Chapter Four

Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk

We have had it lucky in North America. We have been the envy of many nations. Our comforts seem to have come easily. Credit goes to the engineers and designers for their clever innovations and inventions. But still, we are spoiled with energy.

The first big lesson we need to learn is getting a sense of what it’s like to have energy poverty. We understand very well what it’s like to have energy wealth. Televisions, computers, stereos, microwave ovens, dishwashers, giant freezers, heating, air conditioning, battery chargers and the list goes on and on. If you live in a city you have traffic lights, sports bars running eight or more giant TV screens with different games being broadcast, elevators, escalators, coffee makers, electric trains, electric pumps to send water into all those high rise buildings.

The United States and Canada have been the biggest energy consumers in the world per capita. According to World Bank62:

Equivalent of Gallons of oil/yr/capita. (2011)

US – 7,000 (Canada slightly higher)

China – 2,000

India –  600

The metric tons/yr/capita of carbon dioxide emissions:

US 17

China 7

India 2

In the next 20 years power demand in developing countries is expected to increase by more than 250%, in industrialized countries, however, only by 37%. That’s a growth rate of more than double for developing countries and not much more than a third for localities in North America.

Per capita energy consumption for India shows you what energy poverty looks  like. Blackouts and brownouts are normal in India but even more common is no electricity at all.

Blackouts are pretty common across the U.S. as well. Facts on blackouts from Issues in Science and Technology magazine:

“The average U.S. customer loses power for 214 minutes per year. That compares to 70 in the United Kingdom, 53 in France, 29 in the Netherlands, 6 in Japan, and 2 minutes per year in Singapore. These outage durations tell only part of the story. In Japan, the average customer loses power once every 20 years. In the United States, it is once every 9 months, excluding hurricanes and other strong storms.

Despite decades of sober technical reports written by investigation teams in the aftermath of blackouts, the frequency of electric power outages in the United States is no less today than it was a quarter-century ago. Whether measured in terms of city-sized blackouts or smaller events, the statistics show that reliability has not improved. Indeed, if the data show any trend in the past few years, it is toward lower reliability.

The causes of outages in the United States show there is considerable room for improvement. If outages from major storms are excluded, the causes of each hour of outage include equipment failure (24 minutes), as in the 1965 Northeast blackout; untrimmed trees near power lines (6 minutes); and mistakes by power company personnel (4 minutes), as in the 1977 New York blackout and the 2005 Los Angeles outage. This history of blackouts creates ample public demand to increase reliability, opening a window of opportunity for the industry63.”


Quick Facts

Government has always played a role in energy supply. This is a handy list to keep when accusations fly about expensive nuclear getting subsidies:

Subsidies provided in the US from 1950 – 2006  (56 yrs) from NEI

–        Nuclear energy > nine percent ($65 billion),

–        Renewable energy > six percent ($45 billion) (~30 yrs)

–        Coal > thirteen percent ($94 billion)

–        Hydroelectric > eleven percent ($80 billion)

The components of a wind turbine are not as clean as you imagine

– 200-378 Tonnes of steel

– 1 tonne of coal used to make 1 tonne of steel  ( we know coal kills )

– 1000 tons of concrete for the base

– 200 kg of coal per tonne of cement

– 200 tonnes of coal for the concrete base

– 400 tonnes or more of coal for a single wind turbine

– 131 tonnes of coal kill one person

– before the windmill even begins to operate it has effectively killed 3 people based on how much coal is used to complete.

– for the same amount of electricity produced, wind turbines require 50 times more steel and 60 times more concrete than nuclear reactors.

700 lbs of coal will keep a 100 watt light bulb glowing for a year

A ball of thorium the size of a golf ball can supply one person’s energy needs for a lifetime.(assuming it is a molten salt reactor)

One ton of natural uranium can produce more than 40 million kilowatt-hours of electricity. This is equivalent to burning 16,000 tons of coal or 80,000 barrels of oil.

How long could you keep a 100 W bulb shining with 1 tonne of:

a uranium pellet the size of your finger tip

produces (with zero emissions)

the same energy as 1,780 pounds of coal

Table 1 Energy Densities see image of table