Sunday, March 11, 2018

Breakthrough Institute and The Politics of Limits

The Interchange is an interesting renewable energy/renewables business podcast by GreenTech Media, and the most controversial podcast I've heard so far is an interview with Breakthrough Institute's Alex Trembath.

Some thoughts:

  • Alex says they've consciously decided to be less critical of mainstream environmental groups, less obnoxious and rock-throwing, and good for them for this change. There are some times when obnoxious rock-throwing is appropriate - that wasn't the case regarding past BI behavior, so it's good that they've changed it and are willing to say they've decided to change it.

  • Alex rightly says the environmental movement prior to 2004 (when the Breakthrough guys started doing their thing) had a much stronger emphasis on limits to growth then it does today, but is wrong to say there was something wrong about that. I'm sure plenty of people back then realized solar and wind costs were dropping dramatically, but I don't know if anyone would've said you can count on renewable energy being cheaper than fossil fuels, even without subsidies or accounting for externalities. That meant some type of limit was a necessary argument back then for energy issues (and remains a component of many other environmental issues).

  • He goes on to argue that limits to growth and saying no in general is a bad political tactic. I'm open to that argument but I'm not sure what BI is doing with it or backing it up with solid research (might be a little unfair to demand that of a podcast).

  • Alex says BI started off with a focus on renewables and EVs. That's sure not how I remember it, which was nuclear power all the time. He says they're now into nuclear as well. Yep.

  • He claims power systems get unstable with renewables are 50% of the total. I thought we were over that, and the discussion really is 80% versus 100%.

  • Alex makes an unnecessary dig at energy efficiency, with the Jevons Paradox etc.  That's a miss - I think the political economy vastly underestimates the unsexy value of efficiency, the complete opposite of what he was saying.

All in all, too much techno-optimism, but it could be worse, and BI seems to be moving in a better direction. It's less clear to me whether they have the chops to make any real contribution, though.

17 comments:

Russell Seitz said...

The most nteresting change at Breakthrough has been adding Bruno Latour as a senior fellow

Canman said...

We have not gotten over system instability at over %50 renewables, because no serious sized country has ever made it to that point. France OTOH has made it to %80 electricity with nuclear.

Beakers said...

France did make it to an astonishingly high % penetration of nuclear on their grid, vastly supported by energy trading with multiple neighbours. Their capacity to trade is so great that they can be importing from some while exporting to others. This significant and continuing investment in trading was prompted to accommodate such a high nuclear %. Now they are adding wind power and the planned additions of new nuclear are not maintaining the % of generation - they still like nuclear and value its contribution, but are not zealots for any one tech so also take advantage of the significant benefits renewables offer.
Of course all the investment that supports intermittent renewables, also supports the technical and economic inflexibility of nuclear, and vice versa.
No doubt that before France crossed the 50% threshold, some would have claimed "We have not gotten over system instability at over %50 nuclear, because no serious sized country has ever made it to that point."
It appears that the claimed cataclysmic % of renewables seems to increase as the previous claim is approached or breached with little or no sweat from the grid operators.

Nick Barnes said...

Several countries, such as Norway and Iceland, are close to 100% renewable electricity. If you mean "solar and wind", write "solar and wind".

Canman said...

An uncomfortable fact is that nuclear and wind/solar are in conflict with each other. They are in competition with each other for hydro and other kinds of storage. I recently ran across this disturbing piece:

https://www.euractiv.com/section/electricity/news/german-nuclear-damage-shows-atomic-and-renewable-power-are-unhappy-bedfellows/

Nuclear reactors don't have to run at a constant rate, but it is better if they do. With low demand, nuclear can be ramped down, but with high demand wind/solar can't be ramped up.

Unknown said...

With existing distribution networks, solar and wind together should not comprise more than 30% of dispatched power. See NREL 2010.

You need a (fairly expensive) smart grid if you want more. And you need it first.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

I remember when Denmark was getting 20% of its electricity from wind and the deniers were saying, "You can never get more than 20% electricity from renewables." What are they at now, 50%? I'm sure when there are a bunch of countries with 90% renewables, you'll still hear people saying "No country can ever get more than 90% of its electricity from renewables." You can't fix stupid.

marcoclimate said...

Barton, there are at least three countries which have almost 100% of their electricity production from renewable sources: Iceland, Costa Rica, and Norway. Maybe not fair to take these countries, which have been blessed by abundant geothermal and hydropower sources, but still...

EliRabett said...

FWIW the biggest change was tossing (Eli assumes from the entrails on the ground) Nordhaus who has taken up hippie punching on his own as a "candidate" for governor of CA

EliRabett said...

Oh yes, a couple of oldish comments from Chairman Emeritus Bunny

http://rabett.blogspot.com/2018/03/breakthrough-institute-and-politics-of.html

and the wayback from 2006

http://rabett.blogspot.com/2006/09/shinnar-and-citro-make-interesting.html

EliRabett said...

Eli attributes it to Seitz URL syndrome

Canman said...

That's Michael Shellenberger, not Ted Nordhaus, that's running for governor of California. He's the only person in politics who's got any real serious ideas about energy. He's got youth, intelligence, openness and a true vision of the future that includes everyone. The alternative is the same old shit! He's exposed Governor Moonbeam for what he is:

http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2018/1/11/jerry-browns-secret-war-on-clean-energy

Fernando Leanme said...

If solar and wind are ready for prime time, then you can fold the circus tent and let the market work its magic. Unless of course you think Putin has control over Angela Merkep by putting chemicals in her pizza.

EliRabett said...

Apologies to the Twins for mixing them up.

Henosis Sage said...

You can't fix Barton Paul Levenson either!

Stupid is as Stupid does.

Wabbit, what will you do with your life when there are no Deniers left?

Card Tricks?

OMG what a Crisis that will be for you.

Kindly
"And then there were none."

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Henosis, we'd all be happier if there were none sooner.

Russell Seitz said...

Thanx to Beaker for the epiphany that the jump starting of STS, literary heory & Post-structuralism 101 was 79% nuclear powered

As to the guy with the wetsuit, I thought Henosis was Archbishop Makarios ' gig.