There’s a big problem, however. Despite being able to do fusion, it’s not commercially viable, possibly for decades. This isn’t going to save us from fossil fuels in time like renewable power can this decade. Fusing Hydrogen into Helium takes a lot of energy, a lot of technology, and the attempts are limited when they need to be continuous to work for a power plant that boils water for steam turbines.
“”It is a big scientific step,” says Ryan McBride, a nuclear engineer at the University of Michigan. But, McBride adds, that does not mean that NIF itself is producing power. For one thing, he says, the lasers require more than 300 megajoules worth of electricity to produce around 2 megajoules of ultraviolet laser light. In other words, even if the energy from the fusion reactions exceeds the energy from the lasers, it’s still only around one percent of the total energy used.
Moreover, it would take many capsules exploding over and over to produce enough energy to feed the power grid. “You’d have to do this many, many times a second,” McBride says. NIF can currently do around one laser “shot” a week.”
“It’s not very easy to see how you scale this into a power reactor quickly,” he says.
By then most climate experts believe the world will have to have already made drastic cuts to carbon emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change. To limit warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, the world must nearly halve its carbon output by 2030 — a far shorter timescale than what’s needed to develop fusion.
Betti agrees that the timeline to building a fusion plant is “definitely decades”. But, he adds, that could change. “There’s always a possibility of breakthrough,” he says. And the new NIF results could help spur that breakthrough forward. “You’re going to get more people to look into this form of fusion, to see whether we can turn it into an energy-making system.””
The following was given as a presentation to the Unitarian Fellowship of Regina. I enjoyed my time this morning after being invited to speak about Electric Vehicles.
Most adults in Regina have driven a car before, but fewer than 1 in 100 have an electric vehicle. As a driver, why would you want to drive an EV, instead of a gas vehicle? There is a long list of reasons to do it, while the reasons not to are shrinking as the years go by. At the end of my talk, I promise you’ll know more about EVs, and can use this knowledge to save money, reduce pollution, and help others to resist the disinformation campaign to keep EVs mysterious and less-used than their petroleum burning cousins.
The first thing to know about EVs is that they were the original motor car. Gas cars came later, and didn’t have as much appeal to many people, because they were less convenient. You had to crank start them, for instance, and find fuel for them. Electricity was more easily available. Battery technology was heavy, however. You couldn’t go on the long, convenient trips that people expect from their automobiles now. So as electric starters came into being, gas cars took over. The prevalence of fuel stations had expanded too, making travel by gasoline more convenient.
Technology has flipped this situation again though. With improved batteries, the more simple and efficient electric vehicle is again on top for technology and convenience. Most Regina homes have a driveway or garage with electricity, so you can fill up at home, on an ordinary 120V outlet like your gas vehicle’s block heater uses. There are long-range EV from many manufacturers like Hyundai, Kia, Tesla, GM, Ford, and others. There are also convenient filling stations for EVs across the province, and the charging network is getting better each year. There are apps like Plugshare.com that show you where virtually every charger is located.
So that’s where things stand for the moment.
Why should you trust my opinion about this? In comparison to 99% of other Saskatchewanians, I’m an expert in EVs. I’ve owned an EV since 2017. I’ve managed a fleet of two other EVs for Regina Car Share Co-operative. I took a borrowed EV on a 6100km vacation road trip this summer to Ottawa and back to Regina. I’ve driven 4 makes of EVs, and I’ve been given rides in every sort of production Tesla model. And I’m confident in the technology gaining wider market share so I’ve invested in 4 different EV-specific automakers too.
I’ve spent a decade and a half working to build alternative transportation to the predominant privately owned automobile that has misshapen our city. What do I mean by that? How have cars misshapen Regina? Practically every community project revolves around parking cars, whether it’s an event, or even the construction of a new building. We’ve placed less emphasis on public transportation for generations, and it shows in how we think about, build, and move ourselves around our city. It’s difficult to exist in Regina without access to a car.
