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Why Sustainable Power Is Unsustainable

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the what-will-the-market-bear dept.

Earth 1108

Urchin writes "Although scientists are agreed that we must cut carbon emissions from transport and electricity generation to prevent the globe's climate becoming hotter, the most advanced 'renewable' technologies are too often based upon non-renewable resources including indium and platinum — resources that could dry up in 10-15 years if they were widely used in the renewable energy market."

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1108 comments

Wrong Premise (3, Insightful)

davebarnes (158106) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768709)

"Although scientists are agreed that we must cut carbon emissions from transport and electricity generation to prevent the globe's climate becoming hotter"

They are NOT agreed.

Re:Wrong Premise (3, Insightful)

hardburn (141468) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768741)

That's some top notch marketing tactics, there, Dave.

Back in reality, lakes are drying up [wikipedia.org] and deserts expanding [wikipedia.org] due to human activities.

Re:Wrong Premise (3, Insightful)

Jack9 (11421) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768761)

There is no more evidence of that, than carbon emissions affecting pirate population.

Re:Wrong Premise (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26768763)

I could sure use some global warming right about now.

Re:Wrong Premise (4, Insightful)

LingNoi (1066278) | more than 5 years ago | (#26769025)

That's some top notch marketing tactics, there, Dave.

Stop being a hypocrite, correlation does not equate causation, especially when we're talking about the globe. Picking two places off the map doesn't mean jack shit.

Re:Wrong Premise (5, Insightful)

shma (863063) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768747)

Scientists who study climate are in agreement. Some non-experts who study unrelated fields disagree. I'll stand with the people who know what they're talking about, and whose arguments I find sensible.

Feel free to review the evidence yourself, and come to your own conclusions.

Re:Wrong Premise (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26768777)

No, they aren't in agreement.

Keep posting, though. As Goebbels said, a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.

Re:Wrong Premise (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26768843)

Why not show proof that they are or are not in agreement. Those that make either claim should be able to produce papers or other articles from reputable sources which support them.

Re:Wrong Premise (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768895)

Where is your proof that they are in agreement?

Re:Wrong Premise (5, Informative)

ESarge (140214) | more than 5 years ago | (#26769059)

Climate scientists are not in complete agreement. It is always possible to find a few scientists that disagree with consensus opinion. Sometimes these mavericks are even right. See and the continental drift hypothesis. [wikipedia.org]

However, many of the commenters above appear to be using some disagreement to deny climate change (forgive me if I'm reading too much into the comments. Attacking the consensus is a common tactic of deniers).

I would suggest that people look at the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) [wikipedia.org]. This is a United Nations effort with a very large number of scientists involved. So many, from so many different countries, that I would suggest that the information represents consensus opinion and should be listened to very carefully.

Let me quote their latest major report from 2007 (taken from Wikipedia).

" * Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.
        * Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (human) greenhouse gas concentrations.
        * Anthropogenic warming and sea level rise would continue for centuries due to the timescales associated with climate processes and feedbacks, even if greenhouse gas concentrations were to be stabilized, although the likely amount of temperature and sea level rise varies greatly depending on the fossil intensity of human activity during the next century (pages 13 and 18).[34]
        * The probability that this is caused by natural climatic processes alone is less than 5%.
        * World temperatures could rise by between 1.1 and 6.4 ÂC (2.0 and 11.5 ÂF) during the 21st century (table 3) and that:
                    o Sea levels will probably rise by 18 to 59 cm (7.08 to 23.22 in) [table 3].
                    o There is a confidence level >90% that there will be more frequent warm spells, heat waves and heavy rainfall.
                    o There is a confidence level >66% that there will be an increase in droughts, tropical cyclones and extreme high tides.
        * Both past and future anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions will continue to contribute to warming and sea level rise for more than a millennium.
        * Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values over the past 650,000 years
"

Re:Wrong Premise (0, Troll)

LingNoi (1066278) | more than 5 years ago | (#26769045)

Why does he have to show anything? The original claim was they're in agreement.

The burden is on you to find the proof, why should any of us have to waste our time researching shit you're just going to reject because you can't think for yourself.

Re:Wrong Premise (5, Informative)

MRe_nl (306212) | more than 5 years ago | (#26769073)

"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it...." is regularly attributed to Joseph Goebbels. However, I have found no evidence that he said it. Everyone quotes everyone else, but no one ever gives a source. See: http://www.bytwerk.com/gpa/falsenaziquotations.htm [bytwerk.com].

"A lie told often enough becomes truth" Vladimir Lenin.

Re:Wrong Premise (2, Interesting)

slimjim8094 (941042) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768879)

Feel free to review the evidence yourself, and come to your own conclusions.

But we won't care, because he's not an expert on climate...

