R-Squared Energy Blog

Pure Energy

Electrifying the USPS

I usually scan the energy headlines each morning, but had somehow missed the stories on the recently introduced bills to electrify the U.S. Postal Service fleet:

U.S. Postal Service to test a repurposed electric vehicle fleet

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) introduced a bill Friday that would pay for 109,500 electric vehicles, though the cost of that program isn’t known yet. “This, to me, would be a very productive thing and . . . likely to produce jobs and revitalize an industry,” Connolly said.

In December, Rep. José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) announced an “e-Drive” bill that would give $2 billion to the Energy Department and Postal Service to convert 20,000 mail trucks into electric vehicles.

I have always liked the idea of electric cars. I have written a number of essays around that theme, primarily because electric vehicles could in theory be adequate replacements for internal combustion engines as supplies of fossil fuels deplete. Imagine that our electric grid eventually moves more toward renewable energy, and electric vehicles could be a much greener solution than the majority of the vehicles we have on the road today.

But note that I use words like “theory” and “imagine” to describe this idealistic future. I firmly believe that we need to have a look at the data from time to time to make sure that our idealism isn’t in direct contrast to reality. Unfortunately, in this case it might be.

Study: Electric cars not as green as you think

The environmental benefits of electric cars are being questioned in Germany by a surprising actor: the green movement. But those risks don’t apply in the U.S., the American electric-car lobby asserts.

Today, the German plants that deliver marginal electricity are fueled by coal. That is the main problem, according to the study. The research adds that to produce the same amount of energy, coal emits more carbon dioxide than even gasoline.

“The irony is that you don’t need a lot more electricity for electric cars,” Raddatz, said. “But the problem is that if they cause these peaks, we would have to have power plants that would be ready to start (as) the massive charging starts.”

An electric car with a lithium ion battery powered by electricity from an old coal power plant could emit more than 200g of carbon dioxide per km, compared with current average gasoline car of 160g of carbon dioxide per km in Europe, according to the study. The European Union goal for 2020 is 95g of carbon dioxide per km.

I have been thinking about this a lot, as I have recently seen some electric car/combustion engine comparisons in a report that is about to come out. I won’t divulge much about the report, but when it comes out I will link to it. But I will provide a quote from the soon-to-be-released report:

New Zealand energy consultant Steve Goldthorpe estimates that if the entire New Zealand vehicle fleet were replaced with electric cars, the amount of electricity New Zealand needed to generate to power this fleet would be increased by about 60%. Only a small percentage of this electricity could be produced sustainably; the balance would probably have to be generated by burning coal.

I think this is where idealism clashes with reality. As I pointed out in The Nuclear Comeback, over the previous 10 years electricity demand increased by an average of 66 million megawatt hours per year. That is without adding electric cars to the mix. The growth rate for renewable energy over the past 5 years or so has only been about 10 million megawatt hours (although last year saw an impressive 20 million). Still, this is a far cry from just keeping up with normal demand growth.

So the idealistic side of me sees renewable electricity continuing to grow, and powering a fleet of green electric cars. The side of me that looks at the data says that in reality, a rapid ramp-up of electric cars will have to be driven by non-renewables because renewable energy growth won’t be able to keep up. I wouldn’t personally have a problem with a nuclear-driven electric fleet, but I don’t think that’s the vision many have for future electric vehicles.

I am not factoring in the possibility that conservation of electricity can help close that gap. On that I remain hopeful, but our history is one of ever increasing consumption.

March 5, 2010 Posted by | electric cars, electricity, electricity usage, nuclear energy, renewable energy | 1 Comment

Book Review – Power of the People

I will finish up my long-promised concluding post in the recent series on ethanol and oil imports. I have been traveling for ten days, and inadvertently left all of my graphics for that post on another computer. I am back home now, and will try to tidy it up and post it in the next few days.

On the long plane ride back to Hawaii, I read Power of the People: America’s New Electricity Choices. I picked this book up at the 2009 Solar Tour – Pikes Peak Region, which I visited on my trip to Colorado. My new job has me getting more involved in the electricity sector, and I thought this would be a book that would help push me up the learning curve. A short description of the book:

America is as addicted to electricity as it is to oil. Our electricity usage increases every year, yet we still use the same transmission grid that was constructed in the middle of the last century. The grid is stretched to the limit, creating the potential of future black-outs like the one that brought the Northeast to its knees in 2003. Meanwhile, some of our most abundant and affordable generating fuels have become major culprits in global warming.

Power of the People explores in a nontechnical, conversational way some of the clean, green, 21st-century technologies that are available and how and why we should plug them into our national grid. This important essay explores our failure as a country to adopt these “no regrets” technologies and policies as swiftly as the rest of the world, and why it matters for the future of every American.

The author, Carol Sue Tombari, works for the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). Despite trying, I can’t find out what her exact position or qualifications are. Here biography says:

Carol Sue Tombari has specialized in energy and environmental policy and programs for more than 25 years. She directed the State of Texas’s energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, served as natural resources advisor to the lieutenant governor, and helped found the National Association of State Energy Officials.

In addition, she was appointed to federal advisory posts by two Federal Secretaries of Energy, chairing a Congressional advisory committee on the subject of renewable energy joint ventures and serving on the U.S. Department of Energy’s (USDOE) State Energy Advisory Board. Tombari is employed at the USDOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, where she works on local and rural economic development. Ultimately, it is her love for the next generation that continues to drive her work to protect the future of our planet and the lives of those yet to come.

While I found myself learning more about the sector, many things she said left me puzzled. For instance, she claimed that the U.S. uses more energy per GDP than anyone else in the world. This is exactly the opposite of Jeff Rubin’s claim in Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller. Rubin claimed that countries like China use a lot more energy per GDP, which was the basis of his argument that carbon tariffs could work in favor of countries like the U.S., who are more energy efficient at producing GDP. In fact, if you look at the EIA data on energy usage per dollar of GDP, you can see that the U.S. is on the low end of the scale. According to the EIA data, China, compared to the U.S., uses about four times the amount of energy per dollar of GDP. (Thanks to reader Clee for that reference).

The book is pretty anti-nuclear, and makes the claim that renewables are “considerably more affordable” than nuclear power. She seems to rely on Amory Lovins and Tom Friedman for these sorts of claims. The book is pretty realistic about coal, however, concluding that we will be relying on coal for a good many years. She did claim, though, that there have been no major technological innovations in coal-fired central station power plants since the 1950’s. I don’t consider that accurate, as Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) seems like a dramatic improvement in the efficiency of the usage of coal for power production. Several of these IGCC plants will be coming online in the U.S. over the next decade, and a number have already been built in China. (You can see some of the plants that have been completed or are in progress around the world here).

There were some things I found annoying about the book. For instance, it had no graphs. However, on a number of occasions the author said “picture a graph in which the Y axis represents one variable, and the X axis another variable.” Why not just show a graph? Or if for some reason you are limited to no graphics, find another way to make the point.

There were some calculations that just didn’t make sense to me. For instance, she once calculated the required size of a PV system to run a household in Phoenix “if PV cells were 100% efficient.” Why not just do the actual calculation with typical PV efficiencies? She also commented that NREL had done a calculation in which they concluded that “100 square miles that constitute the Nevada Test Site” covered in PV arrays could meet the needs of the entire U.S. (without addressing storage). I did a similar calculation in which I tentatively came up with an area of about 100 miles by 100 miles. So I wonder if she didn’t mean that the NREL calculation concluded that a 100 mile square (10,000 square miles) would suffice.

She also spent a good deal of time talking about how a terrorist could bring down the transportation system or the electrical grid. I don’t think those are the kinds of ideas we want to plant in people’s heads.

One thing that isn’t clear to me is just how utilities benefit from efficiency improvements of their customers. She spent some time discussing various utility programs to improve the efficiency of the end user so they don’t have to construct new power plants. But utilities make their money selling electricity, don’t they? If customers improve efficiency, they just means they are selling less electricity to that customer. But there is apparently something to this model that I don’t fully understand, because I know that utilities are always pushing for – and even subsidizing – these sorts of programs. In Hawaii, the utility will pay for part of a solar hot water installation. So how do they benefit? Perhaps the utilities are compensated by various governments for pushing these efficiency programs. Otherwise, it seems that as consumers become more efficient, the utilities would have to charge more money for the electricity.

One other thing that was discussed – but that has always puzzled me – is the economic multiplier theory. She gave one example about how the benefits of a local Midwestern project ended up contributing three times the income generation to the local economy. Now I can see how a multiplier should work in theory. Pay a guy $100 in salary, and then he pays his taxes and turns around and spends that $100 in the local economy. That merchant then pays his taxes and spends some of it in the local economy, such that the initial $100 supports more than $100 in taxes and spending. In practice, it seems like if it really worked that way, we would subsidize everything. Why would we want to get any autos from Japan? Subsidize U.S. consumers for 50% of the cost of a domestic car, and then let the local multiplier give back 3-4 times that amount to the local community. But in reality, I don’t quite think it works out that way.

