For many years, Dr Rafael Mihalič was the head of the Department of Power Systems and Devices at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering in Ljubljana. In the past, he worked in this field both in Slovenia and abroad, and we talked to him about his long-term experiences, delusions about a “carbon-free society”, various possible solutions to the energy crisis, and other pressing issues.
Dr Mihalič, can you tell us something about the beginnings of your activity in the field of power systems and devices?
After graduating in 1986, I immediately got a job at the faculty, at the Department of Electric Power Systems and Devices (in the following, I use EE for electric power systems, and EES for EE systems – they are “nationalised” abbreviations in our circles) as an assistant intern, which was a novelty at the time. I ended up in the company of distinguished and experienced professors and I felt rather disadvantaged, because, seen through my eyes (I had the feeling that I had no idea about the functioning of EES), there was a wide gap in age, position, knowledge, and experience between me and the other colleagues, professors, assistants. But I was lucky that my mentor, prof. Žunko, had a lot of patience with me and listened to my problems and wishes, and he also supported me later throughout my career.
What actually had the biggest influence on you devoting yourself to this particular field?
Already for my diploma, I worked on a demanding problem in the field of EES dynamics, which I solved in accordance with the possibilities at the time. Let me remind you, at that time the SFRY was still in its last throes, and we were struggling with problems that seem ridiculous today. There was no easy access to literature, useful information was hidden by some people, knowledge of foreign languages, especially professional terms, was poor and I could go on and on. Despite the fact that the results of the diploma were not too useful, I got an insight into the innards of mathematical procedures for the analysis of dynamic phenomena in EES. This, in fact, then marked the field with which I have been scientifically involved all my life, i.e., the dynamics and analysis of EES. Despite the fact that today there are relatively user-friendly programmes for EES analysis, when “suspicious” results and problems with calculations appear (these occur practically all the time – the most suspicious thing is if the calculation runs smoothly “at first”) and when interpreting the results, knowledge of the physical principles of the phenomena that we are trying to illustrate and the mathematical procedures that are necessary for this, are invaluable. The biggest mistake, especially younger colleagues, usually make at the beginning of their career is to “trust” the computer and uncritically grab the results it “spits out”, if it “spits them out” at all.
You have also worked in other countries in the past. When did you first start thinking about going abroad?
The situation in the then SFRY only got worse, if we add to that the aforementioned discomfort at work, it is not surprising that I simply could no longer see the perspective for myself here. When I mentioned this to my mentor, and that my partner and I were slowly thinking about moving abroad – specifically to Australia, the head of the Institute for Energy Distribution and Network Planning at Siemens Erlangen, Prof. Povh appeared like a deus ex machina to my mentor. A Slovenian who, as it turned out, helped raise the level of the department and especially our research group to, I can say without hesitation, world level in some areas.
What were your first experiences abroad?
During my two-year visit to Erlangen, a new story opened up for me. I was part of a team at the world’s top in the field of analysis and simulation of dynamic phenomena in EES. We could not even dream about the tools and equipment that was available to me at home, because we did not know that such a thing even existed. The cooperation between the faculty and Siemens strengthened in later years, especially through the transfer of knowledge and cooperation on numerous projects on an international scale. The role of Prof. Povh was invaluable in this. It would be hard to count the projects we worked on over the next 30 years, and how many times one of us spent a week or two, a month or two abroad, or how many students were in Erlangen at the mentioned institute.
Later, you were also active in other countries…
Of course, publications and references on projects later opened many doors. Among other things, I spent a few months visiting ETH Zurich, the Technical Institute in Heraklion, and a few weeks at Durham University in England. But later, when the story with the SFRY ended surprisingly happily for us, I was never tempted to cross the pond. To conferences sure, but not for a long time.
What main differences did you later notice on your tours between working elsewhere and in Slovenia?
On the one hand, there are quite a lot of differences, but on the other hand, we approach solving matters quite similarly and we also face problems quite similarly. Of course, the method of solving these is quite different. Let me highlight Germany first. The first impression I got when I first came there is a completely different level of respect for a person as a personality, as we are used to here, especially compared to the situation in the previous regime, when in name of taking care of a person as the greatest value, you incidentally got a clip round the ear from the militiamen, and every official anywhere could wipe you out the door or you could wait like a fool outside the door while the office workers had fun.