In 2007 I learned about car sharing, and with a few dozen other Reginans we formed the Regina Car Share Co-operative the following year. We’ve held several of our AGMs in the basement of the Unitarian Centre, over the years. The idea is to have cars available to people for hourly rentals, 24 hours a day, using the Internet to book time with them. This reduces the cost of using a vehicle. Most people pay for a vehicle even when it sits idle in their driveway. Insurance is a daily cost we tend to overlook. People pay for carsharing vehicles mostly when they’re driving them, instead of while they’re asleep. We’ve managed to add 2 EVs to Regina Car Share Co-op’s fleet, as electric vehicles are less costly to maintain and to recharge. They also don’t need oil changes, which saves hassle and expense while maintaining a fleet of vehicles.
I mentioned that there’s a disinformation campaign keeping the electric car from widespread adoption despite its advantages over the more common gasoline vehicles. Regina City Council got a taste of some of it in past years when it turned down free EV chargers from Sun Country Highway. Council was given some unusually high cost estimates for installation, to dissuade it from accepting the chargers. It didn’t take the gift. Now the City has an electric pickup truck, and could have charged it on that free hardware.
In early 2021 a city Councillor pitched the idea of preventing fossil fuel companies from advertising on city-owned property. The Premier of Saskatchewan, whose party happens to take large donations from fossil fuel and advertising companies, responded angrily. Ward 6 Councillor Dan LeBlanc lost his job at a law firm in the organized backlash. As you can see, there is big money, and powerful people behind keeping us stuck on gas powered transportation, so you have to be skeptical of negative things you hear about EVs. That’s not to say they’re perfect, they certainly have their faults, but stacked up against gas burning vehicles, they’re better in most ways.
Have you heard of problems regarding EVs? What are some of them? Let’s address those ideas:
Winter, battery recycling, slow charging time, range, cost, limited servicing options, conflict minerals, pollution shifting, etc.
What makes an EV cost less to operate than an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicle? Physics. An electric motor is far more efficient than an ICE. For each unit of energy you put into an electric motor, you go further and produce less waste heat compared to any ICE. Energy is expensive, and in most cases in Saskatchewan it’s produced from dirty sources. However, Saskatchewan’s electrical grid is only 40% coal powered right now, and that figure is dropping this decade, approaching 0%. Even on today’s fossil fueled grid, SaskPower confirms EVs charged by it produce 30% fewer emissions than if they came from the tailpipe of a similar vehicle.
The cost comparison when you look at electricity vs. fuel, is stark. In April 2022 I took a trip to Moose Jaw in my EV, and it used $3.33 of electricity for the entire round trip. With gas at about $1.55/L it’s more like $24 for that same trip if I burned gas. It used to be about 4-5 times less expensive to use electricity instead of gas, but with the price of gas much higher, it’s more like 7-9 times less expensive.
Now you have a sense of how much money you’d be saving if you switched from driving a gas-burning car to an EV. A back-of-the-napkin calculation would be to think what you spent on gasoline in the last month, divide that number by 7, and apply the result to your next power bill instead.
If you charge it using SaskPower’s electricity instead of a solar array at home, you’d be producing at least 30% fewer emissions, with no tailpipe emissions inside Regina.
And if you share some of these bits of experience with people replacing their cars, they may have a greater opportunity to save money, and reduce emissions than if they stroll into an auto dealer ready to accept outdated gas technology that will cost them more to operate while making more pollution than they would with an EV car or truck.
COVID-19 a thrombotic disease that can be caught again, and again, and again if the first bouts are survived, and isn’t confined to a “season” because it’s so much more contagious than influenza. It has multiple waves that sweep through a community each year. Governments are using ‘magical words’ to convince people there’s a “mild”, “new normal” that is acceptable and survivable so the people will willingly return to economic activity compatible with consumptive capitalism. That locust-style capitalism also happens to be ending our habitat’s economic viability and then our survivability sometime this decade or the next.
“The coronavirus has become more adept at reinfecting people as Omicron and its many descendants seem to have evolved to partially dodge immunity. Waves of infections two, maybe three times a year may be the future of Covid-19, some scientists now fear.”
