Wednesday, 9 September 2009



[see also:  SUSTAINABILITY - A PRIMER, at ]

"Quousque tandem abutere patientia nostra"
[1], all ye troglodytes and inventors of counterproductive taxes and accountancy schemes - it has really become too much of a strain on the patience of anyone wanting to consider energy and the state of the planet - which we all want to remain habitable - in energy terms. By that I suggest that the only honest yardstick of what may be regarded as 'good' or 'bad' in this respect is: how many kWh of CLEAN ENERGY is provided by any measure proposed to help the planet and us on it.

To start with, there is no need to worry about any natural requirement for energy saving: the sun delivers ten-thousand times as much usable energy as is currently consumed by all mankind, and is thought to continue doing so for another four to five billion years. At the same time, if one wished to provide all nine billion people estimated to inhabit the planet by 2050 with as much energy per capita as the average US citizen currently consumes, it would require only a sevenfold increase in energy provision from current levels. A long way from the ten-thousand-fold permanent availability.

CLEAN ENERGY is energy that is limitless in availability, is ubiquitous - i.e. applicable in first, second, third and fourth world (favelas) situations, is carbon and pollution free in operation not requiring external e-power sources to function, has zero CO2 emission in generation and use, empowers rural populations, does not deplete food, forest or water resources, does not deplete biomass beyond re-growth.

Saving money by avoiding energy waste is, of course, a good thing. But saving energy alone will not provide a single kWh of CLEAN ENERGY; it is also a more complex issue than generally assumed. Reading Huber & Mills[3] will clarify the connection between waste and energy conversions for usability.

  •           Only photons - voltaics and thermal - and wind power could rank as CLEAN -               even SUPER CLEAN as not requiring water in production or use.
  •          Hydro power is also CLEAN, but not ubiquitous.
  •          Geothermal
  •                     o   thermal: conditional clean, requiring external e-power from clean                                    sources to rank as CLEAN
                             o   e-power: carbon free, but needs lots of water (Californian geothermal                                     power stations had to shut down recently because local supplies of                                         water for steam generation and cooling ran out)
  •           Biomass: Carbon neutral only, useful to deal with organic waste in anaerobic                digestion, needs to avoid conflict with food production and re-growth potential,               can empower rural populations.

For ubiquity, super cleanliness and shortest route from generation to use the prize must go
to PV - photons in, electrons out, exactly where needed.

A very effective measure for the generation and use of CLEAN ENERGY from recurring sources is a feed-in-tariff (FIT) as pioneered in Germany and adopted by some sixty other countries. In third world situations micro-provision on the principle of micro-credit is also successful, and often the best available start-up option.

The challenge is to propagate and implement CLEAN ENERGY production for direct use as well serving as source for conversion for applied uses in other energy forms, in all four 'worlds', from grassroots upwards, employing all its technical, humanist and democratic dimensions.

"We need a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power. From the state to citizens; from the Government to Parliament; from Whitehall to communities; from Brussels to Britain; from judges to the people; from bureaucracy to democracy"
[4] - tenets which are capable of being translated into the energy field.

Thomas Friedman
[5] recently provided a succinct summary of what it means to provide energy for the next and future generations:
"Clean power is going to be a source of power generally in the world - every bit as much as tanks, planes and nuclear missiles have been during the cold war. The country that takes the lead in clean power and clean tech is going to be an economic and strategic leader in the 21st century. If we take the lead in that industry, we will be generating the kind of innovation, competitiveness, respect, security and breakthroughs to help the world. In so doing, we will make ourselves more respected, stronger, more secure, entrepreneurial, richer and competitive.... My mantra has been 'Change your leaders, not your lightbulbs,' because leaders change the rules. The rules change the market. The markets give you innovation at a speed, scope and scale that we need."

Buckminster Fuller proposed the World Design Science Decade 1965-1975 to the International Union of Architects for adoption by world architectural schools
[6],[7] stating the most inspirational reasoning of what still remains doing :

".... to render the total chemical and energy resources of the world, which are now exclusively preoccupied in serving only 44% of humanity, adequate to the service of 100% of humanity, at higher standards of living and total enjoyment than any man has yet experienced."

That such a task is not beyond the realm of human achievement is illustrated by a similar scale project actually accomplished during the same period - the Apollo Program 1963-1972 which put man on the moon - and back.

A down-to-earth sobering approach is a long-needed wake-up call
[8], which only highlights that it will take Apollo-style programs to achieve the inevitable switch to CLEAN ENERGY before it is too late, and not without learning from, and possible help, from those forms of life which made all aerobic life - including you and me - possible in the first instance.[9]

"On this [one single 24-hour] day, and the next day, and every other day, a scarcely conceivable 4000 trillion kilowatt hours of energy reached the top of the atmosphere as sunshine."
With that abundance of 'income energy' any doubt about mankind's wit and ability to sustain itself beyond the time when the 'capital energies' are inevitably exhausted is, I think, misplaced.
The September 2009 issue of National Geographic Magazine features SOLAR POWER in depth, especially also FITs (p. 43,46) and possible PV storage and powering electric cars (p.50).
"Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children." ~ Ancient American Indian Proverb"[11]

Dipl-Ing L Michael Hohmann

[1] cf Wikipedia for the similarly apt continuation of this quote from Cicero
[2] apart from scrubbing other nastiness, e.g. SO2, NOx, etc.
[3] Peter W Huber & Mark P Mills: THE BOTTOMLESS WELL, Basic Books, New York, 2005
[4] David Cameron as quoted in the Times 30 May 2009
[5] Scientific American, October 2008
[6] [wished they had]: "World Resources Inventory" Vols. 1 to 6, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale Ill. 1963-1967
[7] The Buckminster Fuller Institute:
[8] David JC MacKay: "Sustainable Energy - without the hot air", UIT Cambridge Ltd, 2009 (the adoption of kWh/day, however, is still a long way from kWhCE as a measure of achievement)
[9] Oliver Morton: "Eating the Sun - The Everyday Miracle of How Plants Power the Planet", Fourth Estate, London, 2009
[10] ibid, p. xvi
[11] Adopted as mission statement by 1st International 'Energy Road'