In summary, while it seems like I found a lot to nit-pick in the book, I did find a lot of useful information in there. Even the things I found puzzling caused me to think and to do additional research, which was helpful. The author spends a lot of time laying out the present situation with respect to electricity, and talking about the changes that need to happen. The author is peak oil aware, citing Matt Simmons and Tom Whipple (among others) with respect to a projected future energy crunch. I think the anti-nuclear stance was misguided, and I think she overestimates the ability of renewables to fill in for growing demand and the phase-out of older coal-fired power plants. In my view, it is hard to imagine how we are going to get by without building more nukes in the next few decades.

October 11, 2009 Posted by | book review, electricity, electricity usage, nuclear energy, solar power | 86 Comments

Notes on Energy Efficiency

I arrived in one piece in Hawaii a few days ago, and have been settling in. It is still hard to believe I am here, and I plan to elaborate a bit on why I am here in the near future.

In the interim – and because I haven’t posted anything new in a few days – I thought I would call attention to a story in the New York Times from a couple of days ago:

Energy Efficiency: Fact or Fiction?

You have to be registered to read it (although the Tehran Times has reprinted the first page of the article) but I will paraphrase/excerpt it. The article covers a number of facts and myths around energy efficiency:

COMPUTERS AND ELECTRONICS

1. Screen savers save energy

FICTION — With screen savers, electricity is still pumping to keep your computer and monitor running. In fact, screen savers may even use more energy than a basic blank screen.

2. Your computer stops using energy when in sleep mode

FICTION — Computers still use energy when in sleep mode, but about 70% less.

3. You waste more energy restarting a computer repeatedly than letting it run all day

FICTION — Even though a small surge of energy is required to start up a computer, this amount is less than the energy consumed when a computer runs for long periods of time.

MAJOR APPLIANCES

4. No energy is used after you turn appliances and electronics off

FICTION — Many appliances still draw a small amount of electricity when turned off. Solve this by plugging into a power strip that you can turn off.

5. It’s more efficient to keep your refrigerator full than half full

FACT — The larger the mass of cold items in a refrigerator or freezer, the less work is required to maintain the appliance’s chilly temperature. (Of course the more work it then takes to get the appliance to its chilly temperature).

6. Hand-washing dishes is more energy efficient than a dishwasher

FICTION — Dish washing by hand actually consumes more water and energy. People typically leave the hot water running, using up to 14 gallons of water on average. GE Appliances’ Paul Riley says to get the most out of an energy-efficient dishwasher, make sure it is fully loaded with food scraped off the plates.

7. Wash clothing with hot water for a truly effective wash.

FICTION — Heating the water for laundry makes up about 90 percent of the energy used in a conventional top-load washer. Using warm and cold water can be just as effective and can slash your energy use in half or more.

CARS AND FUEL

8. It’s better to fill your gas tank halfway because a full tank adds weight and is therefore less fuel efficient

FACT — The lighter your car, the better the fuel economy.

9. If you live in a warm climate, buy a light-colored car.

FACT — The lighter colors reflect the heat, whereas dark vehicles absorb heat and require more air conditioning to cool down.

AROUND THE HOUSE

10. If you live in a warm climate, paint your house a light color

FICTION — A light-colored roof helps dial back the temperature in a home’s attic by reflecting sunlight, but insulation is the key factor when it comes to energy savings. To really cool down your house, focus on proper insulation and plant foliage to block the sun’s rays.

11. Shut the door and vents in unused rooms

FACT — This works only if you close the doors and vents in multiple rooms.

12. Leave the heating or cooling system on all day. If you shut it down when you’re away, the system needs a surge of energy to reach the desired temperature.

FICTION — Switching the thermostat off when you go to sleep or leave for the day will boost energy savings. It will take more energy to bring your house back to the set temperature, but less energy is used during the down times. You can also realize substantial savings by changing the temperature settings. It is estimated that you will realize a 2 percent savings on your energy bill for every degree you cut back.

August 18, 2009 Posted by | electricity, electricity usage, fuel efficiency | 19 Comments

Running the Electric Grid with eSolar

As I often do on a Saturday morning, I was up early reading through energy headlines. I happened across this story on eSolar:

Bill Gross’s Solar Breakthrough

“We are producing the lowest cost solar electrons in the history of the world,” Bill Gross is telling me. “Nobody’s ever done it. Nobody’s close.”

“We have a cost-effective, no-subsidy solar power solution and it’s for sale, anywhere around the world,” he says.

The article was intriguing, and inevitably led me back to eSolar’s website to get a better idea of whether the claims appear to have merit. There, I watched the slide show on the technology, and caught this bit: A single unit generates 46 MW of clean electricity on a footprint of 160 acres.

While this doesn’t help me figure out whether they can deliver on the hype, it does enable me to update a couple of essays that I have written before:

A Solar Thought Experiment

Replacing Gasoline with Solar Power

In the first, I made an attempt to calculate the area that would be required to equal the entire installed electric capacity of the U.S. – using only solar power. (Yes, I understand that this number falls to zero at night). The numbers quoted above from eSolar – combined with the latest data on installed electrical generating capacity – enabled me to update that calculation.

Per the EIA, total installed electrical generating capacity in the U.S. is approximately 1 million megawatts. If we scale up eSolar’s claim of a required footprint of 160 acres to produce 46 MW of electricity, then it would require 5,435 square miles of eSolar technology to equal current U.S. electrical capacity. This is a square of 73.7 miles by 73.7 miles. This is greater than the 2,531 square miles calculated in the previous essay, but that essay only considered the area for solar panels. The present calculation encompasses the footprint of the plant.

Looking back at the gasoline calculation, I came up with 1,300 square miles required in my previous essay to replace the energy gasoline provides. Using the current eSolar numbers changes that number to 2,413 square miles, or a square of 49 miles on each side.

Of course all of the normal caveats apply as spelled out in the previous essays. The key point is not to read these sorts of thought experiments too literally. I tend to do them to get my head around the scale of certain problems. Complaints of “the cost is too great” or “the power is intermittent” – addressed by caveats in the previous essays – completely miss the point of the essay. It is sort of like trying to figure out how much biomass would be required to power the world. If the calculation is 10 times the current annual output of biomass, then that’s not going to work. If it is 1/100th the current annual output of biomass, then that might work (again, pending lots of other things working out).

In this case, I find this eSolar thought experiment encouraging insofar as the required land area isn’t a clear knockout.

August 8, 2009 Posted by | electricity, electricity usage, eSolar, solar efficiency, solar power, solar thermal | 29 Comments

Britain’s Impending Energy Crisis

In case you missed the story yesterday in the Economist:

How long till the lights go out?

North Sea gas has served Britain well, but supply peaked in 1999. Since then the flow has fallen by half; by 2015 it will have dropped by two-thirds. By 2015 four of Britain’s ten nuclear stations will have shut and no new ones could be ready for years after that. As for coal, it is fiendishly dirty: Britain will be breaking just about every green promise it has ever made if it is using anything like as much as it does today. Renewable energy sources will help, but even if the wind and waves can be harnessed (and Britain has plenty of both), these on-off forces cannot easily replace more predictable gas, nuclear and coal power. There will be a shortfall—perhaps of as much as 20GW—which, if nothing radical is done, will have to be met from imported gas. A large chunk of it may come from Vladimir Putin’s deeply unreliable and corrupt Russia.

Many of Britain’s neighbours may find this rather amusing. Britain, the only big west European country that could have joined the oil producers’ club OPEC, the country that used to lecture the world about energy liberalisation, is heading towards South African-style power cuts, with homes and factories plunged intermittently into third-world darkness.

For more background on Britain’s situation, see also The looming electricity crunch.

I thought about these issues a lot when I lived in Scotland. Britain is clearly facing a crisis, and how they address it will be instructive to those of us who are concerned about energy shortages. I always said that Britain will ultimately conclude that they have to have a lot of new nuclear power, but it looks like that recognition won’t come in time to help them. So what’s the answer? They start ramping coal back up – breaking those green promises – or they start to suffer power outages. What do you think they will do? As I have said before, when the power starts to go out, environmental concerns will fly out the window. Sure, people like the idea of not burning coal. But will they give up power 6 hours a day to achieve that? I don’t think too many of them will.

Of course there is still natural gas from Russia, and I think they are going to have to roll the dice in the short term and hope Russia doesn’t hold them hostage. Longer term, LNG terminals would seem to make sense to me, but they don’t seem to be a part of the discussion here.

Ultimately, I think Britain will behave as the rest of the world will behave when faced with energy crunches. They will find that renewables can’t step up and fill the gap, and so they will roll out conservation measures and make do with whatever it takes to avoid crippling power outages: No matter if it takes coal, natural gas, or the blubber from baby seals. This is how I expect the world to respond when renewable dreams meet the reality of power shortages.

