From the 'paperless office' to renewable energy, change leaves its critics behind

That’s the headline for my piece in The Guardian. Unsurprisingly, given experience here, the comments section is a mountain of derp. Amusingly, it turns out that there are still paperless office sceptics about, despite ample evidence of that demand for office paper has been declining for years, and now seems set to plummet. The sceptics seem immune to the irony of posting comments in a digital-only newspaper asserting that paper will never die.

Given the extreme tightness of priors regarding energy issues, I expect our renewables sceptics to be even more diehard.

35 thoughts on “From the 'paperless office' to renewable energy, change leaves its critics behind

  1. Paper is no longer the primary source for most information. It is now considered unreliable and ephemeral. Thinking back a couple of decades, information stored on computers was considered to have a tenuous foothold on the world. “Get me a hard copy.”

    The decline of paper is a bit chicken and egg but factors include: There is simply too much information to put it all on paper; there is more information elsewhere; there is more up-to-date information elsewhere; there are now many more screens; there are much better screens which are easier to use; there is now a world wide web which is the default mechanism for communicating information; people don’t want to store paper. Etc.

    One really big factor that slowed the adoption of paperlessness is human habituation. Attitudes lag technology.

    Renewable energy will follow a similar curve, won’t it? Renewables have their own set of pluses and minuses that can be combined into narratives. Taking a longer term view, I don’t find any of the arguments against renewables any more convincing than the arguments against on-screen information. Printing out those massive folders of computer paper used to be a standard practice and now seems weird. “You mean you actually produced electricity in a smelly polluting plant and sent it hundreds of km up wires losing half the energy? Why not just get it off your roof?” “Well, it was like this…”

  2. “in 2012 European chemical production was up 28% over what it was in 2004”

    Ronald, do you have a source for that figure?

  3. I got it from Cefic here:

    You can download a PDF report from there.

    Of course if you believe Jim Ratcliffe who is chairman and majority owner of the Swiss/UK/German/Whatever chemical company Ineos, the chemical industry in Europe will be extinct in 10 years due to the high cost of natural gas and competition from China. He thinks China will outcompete them despite the fact that China pays international prices for natural gas as Europe does. This suggests he’s not a clear thinker. And he continues to invest in new capital equipment in Europe despite the fact that it will all be extinct in ten years time according to him. I think he needs to take a Bex and have a nice lie down until he starts thinking straight. He also apparently thinks that closing down nuclear power is bad for the chemical industry, so it sounds like he and Hermit will get on famously. While I don’t know for sure, I assume he is all for renewable energy on account of how it reduces natural gas used for electricity generation and so helps keep it price down. On the other hand he’s obviously not a clear thinker, so I can’t really be sure what he thinks.

  4. Ah, ok. Page 12. That’s sales though, not production. In other words, prices have gone up over the last decade.

    The graph on page 44 is more what I was expecting. And page 46 shows petrochemical production in the EU is well down…

  5. RB perhaps Aussies have this one sussed out. Our very own Incitec Pivot is building an ammonia plant in the US rather than pay Australian gas prices. The CEO of Dow Chemical is also an Aussie who laments our jump into ‘world pricing’. For room heating outside the frost areas (Canberra etc) we can use reverse cycle air con. They say on TV you can do wok cooking with an induction stovetop. However for food canning, brick and glass making and hospital laundries we need gas heating. It follows the less we burn in power stations for electricity the more is available for these other tasks. I therefore concur with your source.

  6. @Nick
    So when they say they have halved energy use over the past 20 years that’s just stuff going up in price then? Well I guess that makes sense. It’s not as if chemical reactions have started requiring less energy anytime in the last 20 years.

  7. I’m not exactly sure what you’re getting at? It can be hard to tell when you’re joking sometimes, RB 🙂

    I wasn’t disagreeing the chemical industry has become more energy efficient. I guess that might affect profits, but I’m not sure what it has to do with sales…

    There’s just clearly been very little growth in EU chemical production in the last 10 years. As opposed to 28% growth in production.

    It’s a minor point in any case.

  8. @Nick
    Maybe not in the PDF but on the Cefic page they had a graphic boasting about how energy efficiency had doubled in the past 20 years in the European chemical industry. On one hand it’s hard to believe as there are generally no radical ways to reduce the energy required for chemical reactions to proceed. On the other hand there are lots of things that can be done with cogeneration and so on which could potentially large increases in energy efficiency. So I’m just wondering how genuine that graph is. I presume there have been real advances. After all, just getting rid of inert fillers from laundry powders and so on as was done to a large extent last decade would have been helpful.

  9. Yeah, you’re right actually. Apparently 18 products (out of thousands) account for 80% of total energy use by the chemical industry.

    That includes ammonia, naptha, terephthalic acid, polyethylene, methanol, styrene, acrylonitrile….

    Reading up quickly on a few of those processes, I’m not seeing anything like 50% reductions in their energy intensity in the last 20 years. Cogeneration, more modern steam and boiler systems etc appear to account for more like 5-20% improvements tops…

    Hmm. And Japan claims an 85% reduction in the same amount of time as Europe’s 55%.

    I’d like to see the figures if you removed pharmaceuticals from the equation – a sector whose ‘units of production’ I’m sure would have increased dramatically in the last 20 years.

    I reckon they’re using it to skew the heck out of those claims.

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