Would you say that there are also any noteworthy differences between employers?
In this sense, the attitude of the employer is also different. When I saw how at one of the most reputable companies (Siemens Research Institute), for which we would fight for employment, they take care of future staff, how they treat students on internships, how respectful the relationship between colleagues is and how responsible employees are to their tasks, it became clear to me why they are so successful. In many of our companies, there is no sign of this, and the attitude towards employees and the way of communicating with them are miles away from the aforementioned.
Are there also differences in the approach to work itself?
What caught my eye is a more systematic approach than we are used to here in the south of Europe. They tackle every problem slowly, think it through honestly, consult, and slowly and reliably see the matter through to the end. The feeling is that we are “running around” much more, we are constantly pressed for time, we are in a hurry, we get nervous, we improvise a little and in the end we somehow “glue” the matter together. Sometimes we get to the result sooner, sometimes not, if we even get there. Neither approach is ideal, probably a combination of the two would be close to it.
But what about student internships in this regard?
The differences are probably the most visible in students on internships. Since I have often visited there for a week or two, I have had the opportunity to observe the happenings. German students were much better than ours in standard tasks, they brought useful knowledge already from school, but ours struggled, searching through the literature and their theoretical knowledge. However, when the situation arose when they had to venture into a completely new field (and this is actually a standard situation in the work we do), our students proved to be extremely successful, at least at the German level, and mostly even better, and they received sincere praise from the mentors there. One more thing is worth noting. The Germans take things to the end, the product is sanded, polished. But we always end up missing that percentage of perfection. We are missing the last “touch”. This is typical for Slovenians in general.
Did you perhaps notice any differences abroad between other countries in which you were active?
The comparison between the Swiss and the Greeks was interesting, and it caught my eye in particular because I went directly to the Technical Institute in Crete after visiting ETH Zurich for a few months. In Switzerland, I arrived at work at 8:30 in the morning and was the first to leave my workplace at 6:00 p.m., because at that time I had a train to the suburbs to my apartment. These people, especially doctoral students, stayed there for days and nights. When I listened to the conversation between the two that you should take a Sunday afternoon off here and there (to not work for a PhD), I my jaw dropped. But you know what, they do not do as much at all as one would imagine and they are not very time efficient. But in the end, the results are finished “to perfection”.
How was it in Greece?
A completely different situation. There, the supervisor said: “Now it is holidays, we work from nine to one, then we close the laboratory!” Since I wanted to make the most of my visit, I prepared and thought things over at home and then rushed to work as much as possible. I did not do much less than in 10 hours in Switzerland. Another characteristic of the Greeks should be highlighted. They are extremely good at “selling” their work and glorifying the results. It is no wonder that they are true masters of obtaining European funds. We are true amateurs in this regard.
The approaches are therefore very different, but each one functions in its own way with its own advantages and disadvantages. Of course, it is a completely subjective feeling, and I would not dare to generalise anything from what was said.
You are an opponent of the introduction of the so-called “carbon-free society”. What are your main criticisms of this kind of concept?
The first and basic criticism is that the concept is physically and technically unrealisable if people in Europe want to continue to live at least as well as they do now. The concept of “decarbonisation”, as the social science sphere understands it now, makes almost no sense from a physical-technical point of view, neither in terms of the declared reason for it, nor in terms of feasibility, nor in terms of sense. It is an attempt to change social relations and redistribute global wealth (to which, of course, profit-seeking opportunists love to place their pot). All under the pretext of “saving Mother Earth”, “preserving nature”, “preserving living space”, and I could keep listing empty clichés.
Would you say that this is more about ideological than scientific beliefs?
All the claims of the defenders of the mentioned concept have already been refuted by science, but it is difficult to “convince” the masses of people who are paid from “environmental” money in a direct or indirect way. Of course, you cannot reason with someone whose salary depends on their level of incomprehension. Since scientific arguments are ignored by such people and they simply believe in their beliefs, by all parameters this is a religion. Many articles are written about this, but they do not reach the general public. According to old data, well over $3 billion is spent on climate action every day around the world. If this money were spent on the real problems of the world, the Earth would be much nicer for many people. But this obviously does not suit the rulers at all.
Environmentalists, who sincerely believe that they will save the world in the way Europe imagines it, were usually called “useful idiots” from a position of power. I did not think of this ugly expression, but it gets the point across.
