R-Squared Energy Blog

Pure Energy

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

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

My Top 10 Energy Stories of 2007

First, thanks to all who contributed ideas. You may have an entirely different opinion on the most important energy stories. Feel free to share it. Many of these stories were contributed by various readers. Comments by readers are italicized. If you want to know who wrote what, you can see the entire comment thread here.

Here are my Top 10 Energy Stories of 2007

1. Oil price soars as media becomes Peak Oil aware

One reason I felt pretty safe in making the $1,000 bet on oil prices is that a move from $60 – the price in January – to $100 – the price at which I would lose the bet – would be unprecedented. Of course a worldwide peak in oil production will also be unprecedented, and I expect oil prices to soar when that happens. While I still don’t think we have quite peaked, what did happen is that Peak Oil awareness really hit the mainstream in 2007. I started noticing a great many stories on Peak Oil (and quite a few on Peak Lite), especially following the ASPO Conference in October. This was right in the middle of the sharp run-up in prices. So I believe that a major factor contributing to the fast run-up was the sudden realization by a critical mass of people that Peak Oil is on top of us. In that case, the value of oil will be much higher.

In addition to record oil prices, back in the spring we saw record-high gasoline prices as a result of sustained, record-low gasoline inventories. Conditions are currently favoring new record-high gasoline prices in 2008.

2. Criticism of biofuels mounts

The bloom comes off the biofuel rose. European studies showed oil-palm biodiesel was actually worse for the environment due to tropical rainforest destruction, and US corn ethanol plants lost money because of overbuilding. A general biofuel backlash took root due to higher food prices and other side effects.

While I was criticizing corn ethanol before criticizing corn ethanol was cool, in 2007 the media started asking critical questions about water usage, pollution from industrial corn farming, and the impact of ethanol mandates on food prices.

3. The Chevy Volt is announced

GM has dedicated a full product team and allocated a plant for mass production — the first time in history an electric car has achieved such status.

Years after GM killed the electric car, they are bringing it back in the form of the Chevy Volt. I have long advocated the need for the electrification of transportation as one of the key elements in any Peak Oil mitigation plan. Therefore, I am very pleased to see GM making another effort at electric cars.

4. Nanosolar begins to deliver

Cost-effective solar power would be a very big silver BB in a Peak Oil mitigation plan. Nanosolar has the potential to deliver a game-changing thin-film photovoltaic technology. If you don’t know much about Nanosolar, check out this interview with their CEO: 10 Questions for Nanosolar CEO Martin Roscheisen

However, the potential for cost effective solar power also highlights the desperate need to tackle and solve the problem of energy storage for intermittent sources of energy like wind and solar power. Hopefully we will see some breakthroughs there in 2007.

5. LS9 starts up

For years I have dreamed of a microbe that eats garbage and excretes hydrocarbons. The beauty of such a system would be that the hydrocarbons would just phase out of solution, thus ensuring a low-energy purification step. If you think about it, the concept is not that far-fetched. The human body produces fats and fatty acids that are not too far-removed from the hydrocarbons that make up gasoline or diesel. There is no reason, in principle, that a microbe couldn’t be designed to do just that.

The difficulty lies in understanding the metabolic pathways well enough to modify them to produce the target molecule without severely compromising or killing the microbe. This is exactly what LS9 – the “Renewable Petroleum Company”, is attempting to do. And they have certainly assembled a team that just may pull it off.

6. Range Fuels breaks ground

In November Range Fuels – formerly Vinod Khosla’s Kergy venture – announced the groundbreaking of the first commercial “cellulosic” ethanol plant in the U.S. While I dispute the terminology (as I explained in this essay, it is actually a gasification process, which is not specific to cellulose), the process does have a chance to be a success in the long-run. Short-term, I believe they will remain highly dependent on generous subsidies because the capital costs for gasification processes are so high. But on down the road I think gasification makes a lot more sense than most fermentation processes.

One thing that I would have done differently would have been to produce diesel instead of ethanol. Once syngas is produced in a gasification step, there are many different products that can be made. It is not particularly efficient to produce ethanol in this process, but this is the kind of thing you end up with when the government is picking technology winners.

