TED Conversations

Ignas Galvelis

Software Engineer, Focus Fusion Society

This conversation is closed.

Energy Crisis

Humanity is facing many worldwide and local crisis. Most of them have the same roots - we have the approaches to solve them, but resources are to thin to cover whole of the crisis and all of them together. These resource-based problems are shortages:food, housing, education, healthcare can be resolved with adequate resources. Unfortunately rich nations don't want to lend their own resources as they are facing their own crisis in underemployment, under-education, market instability and social inequality. Most of the problems are resource problems in this sense. In our time of industrial progress it would be natural to expect these issues to be resolved with time, but the industry is facing a serious challenge - energy crisis. The era of liquid fuels is coming to an end and even otherwise plentiful fossil fuel sources (coal & gas) are threatened by Global Warming. There is no other immediate source of power:Nuclear, Renewable's energy sources are still not fully up to the challenge.
Yes there are other issues that don't stem from this source (non-resource based problems), such as social justice, culture-clashes, but they would alleviated by having plentiful resources as haves would be more enabled to share with have-not's.
Discuss?

Share:
  • thumb
    Dec 22 2011: Problems motivate us. We like reacting to "emergencies" and we often focus on them rather than on the root cause of the whatever issue that has captured our attention.

    We do not actually have an "energy crisis." There's lots of energy.

    It's just that our desires outstrip our ability to access environmentally friendly sources of energy.

    We could scale back our usage ... but we don't want to.
    • thumb
      Dec 27 2011: A lot of people do not understand how important is energy in our lives.
      It is the food we eat, it is the water we drink, it is the clothes and the houses, the lights and the internet.
      Yes all of this can be "scaled back": we can eat less and we can drink worse, we can have less to wear and we can have less to live in and probably none to talk to. To imagine the world where energy is scarce, we can go back in time where not many had a car, not everyone had access to food or clean drinking water. Or we can look at African/Indian/Chinese people where they live like we did in the beginning of the last century.
      I would rather dream of a time where energy is plentiful and cheap, where we can build skyscrapers to city size, flying castles and cars, travel to the Moon, Mars and beyond.
      • thumb
        Dec 27 2011: Hi Ignas,

        I live in China, have lived in Africa, and have visited India 15 to 20 times. It is not the food, water, or clothes that take up all the energy we, in "the west" consume.

        We would not have to "eat less" or "drink worse" to conserve 80% of the energy we use. We might have to "eat local," walk more, fight less, go to bed earlier, and so on. All things we would rather not do. We would rather find cheap energy - which, I think is a good idea ... but it is not a solution to the "problem." Cheap energy will simply allow us to assault our environment more efficiently.
        • thumb
          Dec 27 2011: There is a lot of work and energy (work = energy) involved in making our clothing, food water, etc. if you did not see the manufacturing process from plant to thread to fabric to cloth then it is difficult to realize it. A lot of people are clothed, fed and otherwise supported by foreign aid, even if they don't see this. It would not be possible without fossil fuel energy sources. Yes you can do it organic, local and without fossil fuels, but then you have to involve 98% of population and not 2% like currently. That means much less doctors, physicists, scientists, engineers and teachers.
          The people (or organizations) who assault the environment usually are not those who can afford not to assault it. The rain-forests in Brasil are not demolished by rich billionaires in USA, but rather by poor local farmers who want to feed their family. If organization can afford not to pollute the environment it would do so rather than risking its own reputation. It affects its profitability (like in a resource constrained world), then the environment matters no more.
          Yes probably if we would revert the industrialization to middle-ages, let most of the people die-off and make most population to poor to be able to afford a plow then the rain-forest would be safe, but the rain-forests can also be preserved in a industrial paradise where energy is clean, cheap and plentiful by promoting the right incentive's for the industry.
      • thumb
        Dec 27 2011: QUOTE: "The people (or organizations) who assault the environment usually are not those who can afford not to assault it. The rain-forests in Brasil are not demolished by rich billionaires in USA, but rather by poor local farmers who want to feed their family."