Re:Wrong Premise (3, Informative)

EdZ (755139) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768881)

Scientists who study the climate agree that the climate is changing. What is not yet agreed upon is if the specific 'why' this time is due solely, or even partly, to human-introduced CO2, or if it's business as usual like the last few millions of years of records indicate. Heck, the jury's still out on whether CO2 leads or lags temperature rises, whether the simulations of a chaotic system are accurate enough, etc.

Re:Wrong Premise (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26769015)

Nope, they're pretty much in agreement: It's us. We're putting too much CO2 into the atmosphere. You'll find a few people here and there that will try to argue, but they're typically not experts in the field and are almost always pushing an agenda.

Re:Wrong Premise (1)

mommycalled (1428305) | more than 5 years ago | (#26769023)

stop listen to Rush and company, and those in the pay of ExxonMobile. There isn't a single credible scientist who says that the current observed increase in temperature isn't due to anthropogenic causes. Christy, Singer Avery, Lizden, Balunas Soong and the others like them all have been received their funding from ExxonMobil. When Christy and Singer publish their research work in journals they agree with Hansen. When they go on the road for Heartland Institute and host of other denier fake conservative organizations that give them large speaker fees they claimno research supports global warming

Re:Wrong Premise (5, Informative)

Anspen (673098) | more than 5 years ago | (#26769047)

Bull, the IPCCC report says that it's "very likely" [time.com] that human made CO2 results in climate change. That's about as definitive as you're likely to get from a very large group of scientists. Yes the precise details are not clear yet, but most of the uncertainty is about how *bad* it could/would get. That human activity is vastly increasing the CO2 levels is clear. That this has a significant influence on the climate is pretty much as well.

Re:Wrong Premise (2, Insightful)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768987)

Scientists who study climate are in agreement. Some non-experts who study unrelated fields disagree. I'll stand with the people who know what they're talking about, and whose arguments I find sensible. Feel free to review the evidence yourself, and come to your own conclusions.

I have to say, I've heard some of the most ridiculously bad physics in arguments from the climate-change deniers. Now, not all of the climate change deniers argue physics, but the ones who do have pretty much made me lose respect for the position. My overall opinion is that if they can't bother to understand physics, I'm not interested.

Re:Wrong Premise (2, Informative)

shma (863063) | more than 5 years ago | (#26769035)

Scientists who study climate are in agreement. Some non-experts who study unrelated fields disagree. I'll stand with the people who know what they're talking about, and whose arguments I find sensible. Feel free to review the evidence yourself, and come to your own conclusions.

You moderators are truly pathetic, modding me flamebait for posting a polite reply. By the way, here's a paper which confirms exactly what I said [uic.edu], but I doubt you'll read it since you only care about silencing anyone who disagrees with you.

You think like a ReThuglican Jew (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26768799)

You think like a ReThuglican Jew
You and your Hilter-loving ReThuglicans lost

Re:Wrong Premise (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26768829)

Maybe so, but here's a hypothetical situation to consider. A comet is crashing towards the area you live in. Scientists have a raging debate as to whether or not it will completely disintegrate before hitting your house. Do you stay in your house till they reach a "consensus" or get the hell out of there?

Whether global warming is true or not really doesn't matter much. We still need to take precautions to prevent pollution and switch to cleaner energy sources. It will benefit our own health and safety as well as be a matter of prudence.

Cooling for 10 years (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26768873)

Yup, the planet's been cooling for 10 years. Ask your newspaper why it's not news.

Re:Cooling for 10 years (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26768989)

Please don't troll. It was a huge gaffe to call climate change "Global Warming" at first because people like you point to cooling events and trends and feel that those instances somehow disprove the entire process of climate change, simply because "Cooling" is the opposite of "Warming". It is much, much more complex than that.

Re:Cooling for 10 years (1, Insightful)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 5 years ago | (#26769021)

Yup, the planet's been cooling for 10 years. Ask your newspaper why it's not news.

If you actually look at the data [wikipedia.org], you'll see that's not true. The climate -hange deniers who have a clue-- and most of them don't-- sometimes argue that the planet hasn't heated up on the last few years (and if you look carefully at the graph, you can in fact argue that). But it most certainly hasn't, on the average, "been cooling."

But the average climate-change deniers aren't interested in the data that hasn't passed through Rush Limbaugh first.

Re:Wrong Premise (5, Insightful)

MrMista_B (891430) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768905)

Those that bother to look at the math instead of the politics, at the history instead of the hype, are agreed.

Re:Wrong Premise (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26768921)

They are NOT agreed.

Yes, it is that darned remaining 2% of scientists who refuse to get with the program. Maybe the research they do such as time travel helmets and power pyramids could be used to help this situation.

