Analytics magazine of global energy

Geoenergetics as a tool for analyzing the reality
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Geoenergetics as a tool for analyzing the reality

The mutual influence of economics, politics and energy on one another
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The development of civilization can be looked at in different ways. Some believe it is defined by the development of philosophy and arts. Karl Marx, for instance, came up with his own theory of evolution in the form of an endless class conflict. Others might say that civilization’s leap forward is due to the fact that various religions kept on replacing each other until “the right one” established itself. Such opinions are abundant, and the level of development in the Earth’s different countries also varies. However, by taking a closer look at urban and rural landscapes, one can notice that regardless of whether the land is located in the north or at the equator, in the mountains or by the sea, these landscapes are still made of the exact same components: powerlines are everywhere.

In the courtyards of multi-storey buildings, there are windowless blocks of concrete to which wires or pipes connect. There are huge dams of hydroelectric power stations that steam white clouds out of their cooling tower. They can be found anywhere: in Europe, America, Russia, Asia, Africa, Australia. We got so used to them that we do not even notice them anymore, since we naturally tend to forget about all the things that constantly surround us. There always seems to be electricity coming out of the socket, there is heating, light, both warm and cold water in the house, the sewage system is operating, fuel is being sold at gas stations all day every day, there are buses and trams in cities, trains, planes and ships always ready to bring us to our destination. All these things have become such an essential part of our daily life that we do not even remember that nothing of such kind existed a few hundred years ago. Back then, houses were heated by stoves and fireplaces, and in order to get water, one had to walk to the nearest well. City streets were dark in the evening and it would often take several days to travel to a different location since horses did not run fast enough, and the sea winds were not always very kind to travelers. No matter where we live, what books we read or what movies we watch, even though we show respect to each other, we are all different people. But despite that, one things seems to be the same everywhere: there are wires and pipes connected to our dwellings, cars and trains travel between cities, and some “invisible man” provides energy for all this infrastructure.

The COVID-19 pandemic, the sudden non-working month and the quarantine measures are difficult times for all of us, but besides all the problems, it also allows us to look around us a little bit: we are surprised to find out how important are all things related to the work of our doctors, the provision of hospitals and the equipment they require to protect the rest of us from the coronavirus. What is even more surprising is the fact that even such a situation does not make us think about something even more important than that. Some might find it outrageous since what could possibly be more important nowadays than medicine? Well, the reason why one is actually able to read these lines is because their computer allows them to do so while sitting in a cozy home with light, heating, water and gas supplies, and a functioning sewage system. Whenever one hears an ambulance somewhere in the distance, it’s because the vehicle is rushing to save someone’s life. But it is able to do so because there is motor fuel in its tank and its batteries are charged. Doctors work day and night because they are able to do so in fully equipped hospital buildings with both electricity and heat. We are forced to watch and listen to news about COVID-19 nearly 24/7, and yet we do so without even thinking that this is all thanks to the fact that internet servers transmitting radio and television stations are still working. Life goes on and, from time to time, there are chores to be done, such as taking out the trash, go to the nearest grocery store or to the pharmacy to buy everything you need. There are vehicles that collect the trash, refrigerators rumble in stores, cool products are being delivered, cashiers send purchase information to central servers of network companies.

The variety of energy issues

Now imagine what would happen if some of the elements listed above suddenly disappear. The radiators turn cold, there’s no water, no fuel for gas stations, pumps have stopped working, cold houses cannot even turn the lights on anymore, various devices have run out of battery, and it’s not even possible to call anyone: without electricity, all the telephone signal transmitters are down, and the only way to find out about the latest news is to gather at the central squares. After listening to the news, one has to get their buckets and go to the nearest water source to fill them (while keeping in mind that we have to respect the social distancing measures). We will then witness the failure of several large thermal power plants, oil refineries, problems occurring on the railways that supply oil products to large cities and the failure of substations. It will only be a matter of days for what we are used to refer to as our “standards of living” to decrease drastically like never seen before. A couple of weeks spent in such conditions will be enough for a flood of city refugees to invade the countryside, having discovered that only physical labor in fields and animal yards will make survival possible.

