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This site hosts publications and support material for research on energy studies and sustainability.
Contact Willem Nel at email: willem764[at]gmail.com

In Preparation
  • Transitional dynamics to a sustainable nuclear energy future

Title: Towards A Rational Sustainability Framework

Accepted for publication: Energy & Environment.
Authors: Willem P Nel, James D Ward
Keywords: Sustainability, Energy Security, Ethics
Preprint Version: Submission Manuscript

Abstract:

The escalating prominence of sustainability as a contemporary concern pays testimony to the fact that society’s action on sustainability has consistently lagged its concern over sustainability. Although this apparent disconnect between action and concern has been the topic of much debate, little progress has been made towards the resolution of causal factors across the various disciplines of scientific knowledge related to the human condition. Many scholars have, however, contributed towards the notion that the human development trajectory is lacking a rational basis and emphasized that reigning conflicts in societal objectives cannot be resolved without a unifying ethical reference.

Calls for corrective actions by 20th Century sustainability scholars have nominally gone unheeded, yet many of their concerns have been realized today. More recent theoretical developments in the social sciences established a basis for many of the self-defeating human traits that scholars warned against, and this serves as a basis for a reassessment of the foundations of sustainability as well as possible means to eliminate barriers to coherent action on sustainability.

Title: 
A parameterised carbon feedback model for the calculation of global warming from attainable fossil fuel emissions

Accepted for publication: Energy & Environment.
Authors: Willem P. Nel
Keywords: Carbon Feedback Cycle, Fossil Fuel Depletion, Global Warming, Peak Oil
Preprint Version: Accepted for publication
Follow Up: Review history in preparation

Abstract:

This paper evaluates the IPCC SRES scenarios against fossil fuel depletion models and proposes attainable carbon emissions trajectories. The contemporary carbon feedback cycle is then evaluated in light of recent studies and attainable carbon emissions. In light of deficiencies in the contemporary carbon feedback cycle, a parametric carbon feedback model is constructed that is consistent with empirical evidence. A radiative feedback model, that overestimates transient response when used in conjunction with equilibrium climate sensitivity, is then used in sensitivity studies to calculate the range of plausible global warming responses. The model predicts a maximum atmospheric concentration of CO2 in the range of 500-560ppm and a maximum global mean surface temperature increase of 1.5‑2°C relative to year 2000.   

Review history:

My attempts to get this paper published in a scientific journal started in February 2009. I am busy preparing a full review history on this article that will give some insight into the publication of articles that are perceived to be controversial in the global warming debate. Responses from journals range from statements that the clearly significant findings expressed in the abstract above are not of general scientific interest to rejection after successful review on the main points! Despite recent criticism against the review process at Energy & Environment, the journal's review process is clearly functional and delivered similar review comments to scientific journals. Although the article is thus accepted in a policy orientated journal, it has passed at least two reviews in a scientific journal. 

It is worth noting that Environmental Research Letters received 4 reviews of the article of which three dealt with scientific review and one with fossil fuel depletion - the article passed tow of the three scientific reviews,.

Energy & Environment Review ;     --               ANSWERS

Environmental Research Letters Review;  --     ANSWERS

Journal of Climate Review


Title: Impacts of Primary Energy Constraints in the 21st Century

First published in: PhD Thesis - University of Johannesburg.
Authors: Willem P. Nel
Keywords: Economic Growth, Primary Energy, Energy Efficiency, Global Warming, Peak Oil

Abstract:

Global society has evolved into a complex multi-dimensional system in which it has become increasingly difficult to construct and maintain a systemic model of cause and effect. Specialisation and abstraction in the various disciplines of scientific and societal complexity has led to divergent theories of sustainability. Failure to integrate real life problems across disciplines poses a threat to modern society because the causal links between disciplines are unattended in many instances and events in one dimension could lead to catastrophic unintended consequences in another.

In light of the above, this thesis contributes towards the multi-disciplinary integration of some of the most important sustainability concerns of modern society, namely Energy Security, Economic Growth and Global Warming. Analysing these real-life sustainability issues in a multi-disciplinary context leads to conclusions that are controversial in terms of established philosophical worldviews and policy trends.

Firstly, the thesis establishes deterministic expectations of an imminent era of declining Energy Security resulting from the exhaustion of non-renewable fossil fuel resources, despite optimistic expectations of technology improvements in alternative energy sources such as renewable and nuclear.

