My take on ISIS

It’s all in the back story. Not the divide between Shia and Sunni: that’s ancient history. It’s still relevant today, but I don’t think the religious clash within Islam is the main reason we have ISIS today. The question I’m exploring is how a bunch of terrorists take over 2 cities with a joint 3 million people.

I put it down to Jus Post Bellum, otherwise known as Just Settlement of a Just War.

Did we learn nothing from the Weimar Republic, when the victors of World War 1 placed such hard conditions on Germany that it set the scene for Adolf Hitler and World War 2?

The rules of a ‘just war’ are that we finish it, and let the country rebuild. But in 1990 we busted up Iraq’s infrastructure in GW1, pushed Saddam’s troops out of Kuwait, but failed to go all the way to Baghdad.  Then we placed crippling sanctions on Iraq for decade which crippled their economy and devastated their national health services. Statistics show maybe 500,000 Iraqi infant deaths as a result of failed immunisation schemes and medical services. We failed to give them resolution. We failed to help them recover. Unlike Germany and Japan, both of which quickly bounced back to become serious economic players, we kept Iraq caged and in pain.

We should have either marched into Baghdad and finished GW1 properly, or aleft Saddam’s police state in charge and tried to win him over, Gaddafi style. I know the man’s police state stank. I hated it, and was urging the troops on in GW2. In the context I almost considered it a ‘welfare war’, removing Saddam seemed — at the time — like an act of mercy for the Iraqi people. Yet it seems delayed Jus Post Bellum doesn’t work. GW2 won the war, but lost the peace. We didn’t respect the different ethnic tensions within Iraq, didn’t handle the nation building process very well, and didn’t protect places of historical significance from looting. Not only that, but we ignored the Syrian conflict — probably because the country is not known for oil reserves — and let Assad drop chemical bombs on his citizens. Al Qaeda grew in Syria and then spilled over into northern Iraq and mutated into the ISIS we see today. The situation is so horrible that some popular bloggers are even suggesting America requires its own foreign legion, permanently stationed in hot spots around the world. I would love to see that debated by the experts. In the meantime, I’m keen to continue the current policy of arming and training locals and providing air cover. We’ll see where we are in a year. But the thing makes me wonder where Iraq would be now if we had provided Jus Post Bellum first, and gone all the way to Baghdad in 1991? What if we had replaced Saddam’s regime then? What if we had planned for the ethnic tensions, and maybe even created a Federation of united mini-states within Iraq to empower the different people groups? What if instead of decades of sanctions and further wars, Iraq had experienced 23 years of economic growth?

With prosperity and education and security, we could have dulled the allure of Isis.

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Economics to save the day?

I have to admit that most of the time I hear green economist’s talking, they sound ivory castle and not real world. Too many peaknik greenie economists ramble on about local currencies, and if only this, and if only that. Now meet Richard Denniss, Executive Director of The Australia Institute and Adjunct Associate Professor at the Crawford School of Economics and Government, ANU.

He argues that economics is not a discipline of evil, but can actually be used to deliver solutions that are good. That work. That are real world. If that’s the case, then I’m on board!

Many say that continuous growth unsustainable. But if ‘de-growth’ is unstable, what are we to do? This panel discussion from the recent Sustainable Living Festival looks not at the problem, but at possible solutions. How do we transition to a more sustainable system?

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Cheap internet to the rest of the world

Great use for solar PV: bring the internet to the remaining billions who don’t have it!

Solar PV powering 20km high balloons!

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Renewable ERoEI’s better because they don’t waste heat? Huh?

A comment by Heavyweather led me to the Bountiful Energy blog, which made such a strange claim that I thought it deserved a blog post. They argument is that the waste heat in fossil fuel plants should be counted in the EROEI.

Take this graph as an example. It compares the ERoEI of solar PV for electrical power, against the ERoEI of coal and gas for heat. That comparison is invalid, because it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. Thermal power plants (like coal-burning plants) waste approximately 2/3ds of their energy as waste heat. Waste heat is radiated out into the atmosphere from the power plant, and provides no energy services to society. This massive energy loss from fossil fuels is not counted in that graph of ERoEI, thereby artificially inflating the ERoEI of fossil fuels. If we subtract the energy losses from conversion of thermal energy to electricity, then the ERoEI of fossil fuels declines by approximately 2/3rds relative to solar PV. Conversely, we could also increase the ERoEI of solar PV by approximately 3x, thereby providing an energy quality correction. As a result, the ERoEI for thermal power plants which generate electricity is approximately 2/3rds lower than the graph indicates, or (conversely) the ERoEI of solar PV is approximately 3x higher.