NY City blackout

But these are things we do not think about: the energy supply system of cities is carefully thought out so that we do not notice how fragile it really is and what efforts are required for it to function smoothly. Here is a description of what the work of power engineers that supply energy to Russia, that is, the work of Rosatom employees responsible for the reliable operation of nuclear power units. This is only an example that was the first being published on the internet of how the Beloyarsk NPP (nuclear power plant) is working in the times of the pandemic.

“The plant’s operating personnel working at the control station were provided accommodation in facilities owned by the power plant. In order to minimize contact with the outside world, there are cooks, doctors and boiler workers living on the spot. Each of the five duty shifts lives in a separate building and each shift has access to the dining room at a specific time. After each meal, the canteen is disinfected. The products are brought to the dispensary without contact: they leave the boxes, then the dining room staff takes them, disinfects them and only then serves them. Lunch is being prepared in these facilities and lunch boxes are brought to the power plant by bus.

A separate bus brings the workers to the plant. This bus is always sanitized before departure. When the driver arrives for a shift, he undergoes mandatory thermometry and puts on personal protective equipment. His cabin is completely fenced off from the passengers and the driver has no contact whatsoever with the workers. The workers also put on personal protective equipment before entering the bus and have to undergo a daily physical examination before departure and after having returned to the living facilities. In addition, when they enter the plant, every employee’s temperature is being measured one more time. In order to avoid contact with the personnel coming from the city located near the plant, they have their own entrance.  

In the control room, panels are wiped with liquid antiseptic every hour. In addition, they undergo wet cleaning with chlorine-based products. All personnel wears face masks.”

Five whole shifts of the NPP’s employees are isolated from their families without the ability to get outside of the plant and their living facility in which they are bound to stay until the end of April. The exact same measures were applied by Rosenergoatom to all nuclear power plants in Russia. Thanks to that, there will be no power outage in the homes of citizens. Workers of the nuclear field who have to work in such conditions are not interested in the OPEC+ deal, nor do they care about the problems of gas stations.

Beloyarsk NPP (Russia)

What they do is that they provide everyone with electricity in times of the COVID-19 pandemic. And since the safety requirements for nuclear power units have been made the same in all countries with the efforts of the IAEA, nuclear workers work in the same conditions everywhere there are nuclear power plants. The requirements for coal, gas, and hydroelectric power plants do not differ fundamentally: they are also required to be operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, regardless of any external factors. Let there be pandemics, hurricanes, heavy rains, abnormal heat or frost, peacetime or war; turbine generators must rotate, electricity must flow into our homes, and the operation of pumping and filtering stations must be ensured. Every country in the world, big or small, has its own doctrine of energy security which is no less important than military security. Our lives depend just as critically on energy as they do on military, radiation and military security. Whether a country is governed democratically or through harsh totalitarianism, whether it’s located closer to the poles or to the equator, whether it has a large population or not; all these are secondary amid the need to maintain to parameters: energy security and energy sufficiency.

Being determines consciousness, but what determines being?

The standards of living that we have achieved are strikingly different from the conditions in which our ancestors lived some hundred years ago. However, one thing remains the same: these standards have and will always depend on our mastery of technologies for processing energy resources, on the availability of these resources and on the continuity of electric and thermal energy supply. We always seem to be ready to pend hours arguing about the political superstructure of human society, trying to figure out what is the most progressive between socialism, capitalism, globalism, monarchism and anarchism. We also strive to converge in heated discussion about which of cubism and symbolism is the most advanced form of art, and we love to discuss film performances and other exhibitions. Only all these interests are made possible by the presence of heat and light in the rooms where they are being created by their authors. A German philosopher that lived in the 19th century once expressed this idea in the shortest form possible: “it is being that determines consciousness”. And this is an idea that no one can challenge. The global economy is all based on internal combustion engines, and the mobility of industrial facilities is based on asynchronous electric motors, both of which work through the extraction and processing of fossil fuels.

 

The horse power

Being indeed does determine consciousness, but when the question “what determines being?” comes up, there really is only one answer: the level of mastery of energy and energy resources. This same German philosopher established a law of the development of civilization: from the slave system to feudalism, from feudalism to capitalism, from capitalism to socialism, from socialism to the highest stage of development, implying communism. Many people can argue with this, but there is a different view on the development of civilization that is more complicated to challenge: from the strength of one’s own muscles to the muscular strength of domestic animals, to the energy of wind and water, to the energy of coal, oil, natural gas, electricity and to the current peak in the development of energy, that is, towards nuclear energy. Each stage required a new level of science and technology, a new level of industrial development: firewood for heating a house can burn in a stone stove, but a steam engine can’t get to the energy reserves hidden in oil without developing metallurgy, just as there is no controlling nuclear energy in a nuclear reactor without having first mastered the laws of electricity and the development of quantum physics.

