Friday, 25 September 2015

What would it take to run ALL of BC's cars and trucks on electricity?

By: Resource Works 

Originally posted on Resource Works website, and can be found here: 

In 2015, almost everyone agrees that the world needs to change the mix of fuels it uses. But exactly what the result needs to look like, and how quickly that can happen, is one of today's most pressing questions

The future of global energy is more natural gas, more nuclear, and more renewables like hydro. The energy sources that make the cut are the ones that meet these criteria:

  • affordable
  • available
  • reliable
  • clean

Globally, it will be decades before these energies overtake oil and coal. In the meantime, policy makers are facing a lot of decisions.
Supposing that British Columbia chose to move its entire car and truck fleet to electricity, what would be required of new power sources to equal the existing input derived mostly from gasoline and diesel? This is the question posed by the author of this blog that specializes in energy questions pertinent to the local region.
A basic assumption is that any new energy sources would need to equal current consumption. In 2013, British Columbians consumed approximately 4.5 billion litres of gasoline and 2.1 billion litres of diesel fuel (Stats Can). Assuming that all vehicles could be converted to electrical supply, and assuming that various efficiencies would make the new clean fleet more economical to operate, here are two options:

  1. Nuclear: Using CANDU reactors, B.C. would take the equivalent of approximately three nuclear generating stations like the one based east of Toronto in Darlington, Ontario. 
  2. Hydro-electricity: Nine hydro dams would do the job, if they were the size of the new Site C dam scheduled for construction near Fort St. John, B.C.

It's a thought-provoking idea. Single massive solutions like these examples are, however, a thing of the past. In all likelihood, the reality will be that there is a complex mixture of sources that provide our energy in future decades.
At a later time, we'll look at what is required to make this transition with wind and solar energy.
Thanks to A Chemist in Langley for providing the work to make this possible. His detailed blog post is well worth reading.
For another perspective, check out this newsletter by economist Jock Finlayson of the Business Council of British Columbia, here. He makes a number of thought-provoking points:

  • It is problematic to speak of a rapid world-wide “energy transition” – certainly if the term is taken to imply the near replacement of an existing energy system with a different system, all within the short time span of two or three decades.
  • Instead, it makes more sense to think of a world in which some fuel switching occurs and a larger fraction of future demand growth is met through lower-carbon sources of energy.
  • Over time, advances in technology will help to reduce per capita energy use – especially in more affluent economies – and facilitate market penetration by lower-carbon energy sources, including in areas like transport and agriculture.
  • And, quoting another author: “The fundamental problem is that substantial initial success in displacing fossil fuels with zero-carbon energy will drive down the price of the remaining fossil fuel energy. [This] means that, absent policy, clean energy will face an ever tougher economic challenge.” 

Plenty to think about on the path toward energy transition.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Why oil and gas will continue to power the world for decades

By: Canadian Fuels Association

Originally posted on the Canadian Fuels Association blog on August 20, 2015, and can be found here: 

“Energy transitions – be they from coal to oil, from oil to natural gas, or from coal-fired electricity generation to a system relying primarily on renewables – are inherently prolonged affairs. New energy sources and conversion techniques become commercially viable only after decades spent establishing often expensive infrastructure.” - Vaclav Smil, author of Energy Myths and Realities, 2010. 

Fossil fuels and their effects on climate change are in the news more than ever. United States President Barack Obama, for example, recently announced that his clean power plan will reduce CO2 emissions by 32 per cent over 2005 levels by 2030.

However, transitions to new forms of energy are expensive, lengthy and often difficult, which means petroleum fuels continue to be the best energy options for transport and heating.

Jock Finlayson, executive vice-president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of British Columbia, recently asked the question:

"Is the world in the midst of a rapidly accelerating migration away from fossil fuels?"

Certainly, many environment ministers and environmental advocacy organizations would lead one to presume ‘yes,’ he wrote in in the July edition of the Environment and Energy Bulletin.

"The real answer, however, is no - at least, not for a long time."

 “Looking out over the next two decades, the trendlines point to a real, but far from revolutionary, energy transition, one that is unlikely to entail an absolute reduction in the quantity of fossil fuels produced and consumed globally by 2035 or 2040,” he wrote.

Finlayson referred to recent demand projections from three sources: the International Energy Agency (IEA), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), and British Petroleum (BP). All three have a similar view of the global energy scene over the next 25 to 30 years.