If these are, as you claim, unfeasible things that are not based on science, how is it that the concept remains so “popular” despite this?
One of the main problems with all of this is the media, which uncritically publishes the same mantras endlessly, which have been proven to be either untrue, completely fabricated, or are even complete nonsense from a physic-technical point of view. And people believe. What should we do?! They are basically victims of a deception that will cost them more and more and they are fouling their own nest in good faith. Unfortunately, when they realise this, it will be too late.
Could you point out to the readers any other facts about the absurdity of this concept that cannot be read in the mainstream media?
As an illustration, I can give some facts for consideration, the description and explanation of which would require at least 5 more such articles, and yet.
- Warming of the atmosphere due to anthropogenic CO2 emissions. More than 100 years ago, the physicists Max Planck and Karl Schwarzschield proved unequivocally that changes in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere above 300 ppm (300 parts per million or 0.0003 of the total) have almost no effect on the temperature of the atmosphere, even if the concentration is doubled or quintupled. Now the proportion in the atmosphere is slightly more than 0.0004 of the total (50 to 100 times more is dissolved in the oceans). Of this, humans contribute 3 to 4%, that is, 0.00001. Any heating due to this is physically completely irrelevant and unmeasurable.
- We do not know all the physical processes in the atmosphere, we do not know how to describe them mathematically, and for some we do not even know in which direction they act. The sun changes the intensity of radiation, it revolves around the centre of gravity of the solar system (thereby also changing the distance to the Earth), the earth moves around it in an orbit that changes in shape, the tilt of its axis changes (Milanković cycles), the solar system on its way around the Milky Way encounters more or less dusty areas, the magnetic field of the sun changes according to its activity, and we could go on and on. And with all this, the 0.0001% of CO2 in the “air” has a key influence on the climate? Be serious!
- All climate models missed their predictions. From first to last.
- If anyone thinks that Slovenia is only hot this year, read this:
Statistically, a 100-year event occurs every year on 1/100 of the Earth’s surface. The whole of Slovenia represents 0.004 of 1/100 of the Earth’s surface. A 100-year or 1000-year event took place this year. And the media talk about Armageddon. The whole of Italy represents only 0.06 of 1/100 of the Earth’s surface, and Europe with the Russian part is worth only 2/100.
- Global temperatures have not shown a warming trend for 17 years – do not fall for the various prophets of doom. It is hot here; in Australia it is freezing like it has not for a long time.
- For 30 years in Europe, we have been talking about decarbonisation, we have spent thousands of billions of euros on this, and the share of renewable sources in primary energy is 6% (taking hydropower plants into account – half as much without it). But now in the next 30 years we will get to 100%? With elementary school arithmetic and some common sense, anyone can calculate that it is nonsense.
- If we want to develop civilisation, the ever-increasing use of energy is necessary because it coincides. By renouncing cheap energy (meaning accessible to everyone) we are renouncing civilisation. But that might even be of interest to someone.
- The sea is rising at the same rate as it has been for centuries. No more, no less.
This is enough, we could list many more such points.
How else do you view today’s “environmental” movements that fight against global warming, and their alternative “green” solutions, which are also advocated to a certain extent by the government of Slovenia?
I actually said a lot about this in the previous point. Mostly, these are social movements that follow some utopian idea and like a cat around a bowl of food, they circle around projects with a lot of money. But they are much less interested in cleaning actions. Exception to a few. People who sincerely believe in these ideas are the victims of “brainwashing” – how else should I call the constant “infusing” with utopian ideas of decarbonisation and publishing, pardon the expression, nonsense – by the better part of the media.
Mostly these movements are against everything. The people of Prekmurje are in favour of OVE, but against power plants on the Mura River, the people of Primorje are in favour of OVE, but against windmills, others are again in favour of OVE, but against power plants on the Sava River. They do not want to turn the Sava River into lakes. Well, we ask them if we can break through that layer of alluvial material in Bohinj and turn Lake Bohinj back into Sava bohinjka. Stupid, I know, but that is the situation with environmentalism today. Sometimes they would call it revolutionary detachment.
How did fossil fuels affect the development of civilisation?