If the majority is anything to go by, the entire scientific community has the same opinion on this issue. If you say they are not agreed, you really are talking about the smallest minority of quack scientists who are opposed to everything.

indium (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768713)

try 5 years. when indium dries up your going to have to coat your roof in cadnium.

i've said for years that PV is no good, molten salt solar and nukes are the only viable alternatives.

Re:indium (2, Insightful)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768821)

But although silicon is the most abundant element in the Earth's crust after oxygen, it makes relatively inefficient cells that struggle to compete with electricity generated from fossil fuels. And the most advanced solar-cell technologies rely on much rarer materials than silicon...
...The efficiency of solar cells is measured as a percentage of light energy they convert to electricity. Silicon solar cells finally reached 25% in late December. But multi-junction solar cells can achieve efficiencies greater than 40%.

Hmm, so Silicon is the second most abundant element in the Earth's crust at 25% efficiency and the alternative at a measly 15% performance gain will dry out in around a decade. Disclaimer: I wish there was more information in TFA on what "greater than 40%" is.

Do the math. Looks like we'll be melting down more sand and (hopefully) augmenting our nuclear power in the near future.

Wind? (5, Insightful)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768715)

For things like solar, sure. But I don't see wind or tidal power generation needing anything more advanced than fiberglass.

Re:Wind? (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768725)

base load is their problem - how do you generate power when the wind isn't blowing or when the tide is out? tidal also has a big impact on fisheries.

Re:Wind? (1)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768755)

These supercapacitor we keep hearing about could conceivably be used as batteries, but I it is probably more realistic for nuclear plants to provide for the base load and have other technologies supplement during peak hours.

Re:Wind? (1)

falconwolf (725481) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768937)

base load is their problem - how do you generate power when the wind isn't blowing or when the tide is out? tidal also has a big impact on fisheries.

That's the same problem solar has. Unfortunately because most alternative energy sources are not continuous a base load is needed, until massive storage is developed.

Falcon

Re:Wind? (1)

Ian Alexander (997430) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768945)

Solar faces the same problem. The sun isn't always up and even when it is, it isn't always out. The solution is usually to somehow store surplus energy for later use, and this is made a little easier for both solar and tidal by being very predictable.

rtfa (0, Flamebait)

Toe, The (545098) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768731)

It's right in the original article:

There's another resource being unsustainably wasted on renewable energy, neodymium for neodymium-iron-boron magnets in wind turbines generators. Wind turbines produce even more worthless power than solar panels(see West Texas where wind farms pay ERCOT to take their electricity 20% of the time. If nobody wants the power ERCOT has to do the equivalent of running a giant toaster to get rid of it or the voltage and frequency would get out of wack).

Because you can't make a magnet without neodymium? (5, Insightful)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768833)

It's right in the original article:

There's another resource being unsustainably wasted on renewable energy, neodymium for neodymium-iron-boron magnets in wind turbines generators.

Too bad we don't have any other way to make magenets...oh wait.

Wind turbines produce even more worthless power than solar panels(see West Texas where wind farms pay ERCOT to take their electricity 20% of the time. If nobody wants the power ERCOT has to do the equivalent of running a giant toaster to get rid of it or the voltage and frequency would get out of wack).

Don't you love the impartial scientific tone here? And the sheer illogic of this statement is staggering. If you know you are going to have large amount of episodic oversupply there are all sorts of useful things you can do with it. Make ice. Melt salt. Run pumps. I wouldn't be surprised if the "giant toaster" is some clever over supply utilization system being ridiculed by TFA's evidently clueless author.

--MarkusQ

Re:Because you can't make a magnet without neodymi (2, Insightful)

jandrese (485) | more than 5 years ago | (#26769027)

I thought the problem was that they can't get the transmission lines built because the NIMBY guys have been keeping the power companies in court for years. Last I heard they were finally getting started with the lines though, so the situation might turn around in a few years.

Re:Because you can't make a magnet without neodymi (1)

momerath2003 (606823) | more than 5 years ago | (#26769075)

It's not a question of things that need electricity: the problem is how to get electricity from the wind turbines to places that can use it.

Re:Because you can't make a magnet without neodymi (2, Insightful)

gregorio (520049) | more than 5 years ago | (#26769093)

If you know you are going to have large amount of episodic oversupply there are all sorts of useful things you can do with it. Make ice. Melt salt. Run pumps.

The only thing the power company can do is sell that energy for a cheaper price. They are a power company, not a "salt melting company". Building a plant to perform these kinds of activities costs a lot of money and needs a very complicated business plan that depends heavily on logistics-related factors.

A salt-melting (or any other kind of process) plant would need to run 24/7 to be profitable, using valuable energy during most of the day. The only difference from a normal salt-melting company would be the cost of a single part of their operation, during specific times of the day.

Conclusion: They would be selling energy at a cheaper price. But to themselves, while needing to run a new (to them) and complicated business. It's better to simply sell the energy to anyone else.