August 7, 2009 Posted by | coal, electricity usage, energy crisis, natural gas, Russia, Scotland, United Kingdom | 43 Comments

Replacing Gasoline with Solar Power

Executive Summary

If you don’t want to run through the calculations, here is the summary. I attempted a thought experiment in which I calculated whether it would be feasible to use solar power to generate enough energy to offset all U.S. gasoline consumption. My conclusion is that it will take about 444,000 megawatts of electrical generating capacity. Current U.S. generating capacity is over 900,000 megawatts, but there isn’t a whole lot of spare capacity in that number.

To generate 444,000 megawatts with solar PV would require just under 1,300 square miles (a 36 mile by 36 mile square) of just PV surface area. To generate that much power with solar thermal – including supporting infrastructure – would require 4,719 square miles (a 69 mile by 69 mile square). A large area, but not impossible to envision us eventually achieving this.

——————–

Introduction

Having made an attempt to calculate the number of square miles to replace current U.S. electricity consumption via solar PV or solar thermal, I have been challenged to do the same exercise for replacing our gasoline usage. (In fact, I was told by someone that they had never seen this kind of calculation done, so I told them I would do it). I have no idea how this calculation is going to turn out, but I suspect it is going to be similar to the previous calculation for replacing electrical consumption. My guess is less than 100 miles by 100 miles. Note that this is a thought experiment, in which I try to get an idea of what it would take to achieve this.

First, some caveats. There are still technical obstacles that prevent this scenario from being realized. Those are, 1). Battery range is still too low (The plug-in Prius is only going to be able to go 7 miles on battery power).; and 2). Solar power can’t be adequately stored. However, that’s not the purpose of the exercise. The purpose is to satisfy my curiosity: If we were going to try to replace gasoline with solar power, are the land requirements prohibitive?

I am only going to do this calculation for gasoline, as I think it is unlikely that electricity will ever power long-haul trucks or airplanes.

How Much Do We Need?

The U.S. currently consumes 389 million gallons of gasoline per day. (Source: EIA). A gallon of gasoline contains about 115,000 BTUs. (Source: EPA). The energy content of this is equivalent to 45 trillion BTUs per day. The average efficiency of an internal combustion engine (ICE) – that is the percentage of those BTUs that actually go into moving the vehicle down the road – is about 15%. (Source: DOE). Therefore, the energy that goes toward actually moving the vehicles is 6.7 trillion BTUs per day.

The efficiency of electric infrastructure can be broken down into several steps. According to this source, the respective efficiencies for the transmission lines, charging, and the vehicle efficiency are 95%, 88%, and 88%, for an overall efficiency (after the electricity is produced) of 74%. To replace the gasoline BTUs that go toward moving the vehicle with electricity is going to require 6.7 trillion/0.74, or 9.1 trillion BTUs. To convert to electricity, we use 3,413 BTUs/kilowatt-hour (kWh). Thus, 9.1 trillion BTUs/day is equal to 2.7 billion kWh/day. That’s how much energy we need. To convert this to power, we need to multiply by 1 day/24 hours, and that gives us 111 million kilowatts, or 111,000 megawatts (MW) of power generation required.

Looking back at my Solar Thought Experiment, I calculated 2,531 square miles to replace our peak electrical demand of 746,470 MW (746 GW). However, the current calculation is a different sort of calculation than what I did previously. The previous calculation attempted to have enough installed solar PV to meet peak demand. In the case of replacing our transportation fuel, I need enough panels to produce the required transportation energy in 8 hours or so while the sun is shining. To be conservative, we can assume 6 hours, which means we will actually need four times the 111,000 MW, or 444,000 MW.

Using Solar PV

From the previous essay, I used a conservative value of 12.5 watts per square foot as the generating capacity of an actual GE PV panel. To get 444,000 MW is going to take an area of 35.5 billion square feet, which is 1274 square miles. This is an area of just under 36 miles by 36 miles. However, this is just the surface area required to generate the electricity. It does not include area required for supporting infrastructure.

Using Solar Thermal

Doing the same calculation based on the solar thermal output from Running the U.S. on Solar Power, the expectation was that 0.147 megawatts could be produced per acre. This did include all of the land associated with infrastructure. If we use that number, we find that to generate 444,000 MW is going to take a little over 3 million acres, or 4,719 square miles. This is a square of just under 69 miles by 69 miles.

The reality is that we would use a combination of the solar PV and solar thermal. We have a lot of available rooftops that can create electricity with solar PV, and there are large tracts of land in sunny Arizona and Nevada that can create electricity with solar thermal.

Conclusions

Clearly, a lot of area is required, but it isn’t impossibly large. Of course to achieve this, a couple of big problems need to be resolved. First, battery life needs to improve somewhat before people are going to embrace electric transport. According to this ABC News story, the average commute is 16 miles one-way, but the range of the plug-in Prius is only expected to be 7 miles. The Aptera, on the other hand, claims a range of 120 miles. Maybe we just need to change the way we think about what we drive. (On the other hand, not a lot of commuters are going to climb into an Aptera if they have to share the road with large SUVs).

Second, and the bigger issue, is that we still don’t have a good way to store excess solar power. We need to have a good storage mechanism so electric cars can be charged at night from solar electricity produced during the day. One idea for this that I have seen floated is to use peak solar energy to electrolyze water, and then store the hydrogen in centralized locations. The hydrogen would then be burned at night to run centralized electrical generators. Not the most efficient method for storing solar energy, but technically workable.

Finally, the current electrical grid couldn’t handle such a large increase, but the model I envision would generate and consume the electricity locally.

Note

I had delayed posting this for almost a week, because I was sure there was an error in the calculations. I finally found one (I had turned a kilowatt into a watt), but let me know if you find other errors or incorrect assumptions.

May 12, 2008 Posted by | electric cars, electricity, electricity usage, solar power, solar PV, solar thermal | 107 Comments

Running the U.S. on Solar Power

How much land would it take for solar power to satisfy the electricity demands of the U.S.? I made some attempts to calculate this before, but a recent story may enable me to calculate some more reliable numbers if the solar is provided via solar thermal power:

Solar Power Heats Up: Another Plant Planned for Southwest

Two bits caught my eye:

Abengoa Solar, a subsidiary of a similarly named technology company based in Seville, Spain, and Arizona Public Service on Thursday announced plans to build a 280-megawatt solar thermal power plant about 70 miles southwest of Phoenix.

So we know the planned capacity of the solar thermal plant. In case you are unfamiliar with solar thermal:

Solano will use parabolic mirrors to follow the sun across the sky and concentrate its energy, heating a fluid to 700 degrees Fahrenheit, and using the fluid to make steam that will spin turbines to generate electricity. The plant will use an unspecified heat storage technology so the plant can continue generating electricity for six hours after sunset.

So, how much area to produce 280-megawatts?

The project will bring economic benefits, too. During three years of construction, it will employ 1,500 workers at the 1,900-acre site near Gila Bend. After completion, 80 permanent employees will work at Solano.

OK, let me say before running through this calculation that I have no idea how it is going to turn out. And if someone spots an error in math or logic, please bring it to my attention. I am going to scale this up to produce all current U.S. electricity demands.

Peak U.S. demand, according to the EIA, is almost 800,000 megawatts. Actual available capacity is 900,000 megawatts. So let’s make our solar capacity equal to today’s total installed electrical generating capacity.

Assuming the entire 1,900 acres is needed for the plant (maybe not a good assumption, but all I have), then this breaks down to (280 megawatts)/(1,900 acres), or 0.147 megawatts per acre. This of course includes all of the land associated with support functions, and it may include area for future expansions. So the calculation may be conservative.

The second assumption is that the areas in which will put our solar plants will be as productive as this one in Arizona. That is not a conservative assumption, and will somewhat offset the previous conservative calculations.

Then to get 900,000 megawatts is going to take (900,000 megawatts)/(0.147 megawatts per acre), or 6.1 million acres. How large of an area is this? I don’t know. I have to get out my calculator.

My calculator indicates that 6.1 million acres is an area of 9,531 square miles, which is equivalent to a square of just under 100 miles by 100 miles (which would be 10,000 square miles). That’s a large area, to be sure. But the possibility is there.

A couple of caveats. First, this calculation does not make a provision for a mass migration to electric transport. That would clearly require (a lot) more power. On the other hand, we already have a lot of installed electrical capacity in the form of hydroelectric (78,000 megawatts), other renewables (24,000 megawatts), and nuclear power (100,000 megawatts). This lessens the power requirement from solar.

How does this compare with my previous calculation for solar PV? I don’t know. Let me check.

OK, I checked. Not too bad. In A Solar Thought Experiment, I had assumed a slightly lower power requirement and only included the actual area of the solar cells. I came up with an area of about 50 miles by 50 miles of PV panel surface area. So it was in the ballpark. The 100 by 100 mile number is probably more realistic (and is for solar thermal – a different animal), given the need for the real estate for supporting infrastructure.

