Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Clean Energy for a Potato Planet


I was intrigued by a 2011 report stating that China invested more on clean energy (not including nuclear power) in 2010 than any other nation. As the same time, I also recalled reading in the paper that a molecular geneticist at the University of Western Ontario, found that maternal twins were not genetically identical. While researching the role of genetics in schizophrenia, Shiva Singh has sequenced and compared the DNA make up of the parents and the identical twins. He found significant differences between the DNA make up in the identical twins thus upsetting our perception and assumption that maternal twins are identical. This led me to thinking again about the assumptions we all make when we take information at face value.
I decide to look at the information presented by the article on investments clean energy differently. I recreated the information reported in the article in a spreadsheet (Table 1). The report listed the top nations by the amount invested and pointed out that the UK had slipped out of the top 10 into thirteenth place. Personally I was pleased to see the three most populous nations China, India and the US in the top 10. I was however pleasantly surprised to see Brazil and Spain in this group. I rationalized that how much a nation invests in its energy future should be influenced by how much it consumes to support its industries and population. With the lesson on making assumptions in mind, I thought it worthwhile to look at these rankings from a different perspective. Relying solely on information easily found on the Internet to estimate the population of each of the nations on the list (excluding the unlisted 27 EU nations), when viewed from an Investment/Capita basis, the picture changes significantly (Table 2). China longer leads the pack, surpringly Canada is among the top 3 and the UK is back in the top 10 list. I suspect that if I had included the numbers for the  original 11th and 12th rank spots, India’s spot in number 10 on both charts would have been usurped. Now, if we look at industry or the nation’s productivity (GDP) into account, the picture changes quite dramatically. Again I depended on information on the Internet to calculate each nation’s GDP and the rankings tell a new story (Table 3). In all three charts, Germany emerges as a responsible citizen of the world. China and Italy also emerge as leaders in our effort to harness clean energy. Most telling however is that the two nations, US and UK who often most often lead the pack in declaring that the world must move to cleaner energy sources are at the bottom of the list.
So, the lesson learned here is that, often if we were to take any information presented on faith alone, the we may not be getting the whole picture. This reminds me of a funny quote although I cannot remember who first said it: “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please”. What will they tell us next, that the earth is not flat? Indeed, it is not round, if the shape of the earth is plotted according to the gravitational pull at different places it resembles a potato in space!