And they already do that: they sell energy at a lower price during low usage times. And the part the can't be sold is simply wasted using giant "toasters". It's cheaper to simply burn the excess energy than powering off the thermoelectrical plant.

Re:rtfa (5, Informative)

David Greene (463) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768855)

Uh, no, it's not right in the article. It's in the comments. And we all know what comments are worth.

C'mon, at least try to be effective in your deliberate deception.

Re:rtfa (0, Offtopic)

Toe, The (545098) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768909)

/.'s lack of an edit button strikes again. I realized my mistake just after I posted.

Ah well... such is the road (c'est la via). :P

It's even narrower than that (4, Insightful)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768759)

For things like solar, sure. But I don't see wind or tidal power generation needing anything more advanced than fiberglass.

Take it even further. Neither nuclear nor geothermal suffer from this supposed problem. And not even all solar power systems face it--molten salt and biomass-mediated systems, for example, won't suffer either.

So really we're down to a potential problem with photo-voltaic solar power, and only then on the assumption that no systems based on plentiful materials are waiting in the wings.

Bah.

--MarkusQ

Re:Wind? (1)

Jeremy Visser (1205626) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768779)

I don't see wind or tidal power generation needing anything more advanced than fiberglass.

Copper coils in the dynamos? Last I checked, copper was getting rarer. Even things like Cat-5e costs twice as much as it did a few years ago.

Unless you could use iron coils or something like that.

Re:Better than wind (2, Interesting)

GreenTech11 (1471589) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768875)

An earlier poster mentioned it but how about geothermal energy? Use the latent heat stored in the Earth to boil water to drive a turbine. The water is forced down into the Earth's crust where heat trapped millenia ago boils the water. This technology is under serious consideration for the central part of Australia, and I can think of places in America where it is viable as well. As for the copper coils used in converting the power one of the main areas of research today in the field of power generation is a superconductor which would mean less copper and more power from all existing technologies

Why the earth is hot (1, Informative)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768977)

The water is forced down into the Earth's crust where heat trapped millenia ago boils the water.

I'd agree with most of you post, but not the "young Earth" model behind this statement. The heat wasn't "trapped" (or at least what little "trapping" there was occurred billions of years ago, not thousands); it is being constantly procuded by radioactive decay [physorg.com].

--MarkusQ

Re:Wind? (1)

Seraphim1982 (813899) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768969)

Copper coils in the dynamos? Last I checked, copper was getting rarer. Even things like Cat-5e costs twice as much as it did a few years ago.

When was the last time you checked? With the economic slowdown metal prices have gone through the floor. Copper has gone from ~$4 a pound 6 months ago to ~$1.5 a pound now (prices quoted from the London Metal Exchange).

Unless you could use iron coils or something like that.

You can always use Aluminum for the coils (~63% the conductivity of copper, third most abundant element in the crust).

Re:Wind? (1, Interesting)

R15I23D05D14Y (1127061) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768913)

Plants use solar, but very few natural things use wind or tidal power. Nature has had a very long time to try and fill these energy niches, so it is a safe guess that they can't produce enough energy to sustain a large population at a reasonable standard of living.

The productive renewable path is solar - and this article suggests we have quite a way to go for mass production there - or relying on difficult to access energy sources like coal or uranium, maybe geothermal - which the biosphere has difficulty getting to.

If tidal power was really an option, I would expect to see more coastal trees taking advantage of it. If wind was an option, there would be plants using it to survive. Both these things probably exist, but neither in the numbers to suggests they represent a better deal than solar power.

Here's an idea (2, Insightful)

Toe, The (545098) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768717)

Use less energy.

No, it can't solve everything, but more conservation would be vastly more helpful than trying to exploit new energy sources.

Re:Here's an idea (1, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768749)

aka "be more poor".

You're the kind of person that recommends starving people just eat less.

Re:Here's an idea (5, Insightful)

Toe, The (545098) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768793)

No, I'm saying conspicuous consumers should cut down a little. If one commutes less distance or drives a more efficient vehicle, for example, is one therefore poorer?

And I'm also also that everyone can benefit from energy savings. That does not make us poorer... it makes us richer. What do you think the whole "Green IT" thing is about? Does big enterprise really care about environmentalism, or are they thrilled about cutting the huge energy costs for traditional data centers?

Re:Here's an idea (2, Funny)

bigsteve@dstc (140392) | more than 5 years ago | (#26769089)

No, I'm saying conspicuous consumers should cut down a little.

Hey, you are starting to sound like a communist. The whole point of wealth is so that you can show it off. :-)

Re:Here's an idea (4, Insightful)

Clover_Kicker (20761) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768797)

My new windows reduced my heating bill, but don't detract from my standard of living.

