Is There Enough
energy available to power our planet?
Russia’s war of aggression and nation destruction has the obvious consequences of squeezing Western Europe on energy supply, as much of the oil and gas for that region comes from there–a deal done with the devil with payment now coming due, as Russia is counting on Europe blinking in the face of turned off taps. Given the choice between freezing this coming winter and abandoning Ukraine to dismantlement, it is difficult to see Europe doing the honourably energetic thing. Interestingly, had the Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby and assorted LNG projects fed by a more northerly pipeline not languished in regulatory purgatory for so long, Canada could now be supplying Europe with a large fraction of the needed energy.
Notwithstanding that, the so-called fossil fuels–coal, oil and gas–are necessarily temporary stopgap supplies, for we cannot keep burning carbon at every increasing rates without either running out of it altogether, or heating up the whole planet to the point of inhabitability–an ironclad case of the enemy being us.
Hydro river dams flood valleys, to greater or lesser detriment, and silting in limits the dam’s lifetime, much the same being true of tidal hydro. Wind, solar, and geothermal have been touted as replacements, but the first two are inconsistent, all three are very expensive, none has the potential to supply all energy needs, and all must be located where available, which tends to be a long way from population centres, necessitating expensive transmission lines. Meanwhile, many countries are phasing out nuclear fission electricity generation, and few or no new such plants have been built recently or are being planned, further limiting the potential for currently conventional generation.
Meanwhile, we seem to have embarked on a path of replacing internal combustion engines with electric ones, greatly increasing the potential demand for electricity, yet no one in industry or government seems to be asking where we will get sufficient new generating capability to do this–not to mention the Lithium needed for current technology batteries. In fact there is currently no feasible supply of either large enough to achieve this goal. So, what to do? There may be (will need to be) new types of battery invented that do not need rare elements to function, but we can hardly achieve clean energy supplies by burning coal or gas to generate electricity; both are counterproductive to the overall goal.
Ambitious plans have been suggested to intercept the sun’s energy with orbiting facilities before it gets attenuated by atmosphere and obscured by clouds, then somehow beaming it down to earth–but this idea has no feasible technological path at present, even in theory. What remains?
Fusion. Deuterium and Tritium fused under high heat and pressure produce Helium and very high energy (hot) neutrons, which can be used to drive steam generators. Research in this area has concentrated on using lasers to ignite the fusion, but magnetically pulsed rams seem to be emerging as the better means by which the necessary pressure can be achieved, and test plants are likely to be online by 2027 with full scale power production by the mid 2030s. Whether this will be in time or not remains to be seen, but for the kind of scale needed there don’t appear to be any other viable options. The Spy has heard objections to such installations based on what people’s fears of fission plants, but rushes to point out that there is about as much similarity between fusion and fission as there is between fission and a wood burning stove.
Too bad none of this can save Ukraine from being dismembered, depopulated, and resettled by Russians of certified loyalty to Big Brother Putin. What country will he steal next, if he gets away with this?
On a smaller scale
Apple’s new M2 chip uses much less energy for ever higher performance–a bigger step up in speed and efficiency than we’ve seen for a long time in the computing industry, and is a far more earth-friendly initiative than the cryptocurrency mining craze. This is a bit like replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs–more bang with fewer Watts and less bucks.
And on a smaller scale still
the Spy is keeping an eye on contractors working to replace all his mansion’s cheap old aluminum framed windows with new and more energy efficient vinyl ones, and the yellow vinyl siding by the more durable Hardie board, this in a deep blue. In a later column he’ll report on how it all went–bit of a mixed bag so far, beautiful results, but somewhat reminding him of the days one routinely made up two page lists of deficiencies after buying a new North American car–and let’s not even talk about window blinds just yet.
back on the ranch, the Spy himself is somewhat lacking in energy–too much to do, and the 30-hour day just isn’t long enough to do it all (falling asleep at the keyboard). It’s hard to keep up with all the activity, what with Canada celevbrating his birthday two days early, and the U.S. of A a day late. Is he his own enemy or his own energy? Perhaps he’ll have more zip next month.
–The Northern Spy
Opinions expressed here are entirely the author’s own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics and Assistant Dean of Science at Canada’s Trinity Western University. He completed his fifty-second year as a high school and university teacher in 2022. He has been involved as a member of or consultant with the boards of several organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He was co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and ten alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His various columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (dead tree and online formats), since the early 1980s, and he’s been a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 2019 and lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of B.C. from 1972 to 2021, where he now continues alone, depending heavily on family to manage.
URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Arjay Enterprises:
- The Northern Spy Home Page: http://www.TheNorthernSpy.com
- opundo : http://opundo.com
- Sheaves Christian Resources : http://sheaves.org
- WebNameHost : http://www.WebNameHost.net
- WebNameSource : http://www.WebNameSource.net
- nameman : http://nameman.net
General URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Books:
- Author Site: http://www.arjay.ca
- Publisher’s Site: http://www.writers-exchange.com/Richard-Sutcliffe.html
- The Fourth Civilization–Ethics, Society, and Technology (4th 2003 ed. ): http://www.arjay.bc.ca/EthTech/Text/index.html
Other URLs of relevant interest:
- BC Government COVID site: http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/covid-19
- TWU COVID Info: https://www.twu.ca/covid-19-information