“All the human and animal manure which the world wastes, if returned to the land, instead of being thrown into the sea, would suffice to nourish the world.”
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables.
Victor Hugo's quote is a pristine example of the permanent contradiction in which we are trapped: surrounded by resources, but incapable of distinguish even the most basic: the difference between waste and resources, something that nature has solved long time ago: "waste" concept simply does not exist in nature.
Energy sovereignity is the right of a community to direct and manage their energetical strategy: to plan the managament of resources in the most efficient way, always considering the beneficial impacts in the social and environemental spheres. In this page we will try to explain why, apart from building arcs and vaults, we build thermosolar collectors or high efficiency masonry stoves.
The present energy model is based in the centralized production of electrical energy in big power plants run by oil or coal. Once produced, that energy is distributed by a complex and expensive cabling system. This far what we were taught at the school. Now let's see the consequences that this model generates:
Oligopoly: Technology and investements required are left in the hands of a few players, and that lends to a total control of the energy market in which the boundaries between buyers and sellers are, to say it sofly, diffuse.
Energy market: Technology and captive technology: being a complex technology, the users have no alternative: either buy to the operator or they build an independent system that usually has a superior cost, both from the financial and maintenance sides.
Location: Power plants are installed, for safety and contamination reasons, far from cities. Only for this decision, the lenght of the wiring system is huge. On the other side, it is a tacit admission that they are dangerous and harmful for the environement. Finally complexity is added and the cost of maitenance shots up.
Costs: each watt produced by a nuclear plant costs from 2,2 to 6 Euros/Watts(2007). Meanwhile, solan panels cost are from 1 to 2 euros/watt. The well known technique of repeatedly tell a lie until becomes a truth has a paradigmatic example in the sentence " to produce a PV panel you spend more energy that the one it is going to gather along its lifespan". Even if that was true- which is not- the 25 years of useful lifespan of a PV cell and their almost inexistent maintenance cost would broadly compensate this "sin". Germany will be energetically independent by 2050. Therefore, will not need to import fossil fuels.
The tax of energy return, this great unknown. The EROI ( TRE in spanish) is the amount of energy needed to produce...energy or a raw material. If Oil Peak is depressing, wait until you meet EROI: the price of fossil fuels and metals not only will rise because they are becoming more scarce but because to produce a unit of energy or metal you need to remove and work out more tons of rocks. Only to find an ore or oil of lower quality.H ence, doble spiraling of prices. According to New York University, the minimum acceptable EROI is 3:1, but if we wish "luxuries" like Public Health System or Education, has to be higuer. For example, Biofuel barely reaches 3:1, and sometimes has to be subsidized with petrol. Photovoltaic energy is between 7:1 y el 10:1, by the way.
Raw materials: To produce 1 MW of electricity you need 1 Ton of Copper. This means that if we need more energy, we need more fuel and more metals. Therefore growing is impossible due to the exhaustion of raw materials. We are then not only talking about Oil Peak: Gold peak,copper, zinc, uranium, silver and so on...
( Img: A Falling EROI: www.theoildrum.com)
Also called distributed o dispersed, consists on the generation of electrical energy by means of many small energy sources.
This energetic model alows us to reduce the power loses and the maintence cost of the wiring net, since the distances of wiring are minimal. Therefore, it is a more efficient sistem even if the same generation sources ( fossil fuels, hidraulic( combustibles fósiles, hidráulica...) were used. Fits perfectly with the renewal energies. By using photovoltaic and thermosolar, micro-hidraulic and micro-eolics, the efficiency multiplies. There is an initial cost but maintenance costs are minimal, so the investion is compensated in a few years. In adition, greatly reduces the landscape impact of the electrical cabling.
Model change: To install a PV or Thermosolar system on your roof means to bring the generation not only near the house, but literally on top of it. An interconnected net among several self-sufficient neighbours allows one or several consumers to compensate eventual demand peaks at a certain moment. At full production, surplus are produced, and can be dumped at the net and serve for other customers.
(Img: Barrio de Pal, Japón.)
If de-centralized energy grid is the solution, then...why is not driven by the spanish governement? To begin with, from the many things that we admire from Germany, looks like the de-centralizad energy system is not one. Germany is already world leader in solar generation, with much less sun hours that Spain has. Even more important, 40% of solar power is on private roofs. This means that almost half of the gigantic infrastructure needed to change an energy model at a national scale...is not being paid by the governement but by the citizens...from their pockets. The outcome of this brilliant ( a very appropiate word here) strategy is that in 2050 Germany will be energetically self-sufficient and will not need to import fossil fuels.
While in Spain oil exploratory drilling in waters of regions living from turism like Canary or Balearic Islands are planned, er import italian rubbish to feed an incinarator in Mallorca. In the mallorquin case, the situation borders on the absurd: the local firm that sell the biomass to Italy explains that the reason obbeys to the "decrease in the building sector, that in turn lowered the biomass demand for the local incinerator". This has produced a surplus that he will now sells to Italy. Therefore, the fact that the citizens decrease their trash production provokes the import of foreign rubish that will be used as fuel at the central incinerator to produce dirty electricity.This "solution" of importing litter is presented upon the admonitory "if not, we will have to rise the rubbish collection fees", while on the other side local biomass is being exported so the italians may generate clean electricity in a biomass plant. Once again, reality surpasses fiction. Amazing but true.
Those situations are obvious consequences of the mismatches that a change of paradigm involves. We are startng the post-industrial era but still bring on our shouders the inertia of the past. At this point, it is informative to remember the steps of a mourning:
1) Negation, Wrath: everything possible is being made to return to the previous situation, pretending nothing ever happenned. Recrimination and accusations. Psicologist say that negation is a defensive system to reduce anxiety in front of a threat.
2) Negociation,depression: Calm arrives, impact is tried to ease. To bargain, to delay.
3) Acceptance: facts are assumed and therefore starts the search for creative solutions.
It looks as though the problem lies in the fact that citizenship and politicians are in different phases of this mourning process. Those who already arrive at the acceptance phase receive the anger of those still dealing with ene negation phase, or the "constructive" recrimination of the ones that are in the negociation phase.
However, there's an uncontestable fact: for decades, media, politicians and "experts" have been allerting that renewables would never be able to replace the present energetic model. Fortunately, neither Denmark ( 100% green energy by 2050) nor Germany ( self sufficient by 2050) paid attention, and therefore show us the path to follow.