Stanley Jevons’s Prophecy

In his famous treatise The Coal Question: An Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probably Exhaustion of Our Coal-Mines, published almost 150 years ago, the British economist William Stanley Jevons described a phenomenon whose importance today might be even higher than back in 1865–the so-called rebound effect, also known under the names of second-order effect, Khazzoom-Brookes effect, backfire or Jevons’s paradox. Jevons argued that the increased efficiency of steam engines shall lead to increased use of them and thus, counter-intuitively, to an increase in coal consumption. His insights have surprising relevance for today’s debates on economic growth and climate change. Continue reading

Emissions Trading and Feed-In Tariffs: Do We Need Both?

When I started this blog some 3.5 years ago, the focus was on climate issues, particularly climate economics. More recently, however, I have neglected this topic a little. Fortunately, working at a research institute gives one the opportunity to learn a lot about things other scientists do–e.g., regarding the quite popular question whether the EU needs both emissions reduction and renewable energy deployment targets such as the 20-20-20 target. In other words: do we need an energy mix consisting, e.g., of emissions trading and feed-in tariff schemes? Or is emissions trading enough to reach policy goals? And, by the way, what are these goals? Continue reading

Want to Save the World? Start in China

Within a few days, Yale e360 published two extremely interesting analyses of China’s recent environmental and social problems: China’s Great Dam Boom by Charlton Lewis and China at Crossroads by Ed Grumbine. Both fascinating in their own right, these articles show that if you want to save the world from a looming environmental catastrophe, you have to start in China. Continue reading

Nuclear Power or Fossil Fuels?, Revisited

More than two years ago I wrote here a piece about nuclear power. I critisized in it a commentary authored by Bjorn Lomborg, who argued that nuclear power is the all-environmentally friendly energy source. Then, I replicated a “green dogma” and wrote that

first, we cannot but abandon both [nuclear power AND fossil fuels], and, secondly, it is not necessarily true that we cannot afford a switch to renewables.

I do not longer think this is true. While still not sharing Lomborg’s and others’ enthusiasm about nuclear fission, I view it as the lesser evil. Continue reading

Is Nuke the Lesser Evil?

Among environmentalists, nuclear power belongs, together with genetic engineering and geo-engineering, to the group of the most dogmatically condemned technologies humanity ever has developed. There are exceptions from this paradigm, perhaps the most notable being the British environmental journalist Mark Lynas. But most members of the environmentalist movement hate the nuke, fearing the radiation, Chernobyl-like accidents, peak uranium, conflict with renewables, adverse environmental consequences of uranium mining, terrorist dangers and the like. However, when confronted with recent insights from climate science, one should ask: isn’t nuke the lesser evil? Continue reading

Externalities of Energy Generation

Because of repeated discussions of this subject in comments under my posts, I decided to make a list of externalities for various energy generation forms. For this I chose the most popular energy generation methods as currently in use, i.e. I excluded for example geothermal and solar thermal energy. The list is hardly complete, so you are welcome to add further points in comments (also for further energy generation methods). Continue reading

The Nuclear Solution to Climate Change

I argued repeatedly that nuclear power should not be considered a solution to climate change – due to environmental and financial concerns (for a summary, see here). Today I found an interesting article concerning the financial side, which is very important, since it is often argued that nuclear is the cheapest energy source we have. Here an excerpt:

There has been ample discussion in recent years of a “nuclear renaissance,” and many politicians and energy analysts believe that a meaningful response to climate change must include a new fleet of nuclear plants in the United States. The long-term planning studies that routinely come out of utilities, advocacy groups, and the Department of Energy now commonly include new nuclear units. However, many of these studies use nuclear and utility industry cost estimates for new nuclear plants, rather than estimates based on the actual experiences of companies currently trying to build nuclear power plants. Given the dollars and the environmental impacts at stake, it is critical that planners make resource decisions using the best information available. [more]

Renewable Energies Are Not Enough

We can do two things to push the biophysical limits to growth further back: increase resource efficiency (do more with less) and replace finite resources with renewable energy and materials – in other words, we need to tap the potentially infinite sources of prosperity.

