Energy Cinderella Project

Posted by Rezwan Razani on Aug 13, 2013 at 09:38 AM
What do you think about this? Let us know in the comments below!

NIMBY Land is in search of an energy source with a sustainable, powerful, elegant footprint.  Let’s hold a ball and find our Energy Cinderella.

The Proposal

This is a proposal to develop a “Cinderella Energy” themed event in which we compare all our energy options.  We bring them together in a “ball” venue to showcase their attributes.  Then we take each option through a rigorous, publicly refereed “footprint test.” 

The goal is clarity.  The goal is to help people who are overwhelmed by all the energy numbers flying around to get a clear, definitive picture of the best energy options out there.  The goal is also to engage and activate those who are otherwise apathetic about energy, to compel them to action.  Once all the dust from irrelevant numbers has settled, and you’ve seen the clear, side by side comparison of the different footprints trampling through your backyard, and you’ve got that shoe sparkling in your hand, you’ll know what to do.

The event has a strong educational component as well as a strong community decision-making component.  It even has a consumer products dimension (shoes, landscape modeling).  We look forward to your feedback on how to organize this event and the platform to help launch it from.  Fairy God Mothers and sponsors welcome!

What is our stake in the process?  This project is a coalition builder. Fusion may not win the shoe/footprint test the first year (the day will come!)  In the meantime, we are happy to initiate this process.  It fulfills our commitment to “bring people together” to improve everyone’s quality of life through better energy decision-making. 

Who will have the best footprint today?  My bet is on Nuclear Fission, but the information signal is full of static and vitriol.  So we’re going to systematically start measuring footprints.  We’ll get to the contest in a moment, but first, let’s look at the legend.

The Legend of Cinderella

Many variations of the Cinderella story exist. The one most of us are familiar with involves a girl whose mother dies.  Her father remarries, then also dies, leaving Cinderella an orphan, in the care of her stepmother.  Alas, the stepmother does not love Cinderella.  Indeed, she is abusive, reducing Cinderella to servitude, depriving her of her inheritance, making her clean up the fireplaces and sleep in the cinders.  This is where her name (Cinder-ella) comes from.  Life is dreary. 

One day, the Prince invites all the ladies of the land to a ball.  He wants to choose a wife and prefers a mass speed dating format.  Her stepsisters go, but Cinderella is forbidden to attend.  When all seems lost, Cinders’ Fairy God Mother (FGM) shows up with a makeover, a fancy dress and some glass slippers.  She transforms the pumpkin into a coach (pimping the pumpkin).

Thus equipped, Cinderella crashes the ball.  She dazzles the Prince with a brilliant elevator speech, great dance moves and her bodacious self.  The Prince is smitten, when lo!  The clock strikes midnight. Cinderella flees, leaving behind one glass slipper. 

The Prince vows to find her, but only has the slipper to go by (the downside of a masque ball and no GPS).  He subsequently visits all the ladies in the land to see whose foot will fit into the unique slipper. 

Cinderella passes the shoe test.  The couple is married and live happily ever after.  The step sisters are tossed aside, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.


Now, imagine Nuclear Cinderella.

Nuclear Cinderella and the Prince of NIMBY Land

Cinderella is nuclear energy.  Her parents die in the tragic stupidity of repeated atomic weapons tests which kill anyone’s enthusiasm for nuclear energy.  Cinderella is now being raised, reluctantly, by a step mother: the fossil fuel industry, and tormented by her step sisters (coal, oil, gas), who are given differential treatment (subsidies, investment, PR, the Department of Defense budget).  The step family is ostensibly supposed to care for their orphan charge, but they have a conflict of interest in seeing it flourish.  So they put it to work as needed, but make sure to dress it down and drag it in coal. 

And now it’s time for the ball.  The Prince of NIMBY Land needs an energy mate.  He must choose wisely for himself and his people (because of course they will behead him if he doesn’t, chanting, “NIMBY, NIMBY, NIMBY!” as they hold his head aloft).  The ball is the perfect venue to vet his mates.  The Prince invites everyone to show up, dressed their finest.  All their best stats available, their best visions for the future.  If he marries this or that particular energy, what will it mean for NIMBY Land? 

Naturally, the fossil fuel step family do all they can to prevent Cinderella from attending the ball.  She cannot be seen in any finery because she’ll outcompete them all.  Thus, the step mother locks Cinderella away and goes to the ball to foist her most eligible daughter Fracking-ella on the land.   

But then, the Fairy God Mother (FGM) shows up.  The FGM is both vision and marketing.

  • Vision in that the fancy clothes and makeover allow you to see all the possibilities of nuclear energy’s future - how good it can get when invested in.  Think of next generation nuclear energy, fission 4.0 and fusion (fusion proponents, the pumpkin carriage is an homage to the tokamak, an experimental device that helps deliver the ultimate fusion payload, although it itself is not a commercial energy reactor). 
  • Marketing in that the budget only lasts until midnight.  It gets Cinderella into the ball for a demonstration of her attributes.  Then the clock strikes and the marketing budget evaporates and the counter-campaign begins.  Cinderella is back at the mercy of her step-family’s misinformation, sweeping the fireplace, being covered in ashes. 

But she leaves the shoe behind. 

The lovely glass slipper. 

It has to be glass, because it’s all about transparency.  No noise.  Pure signal. 

The contender’s optimistic presentations of themselves at the ball can be dazzling. The dirt they sling on each other can be confusing. At the end of the day, it comes down to the shoe. 

The most important thing you need to know about an energy source is: what is its true and complete footprint, and how does that compare to the other energy footprints? 

Now the prince has something concrete to go on. 

