Andy's insights

Opinions, thoughts, archivements

Tue, 27 Dec 2011

Economic Risk Management

The situation at Fukushima with its operator Tepco shows how economic risk managment works in edge cases. They had no clue how to handle such a situation. The report shows that the emergency service unit was not trained to handle blackout situations nor did they now where the hydrants are. This is dilettantish. The embarkments had a height of six meters even if an own study of Tepco showed before that this is not sufficient. But unless it’s regulated they didn’t do anything.

This is what happens in our economic system when there is a relativly low risk1 but an enourmous worst case impact: The risk analysis of the operators only looks at the financial aspects. They are quite low. The only reason higher standards are in effenct are because of goverment regulations.

It’s quite clear that this depends a lot on the goverment in question: Are they really independent? Have lobbyist infiltrated goverment?

We should really ask ourself: Is our local goverment good enough to ensure that our high risk sites (like nuclear power stations) are protected enough. Will they do their best to ensure all risks are identified and counter measurments are taken?

Anybody who claim that atomic power stations are safe ignore the single one factor that makes them unsecure: Humans. Not the workers, but the humans who have to decide. An atomic power station that is secure enough is not economical.

1Well experience show that there is about one maximum credible accident in 25 years world wide.

posted at: 14:28 | path: /politics/energy | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 25 May 2011

One Year After The Oil Spill

More than a year after the oil spill there are some interresting facts. While the oil is not visible (thanks to core exit) the oil is still there

One fisher men tells about fishing only 15 tons of shrimps instead of 150 tons as usual. If you dig at the cost you’ll likely find a black layer of oil. There are huge layers of oil under water. People suddenly forget things , More Dolphins and other mammals than usual are found dead due oil.

I fear that the whole consequences are hushed up. When they are partially uncovered it’s too late that the public notice them.

posted at: 01:33 | path: /politics/energy | permanent link to this entry

Nuclear Meltdown Times Three

Tepco finally confess that there were nuclear meltdown in three reactors.

It’s not that we didn’t expected it already. The reactors are not accessible except for robots due the heavy radiation while they were cooled in a primitiv improvided way. It seem like the earthquake alone broke at least one reactor an it wasn’t the tsunami afterwards. This is an important part as this means that the possibility that a reactor build for a eight on the Richter scale won’t survive more is quite high. Here in Switzerland the reactors are built to withstand a seven on Richter scale (as I read somewhere, I didn’t found the source yet, but the operators don’t belive in more than that).

Tepco is again (after Tschernobyl) the prove that not only radioactivity is spreading from there but also lies. The authorities where too much connected to the energy corporations and ignored signals. Guess what: Here in Switzerland the situation is not better. The regulatory authority was intentionally weakened

This shows that the atom economy tries to externalize as much costs as possible: The risk, the dismantling costs, safety measures in construction, and the total lack of a solution for atomic waste. And all is based on dissimulation, lies, and heavy lobbying.

posted at: 01:02 | path: /politics/energy | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 27 Mar 2011

There Are Always Alternatives

During the last years and recently more often I hear that there are no alternatives to conventional coal, natural gas, and atom power plants. This is not true.

There are three major reasons why we should search alternatives: Global warming due CO₂, the safety concerns about oil and atom energy, and finally the problem with the atomic waste .

Of course we can’t just turn off those power plants over the night. But it’s possible in the near future if we really want. There is plenty of energy out there: Sun, wind, tides, geothermal heat, and plants.

Let’s have a quick look over them.

Sun

Alone the sune shines with more energy than a multiple of the whole world consumes. This is easy to calculate:

According to Wikipedia the annual world energy consumption is about 132’000 TWh (for 2008). The average sun insolation per square meter is about 250 W/m^2^

If we assume a poor efficiency factor for solar panels of 10%, we can calculate the required area required to provide the energy the world consumed in 2008:

132000 TW/h / (1000^2^ m^2^ * 250 W/m^2^) / (365 * 24 h) * 10 = 602740 km^2^

This is 14 times the area of Switzerland. While this is a huge area, we have plenty of desert space (with probably more than 250 W/m^2^). And more important: Not the whole area is required as we can collect energy with other sources.

When we talk about solar panels the critics always throw up the gray energy:
Producing conventional silicium based solar panels requires vast amount of energy: Usually a panel has to run about 5 to 10 years to collect more energy than it required to build. This is affortable as a panel is intended to work more than 10 years up to 50 years.

Besided that there is no need to use those silicium based panels:

One of the biggest problem with sunlight alone is the availability during day only. Energy storage is required.

Wind

There is a big potential for wind energy. As the wind wheels are quite loud they need some distance from populated areas (both men and animals). This calls primary for offshore plants. Unfortunately the wind blows irregular. The consequences are that either massive amounts of the wind energy needs to be stored or to build continental wide smart grids to distribute the wind better.