As I understood ERoEI, the claims were that x amounts of coal or oil or gas delivered y amounts of useful work. That is, x coal delivers y electricity or heating or whatever. The thermal losses in the process might be terribly inefficient, but y still gets done. The thermal losses might warrant reinventing how they build power plants to capture some of that waste heat for the local houses, but y still gets done. The sheer waste of heat might make you want to pull your hair out, but y still gets done! That’s the point. They’re measuring what x coal actually does: how much power it produces, how much it heats homes, whatever.

This is not theoretical. There’s so much energy in fossil fuels that even when we use them badly, they still have enough left over energy to run our power grids and move our cars. (And I agree that everybody driving internal combustion engines has to the most wasteful uses of our precious but polluting oil. It is so terribly inefficient with only a tiny fraction of that oil energy actually causing forward motion!)

 But this is where Bountiful Energy’s thermal argument collapses. Looking at waste heat and then subtracting that off the work coal actually does is nonsense. If anything it makes the overall energy return potential of fossil fuels better! For if x coal produces Y work in an inefficient power plant, will not x coal produce 2y or 3y in a really good Combined Heat & Power plant? Why on earth does Bountiful Energy subtract the potentially greater energy supply from the original work of Y? Y still gets done! That’s what they are measuring: what actually gets done. Then artificially inflating solar PV’s work by saying “At least it doesn’t waste thermal heat!” is ridiculous. Solar still only does what it does. Solar PV takes X (the best third of the day’s sunshine) and turns it into Y energy. This is measurable. We can argue over what else to include in the net energy cost of building those solar panels, but that X sunshine = Y electricity is not really a debate. Or is it? What about night time and winter? We’ll get to that. My point for now is that you cannot argue that X sunshine = 3Y electricity just because it doesn’t waste heat energy!


Also, Bountiful Energy has forgotten storage. Renewables are intermittent and require backup. My argument for years (along with that of such ‘lightweights’ as Dr James Hansen, the very man who helped explain our climate emergency!) is that building a renewable grid requires SO much overbuild in smart grids, super-sized grids, over-capacity wind farms and solar farms, and so much money wasted in STORAGE, that it would bankrupt any nation that tried. This has been documented. Germany has wasted hundreds of billions on their solar PV scheme which could have build 3 times as much power in reliable baseload nuclear power plants that run day and night, even on cloudy winter evenings!


BUT EVEN RENEWABLE’S TERRIBLE COST PALES INTO INSIGNIFICANCE next to the laws of physics which state that renewables PLUS STORAGE may not even be an energy source in the first place! It takes so much energy to roll out the STORAGE we need for cold, windless winter nights that when counting the energy cost of the storage, we solar PV may actually become a net energy SINK! That is, X coal and oil and gas consumed in the construction of solar PV + storage = marginally less Y. Solar PV + storage = coal in disguise.

Not only this, but we need a minimum of 12 times the energy return on energy invested (ERoEI) to run the modern world.

Solar thermal is the best. Solar thermal + storage gives us a net return of 9 times the energy it took to build it.

Wind + storage is 3.9, and solar PV might only be 1.6, or really not even an energy source in some places. Sorry folks. The ERoEI of a renewable grid + storage seems to be too low. Nuclear has an ERoEI of about 75. It’s nuclear or it’s climate change. The latest papers by Weißbach explains why.




Lastly, banning nukes because of Fukishima is like banning modern aviation because of the Hindenberg. They were tired old Gen2 reactors and did not have today’s passive safety systems. Why passive? Because they are safe without Homer Simpson having to remember to push any buttons. They are also called ‘walk away’ reactors. “Oh, the reactor’s overheating: let’s go get a cup of coffee.” The passive safety systems in the very laws of physics take over. So that’s today’s Gen3.5 reactors. Tomorrow’s reactors will eat nuclear waste! Indeed, nuclear waste is no longer a problem to store for 100,000 years but could power our world for about 500 years. (Well, at least the UK has enough to run themselves for the next 500 years and America for the next thousand!) And it’s ‘renewable’ because erosion keeps topping up our oceans with more and more uranium particles. Uranium from seawater is now economically viable if our land based uranium mines. But now that we can burn waste, uranium (and thorium) on land will not run out for the next 50,000 years at least.

Nuclear power is safe, burns nuclear waste, has abundant fuel forever (well at least until the sun expands and wipes out life on earth) and is BASELOAD: it doesn’t need backup. As a result, the World Nuclear Association says nuclear’s ERoEI is from 40 to 60. That’s plenty of energy left over to manufacture hydrogen and synfuels and electric cars to replace oil and run our electricity grids.