But consciousness also affects energy, and it cannot be otherwise, and all the isms that Karl Marx reflected on are critically important for the development of energy. The largest engineering structure of the 20th century (which is unlikely to be surpassed in the foreseeable future), is not a small Hadron Collider nor just another skyscraper, but the United Energy System, which stretched from Eastern Siberia to Eastern Europe, including a dozen states and a dozen different time zones. The USSR, the northernmost country in the world, has been producing the cheapest electricity in the world for more than 30 years, having achieved this not only through the development of the energy sector, but also through public ownership of land, industry and agriculture, as well as through the implementation of five-year development plans. Under no other conditions can it be possible to create and implement plans for the simultaneous integrated development energy generating facilities, industries, transport, and settlements scattered over a vast territory. Energy determines being, being determines consciousness, consciousness determines energy. This is not a circle, but a spiral: after all, the development of civilization continues, century after century.

The atomic energy

However, the development of the science and technologies of energy processing cannot ensure a sustainable development of energy without the expansion of our knowledge of planet Earth. We must thoroughly know of the flows of rivers and the geology of their beds and banks. Otherwise; it will be impossible to build a hydroelectric dam that will work for decades. We require a complete knowledge of the bowels of the planet at a depth of up to two kilometers if we wish to find coal and build geothermal power plants. However, we have not stopped at this depth and have already learned how to extract oil and natural gas from four and five-kilometer depths. In order to figure out where to build wind power plants, we need information about the climate and air currents. If we wish to find the optimal locations for the construction of solar power plants, we need knowledge about the insolation levels of different regions. In order for civilization to continue to exist and develop on planet Earth, we must develop energy, and in order to develop energy, we need in-depth knowledge about the Earth. And this, too, is not a vicious circle but a spiral, since everything keeps developing.

The term “geoenergetics” (or geothermal energy) appeared long ago, and was used as a definition for the energy potential of hot water in the bowels of the planet. However, we believe that geoenergetics are actually a much broader concept. There is no energy outside the planet (at least to this day, there doesn’t seem to be a firm belief in the existence of alien civilizations), and it is thus impossible to develop energy without the resources of planet Earth. Geoenergetics cover a wide range of knowledge in different fields: from the search for energy resources deposits to their development, as well as the discovery of resources that had not previously been used in the energy sector and the emergence of new ways to use them, the establishment of scientific, technical and engineering schools in different countries of the world, and new forms of struggle for energy sources and their delivery routes in the past and to this day.

Geoenergetics as a way to analyze what is currently happening

Geoenergetics do not hold any philosophical components, since it is a tool for analyzing what is going on in our reality. This reality is becoming more and more complicated with every passing year: conflicts of interests of different states multiply and widen, with hot, cold and mixed conflicts emerging in various parts of the planet. But the fundamentals remain unchanged: nowadays, all interstate conflicts are centered around deposits of energy resources and their delivery routes, as well as around the technologies required for sound management methods of their extraction, processing and use. Developed countries have in their possession all sectors of the energy industry: they take advantage of coal, oil, natural gas, uranium, energy from flowing water, wind and the sun, and keep on expanding and strengthening their combined energy systems. Developing countries are trying to reach the same level, to achieve the ability to create large integrated energy systems, since it is the only way that makes it possible to develop energy:  intensive and continuous industries, metallurgical and chemical ones, and so on. Nowadays there simply are no strictly political conflicts, even if it might seem unobvious at first glance.

Since 2011, an international coalition led by the United States has been bravely fighting ISIS, and this curious action results in the US military control over Syrian oil fields. The states unilaterally imposed sanctions against Iran, citing Tehran’s desire to master nuclear weapon technologies as a reason for those, and as a result China was left without an oil source, and the EU remained without an independent gas supplier. The events that took place in Ukraine in 2014 were not only an attempt by the States to gain control over Crimea, it was also an attempt to take control of the shale gas deposits that American geologists hoped to explore near Slavyansk, which could have become the establishment of US control over the European energy market. There are lots of similar examples: all you have to do is take a closer look, remove the frosting of demagogic words and find the very same foundation: a struggle for energy sources, for the technologies necessary for their use, and for control over their delivery routes. From the very moment a person manages to take possession of the energy contained in atomic nuclei, a global conflict becomes impossible. Local conflicts, however, do not stop for a single day.