I do think Range Fuels has a high likelihood of becoming a significant technology. What little information is available certainly sounds promising, including the result from EBMUD that the Klepper gasifier was the most efficient.

7. First application for US nuclear plant in 30 years

NRG announces first application for US nuclear plant in 30 years:

NRG South Texas Nuclear

They propose to use GE’s Advanced Boiling Water Reactor technology.

My personal belief is that we are going to need nuclear power to continue making a significant contribution toward our electricity needs. This will be especially true if electric transport takes hold. Therefore, I think it is a very big story that 2007 saw the first application for a new U.S. nuclear plant in 30 years.

8. Carbon capture & sequestration moves forward

The FutureGen alliance announces the site for its demonstration plant on Tuesday, Dec. 18:

FutureGen Announcement

For those not familiar with it, FutureGen is a clean coal demonstration plant that will include carbon capture and sequestration. There are 4 finalist sites. Two in Illinois and two in Texas. The purpose of the project is to demonstrate commercial scale CCS technology.

FutureGen selected Mattoon, IL for their site.

FutureGen runs a combined cycle instead of the single cycle of existing coal plants. Combined cycle plants can achieve 50-60% thermal efficiency vs. the 33% typical of single cycle, so it’s quite possible FutureGen will deliver more kWh/ton of coal than existing plants.

9. Progress on next generation biofuels

The biofuel spotlight turned to the future. Dozens of startups focused on cellulosic ethanol, gasification and other next-gen processes competed for headlines with “green diesel”, butanol and other biofuel initiatives from the oil majors.

Most of the oil majors have taken a pass on the ethanol craze, but they are looking at other biofuels. 2007 saw announcements from BP that they would team with D1 Oils to produce biodiesel from jatropha; from ConocoPhillips that they would team with Tyson Foods to produce “green diesel” from waste animal fats; and that BP and Dupont would team up to produce bio-butanol. (I wrote a reality check on bio-butanol here).

10. US Navy funds Bussard Fusion

I think you have to include the US Navy funding Bussard Fusion in there:

http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?F=3139619&C=navwar

Bussard died a couple months ago. I had really given up on fusion, but his work actually appears to have a reasonable change to work. Hopefully with more funding his team will be able to make it work.

Yes, Dr. Bussard’s work will be carried on. First step is to construct WB-7 and replicate the results achieved with WB-6. Hopefully by the end of April 2008. If that works, then on to WB-8, and then an actual power generating plant.

The rest of the list (in no particular order), many of which could have easily been in the Top 10 list:

11. King Coal is still king

If we look for the stories that did not attract attention, surely one of the big ones has to be the continued surprising vitality of the international coal industry. King Coal has officially been dead for a long time. Who would have predicted that, 10 years after Kyoto, coal would once more be where it’s at, supplying more Btus to the world than ever before?

12. US Coal Plant cancellations, headlined by TXU cancelling 8 of 11 planned plants.

CO2, the primary driver behind the other half of our top 10 stories, has long played in Europe but will only achieve global influence by spreading through the US into the developing world. 2007’s coal plant cancellations marked the tipping point.

13. Al Gore wins Nobel Prize for work on Global Warming

Gore’s tireless efforts to educate the world on Global Warming was recognized with this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Tiny Carthage, Tennessee now claims two Nobel Laureates. (Cordell Hull is the other).

14. Shell releases details of their shale oil process

Probably the most important energy announcement was Shell’s release of info on their proprietary in-situ process for generating oil from oil shale. Could open a whole new branch of the oil industry, put a cap on the price of oil from conventional fields, and thereby inject some realism into windy dreams. But it turns out that Shell has been working towards this for about a quarter of a century. “Incremental advances” indeed!