Secondly, the exhaustion of non-renewable fossil fuel resources imposes limits to the potential sources of anthropogenic carbon emissions that render the more pessimistic emissions cases considered in the global warming debate irrelevant. The lower level of attainable carbon emissions challenges the merits of the conventional carbon feedback cycle with the result that the predicted global warming is within acceptance limits of the contemporary global warming debate.

Thirdly, the consequences of declining Energy Security on socio-economic welfare is a severe divergence from historical trends and demands the reassertion of the role of energy in human development, including Economic Growth theory. The thesis develops a novel economic growth model that treats energy as an explicit and Autonomous Factor of Production, thereby facilitating plausible predictions of future Economic Growth potential. The results challenge the sustainability of the current free-market capitalist economic system and demand strong policy responses to avoid the collapse of modern society.


Title:
 Defining Limits: Energy Constrained Economic Growth

First published in: Accepted for publication in Applied Energy.
Authors: Willem P. Nel and Gerhardus van Zyl
Keywords: Economic Growth, Energy, Energy Efficiency, Decoupling, Peak Oil
Preprint Version: Submission Manuscript
Calculator and Diagnostics: Application with data and diagnostic tools (to be uploaded)

Abstract:
The historical and deductive merits for an explicit energy-based economic growth formulation are presented. Parameters in the formulation are successfully calibrated to empirical data and a range of forecasts is made for global economic growth potential to 2050, based on a plausible case of energy availability. The results demonstrate the vital importance of energy security and lead to the conclusion that the current socio-economic paradigm may not be sustainable.

Title: Implications of fossil fuel constraints on economic growth and global warming

Keywords: Peak Oil; Global Warming; Economic Growth
Energy Security and Global Warming are analysed as 21st century sustainability threats.
Best estimates of future energy availability are derived as an Energy Reference Case (ERC). An explicit economic growth model is used to interpret the impact of the ERC on economic growth. The model predicts a divergence from 20th century equilibrium conditions in economic growth and socio-economic welfare is only stabilised under optimistic assumptions that demands a paradigm shift in contemporary economic thought and focused attention from policy makers.
Fossil fuel depletion also constrains the maximum extent of Global Warming. Carbon emissions from the ERC comply nominally with the B1 scenario, which is the lowest emissions case considered by the IPCC. The IPCC predicts a temperature response within acceptance limits of the Global Warming debate for the B1 scenario. The carbon feedback cycle, used in the IPCC models, is shown as invalid for low-emissions scenarios and an alternative carbon cycle reduces the temperature response for the ERC considerably compared to the IPCC predictions.
Our analysis proposes that the extent of Global Warming may be acceptable and preferable compared to the socio-economic consequences of not exploiting fossil fuel reserves to their full technical potential.     

Title: A critical review of IEA's oil demand forecast for China

Authors: Willem P. Nel and Christopher J. Cooper
Keywords: China; Oil Demand; Forecast
Preprint Version: Preprint Version

Abstract:

China has a rapidly growing economy with a rapidly increasing demand for oil. The International Energy Agency (IEA) investigated possible future oil demand scenarios for China in the 2006 World Energy Outlook. The debate on whether oil supplies will be constrained in the near future, because of limited new discoveries, raises the concern that the oil industry may not be able to produce sufficient oil to meet this demand.

This paper examines the historical relationship between economic growth and oil consumption in a number of countries. Logistic curve characteristics are observed in the relationship between per capita economic activity and oil consumption. This research has determined that the minimum statistical (lower-bound) annual oil consumption for developed countries is 11 barrels per capita. Despite the increase reported in total energy efficiency, no developed country has been able to reduce oil consumption below this lower limit. Indeed, the IEA projections to 2030 for the OECD countries show no reduction in oil demand on a per capita basis. If this lower limit is applied to China, it is clear that the IEA projections for China are under-estimating the growth in demand for oil.

This research has determined that this under-estimation could be as high as 10 million barrels per day by 2025. If proponents of Peak Oil such as Laherrère, Campbell and Deffeyes are correct about the predicted peak in oil production before 2020 then the implications of this reassessment of China's oil demand will have profound implications for mankind.


Subpages (1): Oil Crises
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