Re:Here's an idea (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26768813)

what? That computer that you are using right now, could it be made more efficient and still have the same computing power? I would say yes it could, it just takes a bit more research. How in the world is that being more poor? We waste and incredible amount of resources because it is easy and relatively inexpensive to do, not because we need it to live the lifestyles we are accustom to. Why be lazy about wasing energy and resources when we could reduce what we use in the first place with a bit of work?

Re:Here's an idea (2, Interesting)

Nimey (114278) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768823)

Is there something wrong with turning down the thermostat and applying more insulation? To getting a more efficient means of transportation?

Don't be retarded.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768841)

No, just be more efficient in satisfying what you need. If you don't need anything other than web/email/word processing, get a netbook, notebook, or a desktop that favors energy efficiency over processing power. Use LED/CFL bulbs. Ride a bike/moped/motorcycle/public transport any time you don't need much cargo capacity. Turn off your heater and wear a sweater. Don't run your Tesla coil when you aren't at home.

Re:Here's an idea (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26768869)

And I suppose you're the kind of person that recommends starving people eat the rich.

Re:Here's an idea (5, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768871)


aka "be more poor".

Righto.. Because this past year I bought a new fridge that uses 1/5 the energy of my old fridge and replaced all the bulbs in my house with CF ones. This year I'll insulate my home (it currently has very little).

So in your opinion I'm now "more poor" than I was before? That's a bit odd, because all those decisions were purely economic ones, and I expect the fridge to pay for itself in 5-6 years. The lights are harder to calculate, but they shouldn't be more than a couple years. The insulation will pay for itself in one winter. So in my case using less energy makes me LESS poor because it winds up costing me less money.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

garcia (6573) | more than 5 years ago | (#26769057)

Yeah, you will be when your utility companies start raising rates because they aren't making enough money due to conversation and energy efficient hardware [centerpointenergy.com].

Even though we are very energy conscious and pay very little for our natural gas and electric (our average gas bill is currently $41) we have already seen a 300% increase since 2006 (I don't have any data before then for this house on hand) and they are expecting it to now go up another $6/month?

You go ahead and keep thinking that you're saving the world and your wallet from the high cost of energy when the cocksuckers are raking you over the coals so they can continue to turn a profit. I love having exactly ONE option (mandated by the local municipality) for utilities and not having any choice to turn to when the rates become cost prohibitive.

Re:Here's an idea (2, Insightful)

YesIAmAScript (886271) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768883)

The average consumer could cut their energy use quite a bit (say 30%) without affecting their lifestyle one bit.

Conservation is not the same as going back to the stone age. That's just a lousy attempt to use reducto ad absurdum to avoid taking even simple steps to reduce energy waste.

Re:Here's an idea (5, Interesting)

cptdondo (59460) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768907)

Sorry, but that's a bullshit answer.

I use about 150 gallons of gasoline a year for my 2 cars. Why? We ride bikes. Pretty much everywhere. The only time I actually drive is on road trips. And we do a lot of those.

There are a lot of ways you can save without being "more poor". You can save and "be richer".

My solar water heater gives me enough hot water for my family to take showers without running out of hot water - as we used to with only the electric heater. We have "always on" computers because I run multihead off the main server, saving the powerbill for individual computers. You want a computer? Turn the monitor on. No boot time, no waiting. I could go on and on. A little bit of care and though and you can save and be rich.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

General Wesc (59919) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768923)

Except that we're not starving. We're getting obese on our power usage--or we would be if we used it all instead of wasting it with inefficient technologies (moving a 2000-pound vehicles to move a 150 pound person, for example.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768805)

No. Even if all of the USA were to cut back 75%, China and India would easily take our 75% of energy. And face it, China and India are growing in economic power, meanwhile the western nations who are trying to conserve energy are epically failing. Conserving energy does nothing more than put the nation back a few decades in technology.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

Toe, The (545098) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768853)

I didn't realize the conversation was limited to the U.S.

Also, how does conservation kill technology? As I just said above, why are corporations so wildly enthusiastic about "Green IT?" Because they suddenly grew a consciousness... or because they want to save money?

Re:Here's an idea (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768899)

I didn't realize the conversation was limited to the U.S.

No, but even with most of the western countries (theres no way China or India will give up their advantages) with it, other countries will make up for it and we will end up heading behind.

As I just said above, why are corporations so wildly enthusiastic about "Green IT?" Because they suddenly grew a consciousness... or because they want to save money?

Well, most "green IT" is more or less a buzzword that means essentially nothing, the same way that "netbooks" are being more popular even when some of these netbooks are nothing more then lower end notebook computers. However, Solar Panels, Hydrogen Cells, Nuclear and even Wind Power are more expensive then their oil/gas based counterparts. Perhaps not in the long run, but currently if your company is heading towards bankruptcy, paying little a month that adds up is a lot less painful then spending a millions on alternative energy that will eventually reduce your bills.