15. Resource nationalization grows

While the seizure of the assets of international oil companies by Hugo Chavez got the most press, many other countries are moving to nationalize their oil resources. Many other countries, and even states like Alaska, are also passing laws to increase their tax revenues from the extraction of oil. The U.S. needs to sit up and take notice, because this will further constrain supplies. We can’t continue to count on a steady supply of oil from countries who don’t like us, yet we lack the political will to reduce our dependence on these countries.

16. New efficiency record for silicon PV – 42.8 percent from sunlight at standard terrestrial conditions

http://www.physorg.com/news104501218.html

The highly efficient VHESC solar cell uses a novel lateral optical concentrating system that splits solar light into three different energy bins of high, medium and low, and directs them onto cells of various light sensitive materials to cover the solar spectrum. The system delivers variable concentrations to the different solar cell elements. The concentrator is stationary with a wide acceptance angle optical system that captures large amounts of light and eliminates the need for complicated tracking devices.

In a way I find the Nanosolar story more compelling since they are actually in commercial production now. Still, the prospect of high efficiency PV without using exotic and/or toxic materials gives me hope.

17. Manpower shortages in the energy sector

Big Oil’s Talent Hunt

From the article:

ConocoPhillips (COP) has grand plans. With demand for oil soaring, the company announced on Dec. 7 that it will boost its exploration and production budget by 8%, to $11 billion, a war chest intended to fund massive projects from Canada to China to the Caspian Sea.

But there’s a potential obstacle to the company’s vision: not enough people to get the work done. Half of Conoco’s employees are eligible for retirement within five years. Unless older workers can be replaced, Conoco’s expansion could be costlier and slower than planned. In an interview with BusinessWeek, CEO James J. Mulva said that the lack of talent is one of the most dangerous threats to his company’s long-term health. “People are a big concern,” he said.

This is not just a big oil story. Lack of workers is hitting all sectors of the energy industry. It seems that college students would rather be lawyers or investment bankers than scientists and engineers.

18. Texas surpassed California in wind energy

This signals a shift in wind from high-cost, subsidized eco-darling to cost-effective energy source. As the low-cost provider, wind now thrives in low bureaucracy states such as former oil-king Texas. Meanwhile high-regulation states such as California lag behind.

19. Potential PV improvement

Potential improvement on PV front

Transparent electrodes created from atom-thick carbon sheets could make solar cells and LCDs without depleting precious mineral resources, say researchers in Germany.

Solar cells, LCDs, and some other devices, must have transparent electrodes in parts of their designs to let light in or out. These electrodes are usually made from indium tin oxide (ITO) but experts calculate that there is only 10 years’ worth of indium left on the planet, with LCD panels consuming the majority of existing stocks.

“There is not enough indium on earth for the future development of devices using it,” says Linjie Zhi of the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany. “It is also not very stable, so you have to be careful during the fabrication process.”

20. Study analyzes off shore wind in US Northeast

http://www.physorg.com/news89650495.html

The wind resource off the Mid-Atlantic coast could supply the energy needs of nine states from Massachusetts to North Carolina, plus the District of Columbia–with enough left over to support a 50 percent increase in future energy demand–according to a study by researchers at the University of Delaware and Stanford University.

The study marks the first empirical analysis in the United States of a large-scale region’s potential offshore wind-energy supply using a model that links geophysics with wind-electric technology–and that defines where wind turbines at sea may be located in relation to water depth, geology and “exclusion zones” for bird flyways, shipping lanes and other uses.

21. A123Systems mass produces next generation lithium batteries

Shipping in DeWalt’s 2007 line of 36V cordless power tools, these new cells mark the 5th wave of rechargeable batteries (lead-acid, NiCad, NiMH, Li-ion and now advanced lithium). Advanced lithium chemistries from A123 and dozens of other vendors offer the possibility of cost-effective plug-in hybrids as well as applications in the electrical grid.

22. Electricity shortages, particularly in the developing world

Some appear to be related to climate change — droughts that require major hydro cutbacks. Some are clearly due to oil prices/supplies — poor countries that burn heavy diesel in their power plants and can’t afford it at the new world prices. Some are due to bad bets on fuel sources — natural gas generators put in, and the gas supply declining sooner than planned.