Other conclusions from the previous essay remain the same. For solar PV, there are around 100 million houses in the U.S., so there is quite a bit of surface area readily available, right where the power is needed. Your results will obviously vary depending on whether you live in Maine or Nevada. The cost is still a staggering $6 trillion. However, to put that number in perspective, at $100/bbl, the U.S. would spend $6 trillion on oil in less than 8 years.

What is the limiting factor? Are there particular components that are critical, but not available in large enough quantities to make this work? Possibly, but I don’t know what those might be. I actually believe that this could be our Manhattan Project, and it could be done. But it doesn’t even have to offset all of our current electrical capacity. We just need to start chipping away, and substituting solar in place of fossil fuels and new capacity that is needed.

Can we afford it? The key question to me is, “Can we afford not to try?”

February 25, 2008 Posted by | electricity, electricity usage, solar efficiency, solar power, solar thermal | 270 Comments

Running the U.S. on Solar Power

How much land would it take for solar power to satisfy the electricity demands of the U.S.? I made some attempts to calculate this before, but a recent story may enable me to calculate some more reliable numbers:

Solar Power Heats Up: Another Plant Planned for Southwest

Two bits caught my eye:

Abengoa Solar, a subsidiary of a similarly named technology company based in Seville, Spain, and Arizona Public Service on Thursday announced plans to build a 280-megawatt solar thermal power plant about 70 miles southwest of Phoenix.

So we know the planned capacity of the solar thermal plant. In case you are unfamiliar with solar thermal:

Solano will use parabolic mirrors to follow the sun across the sky and concentrate its energy, heating a fluid to 700 degrees Fahrenheit, and using the fluid to make steam that will spin turbines to generate electricity. The plant will use an unspecified heat storage technology so the plant can continue generating electricity for six hours after sunset.

So, how much area to produce 280-megawatts?

The project will bring economic benefits, too. During three years of construction, it will employ 1,500 workers at the 1,900-acre site near Gila Bend. After completion, 80 permanent employees will work at Solano.

OK, let me say before running through this calculation that I have no idea how it is going to turn out. And if someone spots an error in math or logic, please bring it to my attention. I am going to scale this up to produce all current U.S. electricity demands.

Peak U.S. demand, according to the EIA, is almost 800,000 megawatts. Actual available capacity is 900,000 megawatts. So let’s make our solar capacity equal to today’s total installed electrical generating capacity.

Assuming the entire 1,900 acres is needed for the plant (maybe not a good assumption, but all I have), then this breaks down to (280 megawatts)/(1,900 acres), or 0.147 megawatts per acre. This of course includes all of the land associated with support functions, and it may include area for future expansions. So the calculation may be conservative.

The second assumption is that the areas in which will put our solar plants will be as productive as this one in Arizona. That is not a conservative assumption, and will somewhat offset the previous conservative calculations.

Then to get 900,000 megawatts is going to take (900,000 megawatts)/(0.147 megawatts per acre), or 6.1 million acres. How large of an area is this? I don’t know. I have to get out my calculator.

My calculator indicates that 6.1 million acres is an area of 9,531 square miles, which is equivalent to a square of just under 100 miles by 100 miles (which would be 10,000 square miles). That’s a large area, to be sure. But the possibility is there. A lot of “land” is available right now of rooftops.

A couple of caveats. First, this calculation does not make a provision for a mass migration to electric transport. That would clearly require (a lot) more power. On the other hand, we already have a lot of installed electrical capacity in the form of hydroelectric (78,000 megawatts), other renewables (24,000 megawatts), and nuclear power (100,000 megawatts). This lessens the power requirement from solar.

How does this compare with my previous calculation? I don’t know. Let me check.

OK, I checked. Not too bad. In A Solar Thought Experiment, I had assumed a slightly lower power requirement and only included the actual area of the solar cells. I came up with an area of about 50 miles by 50 miles. So it was in the ballpark. The 100 by 100 mile number is probably more realistic, given the need for the real estate for supporting infrastructure.

Other conclusions from the previous essay remain the same. There are around 100 million houses in the U.S., so there is quite a bit of surface area readily available, right where the power is needed. Your results will obviously vary depending on whether you live in Maine or Nevada. The cost is still a staggering $6 trillion. However, to put that number in perspective, at $100/bbl, the U.S. would spend $6 trillion on oil in less than 8 years.

What is the limiting factor? Are there particular components that are critical, but not available in large enough quantities to make this work? Possibly, but I don’t know what those might be. I actually believe that this could be our Manhattan Project, and it could be done. But it doesn’t even have to offset all of our current electrical capacity. We just need to start chipping away, and substituting solar in place of fossil fuels and new capacity that is needed.

Can we afford it? The key question to me is, “Can we afford not to try?”

February 25, 2008 Posted by | electricity, electricity usage, solar efficiency, solar power, solar thermal | 1,080 Comments

Guest Essay on Energy Independence

I am still traveling for a few days, and will be back in Scotland on January 13th. One of the e-mails I received while I was traveling was a guest submission. The author wrote:

Mr. Rapier

After reading a bit of your blog, I am sending this to you in the spirit of promoting a lively debate.

Please find attached a practical approach to achieving energy independence. It is a construction project rather than a research project. It does require some tinkering with the market; however, the energy market is not a free market today and the governments setting the price of oil are either overtly or covertly hostile to our interests.

The plan is simple and for the most part economic. It can not compete with $10 per barrel oil but OPEC is more likely to present us with $200 per barrel oil.

Use nuclear to produce electricity; use electricity rather than natural gas for heating; convert the saved natural gas to methanol, an excellent transportation fuel. 200 nuclear plants and 200 natural gas to methanol plants at a capital cost of about $400 billion can increase the supply of US transportation fuel on an energy equivalent basis by 40%.

Our first objective in the War on Terror should be to break OPEC’s control of oil prices. The West is transferring $1 trillion dollars per year to OPEC at $90 per barrel. This will not be as easy as in the 80’s. Significant increases in demand from China and India are almost certain to overwhelm US conservation efforts and Saudi Arabia appears opposed to the US role in Iraq (higher oil prices) just as they were opposed to the Russian presence in Afghanistan (lower oil prices).

Recent publications on this approach include “The Methanol Economy” by Dr. Olah, a Nobel prize winner, and “Energy Victory” by Dr. Zubrin.

Please feel free to make any use of this material that you deem appropriate. I am trying to put it into general circulation.

Stephen DuVal

I have read the essay a couple of times, and it touches on a lot of the issues that are discussed here frequently. There is a lot of it that I agree with, but some I disagree with. I also think some of the introduction is unnecessarily inflammatory. Nevertheless, I present the entire essay from Stephen DuVal unedited.

———————————————————–

Energy Independence
A Construction Project Rather than a Research Project

by

Stephen DuVal

WW2 didn’t have to turn out the way it did. Suppose Germany and Japan had the oil and we didn’t; suppose Germany and Japan held $3 trillion in US government debt at the start of the war and the US needed $500 billion per year in capital inflows to pay for its imports. Suppose the war started with them raising the price of oil at the rate of $30 per year and starting to insist upon payment in marks and yen. Suppose they started to sell their dollar holdings. Suppose they sold oil to China at $50 per barrel under long term contracts while they charged the West $200 per barrel.

Suppose instead of attacking Pearl Harbor, they built churches in the US, they sent religious leaders to recruit and train Special Forces, and the religious leaders said that they shouldn’t be blamed for the acts of terrorists who may have attended their church in the past. (reference 1, 2, 3). Suppose Hollywood didn’t make Casablanca and Why We Fight; but movies about Marines raping women and killing children. Suppose our journalists recruited sources (spies) within our government; and newspapers, and citing the public’s right to know, printed stories about how radar worked to detect enemy aircraft and how we had broken the German encryption codes.

The Saudi Wahabis have spent $45 billion around the world building mosques and 20,000 Madrasahs to teach young men their religion of hate and violence. They have built, staff, and fund the operation of 10% of the mosques in the US. During the Russian war in Afghanistan, Saudi overproduction of oil hurt the USSR financially since oil exports were its major source of foreign exchange (see reference 4). Since the US invaded Iraq, the price of oil has risen from $30 to $90 per barrel. This hurts the US financially and transfers $1 trillion (80 mbd * 40% OPEC share * $90 per barrel) from the West to OPEC every year.

Energy independence is not a pipe dream. The first step is a construction project rather than a research project; and the second step is based upon an engineer’s view of the Hydrogen Economy.

If we use nuclear to increase the supply of electricity, we could use electricity rather than natural gas for heating. The freed up natural gas can be easily converted to methanol which is an excellent transportation fuel. With minor modifications, cars can run on flexfuel which is a combination of gasoline, ethanol, and methanol. With minor modifications, the current gasoline distribution and storage system can be modified to support methanol/ethanol/gasoline mixes.

Natural gas supplies almost the same amount of energy to our economy as oil; if natural gas was converted to transportation fuel, our supply of transportation fuel would double. Almost all of our natural gas is used for heating; a need which can be satisfied with electricity, and the electricity produced by natural gas can be produced using nuclear power. Currently, there is no substitute for oil in the transportation sector; natural gas can break this monopoly.

