Thursday 6 March 2014

Poll shows most Albertans favour renewable energy over coal... so what?

I love stories like this one from the Edmonton Journal:

A shocking result, people would rather have renewable energy produce their energy then coal. SHOCKING! I wish they'd link to the questions asked when stories rely on surveys. Of course, with framing effects and what not you can skew results in whichever direction you want. Then maybe authors would no the worthwhile surveys to report on and the worthless surveys to ignore.

For example how was the price point question asked?:
Commissioned by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the poll also found that two-thirds of Albertans are willing to pay higher prices for electricity generated by wind and solar power, and that a majority are convinced there are negative health effects related to burning coal. 
For example, had the previous question been:  Burning coal has been found to contribute to four of the five leading causes of mortality in Alberta: Heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory diseases. Are you concerned by the negative health effects related to burning coal?

Then followed by: Would you be willing to pay a slightly higher price for your energy if it were to come from renewable non-polluting sources?

We don't know if that was the case, but you get the point.

But that all isn't even what makes me laugh.

Of course everyone wants renewable energy. It just isn't economically feasible YET. It will be someday. But it's not there yet. Even if you favor more government support, you'd probably want to support a carbon tax that would make non-renewables less economically competitive.

These are nuanced question topics that require aren't black and white. I don't find survey's like this provide any useful information. The more detail or prior knowledge you need to answer a question, the least likely the results of a survey based on these questions becomes.

'We should stop consuming fossil fuels' that's a legitimate position, but in and of itself it doesn't offer any value because it doesn't indicate how. To do so would require a) a plan to replace fossil fuels in our daily lives, or b) a plan that people will actually follow to change our daily life so we don't require fossil fuels.

At the end of the day my guess is that solar will be all that we need in 15-20 years time. I'm guessing some tinkerer (I'm hoping it's from some poor country) finds a breakthrough on energy storage that enables all renewables to breakthrough. Everything will probably scale up at first depending on when this break through happens. I remember reading Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near and bought into his reasoning on this.

As we nano-size processes the process most likely to utilize this trend is likely to be solar. Every time the sun is out our houses covered in solar power generating paint will be feeding into our smart grid that stores enough power for those cloudy days when our cars with solar power generating bodies run to our office buildings constructed from high efficiency solar power generating materials.

If someone called me asking if I'd prefer living in that world to one powered by non-renewables, I'd be inclined to say YES!... But so what?

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