        Well, you have touched on an interesting distinction: the individual versus the system.

        The billionaire in the US may not carry the saw that cuts the tree down in Brazil but he or she (and we) support the system that makes cutting the tree down make sense economically if not ecologically or morally.

        I do know how much energy goes into making our clothes (and into the meat we eat) and it would make more sense, ecologically, for us to wear simple clothes and eat a vegetarian diet. But our clothes are not really the problem ... the meat ... well, that might be a bigger deal.

        And while I do think each one of us should do what we can to minimize our ecological footprint, I also think the systems we have created are inherently inefficient. They more or less force us to "waste" energy. Take cars, for example, most of us think about "emissions" when we think of internal combustion engines. What about the roads? What about the mining that is required to make billions of cars? What about the rubber for the tires? The scrap when a car no longer functions? Etc. Etc.

        Just looking at your picture and based on the forum we are using to discuss this, I can predict, with some certainty, that your ecological footprint is 80% greater than my friend Maurice's who lives in Kenya ... and there is very little you can do about that. The system you live in forces you to be ecologically "irresponsible."

        I do think finding "clean energy" is a good idea but I do not think that is the solution to the problem.
        • thumb
          Dec 28 2011: I would suggest not to try to evaluate my ecological footprint just on the basis of my logic. I ride a bicycle to work, I don't own a car, my large family is living in a small house, I am building a PV system at home, I buy locally and recycle whenever there is an opportunity so my footprint even if it might be greater that that of an average Kenyan is quite below the average. Yes the average footprint of my country is greater than that of Kenya, but it comes with the advantages of healthcare, education, social-benefits, safety and comfort.

          There are a lot of advantages to being able to travel around the world (with the disadvantage of huge ecological footprint) , but probably an average Kenyan could never afford that, nor could he (normally) travel so much with his bicycle.

          There are many approaches to each problem and each one can be considered a solution depending on perspective. Maybe some alien race would look down on earth and consider human-cide as a "solution" to its ecological problems, but the human race might disagree.

          In my opinion deindustrialization can not be a solution, but a clean industrial revolution can. In case energy would become clean, cheap plentiful prices of goods would fall so much, that industry (and agriculture) would not be able to compete on price basis anymore. So it would have to find other avenues of promoting its products such as providing locally, ecologically and improving quality. Of course probably a lot of those efforts would be misguided at first (like green-wash), but in a free, democratic, resource-rich society they can be criticized and improved upon.
      • thumb
        Dec 28 2011: Hi Ignas,

        I was not evaluating your ecological footprint on the basis of your logic but rather on your probable socioeconomic standing and your geographic location.

        I am not suggesting deindustrialization as a solution. Nor do I think a particular economic or political system is the answer.
  • thumb
    Dec 22 2011: Ok that's fair.
  • thumb
    Dec 22 2011: The energy crisis is all a bunch of ***. There is plenty coal and oil to go around. Drill and excavate until mother nature says no more.
    • thumb
      Dec 22 2011: If we take Global Warming out of the equation you could argue that there is plenty of coal, especially if not considering exponential economic growth which can chew trough any non-infinite energy source in logarithmic time. Related explanation of exponential growth:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-QA2rkpBSY

      Still regarding OIL while the resources available are wast, their economic availability becomes more challenging with each extracted drop as you need more and more resources (work-energy, time, technology) invested to get the same return and most predictions of peak are in the past:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PU200611_Fig1.png