Tides

This is an upcoming energy source. The tides contain a massive amount of energy in a regular manner.

Geothermal

Another possibilty as long as they don’t trigger earth quakes. Iceland make heavy use if it. A part of it could be exported to Europe. Other geothemal zones in the world could do the same.

Plants

Plants could be used to produce biogas. Beside that plants could produce fuel. But here we have a ethical problem: The rich people will always have enough money to play for fuel that is produced on agricultural areas instead food for the poor. We must stricly forbid to produce bio fuel on areas that could be use to grow food. There are other possibilities to get biofuel: From bio waste and from algae. Last one could be produced in tubes in unfruitful deserts or on contaminated areas.

Energy storage and the grid

A central part of the variable renewable energy sources is a smart grid along with storage capacities. A continent wide smart grid routes the energy from the current available sources to the consumers. Storage power plants stores energy surplus and provides them later during phases of energy deficit.

There we see why it’s important to have a good mix of energy sources: The more energy is available, the less needs to be stored. Not only the sources should be mixed but also the sizes of the power plants: Starting from small solar panels on the roof of every individual building and ending with power plants the size of multiple square kilometres there should be different sizes.

While there are some more capacities for storage lakes in Europes north (Norway, Finland, Sweden) the capacities are limited without resettling millions of people or destroying valuable nature.

Beside the already known water storage power plants there are new developments:

Conclusion

We see there is still some research and engeneering required. If the demand is high enough this is solvable. The mankind has solved bigger problems already.

posted at: 18:15 | path: /politics/energy | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 30 May 2010

Ultimate Atomic Waste Storage is the Wrong Way

Why do we still talk about final disposal of atomic waste? Don’t we learn from the past that this is the wrong way?

It’s confortable to think that once it’s burried we don’t have to care about it anymore. But we have to worry! There are plenty examples.

First take a landfill in an old clay pit used around 1980 to keep chemical waste. It was considered save as final disposal of chemical waste at this time. But then it was discovered that the landfill was not save: It stinks and fishes around the landfill died.

Then one of the most complicated and expensive1 reclamation of contaminated sites in Switzerland began. Due the target to final dispose the waste is not labeled and not packed to be simply removed. Each barrel content has to be identified and carefully recovered.

An now consider an ultimate atomic waste storage deep down in a salt stock sucking up with groundwater. Do we really trust in officials declaring it as save?

For instance take Gorleben in Germany. There was no sufficient scientific review of the spot. Simply the place with the least resistance was taken. It seem like Gorleben is still the favorit final disposal .

I’ll don’t talk about phasing out nuclear energy, this is another story. If we keep the power plants running we have to deal with the atomic waste the right way. We cant bury and forgot it, but we have to store it in atomic waste stores. This is a big difference to a final atomic waste store. The difference is that you can take the waste out of it whenever you like. The store may be deep in the mountain, but with a door. If water is intruding the store, you simply move the waste to another store.

The problem with this approach is that it costs more money right now. The costs add up to the total costs of the atomic energy. If you just can bury an forget the waste, the costs is hidden. Will be payed by the commonality in 10, 100, or 10000 years later. Share holder value don’t last so long.

1A huge hall was build with the biggest self-supporting roof in Switzerland

posted at: 17:45 | path: /politics/energy | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 29 May 2010

Gulf of Mexico Oil Contamination

The oil leak is still spilling oil in our precious environment. For five weeks now.

I don’t wonder that the risk was initially rated low as a realistic rating would not have allowed to drill for oil in the first place.

I don’t wonder that the problem was initially belittled by BP . This is just how corporate marketing and politics works. If you say enough often and loud that there isn’t a problem, people start beliving it. The massive use of Corexit oil dispersant helped to reduce the visible amount of oil on surface and help to keep those claims alive.

I don’t wonder that equipment and preventing counter-measures where not installed when they where too costly in the view of the oil industries. So there was only a weak blowout preventer valve as the only backup. Provit has priority .

I don’t wonder that it is very complicated to shut the hole. There is a massive pressure at the well an the whole equipment seem to be messed up. After the last attempt to stop the oil failed there is little hope.

I wonder that all the experts are not able to reduce the mass of oil spilled. You can’t stop them, but it should be possible to pump the oil from the well . Clearly this costs much money, but there are little short time alternatives.

This catastrophe did also show how much the politics depends on the oil industries – even Obama.

I fear this catastrophics will come out much worser than we think it already is.

The only consequences is not to boycott BP, but to boycott the whole oil industries by developing and supporting renewable energy sources. There is enough energy on planet. And no, atomic enery is not the solution.

Update 2010-05-30

History repeats itself . The only thing human learned from history is that human didn’t learned from history.

posted at: 23:58 | path: /politics/energy | permanent link to this entry