Re:Here's an idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26768885)

Why would they need to take the energy? We could buy it and store vast amounts of resources in therms of materials and fuels. We would be wealthier for it and reducing our consumption of it would make it last longer while other countries burned their supplies, making us even more wealthy. Thing is that we don't do this because the market basically doesn't reward this kind of behavior.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

alexibu (1071218) | more than 5 years ago | (#26769071)

No, if the USA were to cut back 75%, the USA would find itself a technological super power, exporting green technology to China and India.
China and India are reducing the carbon intensity of their economic growth, and will be selling green tech to the USA if the USA doesn't turn its course quite rapidly.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

wITTus (856003) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768861)

Use less energy.

That's so stupid. We have so much energy out there. Why should we use less? We need to advance our technologies to gain more energy out of the sources we already have.

Why You Don't Focus on One Thing (2, Insightful)

hardburn (141468) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768733)

The article points out Indium in some of the better solar cells in the lab (40% efficient), and Platinum as an important catylist in a hydrogen fuel cells. Both of these are already valuable metals for existing applications, and will easily see minable reserves dry up if you add on renewable energy applications.

However, this is why you don't focus on one and only one solution to this problem. Solar reflectors, wind, tidal, and nuclear all have roles to play.

Re:Why You Don't Focus on One Thing (3, Insightful)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768851)

Not to mention as another poster pointed out that most rare minerals are mined in only a few locations because it isn't yet profitable to mine in other locations, when we start (really) running out, there will be more surveys and more of the metal will be found.

"Why Sustainable Power Is Unsustainable" (5, Insightful)

Silvercloud (691706) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768753)

I disagree categorically with the article title. Sustainable energy is the only sane way to exist and make tradition upon. If in the short term, we find we can't implement some energy catching machine because of a scarity of an earthbound resource, someone will find another way. Human innovation is invincible.

We are running out of what exactly? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26768785)

The earth has a volume of 1.0832073x10^12 cubic km, I would humbly suggest that we are not running out of anything, nor are we ever likely to.

Remember the Simon-Ehrilich Wager (2, Interesting)

rshol (746340) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768787)

Here's the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon-Ehrlich_wager [wikipedia.org] The problem back then was supposed to be population which would drive the cost of scarce materials up. But lo and behold, despite a decade with the largest population growth in history, the prices went down. I'd bet anyone the same with regard to indium or any other metal. Not only will we not run out in 10 years, but the price will be lower.

People don't understand what "unsustainable" means (1)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768789)

If we are practicing unsustainable living, then life will not be sustained. The resources will dry up, or we'll choke on our waste, whichever happens first will result in large scale die-offs, after which point those who remain alive will at that point be practicing "sustainable" living until their population grows too large or their consumption grows too great, at which point there will be another great die-off.

Re:People don't understand what "unsustainable" me (1)

owlnation (858981) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768957)

That is a very valid point. "Sustainable" is a buzzword that actually has very little defined meaning. It's a wonderful marketing word because it sound like something we naturally agree with, and all understand. However, it's vague enough to mean what you want it to mean. Or mean what a Government or Corporation wants it to mean.

It's like "biodiversity" too -- sounds good, has no agreed practical meaning. "Heritage" is another. There's plenty of them. "fairtrade" "organic" etc etc.

I think we are all agreed we need to be more sustainable. Now we just need to figure out a definition of sustainable that we all agree on -- not just Government and Corporate definitions of it. It actually is a big part of the problem.

ore supplies and reserves are *always* limited (5, Interesting)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768803)

as it's not economically viable to prospect for new sources unless and until the existing supplies are nearing their end of life.

Who would pay for an exploration team to go around, looking for new sources of a material that was already abundant? Answer: no-one. As a consequence, a lot of "rare" minerals only have a known source that will last a couple of decades - or less. Until they become scare and the price rises, there's no profit in spending money looking for new reserves.

In the 70's the big scare was that there was only 15 years worth of (known) oil reserves left. Hey, we didn't run out. When the price went up, that incentivised people to go out and find new sources.

Same when I was doing electronics design in the early 80's - there was a scare that we'd run out of tantalum (for capacitors).

Scares aren't new and tend to have a way of working themselves out. Even if one metal did become to prices - i.e. scarce, no doubt processes will be invented to use a different material.

Asteroids (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26768893)

There's plenty of iridium around. There simply isn't much in the Earth's crust, but we aren't required to stay in our nest.

Re:ore supplies and reserves are *always* limited (2, Insightful)

bjourne (1034822) | more than 5 years ago | (#26769005)

Even if none of the scares so far has come true it doesn't mean that their conclusion is not inevitable. The amount of raw materials on earth is limited, we consume raw materials at an exponential rate (x % increase pear year). As a consequence, there will not be enough raw materials available in the future.