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Solar PV + storage = net energy SINK!

Is Solar PV even a source of energy when one considers trying to ‘buffer’ it with storage? Does the energy cost of building the solar PV AND the storage render solar PV a net energy SINK rather than energy source? Or, in other words, do you pour more coal and gas and oil into building solar PV + storage than you get back as ‘clean’ energy? Apparently so! Not only this, but we need a minimum of 12 times the energy return on energy invested (ERoEI) to run the modern world. Solar thermal + storage only gives us 9, and that’s the best performing! Sorry folks. The ERoEI of a renewable grid + storage seems to be too low. Nuclear has an ERoEI of about 75. It’s nuclear or it’s climate change. The science says so.

Posted in Solar | 11 Comments

Attack on 9 substations could plunge America into months of darkness?

I remember at talk years ago that said if an enemy fired 9 nukes at critical power substation and food transportation networks, America could collapse into barbarism for a generation. But now the specific risk of an EMP attack (or solar flare) wiping out just 9 substations is gaining traction. The reason for concern? It could crash America’s whole electricity grid for months, if not years!

A 2009 FERC report (Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission) said that:

“physical damage of certain system components (e.g. extra-high-voltage transformers) on a large scale…could result in prolonged outages, as procurement cycles for these components range from months to years.”

Now that this has become public knowledge, how long before terrorist groups figure it out? Remember when Tom Clancy wrote a Jack Ryan novel where a lone pilot hijacks a 747 and flies it into the White House, and then just years later 9/11 happened? If forces us to ask: how secure are America’s substations? Forget the nukes and EMP attacks for a moment: lets consider dumber, cruder methods. What about 9 terrorist trucks loaded with IEMI devices? (Intentional ElectroMagnetic Interference).

Well, it turns out FERC have run some studies into that as well. I didn’t realise IEMI devices could be so small. “Suitcase bombs” in effect, that can be placed inside buildings and power facilities hardened to the vastly more expensive (and difficult, and possibly only state-level-action) of direct nuclear EMP attack.

As another FERC report (by Metatech 2010) says:

It should be noted that IEMI has some advantages over the E1 HEMP in that the EM weapons may be carried inside of facilities (briefcase weapons) and therefore any external shielding of a building will be ineffective. In addition, there are conducted IEMI threats that will allow the direct injection of high-level voltages into power or communications circuits, which cannot happen with E1 HEMP. E1 HEMP must couple to external lines to generate high levels of conducted voltages.

Now let’s get really down and dirty. What about a big suicide bomb, one of those completely tricked-out suicide trucks that can level a city block as we’ve seen in Afghanistan?

Are they really saying America’s electricity grid, and therefore the pumped water supply, could be taken down by a dozen large suicide trucks?

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French government MIMO group going with LibreOffice

Interesting times.

The MIMO working group chose to switch to LibreOffice when the OpenOffice community split into two branches:

  • one branch, OpenOffice, is supported by Oracle, which inherited OpenOffice when it acquired Sun. Oracle donated the OpenOffice code and brand to the Apache Foundation, an independent Open Source institution;
  • the other branch, LibreOffice, is supported by the Document Foundation.

The OpenOffice community split because of a disagreement with Oracle over the management of the project. Some of the people who criticised Oracle’s lack of commitment to OpenOffice development went on to found the Document Foundation. Oracle, however, still owned the OpenOffice name and brand, creating a big headache for MIMO members.

So MIMO met the three parties. “We invited the Document Foundation, Oracle and their respective community, and the Apache Foundation to our meetings,” Christophe Cazin says. “It took a year, but we made an informed choice. Although there were still some uncertainties with the Document Foundation, they provided us with a roadmap of LibreOffice whereas Oracle’s strategy was very blurry. Their OpenOffice community manager came to see us but was not supported by the company. Apache is a very active community, but doesn’t deliver installable software (binaries). And they didn’t know how to tackle the problem. We chose LibreOffice because we lacked visibility into the OpenOffice product and its roadmap”, he says.

Building on what they had learned from these meetings, some MIMO members also took their own steps to evaluate the sustainability of the new Document Foundation. “We found that in France the OpenOffice community had followed the Document Foundation – but we couldn’t have anticipated this”, Christophe Cazin explains. “We use social networks like Twitter and Facebook to see what is being said about the products, what the community members are doing. The community is key, because it is the foundation of an Open Source product like LibreOffice. When we saw that the OpenOffice community was not so active and had not released a milestone for a year and a half, no update, we took the final decision to go with LibreOffice.”
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