The level of civilisation is roughly measured by how much energy it is able to convert to its advantage. A bit of a joke – see Kardash’s ranking – but the correlation between energy consumption per capita and the level of GDP per capita speaks more in favour of it. Countries with high GDP and low energy consumption do not exist and have never existed.
So, what role did fossil fuels play in this?
As for fossil fuels, we can only thank them for the world we live in. In the Middle Ages, not even the king of England lived as comfortably as a minimum wage worker lives today. The average life expectancy in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century was 39 years. The world we live in is unthinkable without fossil fuels. Without them, it would also be much dirtier and more desolate. Various fairy tales about the abandonment of oil, coal and gas and the use of “sonar resources”, such as wood, are really only fairy tales. All the biomass that grows throughout Slovenia would not be enough to supply TEŠ 6 with energy. The case of Haiti and the Dominican Republic is indicative, where the difference can literally be seen from the moon. Half of the island is devastated, brown – Haiti has bet on natural resources and not on oil, the forests have been exterminated, its GDP is approx. $1,700 per inhabitant, and the Dominican Republic has bet on oil, it is green, and its GDP is ca. $7,300 per inhabitant. They are on the same island and started from a similar position.
So, in your opinion, fossil fuels remain vital even today…
Without oil-powered machines, our civilisation cannot exist for the time being. And it will be like this for at least another 50 years. No matter the promises. It is easiest for politicians to make promises, their horizon of events is the next election, and one serious power plant is planned, placed in space, and built for a decade or more, transmission lines even for several decades. For people, electricity comes from the socket and therefore power plants and transmission lines are superfluous, in short: “Get rid of this crap!”
What role does the war in Ukraine play in the current growing energy and fuel shortages?
The lack of gas and electricity in Europe is not the result of the war in Ukraine, but for almost three decades, Europe has been pursuing a completely misguided energy policy by insisting on a political project that is popularly called the Energiewende, literally wanting to put its head through the wall. And now it is “complaining” that it has a headache. Look at the devil?! If you look at the time course of the price of gas and electricity, it is very clear that they exploded before anyone believed that there would be a war in Ukraine. All this war has done is to expose a little more the misery of past European energy policy. And the reaction of the “Spitzenkandidaten”, who, by the way, are not even elected by the Europeans and are literally playing with the energy of Europe?! Instead of using the aforementioned war as an excuse to give up their delusions, they rush into them even more. The solution to the lack of electricity, according to them (just rewind a few TV shows and listen to Ms. Von der Leyen and Mr. Timmermans), is more windmills and sun cells. O tempora, o mores! To a patient who is already bleeding, which makes him feel even worse, you therapeutically begin to make him bleed more, as they did in the Middle Ages. Here, normal naturalistic logic fails completely.
So how should the state approach this problem?
The task of the state is to ensure the safety of citizens, provide legal security and take care of the conditions for a normal life, which means that it takes care of life-important goods that citizens cannot provide for themselves. In the first place, these are energy products. If a country is not capable of this, it is a bad country and we do not need such a country. Period. The supply of energy is a priority for every serious country.
How should this problem be tackled in Slovenia?
How to deal with the energy crisis? To begin with, it will be enough to stop doing capital nonsense. In Slovenia, for example, TEŠ 6 has been shut down, the NEK still has no approved extension of operation, the construction of the Mokrice hydroelectric plant has been stalled for years due to the obscure manipulations of “conservationists”, the extraction of gas by hydraulic fracturing in Prekmurje was banned without a single weighty technical argument. Half of Europe is squatting on oil shale and sand, but their exploitation has been banned almost everywhere. And now crying and moaning because we have no gas. There is no end to nonsense. Do not think that some of us have not been screaming for 20 years that it will not work like that, but who cares?!
We are also facing increasing electricity prices…
The Slovenian EES is part of the European EES, and Slovenia is not an island. What is happening in Europe is also happening here. To return to the previous point, for 30 years Europe has been doing stupid things with energy, overbuilding uncontrollable energy sources, and shutting down nuclear plants, and forcing coal plants into bankruptcy with a contrivance called CO2 coupons. And then there is no electricity when the sun does not shine, and the wind does not blow. Look at the devil, so strange!
Unfortunately, in energy when problems arise, it is already 10 years too late. If in Europe we pushed our heads through the wall in the wrong direction for 20 years, it is impossible to fix it in a few years, regardless of the resources invested. According to Oppenheimer: “You cannot get a child out of nine women in one month.”
