprised) by the dearth of responses. these sort of posts don't resonate with my readers, but i felt it was my duty to write about this :/

beve: IS THAT SARCASM I CAN'T TELL. And flowers don't work that way =_=

c3rs3i: i find any claims made by the zeitgeist movement to be immediately suspect. in many ways, they are sensationalistic and have little respect for factual integrity. as someone who tries to be as exhaustive as possible in checking my facts, i cannot respect intellectual sloppiness.