Comments on the Movie “Switch” and discussion at UC Irvine

I have just returned from a showing of the movie Switch about forms of energy generation, and searching for our energy future, sponsored by the Newkirk Center.  Presenting was the film’s director, Harry Lynch.  We are planning to show this to an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute class in the Fall.

I was very impressed by the film, since it showed all the sources of energy and power plants, and interviewed people at the energy source, and at the power plants.  It is different from a dry lecture where the audience is required to imagine these sources and facilities.  Of course the suppliers put their best foot forward, yet the drawbacks of the various sources were also explained.

The presenter, Dr. Scott Tinker of Texas, argued for replacing coal with natural gas, since it emits only half as much CO2 as coal does.  For the future, he also at the end argued for a very large expansion of nuclear power, essentially doubling or tripling the nuclear capacity, since current plants will age out.  He also argued for a large factor increase of renewables, and developing fast reacting gas power plants to make up for rapid variations in wind and solar.

Many options to gasoline to power transportation were explored, but options to reduce the need for transportation or to car pool or use mass transit were not.

The people interviewed were very impressive since they included the new Secretary of Energy, Dr. Ernest Moniz, and the Undersecretary of Energy, Steve Koonin.

After the movie, a panel of over 20 energy research students on campus explained briefly what their groups were working on.

I was impressed by the report on the campus energy savings, since the energy use has been reduced by 17% over the last five years.  This was partly from controlling hoods in labs, and from switching to more efficient lighting and heating and cooling controls.

It was also announced that the campus was now allowed to add 2.7 MegaWatts of solar power to its present 1.0 MegaWatts.  This should be completed by 2014.

While possible fracking water pollution was discussed in the movie, it was claimed that it was more likely from the liquids at the surface, and not from the wells themselves.  Dr. Ernest Moniz expressed my attitude, that you do the best job you can, and when problems arise, you improve on it.

One thing that was not discussed in the film or by the audience, was that to achieve the factor of two savings by switching from coal to natural gas, the leakage of natural gas had to be much less than 4%.  This is because natural gas gives 23 times the greenhouse gas effect as CO2 does.  EPA requirements in the US are in fact that no natural gas should leak, and what does has to be burned, or eventually used for energy generation.

About Dennis SILVERMAN

I am a retired Professor of Physics and Astronomy at U C Irvine. For a decade I have been active in learning about energy and the environment, and in lecturing and attending classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UC Irvine.
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