France has a very successful nuclear program producing 80% of its low cost electricity. Brazil has implemented the other half of this program. In the last 3 years, Brazil went from 0% market share for flexfuel cars to 100% flexfuel cars. Three years after the US mandated production and importation of flexfuel vehicles, there would be 45 million flexfuel vehicles on the road in the US. This solves the chicken and egg problem: who wants a flexfuel car if you can’t purchase flexfuel, and who wants to build a flexfuel gas station if there are no flexfuel cars.

This entire program is economic. Nuclear electricity is competitive with coal and natural gas. Given today’s price of natural gas, nuclear electricity is competitive with natural gas for heating applications. Methanol costs 10 cents per gallon plus the cost of the natural gas; at $3 per thousand cubic feet (the price in 2000), methanol costs about 60 cents per gallon. Since methanol has 50% of the energy of gasoline, on an energy equivalent basis, methanol costs $1.20 per gallon plus 20 cents in taxes. An existing gas station pump can be converted to flexfuel for about $20,000. An extra $100 per automobile allows a car to run on flexfuel.

The Brazilian flexfuel program is for a mix of ethanol and gasoline; it does not include methanol. A sensor measures the oxygen content in the vehicle exhaust to determine whether the engine is running lean or rich. An engine management system adjusts the air/fuel ratio to balance performance, fuel efficiency, and emissions. This system does not need to know what the fuel is; it can run on a mix of methanol, ethanol, and gasoline.

The Brazilian approach is based upon an earlier effort by Ford to develop a methanol/gasoline flexfuel car for the California Energy Commission. The program involved 14,000 cars over 10 years in the 1990s. A summary report concluded “seamless vehicle operation using any combination of methanol and gasoline … engine durability can be expected to match gasoline vehicles … an incremental improvement in vehicle emissions … Health and safety related issues that had undergone long examination and debate with respect to methanol proved largely insignificant”.

Unlike gasoline, both methanol and ethanol are soluble in water and biodegradable by common bacteria. A methanol spill in the ocean would disperse quickly and not pose any long term environmental risk. Similarly a land spill or seepage does not pose any risk to groundwater. While methanol in quantity is toxic, the FDA allows a daily dose of 500mg. Since aspartame is converted to methanol via the digestive process; drinking a can of diet soda results in 10 times as much methanol intake as from potential inhalation while refueling.

Nuclear electricity combined with natural gas to methanol is the way to implement the first phase of the Hydrogen Economy. Methanol is the elusive Hydrogen Carrier. There is more hydrogen in a gallon of methanol at room temperature than in a gallon of liquid hydrogen at -400 degrees Fahrenheit.

The problem with the conventional view of the Hydrogen Economy is not the engine or even the fuel cell technology. The fundamental issue is hydrogen distribution and storage and secondarily the production of hydrogen economically.

The Distribution and Storage issue centers around the search for a Hydrogen Carrier. Methanol is an excellent hydrogen carrier which exceeds the 2015 research target of the DOE by a wide margin. The existing gasoline distribution and storage infrastructure can be utilized for methanol storage and distribution with minor modifications.

Hydrogen can not be produced economically by electrolysis; it takes 4 energy units of electricity to produce 1 energy unit of hydrogen. However, high temperature nuclear reactors should be able to produce hydrogen as a byproduct; but, that technology will not be available for commercial deployment much before 2020-2030.

Natural gas is an excellent initial source for hydrogen using methanol as the Hydrogen Carrier.

You may raise two objections to the use of natural gas as a transportation fuel. First, it is still a fossil fuel so how are we reducing funding for OPEC; and second where is the vast quantity of natural gas that will be needed for this approach?

The issue with OPEC is first to drive the price of oil and natural gas down and then second to totally eliminate fossil fuels from the American, European, and Japanese economy. By converting natural gas to methanol, we have the opportunity to double the supply of transportation fuel which will drive down the price of oil and gas. This should be the first objective in the transition from fossil fuels to nuclear.

When we can produce hydrogen economically from nuclear power, then we are ready to relegate fossil fuels to the dustbin of history. At that point, hydrogen can be combined with CO2 from the air to produce methanol and the distribution and storage infrastructure can continue to be used. When fuel cell technology becomes available for commercial development, the gasoline engines can be removed from hybrid cars leaving only an electric motor, a battery, and a hydrogen fuel cell and methanol reformer or a Direct Methanol Fuel Cell.

If China and India also adopt this approach, then OPEC will be marginalized within 10-20 years. Reducing the competition between the US and China over energy resources will go a long way towards improving the long term relationship between the current superpower and the emerging superpower.

The second issue is where do we get the natural gas. The answer is to convert from natural gas to nuclear electricity for heating and cooking. Furnaces are replaced on average every 16 years and stoves every 12 years. Over this time period the transition from natural gas to electricity could occur. We could also pass a law discouraging the use of natural gas to produce electricity similar to the law which discouraged the use of oil for the production of electricity.

Using very rough calculations, 200 nuclear plants at a cost of $300 billion would free up 40% of our natural gas consumption and 200 large natural gas to methanol plants at a cost of $80 billion would increase our supply of transportation fuel by 40%. In 1974 and 1975, we added 2 new nuclear plants in the US every month. This is a construction project; not a research project.

To make this program work, the following laws are required:
1) mandate production and importation of flexfuel vehicles within 3 years

2) automatically grant an operating license for a nuclear reactor if it is built on an existing site and it’s design has already been approved by the NRC

3) set a minimum price for a barrel of oil ($30-50) to prevent OPEC lowering the price of oil until our investments are made uneconomic (Saudi Arabia pumps oil at $2-5 per barrel)

4) some kind of incentive to transition from natural gas to electricity for heating applications

To those who say that this kind of intrusion into the market place is unwarranted, they are living in a dream world. The current market for oil is nothing like a free market. The US attempt to establish a free market in energy after WW2 started to break down in the 1970’s with the first oil embargo. Today, OPEC is a cartel with monopoly pricing power.

What is even worse, OPEC’s decision makers are not completely motivated by financial concerns. Profit maximization is not the only decision criteria. Decisions makers are now political players at the state level and these decision makers are growing increasingly hostile to the interests of the US.

At some point, our choice will not be to pay an extortionate price, but rather how to respond to an embargo. If Japan was willing to attack the US, a country 10 times its size, within 6 months of the US embargo in 1941, how long will it take the US to react militarily to an embargo?

Would the US invade if the price reached $300 per barrel; how about $500 per barrel? Would an invasion even be useful if the oil infrastructure was destroyed.

OPEC can claim that the market sets the price; it is a function of supply and demand they will say. Who can argue with that? That’s our position, market based pricing.

In reality, OPEC sets the price though its control of reserves and its investment decisions which determine the industry capacity. To maintain current price levels, OPEC does not have to cut production in response to US conservation as in the 1980s; OPEC only has to ensure that the growth in oil supply is less than the growth in demand from China and India less US conservation.

If you are concerned about CO2 emissions, then by 2050, 1000 nuclear plants will have solved the problem. The coal plants can be phased out as sufficient nuclear is available to satisfy heating (natural gas) and hydrogen requirements. Nuclear does not produce CO2 for electricity production; there will be no CO2 from heating when electricity replaces natural gas; and the net CO2 emissions from transportation will be zero when nuclear produces hydrogen, the hydrogen is combined with CO2 from the air to produce methanol, and methanol feeds a fuel cell which releases the same CO2 back into the atmosphere.

Nuclear energy is economic. 80% of the cost of nuclear electricity is capital costs; uranium accounts for about 10%, and operations and maintenance account for the rest. While current electricity production is competitive with coal and natural gas, two developments in nuclear plant design could significantly reduce the capital cost: assembly of 200MW reactors into larger reactors as demand increased and factory fabrication of large components for assembly at the construction site. The first creates a closer match between supply and demand while the second will reduce the length of the construction project.

Nuclear energy is clean . A cubic yard of uranium produces the same amount of electricity as 2 million tons of coal. A coal plant releases more radioactivity than a nuclear plant because of the trace amounts of radioactive material in the coal being burnt.

Nuclear energy is safe. Nuclear reactors have operated safely for 12,000 reactor years. Chernobyl does not count against the nuclear safety record; this Russian design would never be approved in the West. Three Mile Island was a success story; the release of radiation was minimal and no one was hurt. Even the recent earthquake which went right thru a Japanese nuclear plant had minimal effect. The new reactor designs which will be built are 1000 times safer than the current plants because they substitute safety systems based upon gravity and convection for safety systems based upon one or more extra sets of pumps and pipes. No only does removing all the extra pumps and pipes increase safety, it also reduces the cost by 30%.

