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The New Paradigm of Renewables: if we want something to change, we need to change something

The New Paradigm of Renewables: if we want something to change, we need to change something

We can make it: the latest results of the analysis of the performance of renewable energy, photovoltaic and wind, show that their efficiency in terms of energy return on investment (EROI) is considerably larger than that of fossil fuels. It is becoming clear, too, that renewables don’t need rare and disappearing mineral resources: the infrastructure to build them and maintain them needs only abundant and recyclable minerals: silicon, aluminum, and a few more that can be efficiently recycled (rare earths and lithium).
In other words, renewables can’t be considered anymore as an emergency replacement for the depleting and polluting fossil fuels, but as a true step forward. They are the new, “disruptive” technology that people expected nuclear energy to be, but that never was.
Tony Seba — sharp as always — has diffused the idea of renewables as the new energy revolution. Seba’s ideas have been popularized by Nafeez Ahmed in a two parts series, (Part 1 and Part2). These assessments may be too optimistic in some regards, but they do note how things are changing. We have a chance, a fighting chance, to falsify the scenarios that saw an irreversible decline — actually a collapse — of the industrial civilization during the next few decades.
Can we really make it? It is a chance, but not a certainty. The quantitative calculations made by Sgouridis, Csala, and myself indicate that we can only succeed if we invest in renewables much more than what we are investing nowadays. If we maintain the current trends, renewables will be able to slow down the decline, but not avoid a “dip” in the civilization curve. Then, we will re-emerge on the other side in a new and cleaner world…

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A Concise History of the Concept of “Hydrogen Economy”

A Concise History of the Concept of “Hydrogen Economy”

The concept of “hydrogen economy” has a distinct “1960s” feeling. It is the idea of maintaining the lifestyle of the post-war period, with suburban homes, green lawns around them, two cars in every garage,  and all that. The only difference would be that this world would be powered with clean hydrogen. It is a dream that started with the dream of cheap and abundant energy that nuclear plants were believed to be able to produce. The idea changed shape many times, but it always remained a dream, and probably will continue to be so in the future.

Before discussing the history of the concept of “hydrogen economy” we should try to define it. As you should expect, there are several variations on the theme but, basically, it is not about a single technology but a combination of three: 1) energy storage, 2) energy vectoring, and 3) fuel for vehicles. 

This “hydrogen triad” misses the fundamental point of how hydrogen should be created. Often, that’s supposed to be done using electrolysis powered by renewable energy but, alternatively, from natural gas, a process that would be made “green” by carbon sequestration. There are other variations on the theme, all have in common being multi-step processes with considerable efficiency losses. And all have in common the fact of never having been proven to be economically feasible on a large scale.

Indeed, the immediate problem with replacing fossil fuels is not vectoring or storage, surely not powering individual cars. It is the enormous investments needed to build up the primary production infrastructure that would be needed in terms of solar or wind plants (or nuclear), which don’t seem to be materializing fast enough to generate a smooth transition…

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