Energy use forecasts

We’re all hearing a lot about a supply glut in oil, and how that is driving down the oil price. However, most forecasters believe energy use is on the rise.

  1. The IEA predicts global energy demand will rise by 37 per cent into 2040, “despite the diminishing energy intensity for each dollar of GDP in advanced economies,” said Finlayson. The forecast reflects a growing global population and higher energy consumption in emerging economies, which are home to 80 per cent of the Earth’s population.
  2. By the late 2030s, the global primary energy system will consist of four roughly equal-sized components: oil, natural gas, coal and low/no carbon sources, said Finlayson, quoting the IEA’s forecast. Renewable energy will begin to take a larger place in the fuel mix, but even in 2040, fossil fuels will still make up 75 per cent of the mix.
  3. “Regional distribution of energy demand changes significantly over time,” wrote Finlayson. While total energy use will flatline or fall in many advanced economies, “the volume of primary energy consumed continues to march ahead in the emerging world.” In all of the projections he used, Asia will account for around three-fifths of world energy consumption by 2035-2040. China will overtake the U.S. as the largest oil-consuming country by the early 2030s, or even earlier.
Finlayson noted that if these projections are correct, or even approximate, a world-wide energy transition is not the cards for many years to come.

It’s clear, then, that the world will continue to rely on oil to power transport, but the industry is working hard to mitigate emissions. Advances in engine technology, refinery sulphur reductions and many other improvements are underway.

In the next few weeks, we will take a look at the various forms of energy, what stage of development they are in, and what promise they hold for the future.

Meanwhile, check out these other blog posts:

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

NDP Government - Who Are Your Stakeholders?

By: Lisa Sygutek, Publisher - The Pass Herald

Originally published by the Crowsnest Pass Herald on September 9th, 2015, and can be found here: 

I am asking a question of the people of the Crowsnest Pass. 

Did you know before Friday, September 4, that the NDP government is enacting a plan to create an extra 1040 square kilometer park called the ‘Castle Provincial Park’ made up of a provincial and wildland park?

Well I didn’t until someone called me Thursday night to ask if I knew that the announcement was going to happen.

I felt bad as a media source because I didn’t know what was happening. I quickly went to work, late Thursday night, to find the press release, the invite, to find something. Only to find that we never received a thing.

So ... I called Ezra, my reporter, and said we have a meeting at Stone’s Throw on Friday morning at 11 a.m.

I was late because I couldn’t find parking so I walked down the street from our office to see several people standing outside listening to the announcement.

Like any good newsperson I shoved my way in (sorry if I walked on any toes) and placed myself at the front to find out what was going on. What’s the big announcement? Well it was big. Huge in fact, to the cultural and economic future of the area and the Castle region. 

As I was standing there listening to Minister Phillips exude the greatness of the park all I could think about was, “geez that’s great” but why the hell weren’t we informed? I noticed CTV, CBC, the Calgary Herald, the Calgary Sun and Lethbridge Herald. Somehow they were informed. Where was our Mayor? I did see councillors Cartwright, Ward and Filipuzzi. Were they informed? Where the hell was our MLA Pat Stier?

The reason why none of them were there is that no one from the NDP government informed them either. At least I was in elite company. Our own council, our own MLA and your own local newspaper of 85 years were not informed of the meeting.

So I listened. I heard that 1040 square kilometers of land in the Castle Mountain region is being converted into a park. I heard how the NDP government is following their election platform. I found out that Minister Phillips is interested because her drinking water and that of her constituents in Lethbridge flows from this area. I listened to reporters from Calgary ask questions. What I didn’t hear was what this will do to the economy of the Crowsnest Pass.

I heard words like, “we will work with you to grow your economy.” Exactly what does that mean? If you can’t even inform the local council that you’ll be undertaking a radical plan that will change our community for good, how can we know what your plans are for the economy? How can we - a Wildrose riding - trust the Notley government?

So like any good publisher I walked up to Minister Phillips and asked why she hadn’t informed the media, who by default, can inform the people of our community? Her response, “well I didn’t know you were here.” Didn’t know we were here? WOW! The Pass Herald is more than twice as old as Minister Phillips, how didn’t she know we were here? She talks about following through with her government platform, so I suggest she follow them all, especially the one about ‘honesty, ethics and trust.’ 

