Saturday, February 9, 2019

Energy at an economically attractive price

Alberta is a place very rich in natural resources.  In the mountains we have hydropower; we also have enormous coal reserves and other hydrocarbons. Mining for metals is less so, as most of the province lies in a sedimentary basin rather than a basin rich in metamorphic and igneous rock. Sedimentary rocks are derived from the erosion of other sedimentary rocks, metamorphic, and igneous rocks. Igneous rocks are rocks derived from the cooling of magma, whether this magma is from intrusion into the earth crust (plutonic) or from the eruption onto the crust’s surface of the planet as lavas and ashes (volcanic).  Metamorphic rocks are all rocks that are reshaped (metamorphosed) by a combination of pressure and heat.

Sedimentary rocks are typically rich in quartz (sands), clay (shales) or rich in calcium minerals such as limestones. They do not contain a lot metal rich minerals such as ores. Ores are mostly formed in igneous (granites, basalts) and to a lesser degree in metamorphic rocks (marble, slate, gneiss). Ore veins are pathways along which magma rich in metallic minerals flowed and  cooled to crystallize into ore and other mineral types. 

Thus, Canadian provinces along the active subduction zone (also called an active continental edge) of the West Coast are high in igneous rock content and so are the provinces with the much older rocks of the Canadian Shield. Those are areas of prolific metal mining while Alberta and Saskatchewan are rich in coal and hydrocarbons. Canada’s East Coast, is formed as a passive continental edge and just like Alberta and Saskatchewan (as well as Eastern B.C.) are rich in sedimentary rocks and thus rich in hydrocarbons and coal. You see, because of our enormous size, Canada has it literally ‘all’. Especially when you include potash and water!  Ontario is well endowed with mining resources as well as enormous potential for hydro-energy.

It is to Canada’s benefit not to favor one energy form over another. What is important is to develop all possible resources in an economically attractive way. It is bad practice to subsidize one form over another because in the end we, all Canadians, make that way less money. 

Exploiting all forms of energy comes at a costs. We sometimes don’t yet know what those costs are. But wind energy comes at a cost and so does oil or natural gas. The latter two mostly in the form of emissions. But the concrete used in building massive wind farms also is a major contributor to emissions.  Solar energy is not only unreliable but there is also the costs of mining silica and melting it into solar panels as well as the use of rare metals. What is the impact on our planet to divert a large portion of solar radiation towards these panels?  What about the amount of energy reflected by those panels back into space?  How does that affect our climate?  You see, nothing is free and that is why economics are so important. The economic cost is, in a free market, the closest thing to assessing the costs of those variable types of energy, including their impact on our environment and our quality of life based on our current understanding.

Many salivate over the switching from the Internal combustion Engine (ICE) to Electric Vehicles(EV) or Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCV). But in in the end it is about what is the most economic way to move across this planet and that is not only regarding vehicle emissions.  Yes, it may take subsidies to research these various ways of energy, and that is fine. The more we research the more we learn to do things efficiently. But it is not right to do so based on misconceptions and utopian ideas. 

We must realize that Hydrogen and Electricity are NOT forms of primary energy. They are energy carriers. Geothermal energy or coal or other hydrocarbons are primary sources of energy. So is solar, but they all have advantages and disadvantages.  Hydro, whether it is converted by the century old water mill or through hypermodern electric generators is primary energy. Nuclear is primary energy.
Electricity has to be generated before it can be used in EVs and Fuel Cells. Those fuel cells require the production of hydrogen before it can be used in FCVs. FCVs are basically EVs using Fuel Cells rather than Batteries. With rare metals such as cobalt so hard to mine without significant environmental impact, mankind may well decide to use FCVs instead of EVs.  But they still need a primary energy as input.

I personally feel, that with all those abandoned oil wells in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, geothermal may be a terrific way to go. I still dream of converting old oil wells into producers of geothermal energy.  There are some entrepreneurs pursuing this idea and I still don’t understand what the hold-up is.
But in the end, we need enough primary energy to not only power our houses and industries but also our transportation. Hydrocarbons play a key role there because it allows for numerous small and relatively cheap energy generators in the form of internal combustion engines.  The demand for hydrocarbons on this planet is increasing every year by another 1 to 2 billion barrels per DAY.

How are we replacing all this with electricity, the majority of which is generated from coal, natural gas and to a much lesser degree oil?  We do not only  dream to replace these hydro carbons but also to meet this planet’s ever-increasing demand for more energy. When considering the costs of first generating electricity and then again converting it into transportation how much of this energy is lost?  Think about how much electric energy is lost along the current electrical grid from generator to user? For me, the difference is that the ICE is a localized small power generator and the EV is a vehicle using energy from a large centralized power station.  Both emit.
As announced on this blog, I am currently building a new residence.  I am planning to make it work with solar energy. I like the idea to not to emit that much, but the economics are marginal these days.  The life of such a system is about 25 years and it takes 20 years or so to break even with today’s technology not considering the emissions to create this set-up. Still, I am willing to give it a go, as soon as my personal finances have stabilized from the construction project. But it is not truly economic compared to directly powering my house using natural gas. 

It is nice to dream of the end of hydro-carbons and to hate nuclear energy but that is not realistic. Certainly not with another 4 or 5 billion people aspiring to join our lifestyle over the coming decades. When attending gatherings on CO2 emissions in Paris or Kyoto, we can dream of these things. We can dream of an electric emission free world, but we should not lose sight of the fact all this still has an economic price and environmental costs.
I think we have made great progress on our environmental awareness and our willingness to try new ways of living. But we shouldn’t throw away the baby with the bathwater. We shouldn’t blindly dream of an electrical, self driving world and penalize our hydrocarbons and our nuclear forms of energy and support political movements that promise ‘nice policies’ just so they can better control our lives. 

If you believe that a world of centralized energy generation (smart grid), of centralized information gathering (think Google, Amazon, Facebook), of centralized income and wealth distribution, of having governments interfering more and more in our individual lives is desirable please vote with your money and your political capital that way. But for me, this whole system leads us to a totalitarian life style, and I don’t care whether you call that Fascism, Socialism, racism, climate change religion, far right or far left, these systems are just scaring the bejeezus out of me.  That is why everyday, I am willing to shout from my perch to be self-reliant; self-accountable and aim for less big business and government control in our own lives.
This blog wants to help you become financially independent and self-reliant. It wants to give you the tools rather than the social subsidies which make you a financial addict to this ‘we-will-take-care-of-you’ society also known as the social welfare hell.  Give a man a fish and you will feed him today; teach him to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime. For the more sensitive amongst us, feel free to use ‘her’ instead of ‘him’. 😊

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