These are words by Ralf Fücks, the president of the German Heinrich Böll Foundation, derived from a recent commentary in Die Zeit, translated into English for the TripleCrisis blog. Though I generally agree with the author, there are some parts of his argumentation that I am rather skeptical about. One of them is a common error made by people calling for a transition to a “green” economy: the argument that replacing non-renewable with renewable resources will solve the problem. Continue reading

Nuclear Power or Fossil Fuels?

Here an update Nuclear Power or Fossil Fuels?, Revisited, including a changed attitude toward the problem.

I already almost have specialized in commenting on articles by Bjørn Lomborg, the (in)famous “Skeptical Environmentalist”. Today I will do it one more time.

It is a sad true that we often have to choose between alternatives which we don’t like – deciding on what is better, not what is good. In his recent article my favourite politologist argues that we have to make a decision: do we want to rely on electricity generation from nuclear power or from fossil fuels?, since renewables are still too expensive and cannot close the gap if we would like to abandon both. As one can think, I don’t agree with Mr Lomborg – otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this post. I will argue that, first, we cannot but abandon both, and, secondly, it is not necessarily true that we cannot afford a switch to renewables. Continue reading

Some Words about Nuclear Power

What is now happening in Japan is terrible. The earthquake, the tsunami, now the near-catastrophe in the nuclear power station of Fukushima. All the people suffering after having lost relatives, homes, and now being in danger of losing their health or even life. One may say that Japan is the country best prepared for such a calamity. It is probably true, but this doesn’t really alleviate suffering of the affected part of the Japanese population.

While the attempts to limit the negative consequences are ongoing, it is time to think about the catastrophe and its causes: It is clear that we have no influence on earthquakes and tsunamis. They are independent of our doings. We may be able to contain the damages – that is something the Japanese are really good at. However, the nuclear catastrophe is not independent of us. All in all, it is men who build power stations and use nuclear fission to produce electricity. Continue reading

The New Oil?

The world finds itself in the middle of a environmental crisis – some even claim, at the brink of a catastrophe. One of the main causes of the global warming has been the abuse of natural resources – primarily of the nonrenewables petroleum, coal, natural gas (but also of renewable resources such as timber). It is not so that extraction of nonrenewable resources is bad in itself – but by doing so in a heavily unsustainable way we have caused an accelerating climate change and other severe environmental problems. There are many ideas what to do against it – a central one is the so called “energy revolution”, a switch from fossil energy sources (i.e., petroleum, coal, gas) to renewable ones. But: for the latter to function we need storage options. And here a new problem seems approaching. Continue reading

Power to the People

According to Malavika Jain Bambawale, there are near to 1,5 billion people without access to electricity out there. Out of that number, more than a half is living in (no, not in Africa, as you may have thought) the Asia Pacific region. Just to realize: 1,5 billion is close to one quarter of the world’s population. It is one of the most challenging problems (and, for that matter, inequalities) of humanity. Continue reading

A Bridge Technology to Where?

President of the Federal Republic Germany, Christian Wulff, signed the bill about (inter alia) prolonging the exploitation time of German nuclear power stations by on average 12 years. Other regulations involved in the bill (it actually is a comprehensive “energy concept” of the CDU-FDP coalition government) are less problematic. But the “bridge technology” that nuclear power is according to the government is a problem. One that makes the whole concept worthless. Continue reading

Nuclear Power in Germany – Why Not?

Today members of the German Bundestag will decide whether to prolong the running period of nuclear power stations in Germany. There are many controversies around the voting (e.g., the fact that the government would like to avoid a subsequent voting in the Bundesrat, where it hasn’t the majority, while there are legal opinions claiming that the Bundesrat has to co-decide). Many of them are of legal or economic nature. But I wanted to give a brief overview over why nuclear power is an irresponsible and counter-productive source of electricity. Continue reading