23. Solar thermal heats up

For decades the SEGS parabolic trough plant in California’s Mojave desert stood alone as the only large-scale CSP plant on earth, but 2007 saw a rebirth of this technology with the inauguration of the 64MW Nevada Solar One plant and construction of plants in Spain, Australia and elsewhere. California utilities have ordered up to 1750 MW of capacity from dish-Stirling purveyor Stirling Energy Systems and startups such as Ausra are pushing the price/performance barrier with linear Fresnel architectures.

24. First Solar market value hits $20 billion

As the first mass producer of non-silicon thin film PV, FSLR cashed in big-time in 2007. Their $1.40/W manufacturing cost is a huge competitive advantage, yielding fat profits and an eye-popping 200% growth rate. True to their name, First Solar got out of the gate first, but other non-Si players are still in the race. Companies using CIGS, including the much-hyped but yet-to-deliver Nanosolar, promise to break the $1/W barrier.

25. Cooper Pairs in insulators

http://www.aip.org/pnu/2007/split/849-1.html

One of the AIP’s top stories of the year, this discovery may well help us reach a better understanding of superconductivity and insulators both. Superconductivity is of course a holy grail in energy research, and while this discovery doesn’t directly lead to a room temp superconductor, it does add to the fundamental knowledge of material in the solid state.

26. Medvedev slated to take over from Putin

http://en.rian.ru/russia/20071217/92858987.html

Essentially Putin’s Russia will continue, and that has direct implication for all the fossil fuel industry in Asia, regarding everything from global warming to export control to defense postures. Putin’s Russia, one of an energy oligarchy, will continue to express those policies likely for a good portion of the 21st century.

27. Conditions in Iraq improve enough to get the oil industry back online

http://www.rigzone.com/news/article.asp?a_id=54099

Opening the possibility that Iraq just might return to a functioning member of OPEC has direct implications on the availability of oil for import around the world.

28. USAF test flight of transport aircraft C-17 using CTL synthetic fuel

http://www.enn.com/pollution/article/24117

This heralds the onset of CTL and likely portrays our (US) future over the next couple of decades.

29. And now, for my wildcat speculation of the most important news item:

Namibia: Expert Confident About Oil Reserves

Southwest Africa will turn out to be a major oil exporting region over the next couple of decades, slowing the decrease in available net exports of oil.

30. The response of the global economy to the large increase in oil prices

Most people would have probably assumed that $90 oil would have caused mayhem in the global economy a year or two ago. Yet the effect has been relatively muted. I think this says a lot about how effectively individuals, businesses (and hats off to alternative energy firms), and governments have responded to increasing oil prices over the long term. Oil now has a much smaller (I believe around 50%) impact per GDP than it did in the 1970’s in most of the big western economies, including the US.

31. Tesla troubles

A not-positive but nevertheless noteworthy story is Tesla Motors recent troubles with putting the final touches on its long-awaited car, particularly with the transmission failure and the management shuffling.

And I love this suggestion for 2008. What a great idea this would be:

My favorite energy story for 2008 would be — Congress recognizes they cannot pick winners, and instead sets up a multi-billion dollar X-Prize competition for the first three alternate energy sources to supply reliable commercial-scale power at costs competitive with fossils.

So those were the energy stories that I, or various readers thought were significant in 2007. Were there other significant stories that we missed?

Looking back at the list, many (most?) of the stories were not anticipated at the beginning of the year. So, who knows what 2008 will bring. Any thoughts?

December 22, 2007 Posted by | Al Gore, Chevy Volt, ConocoPhillips, ethanol, food prices, LS9, nuclear energy, oil prices, Peak Oil, range fuels, reader submission, solar efficiency, solar power, Tyson Foods | 12 Comments

University of Delaware Breaks Solar Efficiency Record

UD-led team sets solar cell record, joins DuPont on $100 million project

Using a novel technology that adds multiple innovations to a very high-performance crystalline silicon solar cell platform, a consortium led by the University of Delaware has achieved a record-breaking combined solar cell efficiency of 42.8 percent from sunlight at standard terrestrial conditions.

