Kyoto – A Perspective (Part 33)

Posted on Thu 06/05/2008 by



When I started out on this series of posts, I hoped to be able to find enough to stretch it to maybe six posts. What I had hoped to achieve was to point out what the Kyoto protocol was all about, what it meant to the average person in the street, and how it was going to actually affect that person, his family, the Countries that we, in the Western World live in, and the overall implications.
Those hoped for six posts have stretched into a large series and I make no apologies for that.

The perception of the protocol is that it is a good thing, the aim being to protect the environment from greenhouse gases, which is mooted to be the cause of global warming. Those environmentalists have latched onto it as their ‘raison d’etre’, and the cure for all that ails the environment.

The perception they give is that because we in the West all have families with two cars and sometimes more, and that those cars are all SUV’s and gas guzzlers, the exhaust they belch out is part of the root cause of those greenhouse gases.

A further perception is perpetuated by emotive images of huge industrial complexes belching smoke into the pristine air, fouling it for all time, creating a huge blanket of hot air insulating the Earth, keeping the heat in, and altering the weather for all time. Those huge industrial complexes are in the main, in Western Society, meaning that we in those highly developed Countries are the ones who are to blame for the most severe changes in the World’s weather in the history of the Planet.

There are people who have gone around stirring up what can only be called the largest scare campaign we have ever seen. These people have even become very wealthy out of this and have gained immense kudos for bringing it to our attention. [ immediately comes to mind as the worst offender. —ed]

However, something that has not really been a small part of any of the hysteria, is that the lifestyle we have is a major part of the cause, and that lifestyle that we have become accustomed to and take for granted will be the part that causes the most consternation. When this is said, people automatically think, well, yes, maybe I can make the concession of driving a more fuel conscious car, use it less, and maybe even find an alternative means to get to and from work. Also because the average person does not have huge industrial complexes in their back yards, then that part of the equation does not affect them.

However, the part of their lifestyle that they don’t ordinarily associate with those greenhouse gases is the part that will have the most effect upon them.

That part is electricity, something that is in every household in the Western World, something that is like the water we have access to and the air we breathe. If we don’t have electricity, then life effectively grinds to a halt.

People scoff and say that something like this is just scaremongering, and that electricity will always ‘be there’. The people who say that have no understanding of electricity.

The implication of the Kyoto Protocol is that the emission of greenhouse gases be taken back to a level 5% lower than what was emitted in 1990, and if the increase in emission of those greenhouse gases in the US has been calculated at 25 % then we need to cut those gases by 30%, close to one third.

The production of electrical power is achieved by numerous processes, and the one used the most is by the burning of coal to turn water to steam to drive a turbine to drive the generator. This process using the burning of coal for power generation makes up a fraction less than 50% of the total power production for the US.

This burning of coal to achieve this, and on such a huge scale, accounts for close on 40% of those greenhouse gases.

If there is to be a one third reduction in the production of those greenhouse gases, then that reduction is to be across the board of all emissions. What that effectively means is that one third of those coal fired power plants need to be shut down.

That being the case and if just under 50% of all power in the US is produced by burning coal, then a 30% cut to that half amounts to a 15% cut in the production of all electrical power in the US. If a slice that huge is taken out of the total, there is just no way that the remaining plants can take up that slack. Effectively this means 15% of the population will have to do without electrical power. I know that’s the worst case scenario, and one that obviously is not even the faintest of options. It would mean absolute chaos on a monumental scale, and political suicide for any politician even suggesting it in the first place, which sort of guarantees that it won’t happen.

Environmentalists out there scoffing at this worst case scenario will probably accuse me of scaremongering, and sanguinely declare that something like this will never eventuate. They will also just as sanguinely declare that replacement power processes will turn up.

What they fail to realise is this.
Those coal fired power plants are huge baseload plants, and therein lies the rub.

Baseload power is the constant regulated standard power that is always there, covering everything, every building you live in, work in, or see on any town or city skyline. Peak power comes on line for those short periods of time in the mornings and for the early evening hours when demand increases dramatically when everyone gets home from work and cooks their dinners and just goes about their home life, using electricity that is just part of everyday life.

The proposal is to take 15% of these coal fired baseload plants out of commission. Environmentalists say that we can replace these with power plants using renewable sources for the generation of electricity. What they fail to see is that these plants they propose as replacements can never be used for baseload power, because of the variability of the Sun and the wind. Other methods also use equipment that just cannot be run continuously at high speeds as those huge generators at coal fired plants can.

The task I set myself was to look at some of those alternative methods of power production to see if they could be used, how they work, what they might cost, and just how soon they can be up and running.

At every turn, I found that there actually are people out there doing just this, looking for ways to produce electrical power from means other than by the burning of huge amounts of coal.

I hoped the process would enable me to construct half a dozen posts. However, everywhere I turned, something new turned up.

Coming from a background of electrical engineering, what I proposed to do was to explain the implications of Kyoto regarding the production of the electrical power we take so much for granted, and explain that what the environmentalists really propose is something that they have not seen coming, and then to explain how all the processes work, and if any of them can provide replacement for coal fired plants, keeping in mind the thought that a 15% slice from coal fired plants means the closing of up to 50 of those large plants, something that just cannot be replaced, in the short term, or even within ten years. For a scale like this to be achieved we actually need to be turning sods on a huge scale right now, not just talking about it, because from talking about it to planning and then to turning the first sod is in the time span of four to five years.

What is being done is on a small scale, and some of those are being actively discouraged.

Another thing not envisaged is what the cost will be.
Kyoto calls for those Western Countries to foot the bill for supplying ‘green’ power to those developing countries. The cost for this is in the region of hundreds of billions of dollars. Kyoto also calls for those Western countries producing greenhouse gases to pay a penalty for doing it, and this is the proposed Carbon taxes we hear about, this also in the region of hundreds of billions of dollars. The third part of the story is that in closing coal fired plants and replacing them with green’ power, then the cost here is also in hundreds of billions of dollars.

So. All up. We in the Western World, and the main part of that is the US, then you are looking at trillions of dollars, and that might be just the first part of the snowball as it starts rolling down the slope.

Kyoto may be about the environment, but in the main, it’s really all about money.

One last thing to keep in mind is this. Who chooses the 15% of the US population who do without electrical power. We take it for granted, because it has always been there. You just CANNOT take it away. The resultant chaos would drive the US back into the Third World, which sort of defeats the whole purpose if you ask me. [If so, will we be eligible for those Billions of dollars in aid for 3rd World countries? 🙂 —ed]

(Tony replying to Ed. If there is no highly prosperous US, then there are no billions of dollars of aid for anyone.)   [Aw Shucks!   😦      —ed]