Landscapes of the 21st century

An analysis based on geoenergetics allows you to look at any conflict more objectively, better understand its causes and what goals the participants in a hot or cold fight pursue. This does not require any insider news: a huge amount of information about events in the world of energy is contained in completely open sources, on the pages of news portals. The thing is that these news come out without even the slightest attempt of systematization, that is, without there being any effort put into seeing and showing their interconnectedness, as if these news have to be submitted while they’re still hot and nothing more. So how to spot these connections? Actually, not much is needed: knowledge of how and on the basis of what do different branches of energy function and develop. Another characteristic of our current times is that this knowledge is not enough for anyone who is not deepened in these topics, and those who are deep in this topic are in no hurry to share their knowledge in such a way that it becomes understandable and accessible to lay people. We are confident that everyone needs such knowledge: how can a person be considered harmoniously developed if they do not understand the very fundamental laws of our civilization? Culture is not only about paintings, music, literature and theatre. An individual of the 21st century should have at least some general knowledge about what we see going on daily and what has become a familiar element of our urban and rural landscapes.

The New York city

Take power lines, for example: some are higher, other lower. Some have more wires, and others — less. Or take the pipes of thermal power plants out of which we see dark smoke come out, or something that looks like steam. And when your car drives through the dam of a hydroelectric power station, you cannot help but think that this a structure that, due to its enormous size, evokes associations with Egyptian pyramids. Inside the urban residential quarters there are small booths with no windows and one door: these strange constructions seem to have no sense, yet they are everywhere. In the dark, streetlights are lit: their light used to have a yellow tint, but now it has become blue-ish. Gas stations selling no longer selling only one kind of automobile fuel, but several types with various letters and numbers used to qualify them. We are used to all this, we don’t notice it, we don’t even think about it: and yet all this is also an integral part of our civilization — how interesting! At the same time, we are absolutely confident that in order to tell about the basic principles of the processing of energy resources, about what the properties of these resources are, how their fields are found and developed, what are the characteristics of the methods used for their delivery and transportation, how electricity is generated and delivered to final consumers, it is quite enough to have some school knowledge and, of course, the main, most important “tool”: logic.

Such “apparatus” will surely be enough to understand the patterns and the logic of actions of not only energy companies, but also of states and their various associations, as well as the reasons behind certain decisions. Naturally, one will not only have to recall not only physics and chemistry, but also history: the history of the formation and development of science, the creation of technologies used in the energy sector and in the industries that ensure the functioning of the energy sector. These connections are very important: there are a numerous industries related to the energy sector, though they are sometimes not always obvious at first glance. In order to properly puff steam boilers of power plants, metallurgists have to work hard to ensure that everything is in order in their field of action, just as mines and opencasts require a good level of mining engineering. Most of the mining equipment runs on internal combustion engines, and travels on wheels with tires: therefore, petrochemical enterprises and oil are needed—oil which we must also be able to find, produce, deliver and process. For this, oil workers require knowledge in geology, chemistry and physics. On the outside, oil refineries seem to be labyrinths of huge containers intertwined with metallic pipes. There are indeed many vertical and horizontal connections in the energy sector and in its related fields, but even this has its own logic, its own order, and its own written and unwritten laws. As we know, laws are written by government bodies which are obliged to do everything in their power so that all energy facilities are as safe as possible for those who work there, and for everyone who is close to them for one reason or another. The first syllable of the term “geoenergetics” is about the planet, and therefore its well-being, the safety of its ecology cannot be put aside.

We are certain that this approach, this look at what is happening around us and with us, not only has a right to exist but is also very useful for anyone who has not yet had time to squander the most important quality of human consciousness: curiosity, or the desire to receive new knowledge, and to receive it not in the form of «random spots», but in that of a captivating, connected pattern. The world is interesting in its diversity, diversity is interesting in its logical coherence, understanding this diversity is an exciting task. Geoenergetics are a way to combine all at once, and thus a way to fully reveal this diversity.

Translated by Ellina Hensen
Original text: geoenergetics.ru

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