That number is a significant advance from the current record of 40.7 percent announced in December and demonstrates an important milestone on the path to the 50 percent efficiency goal set by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Go Delaware! For some reason I never envisioned Delaware on the cutting edge of solar technology.

August 1, 2007 Posted by | solar efficiency, solar power | Comments Off on University of Delaware Breaks Solar Efficiency Record

University of Delaware Breaks Solar Efficiency Record

UD-led team sets solar cell record, joins DuPont on $100 million project

Using a novel technology that adds multiple innovations to a very high-performance crystalline silicon solar cell platform, a consortium led by the University of Delaware has achieved a record-breaking combined solar cell efficiency of 42.8 percent from sunlight at standard terrestrial conditions.

That number is a significant advance from the current record of 40.7 percent announced in December and demonstrates an important milestone on the path to the 50 percent efficiency goal set by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Go Delaware! For some reason I never envisioned Delaware on the cutting edge of solar technology.

August 1, 2007 Posted by | solar efficiency, solar power | 6 Comments

Google Solar, Hydrogen, and Farm Bills

I wanted to briefly comment on several issues. Some of them deserve their own essays, but I am too pressed for time.

Google Solar

If you are into solar, Google’s Solar Panel Project is incredibly cool. They provide real time data on their solar energy production. One thing that I have noticed is that the assumption of peak power times 5 hours to get the overall daily solar production appears to be too conservative. For instance, according to the link above, yesterday power peaked at 877 KW at 1 p.m., but total energy production yesterday was 7021 KWh. I have to multiply by 8 hours to get that. In fact, that’s been a pretty consistent theme this month. It may be that 5 hours is the appropriate multiplier in the winter, and that may be where it comes from. I will have to make sure I track their production this winter (as well as California demand).

Hydrogen

A number of people have written to me at various times and asked why I never debunked hydrogen. The reason is that I felt like it was already thoroughly debunked. When President Bush pushed hydrogen in his 2003 State of the Union address, I was actually working with hydrogen in a GTL application. Hydrogen does some interesting things with flame speed and auto-ignition temperatures that I was exploring. But I didn’t know all that much about the issues of hydrogen as a large scale transportation fuel. So, I thought “That sounds pretty good.” Then, I went to work the next day, dug out the DOE’s hydrogen road map, saw what the problems were, and where the technology stood, and I concluded that there would be no hydrogen economy any time soon – probably not in my lifetime. I mean, the technology has to leap huge gulfs in several areas, which is much different than only have one or two technical challenges to resolve. So, I didn’t give hydrogen much more consideration after that.

But it won’t die:

Hydrogen can replace gasoline, scientist contends

FLINT – Stanford Ovshinsky, founder and chief scientist of Energy Conversion Devices Inc. in Rochester Hills, told the Flint Rotary Club on Friday that the world has to convert to alternative forms of energy.

He said current internal-combustion engines in cars and trucks can be converted to run on hydrogen.

With hydrogen, he said, there’s no pollution, no climate-change issues.
“All you need for fuel is water,” he said “You don’t need the Mideast.”

All you need is water? Is he serious? How about an energy source to electrolyze the water? Why don’t we get our hydrogen from water right now (instead of from natural gas)? You need that as well. Free hydrogen doesn’t just hang about, waiting to be mined. Anyway, I was going to write a longer rebuttal, but my friend Chris Nelder beat me to it:

Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Are No Panacea

I’m going to make a prediction today: you will never drive a hydrogen fueled car.

Although hydrogen does indeed have some benefits in certain applications, it’s my task today to separate the reality of useful fuel cells from the hydrogen hype.

That may seem like a bold statement to you now, but by the end of this article, you’ll understand why.

I think he did demonstrate the point, so I will merely refer you to his essay for a good debunking.

Those Darn Farmers

I say that with tongue in cheek, because I grew up on a farm that my family still owns and operates. But this one struck me as funny:

House Farm Bill Includes Production Fee For ’98-99 Oil Leases

WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- The U.S. House of Representatives included a measure that would impose a fee on production from controversial 1998-99 oil and gas leases in a farm bill it passed Friday.