Recycling nuclear waste reduces its volume by 96%; all of the waste produced to supply a person with electricity for their entire life would be the size of a golf ball. Spent fuel is stored in a water pool for 5-10 years and then moved to onsite dry cask storage for another 50 – 100 years. After 100 years the radioactivity of the waste has been reduced by 95%. The waste is then reprocessed to removed unenriched uranium, plutonium, other transuranic elements leaving only 4% of the original waste. The uranium is enriched and fed back into the reactor, the plutonium is mixed with enriched uranium and fed back into the reactor; the transuranic elements are fed into a breeder reactor. The remaining waste is encased in glass and stored underground. After 1000 years, the radioactivity level is the same as the original uranium dug out of the ground. Dealing with nuclear waste is a political problem, not a technical problem.

The US, Canada, and Australia have 70% of the world’s reserves of uranium. The US has sufficient supplies of coal for hundreds of years. OPEC has 70% of the world’s oil reserves. Russia, Qatar, and one of the “stans” have 70% of the world’s natural gas reserves. Russia has already proposed the formation of an OPEC like cartel for natural gas.

Russia, Iran, and Venezuela have proposed pricing oil in a basket of currencies and accepting payment in the same basket; Iran has implemented this policy. Russia sold Iran an air defense system and is selling arms to Venezuela. Iran is building a nuclear bomb and setting up a Hezbollah franchise in Venezuela. The Russian defense minister joked about setting up missiles in Venezuela. China’s puppet state, North Korea, has built a nuclear bomb and sent missiles flying over Japan. China has the capability to destroy the US satellite system which is essential to US military superiority; China recently surfaced an undetected submarine near a US aircraft carrier. OPEC and China hold about $3 trillion in US dollar reserves.

Al Qaeda is operating openly in sections of Pakistan; entire Pakistani Army units are surrendering to Al Qaeda without much of a fight; Sharif, who was deposed by Musharraf in 2000, has returned to Pakistan from exile in Saudi Arabia/Wahabiland. If Pakistan goes over to the dark side, Saudi Arabia will not be far behind.

If you believe in the Green Dream of wind and solar, just remember that your choices are not without consequences. Shutting down the nuclear industry in the 70’s created the CO2 problem of today. If we had 300 or 400 nuclear plants now instead of 100, most of the coal plants would already be phased out.

The people promoting Global Warming are proposing a carbon tax or a cap and trade system to reduce CO2 emissions. If this policy is implemented, the result will not be electricity generated by wind and solar; the main result will be the substitution of natural gas for coal in electricity generation.

We have already seen this in California. In 1985 the environmentalists convinced California that with conservation, there was no need for additional power plants. In 2001 when the air conditioners and lights started to turn off, there was a panic and the electric utilities were blamed for the crisis. The politicians scrambled and a large number of natural gas plants were built. When the chips were down, they didn’t turn to wind or solar, they used natural gas. A carbon tax will have the same effect.

In 20 years, we may be importing large quantities of natural gas from OPEC in the form of Liquefied Natural Gas. An exploding LNG tanker has the force of a hydrogen bomb. Shipment of methanol, after conversion from natural gas, has a risk similar to oil. Not only is there a risk of LNG explosion, but we will be dependent upon OPEC for our electricity as well as our oil. OPEC will be able to turn out our lights as well as stop our cars. A carbon tax takes us down the road of increased OPEC energy dependence rather than OPEC energy independence. Green Dreams have consequences.

Malaria kills 1 -2 million Africans per year and 300 million worldwide are afflicted with this disease which saps the victim’s energy. Spraying DDT on the walls of houses has reduced the incidence of malaria by 80% where it has been tried. If environmentalist did not oppose DDT, at least 1 million people per year would not die. The people responsible for malaria reduction prevent implementation of the technique used in the West to eliminate malaria. Why isn’t this considered genocide? This is more than one Rwanda every year; it is 15 – 30 million men, women, and children over the last 15 years. Green Dreams have consequences.

If environmentalists manage to prevent the introduction of genetically modified food citing the precautionary principle, and as a result millions die of starvation, will the environmentalists confess their guilt or will they accuse the West of greed and indifference.

A lot of environmentalists long for the good old days when food was grown organically, corporations didn’t exist, there was no commute, and technology didn’t dominate our lives. If this view wins the political battle in the US, there are a lot of people in the world who want to help us return to the 7th century. When we go bankrupt and can’t pay for the oil we need, the people preaching hate and intolerance just might turn their dreams of a caliphate into our reality. Green Dreams have consequences.

To those on the right who oppose nuclear electricity due to fears of proliferation, all I can say is North Korea, Pakistan, and soon Iran. Saudi Arabia will follow Iran. Brazil is talking about an enrichment program. The genie is out of the bottle. We should continue our attempt to contain enrichment programs but not by restraining our own nuclear development. Not only is it just as important, it is also possible to achieve OPEC energy independence.

A containment strategy against Islamofascism may be possible if we can achieve OPEC energy independence; without independence, containment is not possible and a military confrontation is almost inevitable. We are already in Iraq and Afghanistan and were recently threatening to bomb Iran. At what point do Russia and China become involved? If we didn’t have Saudi Arabia as an “ally”, it just might be easier to strengthen our relationship with democratic India.

Stephen C. DuVal
December 16, 2007

References:
1) The Role of Synthetic Fuel In World War II Germany; Dr. Peter W. Becker; http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/aureview/1981/jul-aug/becker.htm
How oil affected the German war effort.

2) Energy Victory: Winning the war on terror by breaking free of oil; Dr. Robert Zubrin 2007
Describes the threat from Islamofascism, the effect of oil on WW2, why the Hydrogen Economy wont work, why methanol should be included in flexfuel, the Brazil experience with flexfuel, argues that methanol from biomass is the way to go. Describes using biofuels to promote development in third world countries and to provide substitute crops to farmers currently growing illegal drug crops.

3) Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat, NYPD, 2007, http://www.nypdshield.org/public/SiteFiles/documents/NYPD_Report-Radicalization_in_the_West.pdf
How terrorists are recruited and trained based upon a review by the NYPD of terrorist activity around the world.

4) Grain and Oil By Yegor Gaidar, 2007
http://www.aei.org/publications/pubID.25991,filter.all/pub_detail.asp
How the price of oil impacted the fall of the Soviet Union. Yegor Gaidar was Prime Minister of Russia in the early 1990’s.

5) Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy, Dr. George Olah 2006
Excellent review of all energy sources. Argues that the Methanol Economy makes much more sense than the Hydrogen Economy from a Chemistry and Physics perspective. Dr. Olah has a Nobel prize in Chemistry.

6) The Bottomless Well, Peter Huber 2005
Reviews the history of energy, shows that the supply of energy are almost limitless, shows that over time we use/waste more and more energy producing energy, shows that concentrated energy (laser) is much more valuable than diffuse energy (sunlight)

January 8, 2008 Posted by | electricity usage, methanol, nuclear energy, OPEC, reader submission | Comments Off on Guest Essay on Energy Independence

Guest Essay on Energy Independence

I am still traveling for a few days, and will be back in Scotland on January 13th. One of the e-mails I received while I was traveling was a guest submission. The author wrote:

Mr. Rapier

After reading a bit of your blog, I am sending this to you in the spirit of promoting a lively debate.

Please find attached a practical approach to achieving energy independence. It is a construction project rather than a research project. It does require some tinkering with the market; however, the energy market is not a free market today and the governments setting the price of oil are either overtly or covertly hostile to our interests.

The plan is simple and for the most part economic. It can not compete with $10 per barrel oil but OPEC is more likely to present us with $200 per barrel oil.

Use nuclear to produce electricity; use electricity rather than natural gas for heating; convert the saved natural gas to methanol, an excellent transportation fuel. 200 nuclear plants and 200 natural gas to methanol plants at a capital cost of about $400 billion can increase the supply of US transportation fuel on an energy equivalent basis by 40%.

Our first objective in the War on Terror should be to break OPEC’s control of oil prices. The West is transferring $1 trillion dollars per year to OPEC at $90 per barrel. This will not be as easy as in the 80’s. Significant increases in demand from China and India are almost certain to overwhelm US conservation efforts and Saudi Arabia appears opposed to the US role in Iraq (higher oil prices) just as they were opposed to the Russian presence in Afghanistan (lower oil prices).

Recent publications on this approach include “The Methanol Economy” by Dr. Olah, a Nobel prize winner, and “Energy Victory” by Dr. Zubrin.

Please feel free to make any use of this material that you deem appropriate. I am trying to put it into general circulation.

Stephen DuVal

I have read the essay a couple of times, and it touches on a lot of the issues that are discussed here frequently. There is a lot of it that I agree with, but some I disagree with. I also think some of the introduction is unnecessarily inflammatory. Nevertheless, I present the entire essay from Stephen DuVal unedited.

