Sustainable Energy

Net Zero by 2050: Technology for a Changing Climate

 

There are many books, reports, articles and web sites that describe and explain the climate dilemmas that we face. When it comes to climate change, these publications are strong on science. They describe what is taking place and they provide analyses as to the causes and effects of the changes. In response to these challenges they often put forward well-meaning solutions that do not meet engineering, technological or project management realities. The responses fail to meet what is sometimes referred to as the “red-face” test.

The purpose of this site is to examine some of the proposals that we often hear about by asking questions such as the following.

 

  • Will it work?

  • Can it be implemented on a commercial scale, on a scale big enough to make a difference?

  • Is there sufficient time available for implementation?

  • Do we have the resources needed for successful implementation including: raw materials, technically qualified personnel and adequate real estate?

  • Can we afford it?

  • What are the unintended consequences?
     

Engineering, Financial and Project Management Realities

Many ideas and solutions are proposed for the dilemmas that we face. In practice, these ideas are often impractical — they are not realistic with respect to project management or even the basic laws of physics, biology and thermodynamics. One of the goals of the material at this site is to evaluate “good ideas” to see if they will work in the real world. These realities include Implementation Time, Finance and Natural Resources and Political/Social Unity.

Implementation Time

The following chart is discussed in the post Alternative Energy Reality. It shows that the adoption of alternative energy sources takes time — often decades. Yet many of the programs that are currently being proposed call for an almost total switch from fossil fuels to alternative energy in just a few years. Fast transitions such as this are not realistic.

An Age of Limits


We live in an ‘Age of Limits’. We are using up the earth’s finite resources, the climate is changing and our actions are leading to the destruction of the natural world. Many of these changes have been brought about by the uncontrolled use of technology.

 

Given that technology created the predicaments that we are in, can technology help us get out of them? Are there technical fixes that can help us slow down the speed with which these changes are happening, or which can mitigate their impact? The purpose of this site is to explore potential answers to these questions.

We also manage the site Faith in a Changing Climate. It is directed toward people of faith who are interested in the same issues, but are more focused on a personal or spiritual response.

Organization of this Site

The menu bar at the top of each page shows that the site is organized into the following sections.

Home

This where we are now. This page explains the purpose and goals of the site.

Blog
Every week, as time and bandwidth permit, we publish a blog post to do with current issues relevant to the themes of this site. Our latest post is Imagination and the Oil Companies.  It provides some thoughts as to how the oil companies can respond to the transition away from fossil fuels.

We have also copied the following posts from our Wordpress site.

News

There is always news to do with the issues that we discuss at this site. Therefore, we publish a monthly newsletter summarizing some recent events and information updates. This month’s letter— October 2020 — contains information to do with the following topics.

  • The ‘New Normal’ — a post from Kurt Cobb.

  • Economic struggles in the oil industry.

Alternative Energy

This section discusses the use of established alternative energy sources, including solar panels, wind turbines and nuclear fission.

New Technologies

This part of the site hosts discussion to do with new technologies, many of which have lots of promise, but have had little or no commercial impact to date. Examples are nuclear fusion, hydrogen generation, and nuclear fast reactors.

Carbon Capture/Climate Control

One response to the dilemmas we face is to develop technologies for removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Some of the technologies to do with carbon capture (sequestration) are described and evaluated in this section. Also discussed are techniques for controlling the climate. 

Articles

At this page we provide analysis of articles and other material to do with the themes of this site.

About

Information to do with our organization is provided here. (If you are interested in my own background please visit the My Journey page. It includes a brief autobiography and a description of my personal journey into understanding Age of Limits issues.)

Contact Us

No one has all the answers to the challenges that face us. We are looking at very complex systems, each of which is difficult to understand on its own. Therefore, we would love to hear from you, and to receive your thoughts and suggestions.

Finance

Not only do large projects require time for their planning and execution, they require money. In the case of a total transition of our energy sources the amount of money needed will be colossal. 

Natural Resources 

There has been much discussion over the years to do with the concept of 'Peak Oil'. The concept is simple — there is only so much crude oil within the earth’s crust, and when it is gone. It will not be replaced, at least not on a human time scale. Moreover, the oil that remains is becomes increasingly difficult and expensive to find and extract. And it is often subject to international disputes, and even wars.

 

The concept of Peak Oil can be applied to any of the natural resources used for alternative energy supplies. Examples are ‘Peak Uranium’ for nuclear power, and ‘Peak Cadmium’ for solar panels.

Political Unity

Although the focus of this site is on technical issues, political and social unity need also to be considered. A total transition away from fossil fuels within just a few years will require an immense and dedicated effort. So far, that sense of unity seems mostly to be lacking in today’s society.

Imagination

After the 9/11 attacks (September 2001) Tom Friedman of the New York Times said, "The failure to prevent <the attacks > was not a failure of intelligence or coordination. It was a failure of imagination.”

Discussion of Age of Limits issues can be a discouraging experience. It seems as if we are on an irreversible journey to ever greater hardship. Indeed, one of the themes of this site is that we face predicaments, not problems. Problems have solutions, predicaments do not. The various technologies discussed at this site all have the potential to slow down the pace of change, and/or to mitigate the consequences. However, none of them, at least in their present form can be considered a solution to our predicaments. But maybe there is some technological “fix” that we have completely overlooked — some response that we are not able to imagine or visualize.

Mark Lynas gives an example of a technofix that took place at the beginning of the 20th century. Until that time the principal source of external fertilizer was bird iguano, of which there was a very limited supply. Then Haber and Bosch developed a chemical process for 'fixing nitrogen', i.e, combining nitrogen in the air with hydrogen to create ammonia, which is the building block for artificial fertilizers. The application of these fertilizers was one reason that the world’s population grew from 1.5 billion at that time to about 7.5 billion now. It allowed us to grow much more food.

 

It is, of course, impossible to say what technofix solutions — if they exist at all — may look like. Yet we should keep our minds open to the possibility of a technical breakthrough that no one has ever considered. Maybe there is a deus ex machina waiting in the wings that will help us out of our present dilemmas.

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