Do I think the parks are a good idea? I have no issues with the parks as long as there is input and public consultation with everyone who is affected, not just a select few who were informed about the meeting. I urge you to visit the Alberta Parks website where you can give your opinion. You have 30 days from last Friday.

Am I upset? You bet. Not because of the parks but because of the blatant lack of communication with our council, our MLA and the local media.

You know who the Minister is interested in communicating with?
“All eyes are on Alberta’s international reputation right now,” she said. “Especially regarding the environment.”

News of the announcement was leaked by the Calgary Herald on Thursday by an unnamed source so that the province and nation would be informed but were the actual people who will be living next to this park informed? No! 

Seems to me she’s more interested in informing the national and international media that the government loves nature, than acknowledging the opinions of the citizens of the Crowsnest Pass. 

Newsflash Minister! Your constituents include all Albertans, including loggers, miners, and oil and gas workers who raise families in this community and generate wealth within this province, not just to the dedicated environmentalists who helped elect you. You haven’t been in power long, so I’ll spell it out for you: this is not Fort McMurray, it’s not our fault when Leonardo DiCaprio flies in for a grip and grin and calls you terrible, your job is to govern, not to pine over what the other countries are saying. Your job is to inform the people in your constituency when something this big is happening next door, in our backyards. 

I’m glad news outlets from Calgary and Lethbridge were there because the NDP needs a pat on the back while we received a slap in the face by not being informed.

I guess the border of Alberta really does end at Lethbridge and north, cause that seems to be the constituents you were most readily want to impress.

Lisa Sygutek
Publisher - The Pass Herald

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Universities Must Reject Environmentalist Calls To Divest From The Fossil Fuel Industry

By: Alex Epstein

Alex is the author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels and President and Founder of the Center For Industrial Progress

Originally published on August 28, 2015 by Forbes: 

As the academic year begins, I hope you will take a moment to read this letter to American universities, cosigned by 80 distinguished scholars, about the increasingly popular “divestment” movement–led by radical environmentalist groups and now publicly supported by President Obama. I wrote this letter because I believe that “divestment” poses a grave threat to both the American economy and to open debate on campus.

Dear American Universities,

You have no doubt heard the calls by certain environmentalist groups for you to publicly divest your endowments of any investments in the fossil fuel industry. We ask that you reject these calls as an attempt to silence legitimate debate about our energy and environmental future.

The leaders of the divestment movement say it is not debatable that the fossil fuel industry is “Public Enemy Number One”—that it deserves to be publicly humiliated by having America’s leading educational institutions single it out for divestment. But the divestment movement refuses to grapple with, let alone educate students about, the staggering, and arguably irreplaceable, benefits we derive from that industry.

The fossil fuel industry produces 87 percent of the energy people around the world use to feed, clothe, shelter, heal, comfort, and educate themselves. It has fueled the unprecedented increase in industrial development, life expectancy, and quality of life we have seen over the last 30 years. And despite received wisdom about our environment and climate, our fossil fueled society has experienced a dramatic improvement in all environmental indicators worldwide, including a staggering decline in the number of climate-related deaths.

We the undersigned are proud to stand in favor of fossil fuels. Based on our honest attempt to reach a balanced, big-picture perspective on coal, oil, and gas, we passionately believe that the economic and environmental benefits of fossil fuels far outweigh the hazards, and that it is not a “necessary evil” but a moral imperative to make use of the most productive, life-giving energy sources available to us at any point in time. But unlike the divestment movement, we do not ask universities to take an official stand in our favor on this complex issue, which requires extensive education and thought—not official dogma and stigmatization.

What we ask for is a more rigorous education on energy and environmental issues. Today’s students do not learn even basic facts about the energy sources that make our civilization possible. But they are encouraged to take strong policy positions on the basis of extremely speculative predictions by individuals and institutions who falsely claim to represent the conclusions of all informed scientists.

Vassar College
As a result, students who have not independently studied the evidence about fossil fuels often exhibit a doctrinaire and intolerant viewpoint toward dissenting opinions. For example, when one of us (Alex Epstein) spoke recently at Vassar College on the benefits and hazards of fossil fuels, the divestment movement did not publicly challenge his arguments despite being invited to do so—they staged a walkout, attempting to pressure their peers into refusing even to hear an “unacceptable” view. To their credit, many Vassar students denounced the movement and were inspired to extensively study and debate the issues. Universities around the country should follow their example by providing more education and promoting more debate, so that the best ideas can win out.