Not too worried (1)

rastilin (752802) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768857)

If we never update our devices with new materials, then yeah this will be a problem. However since I have seen articles about various engineers constructing devices from such obscure materials as "refined turkey feathers", I'm not too worried. If we run out of required materials, replacements will be found; they might be less efficient, but they're there.

Personally though I would prefer if we didn't have to make stuff from farm animals, a part of me does feel sorry for the things.

Use less power.

Since I intend for my people to walk among the stars, using less power really isn't an option I want to go with.

They aren't gonna run out of metal (2, Informative)

FrostDust (1009075) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768917)

As even mentioned in the article, the prices of the resources used in the construction of these renewable energy systems have dramatically increased due to unexpected increases in demand.

As prices go up and up, manufacturers aren't gonna be entering bidding wars for the last few grams of silicon. They're going to try and find cheaper materials that do the same job, switch to systems that don't use materials of such increasingly scarce supply, or decrease the amount of rare materials that each unit needs. Solar panels, windmills, etc. aren't going to become impossible to produce in a few decades.

Mining off world (2, Interesting)

james.mcarthur (154849) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768919)

These materials are scarce on Earth, but asteroids and other worlds would have these resources as well.

Nothing is fully renewable that... (5, Insightful)

pottymouth (61296) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768931)

.. is suitable for realistically providing power for the typical modern life.

Nuclear is clean, safe and practically inexhaustible. The latest advances could provide small nuclear "batteries" the size of a hot tube that could provide power to an entire neighborhood decentralizing much of the power systems (and huge networks of wires) we've come to think of as unavoidable. Making our power systems virtually fool proof. For too long we've lived in the fear from the propaganda of the illiterate press. It's time to start using the miraculous energy source we uncovered and made practical nearly 3/4 of a century ago. It's there, it's understood, it's completely doable and for a hell of lot less money than the democrats want to steal from the people of the US right now.

Go nukes! Go nukes! Go nukes!

Re:Nothing is fully renewable that... (1)

waveguide (166484) | more than 5 years ago | (#26769007)

Nuclear energy is an excellent alternative, but it's far from inexhaustible, and it releases a huge amount of energy as heat that would not have been released without human intervention. I don't drink the global warming Kool-Aid, but this argument doesn't work very well against it. You're generating energy from otherwise inert sources-- what we need to shut Al Gore up is a mechanism that generates energy from existing, heat-creating processes, and that produces work. That mechanism would hopefully produce less heat by diverting energy to work, but nothing that anyone has put forth yet does that. The greenest technologies we have now only put the heat generation further up the production chain, and so far, they produce more heat than the traditional, low-tech methods. That's part of why none of them are commercially viable.

Sorry, not a Greenie. I'm addicted to facts, I'm afraid.

Re:Nothing is fully renewable that... (1)

sneilan (1416093) | more than 5 years ago | (#26769013)

I agree. Nuclear is a safe way to go, but, is still causes lot of pollution. First, Uranium has to be mined out of the ground in open-pit mines. This destroys the landscape and has a lot of waste (i.e. dirt) It's also very energy intensive to turn Uranium into something that can be put into a power plant.

Why are there so few responses to the easy fixes? (5, Informative)

waveguide (166484) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768949)

We need research into different energy sources, it's true, but what boggles my mind is why people don't address the simple things in their own lives, if they're concerned about energy conservation. The funniest thing I can see in this particular arena is the moron who rails against the oil companies and middle eastern governments, terrorists, and whatever else, then gets in his Explorer to commute to work by himself, getting 3 mpg, while babbling on his phone about how bad the energy situation is. If you drive a truck (no, I don't use the euphemistic 'SUV'), then shut the F up- you're part of the problem.

There is so much BS going around about alternative energy sources, but we could make a big difference now. I haven't ever owned a car that got less than 25 MPG, and I work half of my time from home; when I don't, I often ride a train. I doubt there are many alternative energy advocates that are close to my carbon footprint, but they put their faith in technology that doesn't exist instead of getting their supersized butts out of their trucks. And people listen to them anyway.

Eventually, all civilizations fall (1)

sneilan (1416093) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768959)

Nobody wants to hear this, but, eventually, no matter how strong a civilization might be, they must eventually go bye bye. It is part of the natural process of life and death.

Real sustainable power available since decades (4, Interesting)

Sabriel (134364) | more than 5 years ago | (#26768967)

Ok, IRTFA. Sheesh, talk about using bazookas to swat flies. Is this anything more than FUD to scare people back to coal? Let me spell it out:

Solar-thermal plants using mirrors, steam turbines, and if you want 24/7, underground heat reservoirs. Completely buildable using some of the more common materials on the planet: sand, steel, concrete, copper, salt, etcetera. Who cares if they're inefficient compared to the super-fancy super-rare stuff in TFA, just build lots of them.

