Belgium’s doughnut island

• January 21st, 2013 • Posted in All posts, Climate

In order to move away from fossil fuels, we need to move towards either nuclear or renewable energy .   Both of these, for different reasons, create problems of inflexibility of supply.  Nuclear can’t just turned on and off to respond to fluctuations in demand (actually, this isn’t so easy with gas or coal stations either), and renewables are dependant on sources outside of human control.   Gloomier souls sometimes suggest that renewables, for this reason, are very little use.

But there just needs to be a way of storing surplus energy when demand is lower than supply.  Dinorwig power station in N Wales is an example of a large-scale solution to this problem.  It pumps water uphill at times of surplus power, and then lets it run downhill again to generate power when extra power is needed.

I’m no engineer,  I’m not even someone that likes to fix his own bike, but I enjoy thinking about these problems, and what interests me is that it isn’t so very hard, even for a not-particularly well-informed lay person, to dream up solutions.  I wondered whether fly-wheels could be used, for instance, and when I did a little internet search, it turned out that one fairly large fly-wheel-based plant actually does exist.

A more fanciful idea of mine (or so I thought) was to construct a large doughnut-shaped island in the sea out of which water could be pumped and then allowed to flow back in again.  I’ve just found that the Belgian government really does propose to build just such an island (Details here.)

I’m not suggesting here that flywheels and doughnuts islands are ‘the answer’.  I’m saying that, if even I can think of solutions, then this really isn’t such an insurmountable problem.

Climate change denialists are one thing, but climate change fatalists are also pretty dangerous: the ones who say that change is happening alright but it’s just too difficult to fix.  That could so easily become a self-fulfilling prophesy, and therefore yet another one of those dangerous positive feedback loops that threaten to exacerbate the problem.

Look at the resources, brainpower and effort that is now put into extracting petrochemicals from ever more difficult places (tar sands, the arctic, mile-deep ocean beds).   Is it really so difficult to imagine that a low-carbon economy could not be achieved by the same kind of commitment and effort?

Leave a comment: