Joris van Dorp is an HVAC and energy systems mechanical engineer at a building installations consultancy. His primary work is associated with projects intended to improve energy efficiency/sustainability within the field. Clients include medical centers, airports, data centers, laboratories, office buildngs and some industrial clients.
On October 18, 2013, Joris submitted the following comment. It deserves more attention than it would get by remaining buried in a comment thread on a post about an unrelated topic. It is what a lawyer might dismiss as “hear say”, but it seems to me that the comment illustrates an attitude that others have indicated is depressingly pervasive. It is most prevalent among people who are either ignorant of or who deny the value of abundant, ultra-low emission atomic fission energy.
Rod, sorry this is off-topic, but in reply to Daniel:
Daniel, I agree, and things are getting worse!
Aside from editor: Daniel’s original comment referred to green aristocrats who can afford irrational power supply systems and who do not mind passing the costs to the masses. End Aside.
I now personally know at least two top-level energy and sustainability consultants who have told me independently – to my face – that they believe the future of energy will be intermittent distributed generation without backup, whereby the problem of windless, sunless days are ‘solved’ by letting the spot price of energy rise as high as necessary to shed the required amount of load. When I then asked these guys (well-healed, well-paid, white-collar males) if they understood that such an energy system paradigm would force the poor to go without energy regularly, almost every day for a few hours in fact, even while the rich would be able to pay such prices, they replied that this was no problem. One of them actually told me (something which I already know) that in Germany hundreds of thousands of households are cut off from electricity each year, which shows that getting rid of load by pricing the poor out of the market works fine!.
They both also suggested that if people (or businesses) wanted reliable energy they should just get themselves a diesel generator. They cited the fact that datacenters and hospitals already have there own backup generators, which “shows that its possible for every business to readily solve the problem of future unreliable grid electricity”.
Both of them also agreed that not only would energy become less reliable in future, but that it also would become far more expensive. Both of them were adamant that the public was ready to accept this development without protest.
When I told them that this would probably not solve climate disruption, because few if any other nations would choose such a grotesque energy strategy, but rather choose to continue burning fossils, they both replied that this was also no problem, since the problem of co2 was exaggerated anyway! (note that these guys have businesscards saying they are senior-consultants on sustainability)!
Finally, I asked each of them if they explained these things during their presentations and consultancy practice. Neither did. One of them actually told me: “No I don’t tell them of course! What we are going to do is bring about the new energy paradigm (based on unreliable and expensive grid electricity) slowly, so the people have time to adjust, because people are flexible and creative and will find ways to deal with it in time, and because they will forget that there was a time when energy was cheap and available 24/7! In 30 years time, no-one will remember the energy system of past and everybody will organize their lives around the availability of energy, shifting their energy dependent activities to coincide with sunny and/or windy periods.
(Emphasis as provided in the original submission.)
The comments submitted in response to Joris’s comment are equally enlightening.
I strongly disagree with the world view represented by the two people that Joris describes. The earth has been endowed with amazingly generous quantities of resources, including actinides that contain many times more energy that the total quantity of fossil fuels. With abundant energy, almost anything is possible, including plenty of clean water and indefinitely recyclable materials.
We know how to reliably release actinide energy; we know how to turn the resulting heat into valuable motion and electricity. The only real obstacles to a world in which most people have access to energy on demand are human-created rules many of which have been purposely erected to limit the overall supply of energy. It is an open secret that established fuel suppliers often restrict their production so that their products can be sold at the higher prices that result when there is a perception of scarcity.
As the reported conversation with sustainability consultants demonstrates, both fossil fuel suppliers and some sustainability advocates strive to create market conditions that lead to higher prices. One group likes higher prices because they produce more revenue and profit potential from the same resource, the other group wants higher prices to encourage people to do less so that they use less energy.
Some readers believe that the shared interests are only accidental; I’d like to point out that at least one very wealthy and successful fossil fuel supplier and his wife — George and Cynthia Mitchell — have quite publicly donated $400 million to a variety of interest groups. Their current initiatives focus on conventional sustainability campaigns led by thought leaders who preach what I call a “do less with less” mantra.
The two consultants who are the subject of this post may be outliers; I don’t know enough about the field to make a sweeping generalization. In fact, one of my favorite bloggers is a sustainability consultant with a different way of thinking. Ben Heard of Think Climate Consulting has recognized that building a sustainable world includes developing technology that provides access to abundant, ultra-low emission atomic fission energy.
I’d like to hear from more people in or around the “sustainability consultant” profession to begin to determine which is the more common point of view – Ben’s optimistic one or the exceedingly pessimistic and elitist view that Joris described.