Ep 53: Mathijs Beckers - Author, Climate Zero Hour (Netherlands)
Qa1 06:00 - Renewables Alone Cannot Stop Climate Change
Bret Kugelmass: What have you found when you compare various energy sources as it relates to material consumption and productivity?
Mathijs Beckers: Mathijs Beckers is the author of Climate Zero Hour. Public perception, in general, is that climate change can be stopped with 100% renewable energy, and Beckers originally believed this as well. Beckers also brings to light the scale of coal mining across the globe, as just one surface mine pit in Germany is large enough and deep enough to fit all of Manhattan. Beckers became interested in climate change, originally focused on solar power and other renewables. He discovered, based on calculations, that renewable energy alone could not support the demand on the grid, now or in future projections. Beckers reached out to experts across the globe to validate his assumptions in these calculations.
Qa2 12:58 - Material Production Required for Energy Generation
Bret Kugelmass: Why was it important to start writing a book on climate change?
Mathijs Beckers: Mathijs Beckers is the author of multiple books focused on energy, with the latest being Climate Zero Hour. Beckers battled chronic depression for many years and struggled to find meaning for himself in his work. His first book, Highway to Dystopia, reflects his state of mind at the time by trying to find a positive future, but eventually choosing a negative outlook on the world we live in. Beckers is also the author of Science a la Carte and The Non-Solutions Project. He aims to put the scope of the energy problem in perspective for the general public. One example calculation Beckers breaks down is the material production required for different energy sources, such as the amount of copper required for solar panels and how the economics may affect production.
Qa3 21:00 - Growth of Global Energy Consumption
Bret Kugelmass: What other topics do you focus on in your energy-related books?
Mathijs Beckers: One of Mathijs Beckers’ primary concerns is the disparity between the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) energy consumption and non-OECD consumption. The OECD is comprised of North America, Europe, Japan, and a few other smaller countries, totaling approximately 1.5 billion people. The per capita consumption of the OECD is about five to six times as much as those living in non-OECD countries, which is about 6 billion people, with an estimated two to three billion more people to be added to the non-OECD population. In order to bring fresh water, food, and shelter to these people, energy production needs to be greatly increased. Energy consumption is not just electricity consumption, but it is also the consumption of products that use energy to be made. Beckers created models analyzing the effects of increased energy per capita in OECD and non-OECD countries. The minimum energy per capita value Beckers uses assumes basic subsistence needs are met and that poverty is not increasing.
Qa4 29:24 - Investing in the Nuclear Learning Curve
Bret Kugelmass: What solutions are left to provide the energy required for the future to bring the world out of energy poverty and stop climate change?
Mathijs Beckers: Mathijs Beckers advocates for nuclear energy as the best source of energy and the source needed to bring the world out of energy poverty and stop climate change. However, he recognizes that not enough is being done with nuclear energy at this time. The EPR (European Pressurized Reactor) has never been built, even though it has been in the design phase for many years; it is a first of a kind (FOAK) plan. AP-1000 is another first of a kind reactor design. During construction, builders and designers discover than many things were not accounted for, causing extreme cost increases. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, over 100 reactors were under construction each year. The first of a kind reactors are facing challenges during the building phase. The industry must accept that the first of a kind projects may not deliver initially, but provide invaluable experience and lessons for future builds. The learning curve only kicks off when more reactors are built. This process must be sped up and see committed funding to be successful.
Qa5 36:28 - Only Twenty Years Left in the Carbon Budget
Bret Kugelmass: How do first of a kind reactors differ from the existing nuclear plants?
Mathijs Beckers: Most of the nuclear technology is the same throughout different plant designs, but Mathijs Beckers considers passive safety features the biggest difference, which allows the plant to operate safely with minimal operator or engineer intervention, such as a in Generation III+ reactors Generation IV reactors, such as molten salt or gas-cooled pebble-bed reactors, have a negative void coefficient. When normal operation stops, the reactivity goes down and the reactor wants to shut itself off. In order to maintain 1½ to 2 degrees warming, without going above, there is a carbon allowance of about 800 gigatons of carbon. The world population is emitting approximately 35 gigatons of carbon per year, leaving twenty years left in the carbon budget. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that, in order to stay under RCP 2.6, a radiative forcing put on the Earth on top of what it normally has, negative emissions are required. In order to accomplish this, carbon must sucked out of the air, which will also require energy. An abundant and cheap enough energy source is needed to achieve this, providing opportunity for nuclear energy.
Qa6 42:40 - Nuclear Energy as a Cornerstone for the Electrical Grid
Bret Kugelmass: Is this bar for climate change achievable with the right technology?
Mathijs Beckers: With the right technology and the right mindset, stopping climate change might be possible. As with the Apollo project, the U.S. committed to having no obstructions to building the rockets, developing the infrastructure, and getting funding. Practically all the technology needed to solve this issue already exist, with room for innovation. Mass production of reactor pressure vessels or cold rolled stainless steel for molten salt reactors may be advanced processes that allow nuclear to succeed. Given the socioeconomic circumstances that we live in, politically, culturally, and economically, the time it takes to get to these solutions is much longer than the time we have to respond to the calamity. Mathijs Beckers believes in nuclear as the cornerstone of the electrical grid with support from solar and wind power. In order for solar power to take over the grid, billions of panels will need to be built and plans put in place for maintaining and recycling. All the recoverable uranium and thorium we have today will fit inside the Empire State Building in New York, which could provide power for the plant for generations. There is also approximately 4 billion tons of uranium in seawater, which replenishes itself regularly. Nuclear power uses the least amount of materials to produce and the material needed is readily available.