———————————————————–

Energy Independence
A Construction Project Rather than a Research Project

by

Stephen DuVal

WW2 didn’t have to turn out the way it did. Suppose Germany and Japan had the oil and we didn’t; suppose Germany and Japan held $3 trillion in US government debt at the start of the war and the US needed $500 billion per year in capital inflows to pay for its imports. Suppose the war started with them raising the price of oil at the rate of $30 per year and starting to insist upon payment in marks and yen. Suppose they started to sell their dollar holdings. Suppose they sold oil to China at $50 per barrel under long term contracts while they charged the West $200 per barrel.

Suppose instead of attacking Pearl Harbor, they built churches in the US, they sent religious leaders to recruit and train Special Forces, and the religious leaders said that they shouldn’t be blamed for the acts of terrorists who may have attended their church in the past. (reference 1, 2, 3). Suppose Hollywood didn’t make Casablanca and Why We Fight; but movies about Marines raping women and killing children. Suppose our journalists recruited sources (spies) within our government; and newspapers, and citing the public’s right to know, printed stories about how radar worked to detect enemy aircraft and how we had broken the German encryption codes.

The Saudi Wahabis have spent $45 billion around the world building mosques and 20,000 Madrasahs to teach young men their religion of hate and violence. They have built, staff, and fund the operation of 10% of the mosques in the US. During the Russian war in Afghanistan, Saudi overproduction of oil hurt the USSR financially since oil exports were its major source of foreign exchange (see reference 4). Since the US invaded Iraq, the price of oil has risen from $30 to $90 per barrel. This hurts the US financially and transfers $1 trillion (80 mbd * 40% OPEC share * $90 per barrel) from the West to OPEC every year.

Energy independence is not a pipe dream. The first step is a construction project rather than a research project; and the second step is based upon an engineer’s view of the Hydrogen Economy.

If we use nuclear to increase the supply of electricity, we could use electricity rather than natural gas for heating. The freed up natural gas can be easily converted to methanol which is an excellent transportation fuel. With minor modifications, cars can run on flexfuel which is a combination of gasoline, ethanol, and methanol. With minor modifications, the current gasoline distribution and storage system can be modified to support methanol/ethanol/gasoline mixes.

Natural gas supplies almost the same amount of energy to our economy as oil; if natural gas was converted to transportation fuel, our supply of transportation fuel would double. Almost all of our natural gas is used for heating; a need which can be satisfied with electricity, and the electricity produced by natural gas can be produced using nuclear power. Currently, there is no substitute for oil in the transportation sector; natural gas can break this monopoly.

France has a very successful nuclear program producing 80% of its low cost electricity. Brazil has implemented the other half of this program. In the last 3 years, Brazil went from 0% market share for flexfuel cars to 100% flexfuel cars. Three years after the US mandated production and importation of flexfuel vehicles, there would be 45 million flexfuel vehicles on the road in the US. This solves the chicken and egg problem: who wants a flexfuel car if you can’t purchase flexfuel, and who wants to build a flexfuel gas station if there are no flexfuel cars.

This entire program is economic. Nuclear electricity is competitive with coal and natural gas. Given today’s price of natural gas, nuclear electricity is competitive with natural gas for heating applications. Methanol costs 10 cents per gallon plus the cost of the natural gas; at $3 per thousand cubic feet (the price in 2000), methanol costs about 60 cents per gallon. Since methanol has 50% of the energy of gasoline, on an energy equivalent basis, methanol costs $1.20 per gallon plus 20 cents in taxes. An existing gas station pump can be converted to flexfuel for about $20,000. An extra $100 per automobile allows a car to run on flexfuel.

The Brazilian flexfuel program is for a mix of ethanol and gasoline; it does not include methanol. A sensor measures the oxygen content in the vehicle exhaust to determine whether the engine is running lean or rich. An engine management system adjusts the air/fuel ratio to balance performance, fuel efficiency, and emissions. This system does not need to know what the fuel is; it can run on a mix of methanol, ethanol, and gasoline.

The Brazilian approach is based upon an earlier effort by Ford to develop a methanol/gasoline flexfuel car for the California Energy Commission. The program involved 14,000 cars over 10 years in the 1990s. A summary report concluded “seamless vehicle operation using any combination of methanol and gasoline … engine durability can be expected to match gasoline vehicles … an incremental improvement in vehicle emissions … Health and safety related issues that had undergone long examination and debate with respect to methanol proved largely insignificant”.

Unlike gasoline, both methanol and ethanol are soluble in water and biodegradable by common bacteria. A methanol spill in the ocean would disperse quickly and not pose any long term environmental risk. Similarly a land spill or seepage does not pose any risk to groundwater. While methanol in quantity is toxic, the FDA allows a daily dose of 500mg. Since aspartame is converted to methanol via the digestive process; drinking a can of diet soda results in 10 times as much methanol intake as from potential inhalation while refueling.

Nuclear electricity combined with natural gas to methanol is the way to implement the first phase of the Hydrogen Economy. Methanol is the elusive Hydrogen Carrier. There is more hydrogen in a gallon of methanol at room temperature than in a gallon of liquid hydrogen at -400 degrees Fahrenheit.

The problem with the conventional view of the Hydrogen Economy is not the engine or even the fuel cell technology. The fundamental issue is hydrogen distribution and storage and secondarily the production of hydrogen economically.

The Distribution and Storage issue centers around the search for a Hydrogen Carrier. Methanol is an excellent hydrogen carrier which exceeds the 2015 research target of the DOE by a wide margin. The existing gasoline distribution and storage infrastructure can be utilized for methanol storage and distribution with minor modifications.

Hydrogen can not be produced economically by electrolysis; it takes 4 energy units of electricity to produce 1 energy unit of hydrogen. However, high temperature nuclear reactors should be able to produce hydrogen as a byproduct; but, that technology will not be available for commercial deployment much before 2020-2030.

Natural gas is an excellent initial source for hydrogen using methanol as the Hydrogen Carrier.

You may raise two objections to the use of natural gas as a transportation fuel. First, it is still a fossil fuel so how are we reducing funding for OPEC; and second where is the vast quantity of natural gas that will be needed for this approach?

The issue with OPEC is first to drive the price of oil and natural gas down and then second to totally eliminate fossil fuels from the American, European, and Japanese economy. By converting natural gas to methanol, we have the opportunity to double the supply of transportation fuel which will drive down the price of oil and gas. This should be the first objective in the transition from fossil fuels to nuclear.

When we can produce hydrogen economically from nuclear power, then we are ready to relegate fossil fuels to the dustbin of history. At that point, hydrogen can be combined with CO2 from the air to produce methanol and the distribution and storage infrastructure can continue to be used. When fuel cell technology becomes available for commercial development, the gasoline engines can be removed from hybrid cars leaving only an electric motor, a battery, and a hydrogen fuel cell and methanol reformer or a Direct Methanol Fuel Cell.

If China and India also adopt this approach, then OPEC will be marginalized within 10-20 years. Reducing the competition between the US and China over energy resources will go a long way towards improving the long term relationship between the current superpower and the emerging superpower.

The second issue is where do we get the natural gas. The answer is to convert from natural gas to nuclear electricity for heating and cooking. Furnaces are replaced on average every 16 years and stoves every 12 years. Over this time period the transition from natural gas to electricity could occur. We could also pass a law discouraging the use of natural gas to produce electricity similar to the law which discouraged the use of oil for the production of electricity.

Using very rough calculations, 200 nuclear plants at a cost of $300 billion would free up 40% of our natural gas consumption and 200 large natural gas to methanol plants at a cost of $80 billion would increase our supply of transportation fuel by 40%. In 1974 and 1975, we added 2 new nuclear plants in the US every month. This is a construction project; not a research project.

To make this program work, the following laws are required:
1) mandate production and importation of flexfuel vehicles within 3 years

2) automatically grant an operating license for a nuclear reactor if it is built on an existing site and it’s design has already been approved by the NRC

3) set a minimum price for a barrel of oil ($30-50) to prevent OPEC lowering the price of oil until our investments are made uneconomic (Saudi Arabia pumps oil at $2-5 per barrel)

4) some kind of incentive to transition from natural gas to electricity for heating applications

To those who say that this kind of intrusion into the market place is unwarranted, they are living in a dream world. The current market for oil is nothing like a free market. The US attempt to establish a free market in energy after WW2 started to break down in the 1970’s with the first oil embargo. Today, OPEC is a cartel with monopoly pricing power.

What is even worse, OPEC’s decision makers are not completely motivated by financial concerns. Profit maximization is not the only decision criteria. Decisions makers are now political players at the state level and these decision makers are growing increasingly hostile to the interests of the US.

At some point, our choice will not be to pay an extortionate price, but rather how to respond to an embargo. If Japan was willing to attack the US, a country 10 times its size, within 6 months of the US embargo in 1941, how long will it take the US to react militarily to an embargo?

Would the US invade if the price reached $300 per barrel; how about $500 per barrel? Would an invasion even be useful if the oil infrastructure was destroyed.

OPEC can claim that the market sets the price; it is a function of supply and demand they will say. Who can argue with that? That’s our position, market based pricing.