If you’re impressed by SaskPower’s objective to reduce emissions by only half, by 2030, you’re setting the bar way too low. A big reason Saskatchewan is among the world’s worst per-capita polluters is because our electricity is a large lignite coal and fossil/natural gas component. The electricity utility crown corp has been testing solar since at least Y2K when it installed panels on the Sask. Science Centre, yet 22 years later it still has drivel like this on its website:
The federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault says the latest IPCC report from the UN is “sobering”, and fossil fuel companies “cannot do business as usual”, but SaskPower is sticking with its goal from half a decade ago, while it’s actually lost ground on its aim to be 50% renewable, and only “40% less emitting by 2030”. Despite putting a new 200MW wind farm online near Assiniboia, and adding a little 10MW utility solar to the mix soon, it’s added or is adding over 700MW of fossil fuel generating power since 2019.
Our society has entered the phase of the pandemic where most people are trying to pretend that everything is normal, and there’s nothing dangerous about eating in restaurants or sending kids to school. It reminds me of the climate crisis, how we’ll still fly domestically, and buy SUVs, despite the poles of the Earth hitting record temperatures 30 and 40 degrees above seasonal averages.
Saskatoon was out of ambulances yesterday? Has that ever happened before?
The latest widespread Omicron variant is in Saskatchewan in a big, and growing way. Many people who are required to wear masks still keep them below their nose or even their mouth, pretending they’re a fashion statement instead of a medical device to keep others (and themselves) more safe. Few people I see in any given day are wearing N95 or well fitting masks, mostly it’s fashionable cloth ones, or loosely fitting black or blue medical masks.
There’s a wind blowing in Canada, and it’s blowing away from public health measures that have kept most Canadians healthy and safe from the pandemic crisis primary driver, the SARS-CoV2 virus. Somewhere between 1010 Saskatchewanians and about 4000 have perished in the last 2 years from the virus, while more than a tenth of the population has directly experienced infection.
With the world not rising to the occasion, and failing to equitably produce and distribute vaccines to all people, variants have arisen and shaken the resolve of public officials and the public at large. I had several anti-waxxers on Saturday questioning me specifically about why I’d want a vaccine that wasn’t “100% effective”. They didn’t seem educated enough to have ever heard that perfect is the enemy of good.
“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” — Confucius, 
So, we have Dr. Tam and others saying that we’ll have to pretend the crisis is over and accept routine crippling sickness spreading through our air(ports) and beyond.
“For better or for worse, this is what’s going to happen across the whole country,” said Dr. Alexander Wong, an infectious diseases physician at Regina General Hospital and associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan.
“The question is, why are we in such a rush to do all of this? It’s clearly political.”
It sure as heck isn’t a very rational, or scientific approach to getting our lives back to an old normal where the biggest reason people would be uncomfortable about going to a restaurant was the tab at the end of the night, instead of the dread of life crippling/ending infection discovered days later. Then, watching that infection spread through your family and friends…
I see this as analogous to how we handle the climate crisis also, with politics, but not science informing those political decisions. Experts explain how masses of ice poised to swamp every global coastal city are on the knife’s edge, and municipal, provincial, and federal politicians still want to build more fossil fuel pipelines and highways. Just keep piling those straws onto our camel’s back, it’s worked so far.
SaskPower told me last decade that their Y2K test of solar panel technology at the time convinced them there was no utility future for solar. Never mind that the tech was already more than a decade old at that point, and costs had dropped while efficiency of the panels had risen significantly.
Over 4 years ago they promised to build a 10MW array of solar panels. They’ve yet to deliver. Instead, they dealt a body blow to the solar installer industry in the province by cancelling Net Metering and replacing it later with Net Billing. This is in large part to the governing party of Saskatchewan taking corporate donations that would be illegal in the rest of Canada.
The Crown utility has lied about solar technology on Twitter even. They can’t be trusted, and that’s a damn shame, because we could be at a near 100% solar grid by now if we started building 6 years ago like I and others proposed.