In recent months, the rise in the price of electricity is cause for disgust (or should be) in our country. Something that is not usually explained very well. On the other hand, they put fear into our bodies for possible blackouts in much of Europe, which is not better clarified in the general media either.
This topic seems simple at first: it is mainly due to the increase in the price of gas. In Spain the marginal system is used, this means that the electricity (kWh produced) is paid at the price of the most expensive kWh. It so happens that the most expensive way of producing electricity is done in combined cycle plants (which use gas), and the price of gas has skyrocketed lately due to its scarcity as a raw material. Unfortunately, this system has been implemented by European regulations, so our country alone does not have the possibility of changing it.
The thing about blackouts is quite interesting, but you have to remember something from the physics that we studied at school. It is explained, among other things, by the need to maintain the perfect synchrony of all the systems that produce electricity. Antonio Turiel explains it in this interview. It seems that it is clear that we are facing an energy crisis and a shortage of natural resources where the massive implementation of renewable energies is sold to us as the magic solution. But beware! We must ask ourselves if this is all we can do as a society and as consumers.
In the long term (by obligation) 100% of the energy will be clean, but how much does this 100% represent? The current consumption of sources fundamentally of fossil origin cannot be replaced by other renewables. This transition will be hard, the only way out is to consume less energy than is consumed today, that is, we will have to need less to live.
We have researchers in our country working on these issues for a long time. For example, according to the Energy, Economy and System Dynamics Group (GEEDS) of the University of Valladolid, there is a maximum (whether hydraulic, wind, solar…) that can be captured on Earth. They estimate that only up to 25% of current primary energy consumption could be supplied by taking advantage of solar on a global scale. And using all renewables, reach up to 40%.
A system based on renewables is incompatible with capitalism
The question is whether our society can live with 40% of the energy that we now have available. It seems obvious that it is not possible to maintain a social and economic system equal to the current one based 100% on clean sources, perhaps this is the reason why the total transition to them has not occurred. A system based on them is incompatible with capitalism.
As long as there have been cheap fossil fuels for the whole world, we have been cheating the system, but as we are now running out of these easy and cheap options (the peak of conventional oil extraction came in 2005; in 2015 we reached the peak of diesel production; and gas is expected to arrive before 2030), we look at renewables like crazy because we have no other alternative.
With this panorama, the most sensible thing would be to be able to live needing less energy. It does not mean living worse, but rethinking our consumption strategies. At this point we collide with the demand for economic growth year after year, but at what cost?
According to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the optimal annual economic growth would be 3% to maintain our current pace of life, but the size of the world economy would double in just 24 years. There is no finite planet that can absorb this growth, with the associated ecological footprint and environmental impact (the climate crisis can no longer be hidden).
how to explain at Report on Sustainability in Spain 2021 Indefinite economic growth and ecological sustainability are impossible at the same time, since socioeconomic processes always interact within the biosphere and the physical reality of the Earth. We should not expect advances in technology and science to solve the problem caused by indefinite growth, since we can never go against the laws of physics and the second law of thermodynamics. Luck.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.