In reality, OPEC sets the price though its control of reserves and its investment decisions which determine the industry capacity. To maintain current price levels, OPEC does not have to cut production in response to US conservation as in the 1980s; OPEC only has to ensure that the growth in oil supply is less than the growth in demand from China and India less US conservation.

If you are concerned about CO2 emissions, then by 2050, 1000 nuclear plants will have solved the problem. The coal plants can be phased out as sufficient nuclear is available to satisfy heating (natural gas) and hydrogen requirements. Nuclear does not produce CO2 for electricity production; there will be no CO2 from heating when electricity replaces natural gas; and the net CO2 emissions from transportation will be zero when nuclear produces hydrogen, the hydrogen is combined with CO2 from the air to produce methanol, and methanol feeds a fuel cell which releases the same CO2 back into the atmosphere.

Nuclear energy is economic. 80% of the cost of nuclear electricity is capital costs; uranium accounts for about 10%, and operations and maintenance account for the rest. While current electricity production is competitive with coal and natural gas, two developments in nuclear plant design could significantly reduce the capital cost: assembly of 200MW reactors into larger reactors as demand increased and factory fabrication of large components for assembly at the construction site. The first creates a closer match between supply and demand while the second will reduce the length of the construction project.

Nuclear energy is clean . A cubic yard of uranium produces the same amount of electricity as 2 million tons of coal. A coal plant releases more radioactivity than a nuclear plant because of the trace amounts of radioactive material in the coal being burnt.

Nuclear energy is safe. Nuclear reactors have operated safely for 12,000 reactor years. Chernobyl does not count against the nuclear safety record; this Russian design would never be approved in the West. Three Mile Island was a success story; the release of radiation was minimal and no one was hurt. Even the recent earthquake which went right thru a Japanese nuclear plant had minimal effect. The new reactor designs which will be built are 1000 times safer than the current plants because they substitute safety systems based upon gravity and convection for safety systems based upon one or more extra sets of pumps and pipes. No only does removing all the extra pumps and pipes increase safety, it also reduces the cost by 30%.

Recycling nuclear waste reduces its volume by 96%; all of the waste produced to supply a person with electricity for their entire life would be the size of a golf ball. Spent fuel is stored in a water pool for 5-10 years and then moved to onsite dry cask storage for another 50 – 100 years. After 100 years the radioactivity of the waste has been reduced by 95%. The waste is then reprocessed to removed unenriched uranium, plutonium, other transuranic elements leaving only 4% of the original waste. The uranium is enriched and fed back into the reactor, the plutonium is mixed with enriched uranium and fed back into the reactor; the transuranic elements are fed into a breeder reactor. The remaining waste is encased in glass and stored underground. After 1000 years, the radioactivity level is the same as the original uranium dug out of the ground. Dealing with nuclear waste is a political problem, not a technical problem.

The US, Canada, and Australia have 70% of the world’s reserves of uranium. The US has sufficient supplies of coal for hundreds of years. OPEC has 70% of the world’s oil reserves. Russia, Qatar, and one of the “stans” have 70% of the world’s natural gas reserves. Russia has already proposed the formation of an OPEC like cartel for natural gas.

Russia, Iran, and Venezuela have proposed pricing oil in a basket of currencies and accepting payment in the same basket; Iran has implemented this policy. Russia sold Iran an air defense system and is selling arms to Venezuela. Iran is building a nuclear bomb and setting up a Hezbollah franchise in Venezuela. The Russian defense minister joked about setting up missiles in Venezuela. China’s puppet state, North Korea, has built a nuclear bomb and sent missiles flying over Japan. China has the capability to destroy the US satellite system which is essential to US military superiority; China recently surfaced an undetected submarine near a US aircraft carrier. OPEC and China hold about $3 trillion in US dollar reserves.

Al Qaeda is operating openly in sections of Pakistan; entire Pakistani Army units are surrendering to Al Qaeda without much of a fight; Sharif, who was deposed by Musharraf in 2000, has returned to Pakistan from exile in Saudi Arabia/Wahabiland. If Pakistan goes over to the dark side, Saudi Arabia will not be far behind.

If you believe in the Green Dream of wind and solar, just remember that your choices are not without consequences. Shutting down the nuclear industry in the 70’s created the CO2 problem of today. If we had 300 or 400 nuclear plants now instead of 100, most of the coal plants would already be phased out.

The people promoting Global Warming are proposing a carbon tax or a cap and trade system to reduce CO2 emissions. If this policy is implemented, the result will not be electricity generated by wind and solar; the main result will be the substitution of natural gas for coal in electricity generation.

We have already seen this in California. In 1985 the environmentalists convinced California that with conservation, there was no need for additional power plants. In 2001 when the air conditioners and lights started to turn off, there was a panic and the electric utilities were blamed for the crisis. The politicians scrambled and a large number of natural gas plants were built. When the chips were down, they didn’t turn to wind or solar, they used natural gas. A carbon tax will have the same effect.

In 20 years, we may be importing large quantities of natural gas from OPEC in the form of Liquefied Natural Gas. An exploding LNG tanker has the force of a hydrogen bomb. Shipment of methanol, after conversion from natural gas, has a risk similar to oil. Not only is there a risk of LNG explosion, but we will be dependent upon OPEC for our electricity as well as our oil. OPEC will be able to turn out our lights as well as stop our cars. A carbon tax takes us down the road of increased OPEC energy dependence rather than OPEC energy independence. Green Dreams have consequences.

Malaria kills 1 -2 million Africans per year and 300 million worldwide are afflicted with this disease which saps the victim’s energy. Spraying DDT on the walls of houses has reduced the incidence of malaria by 80% where it has been tried. If environmentalist did not oppose DDT, at least 1 million people per year would not die. The people responsible for malaria reduction prevent implementation of the technique used in the West to eliminate malaria. Why isn’t this considered genocide? This is more than one Rwanda every year; it is 15 – 30 million men, women, and children over the last 15 years. Green Dreams have consequences.

If environmentalists manage to prevent the introduction of genetically modified food citing the precautionary principle, and as a result millions die of starvation, will the environmentalists confess their guilt or will they accuse the West of greed and indifference.

A lot of environmentalists long for the good old days when food was grown organically, corporations didn’t exist, there was no commute, and technology didn’t dominate our lives. If this view wins the political battle in the US, there are a lot of people in the world who want to help us return to the 7th century. When we go bankrupt and can’t pay for the oil we need, the people preaching hate and intolerance just might turn their dreams of a caliphate into our reality. Green Dreams have consequences.

To those on the right who oppose nuclear electricity due to fears of proliferation, all I can say is North Korea, Pakistan, and soon Iran. Saudi Arabia will follow Iran. Brazil is talking about an enrichment program. The genie is out of the bottle. We should continue our attempt to contain enrichment programs but not by restraining our own nuclear development. Not only is it just as important, it is also possible to achieve OPEC energy independence.

A containment strategy against Islamofascism may be possible if we can achieve OPEC energy independence; without independence, containment is not possible and a military confrontation is almost inevitable. We are already in Iraq and Afghanistan and were recently threatening to bomb Iran. At what point do Russia and China become involved? If we didn’t have Saudi Arabia as an “ally”, it just might be easier to strengthen our relationship with democratic India.

Stephen C. DuVal
December 16, 2007

References:
1) The Role of Synthetic Fuel In World War II Germany; Dr. Peter W. Becker; http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/aureview/1981/jul-aug/becker.htm
How oil affected the German war effort.

2) Energy Victory: Winning the war on terror by breaking free of oil; Dr. Robert Zubrin 2007
Describes the threat from Islamofascism, the effect of oil on WW2, why the Hydrogen Economy wont work, why methanol should be included in flexfuel, the Brazil experience with flexfuel, argues that methanol from biomass is the way to go. Describes using biofuels to promote development in third world countries and to provide substitute crops to farmers currently growing illegal drug crops.

3) Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat, NYPD, 2007, http://www.nypdshield.org/public/SiteFiles/documents/NYPD_Report-Radicalization_in_the_West.pdf
How terrorists are recruited and trained based upon a review by the NYPD of terrorist activity around the world.

4) Grain and Oil By Yegor Gaidar, 2007
http://www.aei.org/publications/pubID.25991,filter.all/pub_detail.asp
How the price of oil impacted the fall of the Soviet Union. Yegor Gaidar was Prime Minister of Russia in the early 1990’s.

5) Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy, Dr. George Olah 2006
Excellent review of all energy sources. Argues that the Methanol Economy makes much more sense than the Hydrogen Economy from a Chemistry and Physics perspective. Dr. Olah has a Nobel prize in Chemistry.

6) The Bottomless Well, Peter Huber 2005
Reviews the history of energy, shows that the supply of energy are almost limitless, shows that over time we use/waste more and more energy producing energy, shows that concentrated energy (laser) is much more valuable than diffuse energy (sunlight)

January 8, 2008 Posted by | electricity usage, methanol, nuclear energy, OPEC, reader submission | 102 Comments