The resplendent vision of Nuclear Cinderella in her full glory has inspired him.

The glass slipper will confirm his choice. 

Does it fit?

Contested Footprint

I can hear a lot of people saying, “No!”  Nuclear does NOT have the best footprint. 

Well then, who does?  And are we all prepared to take the shoe/footprint test?  To try on the translucent slipper of accurate, comparable information?  Let’s do it!

The renewables may be able to win with a graphene shoe, after all.

The Energy Cinderella Project: Let the Contest Begin

The candidates face a two part test. 

Part One is is the invitation to the ball.

Each candidate shows up at the ball in full regalia, all the bells and whistles, all your present and planned innovations.  At this event, candidates share their vision for the future with full optimism.  You make the case for why you are the best mate for the Prince of NIMBY land, and best source for the people.  You make your case for a flat out push for your type of energy.  This can be an actual real world event - help organize it.  A mingling of fashion, pageantry, and energy conference.

Rather than a fancy dress, though, each energy source dresses up a model of NIMBY Land with all the energy construction and infrastructure required to deliver the 1TW of energy.  Everyone gets the same base model of the land to work with, and you make it over to the world that will exist with your type of energy dominant.  To scale.

Part two is the footprint test, rigorous and transparent. 

The units of measure will be the same for all contenders.  In this we are inspired by David MacKay and his book, “Without Hot Air”.  The footprint will be based around supplying one Terrawatt of energy in NIMBY Land.  What is each candidate’s footprint to do that?  There are many layers to this shoe.  Best overall footprint wins.  And the layers are: 

  • Reliability - How many power plants/units/backup power/storage devices will you need to reliably meet that 1TW goal? 
  • Power Plant footprint - How much land used for the power plant?  Show us on the scale model of NIMBY land.
  • Aesthetic Impact - What can I say?  It’s NIMBY Land.  Folks are concerned with appearances.  How does your energy supply strike people visually, once you have the whole thing up and running?  For example, people like the idea of wind, but then they start seeing all the windmills going up, and they get surly.
  • Carbon footprint - CO2 per TW.  See Footprint Network. 
  • Water Footprint - Nuclear is a bit of a guzzler, but there are some mitigating developments.  Fracking is contested.  Coal is evil.  Hydro - think of the salmon.  And how safe you feel in the shadow of a dam?  Speaking of which:
  • Fatality Footprint - Deaths per TWH by type of energy - Note that nuclear is less lethal than solar, and both are thousands of times less lethal than oil or coal.  This includes accidents.
  • Cancer Footprint - a detail of the above footprint.  Nuclear accidents are rare, but when they occur, they raise the risk of thyroid cancers.  In contrast, burning fossil fuels ROUTINELY raises the risk for lung cancer.  Which has the bigger footprint?  How much bigger?  And solar, too.  Has some chemicals the workers are exposed to when making the panels.  How do the respective shoes all fit?
  • Volume and Type of Waste - chemical, radioactive, material.  Disposal complexities and impact issues.
  • Mining Footprint - How much land use taken up to mine per TW-Type plus quality of land after?  Any peak mining issues?
  • NIMBY Efficiency Coefficient: How many legal battles over NIMBY per unit of energy?  Per Project No Project, every energy source has battles.  Is there a way to calculate the full range of NIMBY legal woes you face per TWH by energy type?  The implication is, the greater the energy density, the fewer battles you have to wage.
  • Cost - of Mining, Power Plant, Maintenance, Decomissioning, Regulation
  • Insurance and Safety Costs
  • Employment footprint - jobs created/destroyed?  Apparently, some miners love their jobs. 
  • Infrastructure requirements - any advantages?  Disadvantages?  This video was illuminating on the subject.
  • Investment Risk - future price volatility
  • Investment transition - how much have you invested in this and would you gain/lose if chosen/rejected?  Lawsuits and other resistance are a factor.
  • Subsidy correction - how much of an advantage or disadvantage do you have with subsidy.  See Subsidize this.
  • Innovation gains - What improvements are possible in this energy supply, and how would that affect the future footprint?  (Here’s Nuclear Fission.  Need to write one up for fusion)  What is the best future case envisioned?
  • Sustainability - How long can it laast? 
  • What else? 

There are a number of studies that look at one footprint category at a time, or compare things in a skewed manner, obscuring the choices.  The goal here is to do the ultimate, side by side footprint breakdown, to come up with the ultimate footprint algorithm.  We can start by generating footprint infographics for each category.  We can reduce it to ratios.  Take this Death by Type of Energy image as an example:

Now turn it into a footprint infographic.  And a T-shirt.  And continue with the other criteria.  Design the composite shoe infographic for each energy source.

While we’re at it, let’s use all of this information to come up with a Power Source Desirability Index to rank different energy supplies.  We can refine it still further to show the footprint for various power plant types within each energy group.  A NIMBY score, like a KLOUT score.  There are many different types of nuclear power plants, and next generation models are being looked at.  Solar power includes a range of approaches which each have very different footprints.

Winner doesn’t take all.  It’s a mix

This isn’t Highlander, in which “there can only be one.”  Think of this as a broader matchmaking exercise.  The Prince isn’t the only one looking for a wife.  NIMBY land is not uniform terrain.  The dukes and earls of NIMBY Land are also looking for mates and some energy supplies will work better in their part of the kingdom than others. 

The Ball and footprint exercise can also take place in different countries.  Each country can host an energy ball and do the subsequent footprint test to come up with a different mix of energy brides for their land.  For example, Germany is inclined to solar and wind. That’s their preference.  The heart wants what it wants.

Let’s get ready for our balls and find our energy Cinderellas!

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