Maintenance? Bugger all in comparison to a coal plant, the bloody things run on sunshine. There's no toxic+radioactive coal dust/ash/soot getting into everything, no gas-guzzling trucks and trains leaving said dust billowing in their wake over nearby towns and farms as they go between mine and plant... blah blah bloody blah.

There are only three real reasons that the countries with plenty of sunshine (e.g. my own) haven't gone this route long ago: vested greed, common ignorance, short-term thinking.

/rant!

Re:Real sustainable power available since decades (2, Insightful)

waveguide (166484) | more than 5 years ago | (#26769105)

And you have discovered how to advance the technology enough for it to be buildable within the available open space, without destroying habitats and greenspaces that are protected? The solar energy concentration is not sufficient to convert the amount of energy we need with the technology we have without bulldozing half of the available landmass. This argument is similar to the (thankfully abortive) ethanol argument, which had Brazil contemplating how much of the rain forest they could knock down to grow corn without destroying the world's oxygen supply.

If it were as easy as you think, it would already be solved, for Pete's sake.

Something for nothing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26768979)

Ultimately, how much are we willing to pay? Energy cannot be "made" out of nothing; there is always a cost, some are more bearable than others but the cost is always dear and painful. Massive concentration and disbursal of chemical substances Earth took millions of years to distribute and sequester; either path leads to destruction. Heat convection from cities energy use modify weather patterns for hundreds of miles and more. Removal of forest destroys natural cooling. Disrupted weather patterns are wildly redistributing heat carrying moisture.

The most interesting sentence in TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26769019)

Supratik Guha of IBM told the conference that sales of silicon solar cells are booming, with 2008 being the first year that the silicon wafers for solar cells outstripped those used for microelectronic devices.

This is particularly worrysome from my perspective. This implies solar cell demand has a HUGE impact on the price of silicon. If demand for silicon solar cells has increased this much, then all these assumptions about silicon solar cells reaching parity with grid electricity within a few years in terms of dollars/watt may NEVER happen.

Anyway, I think the article is being alarmist about nothing. What the article DOESN'T mention is how much of these rare metals actually go into each wafer. The average silicon wafer is several mm thick, but the volume of that wafer that is actually used in electronics is exceedingly small - only a couple micrometers in depth at most. The amount of indium needed in an ITO (Indium tin oxide) layer is on the order of nanometers so one kilogram of indium could provide enough for tens of thousands of wafers. Now someone at this point might say "well tens of thousands of wafers isn't even one city block in area", but also consider the well-known fact that solar cells are actually *more* efficient with more light incident on them (assuming they are cooled), so the concept of concentrator solar cells are becoming extremely popular. One might concentrate light to 100x strength on one cell. If we can create the concentrator out of something cheaper, then the metal shortage problem disappears.

Anyway, my point is engineers have been all over this stuff for a long time. I took a class on solar cells at Georgia Tech taught by one of the experts in the field, and let me just say that a lot of cleverness has already gone into solar cells a long time ago that address these relatively simple issues. The only huge problem with solar cells that hasn't been addressed more or less yet is the ability to capture wideband EM radiation efficiently. The world record is still only around 40% of incident light.

non-re-new-able (4, Insightful)

fermion (181285) | more than 5 years ago | (#26769081)

When we burn a bunch of fossil fuel, we are burning mass that was laid down a very long time ago, and take a long time to recreate. This time is not measured in hundreds of years, but hundreds of thousands years. This means two things. First, once it is consumed, it is consumed. Second, we are raising carbon levels bu reintroducing carbon that was removed perhaps a million years ago.

The situation with renewable energy is different. Yes when it takes energy to manufacture biomass into fuels. But if is done right, we are taking carbon out of the atmosphere one year, and putting it back in the next, creating a steady state. Clearly there are some issues now, but that is political. In the US, instead of using weeds, the corn growers, which have been pushing the US for years to a deadly philosophy of monoculture, is using food crops. On the other point, I don't think that biofuels is causing food prices to increase any more than lack of oil is causing the current high prices at the pump. demand for luxury food is increasing, the economic expansion of the past several years means that people are buying more, and there is much less focus on the needs of those that have no food.

As far as rare metals, these are not consumed. All these products can be remanufactured. The issue is political. In my US town, trash is picked up once a week at every house, but recycling is picked up only every other week at some houses. Houses are allowed to throw away dangerous materials without any fine. The only way to send electronics for remanufacture to go to the drop off on a work day. Of course a lot of this has to do with the costs involved. it is cheaper to mine new material rather than reuse old. for these materials the economics might be reversed, and we might the trend reversed.

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