The undersigned scientists, philosophers, energy experts, and economists are willing to debate anytime, anywhere to defend what we believe is right. If our opponents are willing, then together we can help create a truly educated student body that takes informed positions. If our opponents will not debate but insist on securing your imprimatur to win the argument for them, then please tell them that you are an institution of education—not indoctrination.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The Hidden Environmental Cost of Renewable Energy

By: Blair King

Blair King is a resident of the Township of Langley, B.C. and a practicing environmental scientist. He has an academic background in chemistry, biology and environmental studies and an interest in the use of scientific data in environmental decision-making. 

Blair blogs about topics that cross the interface between science and decision-making at A Chemist in Langley.  

Article originally posted by the Huffington Post on July 22, 2015:  

There is something very important that most people don't know about renewable energy technologies. While many of these technologies have existed since humanity started to harness the power of the wind and the sun to help us do work, they all owe their current capabilities to the existence of rare earth elements.
Neodymium, dysprosium, lanthanum, cerium sound like the names of some magical characters in Peter Jackson's latest Tolkien adaptation but they're actually the names of rare earth elements.
Rare earth elements and a handful of other elements (like lithium and platinum) are the "magic" ingredients that make our modern renewable energy technologies possible.
  • Neodymium is secret sauce that makes high-power permanent magnets a reality. Those magnets are what allow a wind turbine to convert the power of the wind into electricity.
  • Dysprosium allows these permanent magnets to operate at the high temperatures critical for the operation of large wind turbines and electric vehicles.
  • Lanthanum and Cerium are what make catalytic converters work.
Your cell phone, your LCD screen, your hospital's PET scanner all depend on the existence of rare earths.
Some argue that the name "rare earths" is a misnomer because these elements are found in large quantities on virtually every continent. But unlike a lot of ores, rare earth metals are typically found in very low concentrations, mixed with others metals and metalloid compounds. This makes them hard to mine and refine.
The problem is that unlike the magic ingredients in your recipes, "a little dash won't do ya" in renewable energy technologies. A single large wind turbine (rated at about 3.5 megawatts) typically contains around 600 kilograms of rare earths. This means that if we really want to move away from fossil fuels as an energy source, we will need tremendous amounts of these rare earths.
OK, you ask, what is the point of this article? Well, the renewable energy boom has a dirty little secret and I use the word "little" in an ironic sense. You see, the process of refining the raw ore to a usable state can involve a lot of steps and, depending on how you do the work, it can generate a tremendous amount of toxic waste in the process.
Because of this "feature," virtually all of the world's rare earths come from some of the least developed portions of China and their production is poisoning the atmosphere and killing China's animals and people. It is hard to look at the pictures in the BBC feature on the Baogang Steel and Rare Earth Complex in Baotou and not feel ashamed about our part in creating this growing human health and ecological disaster.
We, as Canadians, have clamoured for renewable energy technologies while refusing to do our part to supply the raw materials necessary for their implementation. Central British Columbia, Northern Quebec, Northern Saskatchewan, all have incredibly rich deposits of rare earth metals that we have chosen, as Canadians, not to develop.

If North American and European countries are really interested in renewable energy technologies then it is up to these countries to carry some of the environmental freight associated with them. Asking lesser developed countries to deal with the negative consequences of the mining and refining of rare earths is the ultimate in hypocrisy. We ask for clean technologies but refuse to get our hands dirty in the process.
We possess the best regulatory and technical abilities in the world, but leave this environmentally risky technology to the countries with the laxest environmental standards and little or no government oversight.
The arguments I hear are that companies are not willing to invest in countries with strict regulatory requirements, but if there is one area where government support would appear necessary it is the development of rare earth capabilities. Like the Swan Hills facility in Alberta which, while controversial, addressed a serious environmental need, so do we need to mine and refine rare earths in North America and Europe.
As for my friends in the environmental industry, you need to show a willingness to stand behind your words. If you want wind energy, advanced photovoltaic solar and better battery technologies and don't want to be seen as hypocrites, then get behind the drive to win the social licence for rare earth mining, refining and research.