Thermodynamics: An Evaluation Tool For Pie-In-The Sky Energy Futures

A modest sized two story octagonal builting beside other buildings
Hey! How about small neighbourhood nuclear power plants for green energy? This one is on the campus of McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario.

Without pretending to be exhaustive in any way, this is a post that offers some assistance to folks looking to understand which way a ‘green energy’ future lies.

Such issues are being tackled, determined and noisily touted by folks concerned about the energy underpinnings of housing. One particular problem at hand concerns the need to switch social housing tenants to ‘green’ heating as well as their landlords. Social housing tenants, who qualify thanks to their limited incomes, face a double whammy.

Social housing tenants may indeed have a recognized human right to adequate housing, including necessary heat. But they are severely challenged in their opportunity to claim that right when it is intertwined with a requirement to share responsibility for the health of the planet as a whole. One way or another the evolution ‘green’ energy solutions promises to be expensive for everyone, including those with little to share.

Compounding the problem is the ferocity with which green energy housing solutions are presented by their particular advocates. A recent post1 barely scratches the surface of new energy possibilities, let alone the myriad of existing ones. Their future values tend to be presented by their touts2 with a messianic zeal that leaves a person thinking: are they actually getting the future needs right? And are they getting the new, untried energy solutions right as well?

For example, politicians and their advisers in Scotland have already . . . researched? . . . accepted?. . . been bamboozled by? a determination that there is one solution for tamping down the carbon emissions from homes. It is heat pumps. Contemporary gas boilers will not do.

Beginning in 2024, Scottish homeowners will be required to phase-in the heat pump ‘solution’ with its as yet somewhat uncertain energy impact and cost. Watching this enforced transformation from afar, it is reasonable to ask, “how can we be sure this is the right solution to be instituted and according to what thoroughly convincing cost-benefit analysis?”

And then there are the solutions currently in place, all the way from striking a flint beside tinder and twigs all the way to nuclear power via enormously controversial (and enormously convenient) fossil fuels. Many existing energy harvesting techniques currently fail the ‘green energy test.’ Might it be more profitable to spend more money and research improving ‘failed’ green energy capabilities, rather than developing partially or totally new approaches?

One example: nuclear plants can provide amazing energy results, but are being denied future consideration because of spent fuel storage problems. Can a reliable fix be found for this spent fuel problem rather than, say, populating the world’s oceans with giant windmills.

For those hesitating to place their feet in the quicksand of energy opportunity, there follows a useful document that may require more than one read to fully understand. There is a lot of material to digest.

But after it is digested, the document’s conclusions regarding green energy possibilities, both new and old, may be found to be surprising. Help yourself understand by reading an oldie but a goodie from the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research: The Second Law of Thermodynamics


  1. Try: Tomorrow’s Heating Energy To Save The World? Hot Rocks. . . Sort Of, Maybe?
  2. Tout the noun may not be as familiar as the verb. In noun form, it means someone who “persistently solicits business, employment, support, or the like..”