What is the best way to act in Slovenia regarding such price increases?
In Slovenia, there is no art in figuring out how to proceed. Take advantage of TEŠ while it lasts, we could take advantage of the large reserves of coal in Prekmurje, but it is better not to even mention it, the operation of the NEK needs to be extended and another two nuclear plants should be built next to it, the hydro potential is mainly used, but it is necessary to build what is possible, and that is that. Also, both a gas storage facility and a liquefied gas terminal would definitely be a strategic investment. But the people of Primorje have their own opinion about this. There is no point in conducting serious technically argued debates about solutions to the general energy situation of Slovenia with geothermal, solar and wind power plants and battery storage systems. Something can be built for the financial benefit of the minority and at the expense of the majority but thinking about it as a strategic energy alternative is a waste of time and every word. The same applies to the storage of “surplus” electricity in synthetic fuels and hydrogen. Sounds nice to those who understand it and completely unrealisable if you ask the experts in the field. I am not the latter, but I asked the experts, whom I definitely believe more than the various self-proclaimed energy workers who spew Nonsense with a capital letter on this topic in the media.
Today there is a lot of talk about renewable energy sources, but do you think that this type of energy could meet all the requirements of the modern world?
No, not even by chance, if I imagine what you mean by the term OVE. The only sensible alternative that is essentially an infinite resource from a human point of view (and is equivalent to renewables from that point of view) is nuclear power plants. All their environmental problems are technically solvable. With a fraction of the money that we have so far wasted on so-called natural resources, we could develop nuclear reactors that would make the problems with energy and nuclear waste irrelevant. As for the fusion, let them continue to develop it, but for 30 years I have been hearing that it will be ready in 30 years, and according to the information available to me, there will be nothing from it either in 30 years, or probably not even in 50. The technical problems are so demanding that unless there is a truly revolutionary discovery, it simply will not be possible.
How important will nuclear power become in the future?
Niels Bohr said that prediction is a problematic matter, especially when it comes to the future. Posterity will see if history will disprove me.
In the medium term, it probably will not work without nuclear energy. It is the only way of utilizing energy, which is practically infinite, we have mastered the technology, it is one of the safest (forget the stories about the atomic cloud over Krško, such nonsense is not even to be told to children), it can be regulated as a source, it is stable and independent of external sources factors, ensures uninterrupted supply even in crisis situations (one or two reactor fillings, i.e., for 2 or 3 years, you can always have in stock, they are also developing those that you do not touch, do not empty, do not charge for 30 years).
In short, nuclear energy is likely to play a key role.
How will these kinds of energy problems be reflected in the coming years?
Events in the international field are becoming so dynamic that I dare not even speculate on this question. As for electricity, it will definitely not be as cheap as we are used to in Europe for a while. For approximately 20 years, the price of electricity for year-on-year leases remained at around €40/MWh. A few days ago, I was horrified to hear that the electricity lease price for the next year exceeded €400/MWh for the first time. Subsidies up or down, in this area the EU has completely failed. We will not solve things with subsidies, which were previously “extorted” from people in the form of taxes and our money (although the politicians behave so arrogantly as if it were coming out of their pockets). In essence, the measure, except for the immediate reduction of people’s discontent, is pointless. Let the state administration rationalise procedures, reduce the number of employees by one half and reduce taxes upon taxes upon taxes on fuel and electricity, and no subsidies will be needed, and the solution is economically “healthy” and permanent. Well, let’s see!
Finally, what do you think the future holds for us in general?
As for the rest; how can a person announce anything in the light of the war in Ukraine, the rise of China, its intentions to annex Taiwan, the adoption of European legislation, which represents a literal shot in the foot in the field of energy, demographic trends (read the extinction of Europeans), the impenetrable masses of refugees forcing themselves into Europe (more for social contributions, less work), increasing friction between EU members, increasing absence of “common sense” in setting and dealing with demands regarding social development, increasing problems with food production due to administrative restrictions, rebellions by farmers, drivers, Friday cyclists, covid epidemics, and so on.
I will be happy if we live at least as well as we have so far. But I have strong doubts, especially due to the increasing absence of common sense in more and more areas.
But probably all this suits a handful of those behind the scenes.