      While we can argue about peak consumption, peak production should not be controvertible.
  • thumb
    Dec 22 2011: I think it's worth contributing that the cost per watt for solar PV has dropped by roughly 60% in the last year.
    • thumb
      Dec 22 2011: You are probably talking about PV cells cost drop. To have a strong argument ( a solution to energy crisis) it should probably be system costs which should include storage and conversion systems.
  • thumb
    Dec 21 2011: Solar concentration will save us.... but you can't patent a magnifying glass, so it won't fix the unemployment crisis.
    • thumb
      Dec 21 2011: No technology is yet cheap, clean, profitable and scalable to address the energy crisis on its own. They all have their advantages and drawbacks. Solar energy (both PV and CS) have the disadvantage of high initial capital requirement. Specifically building a (huge) plant requires a big investment which will only trickle back its returns afterwards. Return on investment might be about 20 years. Someone might argue its just monetary resources - go ahead and borrow more money from the bank, but the reality is that our money represent actual industrial resources such as materials, people and the energy that is needed to make raw resources into usable materials and end products. So the result is that we cannot build CS plants (or any other renewable plants) as fast as we need to address the energy crisis.
      • thumb
        Dec 21 2011: Actually you're wrong on concentration... It's cheapest, and best, portable. We shouldn't be building plants, we should be melting glass and making steam powered boilers... The average American and EU citizen could easily afford to put one of these in the backyard. The problem is that because it is impossible to patent, no one will invest in the manufacturing plant for mass production.

        Small community groups could do this on their own, and lower consumption. The problem is that Americans think to big, and too rich. We want a giant concentration plant that feeds a city, but enslaves all the people to pay for it. We don't want there to be a one time cost, that gives people free energy... It's not profitable enough.

        Check out this video which uses only 3 meters of sunlight, easily available in a backyard.

        http://youtu.be/z0_nuvPKIi8
        • thumb
          Dec 22 2011: It does not matter much if we are talking about one big plant or multiple small ones, the issue is the same: capital requirements. Are you prepared to give a down-payment of 20 years (or so) of electrical usage cost to cover all your future usage? If you need to borrow money from the bank then it is no longer a solution as we don't have a bank for future resources that are required to build one of this system for everyone. Its an issue of money, its an issue of resources from which energy is the one that we cannot afford.
      • thumb
        Dec 22 2011: Sorry, I think you don't understand how cheap this is capable of getting... I'm talking about buying one large piece of magnifying lens, or a few mirrors, an iron closed system boiler, an alternator from an old car, and a car battery. This is how we will power the third world. Not 20 years of electrical usage cost, a couple hundred dollars... Not to mention how important portabillity is in reducing loss of electricity over transmission lines. We won't need to grow the grid into rural communities, simply make them independent.
        • thumb
          Dec 22 2011: I understand your enthusiasm, but in my opinion it is unfounded. Solar energy (as well as wind) is a very low concentration energy source, when you are concentrating it, you are sacrificing efficiency. So your final contraption will be quite big, I believe for a normal household it is going to cover at least 10 square meters (10 kw * 10% efficiency = about 1 kw input power). For this to work full time with domestic power consumption you will also need storage & control electronicsb (probably not DIY). I am not saying you cannot DIY, and definitely it will be cheaper like everything else you can DIY (food, clothing, housing, medicine etc), but it is not something majority can afford to do and DIY is usually made sacrificing efficiency, quality and production time.
          This is not a scale-able solution and it is not a way to quickly address the energy problem.
      • thumb
        Dec 22 2011: I would say it is a much easier to scale up solution for the rural world, than anything else ever proposed... because it can be made entirely out of things found in dumps and landfills. The contraption I'm describing would be the DIY version I'm going to go off and test in Las Vegas, and it will be inefficient at first... but, once people become skilled at designing them, and we can automate as many of the processes as possible, I think a small business could definately have success trying to get this into a profitable assembly line model, if not an actual manufacturing facility.

        Also the real future in large scale power plants that use this technology is even more efficient... Solar desalinization plants. Boil sea water, get sea salt, fresh water, and steam power, 3 profitable products. People aren't being creative enough in implementing these ideas. This is ideal for island communities, and California.

        Also, electric motorcycles... If we could actually get people to buy them, we would scale down our need for power so dramatically, that coal, and oil would shit a brick. The problem is that Americans won't buy small things.
        • thumb
          Dec 27 2011: Certainly it is good to see people trying new things. I am myself building a PV system at home - it is quite cheap when you make the solar panels yourself. I my opinion it is naive to think that you can scale up a CS system using non standard recycled parts, but maybe you can learn something interesting. Best of luck!