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Energy Security Taken Seriously

‘Energy Security’ is on many lips these days, with the US and Israel preparing for war, oil prices volatile and oil reserves dwindling. To achieve this there is an explosion of renewable energy development akin to the one just after the 1979 oil crisis. The push for renewables has a welcome side effect of having the potential to reduce international tensions spinging from fuel dependencies (gas, oil, nuclear). This is such a change that in the new world (not governed by supply concerns) countries are likely to shift alliances. It seems the worry about the loss of power for some nations informs the advise they give on how to move forward.    

If the current US domination is to continue it will need cheap oil (it has basically had free oil in recent decades). In the trade war that is currently being waged it may even choose to cut of (12% of the) oil from China by invading Iran. This the US sees as a way to destabilize China. The current barbes flying between Bijing and Washington are a testament to the US ambition to stay dominant. Regarding Europe the US has had a ‘protective’ role and to retain this it needs continued vulnerability (even as its countries transition to clean and renewables). How do the alternative energy options available or considered for Holland perform in this perspective? 

Oil, Coal

We are considering clean energy here, including nuclear as it slipped into the debate. Oil and Coal are not part of real energy security as they need to be supplied, and supplies can be cut off. We have peak oil because the new supplies found are so called ‘unconventional’, meaning much more expensive to extract.

"The bigger concern for Exxon will be the nature of these new
reserves…Discoveries of oil that is easy to extract and refine are
failing to keep pace with output. The barrels taking their place may be
tougher or more costly to reach, and therefore less profitable."
(source)

Countries retain strategic reserves but burning anything except hydrogen or ammonia is just a bad idea.

Nuclear

Nuclear power requires nucear fuel. While a recent report expects supplies to start dwindling in 2013, and mining Uranium is energy intensive we see a strong push for nuclear. The days old coup in Niger imho has had no other intention then to secure its Uranium resources to be sold by Nigeria (Nigerians where negotiating for Niger in Copenhagen). Nuclear power creates dependencies, and the large amounts of money involved create huge tensions when it is found the fuel is running out. A choice for nuclear means postponing an energy solution (als power plants take long to go live). It also invites risky and possibly futile attempts to reuse nucear waste, thorium and other untried methods. Last but not least it creates an waste problem which is a terrorist security risk (waste can be turned into a dirty bomb). The conculsion is that nuclear power only works if the country depending on it has control over the fuel, its processing, its use and the waste disposal. In a war a nuclear power plant is done as soon as the enemy has air superiority (example, Israels past attacks on nuclear installations).

Wind

Wind is touted as the solution for Holland by both McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group. Wind at sea, a no brainer with the prevailing wind patterns in north western Europe. Every energy company backs this view. Norway is going to build a huge floating windmills with a 145 meter rotor diameter. The way the technology has developed is fantastic, albeit not open to innovation (see the flodesign concept). The standard capture method for technology is to patent it, to make it look real hard, and to make it very expensive. Wind has gone through this cycle for the three blade rotor type. Those criticisms aside, what is the ‘energy security’ value of an oceanic windfarm? If someone wanted to teach Holland a lesson, how hard would it be to take out its wind power capacity? The answer is Not hard at all. Oceanic wind turbines are sitting ducks. How wise is it to make a countries energy supply depended on such easily destroyed machines.

Energy companies want wind at sea badly. It is one of the three options they push besides biofuel (not clean per se) and photovoltaic panels. They do not push for small scale windmills because that would not require the smart grid which is another pillar of their strategy. In terms of security it is however much wiser to build many small windturbines for local power consumption than a few (or even many) large turbines that are easily destroyed.

Photovoltaic panels

Solar PV is energy intensive to produce, but once you have the material (silicon, cigs, other mixtures) the working life of is the same as that of ganite. PV wafers are essentially stone, and most panels last 30 years at which point the leads and contacts will likely have oxidized (cells themselves show a reduced performance as well). PV panels can be installed in each home and deliver power year round. Once you have the panels and inverter installed, a PV system is basically stand alone. PV does pose a challenge because of the asynchonicity of production and use, and this is where utility scal energy storage facilities would come into play. One way (the most efficient with relatively simple technology) is the flow battery, another is CEAS or compressed air energy storage. PV is not very efficient, and the trapped heat should be put to better use. This is however a large mental hurdle for the installers and energy suppliers. Their strategy seems to be to use electric heat pumps for heating homes (everything electric, even though it may be less cost effective or efficient). 

How hard can a country be hit if it’s powered by many PV panels? What if the elcetric logistic infrastructure can run on the solar power base? It will become very hard to put pressure on such an economy. Maybe an EMP weapon could fry all inverters, but it could never fry all the panels. In terms of ‘Energy Security’ PV panels seem a robust option.

Wave Energy

Wave energy is maturing fast and it has a lot of power to offer. Wave energy installations often have a floating component (a buoy or tube) and a submarine component (generator, pipes). One could argue wave energy devices can be easily targeted as well (even by ‘accidental’ damage). They are definitly low profile and more robust than windturbines.

Solar Thermal Energy

Even though solar PV is boadly supported by the energy suppliers and consultancy firms, solar thermal is not. This is strange because whereas PV has an efficiency of 15%, solar thermal can be said to be 60-70% efficient if the heat is stored for use as heat. If it is converted to electricity via steam turbine it could reach an efficiency of 30%. Solar thermal could be widely implemented and used in every home along with PV electric, at lower cost, lowering fossil fuel dependence. In spite of this potential solar thermal installations for storage and management, as well as heat pumps are kept very expensive. This does fit well with the all electric strategy.

In terms of security solar thermal energy use is comparable to PV, apart from the fact that if necessary the control system can be manual, so no risk of frying delicate electronics. It is amazing that this technology that could supply a large portion of the necessary energy (most energy in homes is used for heating) is simply neglected. I personaly started a number of websites about it, f.i. heliostat.org. It seems once again heat captured from the sun and stored in the home is not part of the strategic agenda. In terms of ‘Energy Security’ it should definitely be part of a governments agenda.

 Energy Source
Resource dependence
Technology Dependence
Vulnerable in War
Score
 Oil Yes No Yes 1
 Gas No (for the moment) No No 3
 Nuclear Yes Yes Yes 0
 Wind No Yes Yes 1
 Photovoltaic No Yes No 2
 Solar Thermal No No No 3
 Wave No Maybe Yes 1

Conclusion

The above assesment is based on easily accessible information on the technologies mixed with some common sense. I am no strategic expert. The results suggest that natural gas and the two solar sources offer most energy security, at least in the short term. If Holland had its own PV manufacturing base PV using solar furnaces that would be best. The current strategy supported by the energy companies is contradictory as it promotes PV but negrlects solar thermal power, it also makes our country vulnerable to outside pressure. We see how this can lead to conflicts now that the UK is asseting its ownership of oil fields near the Falklands and Argentinia lays claim to the Falklands themselves.

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