Lawmakers have been trying since last the Congress to force the companies to renegotiate the leases, which omit royalty price thresholds, saying the omission could end up costing tax payers $10 billion in lost royalty payments.

The Government Accountability Office estimates that around $1 billion in royalties has already been lost as a result of the price-thresholds omissions, and that they could cost taxpayers an additional $9 billion in the future.

Although six companies – including BP PLC (BP), Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSA), ConocoPhillips (COP) and Marathon Oil Corp. (MRO) – have agreed to pay royalties on the leases on production from October 2006, they only represent a fraction of the total lease owners.

Around 40 companies representing 80% of the production haven’t agreed to renegotiate the leases, including Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), Total SA (TOT), Chevron Corp. (CVX) and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC), according to Interior Department data. Democrats have been seeking royalty payments for all output from the leases.

While I do note that my own company has agreed to pay royalties, I can’t get past the irony that a farm bill would attempt to rectify the situation. Perhaps in the next energy bill, we can get rid of those darn sugar subsidies. I mean, come on. I can argue a case for corn subsidies. I don’t want our corn farmers to be put out of business by cheap imports (even though we get subsidized high-fructose corn syrup as part of the deal). But sugar? Give me a break. Aren’t we fat enough already without subsidizing the problem?

July 29, 2007 Posted by | energy policy, farm policy, hydrogen, solar efficiency, solar power | Comments Off on Google Solar, Hydrogen, and Farm Bills

Google Solar, Hydrogen, and Farm Bills

I wanted to briefly comment on several issues. Some of them deserve their own essays, but I am too pressed for time.

Google Solar

If you are into solar, Google’s Solar Panel Project is incredibly cool. They provide real time data on their solar energy production. One thing that I have noticed is that the assumption of peak power times 5 hours to get the overall daily solar production appears to be too conservative. For instance, according to the link above, yesterday power peaked at 877 KW at 1 p.m., but total energy production yesterday was 7021 KWh. I have to multiply by 8 hours to get that. In fact, that’s been a pretty consistent theme this month. It may be that 5 hours is the appropriate multiplier in the winter, and that may be where it comes from. I will have to make sure I track their production this winter (as well as California demand).

Hydrogen

A number of people have written to me at various times and asked why I never debunked hydrogen. The reason is that I felt like it was already thoroughly debunked. When President Bush pushed hydrogen in his 2003 State of the Union address, I was actually working with hydrogen in a GTL application. Hydrogen does some interesting things with flame speed and auto-ignition temperatures that I was exploring. But I didn’t know all that much about the issues of hydrogen as a large scale transportation fuel. So, I thought “That sounds pretty good.” Then, I went to work the next day, dug out the DOE’s hydrogen road map, saw what the problems were, and where the technology stood, and I concluded that there would be no hydrogen economy any time soon – probably not in my lifetime. I mean, the technology has to leap huge gulfs in several areas, which is much different than only have one or two technical challenges to resolve. So, I didn’t give hydrogen much more consideration after that.

But it won’t die:

Hydrogen can replace gasoline, scientist contends

FLINT – Stanford Ovshinsky, founder and chief scientist of Energy Conversion Devices Inc. in Rochester Hills, told the Flint Rotary Club on Friday that the world has to convert to alternative forms of energy.

He said current internal-combustion engines in cars and trucks can be converted to run on hydrogen.

With hydrogen, he said, there’s no pollution, no climate-change issues.
“All you need for fuel is water,” he said “You don’t need the Mideast.”

All you need is water? Is he serious? How about an energy source to electrolyze the water? Why don’t we get our hydrogen from water right now (instead of from natural gas)? You need that as well. Free hydrogen doesn’t just hang about, waiting to be mined. Anyway, I was going to write a longer rebuttal, but my friend Chris Nelder beat me to it:

Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Are No Panacea

I’m going to make a prediction today: you will never drive a hydrogen fueled car.

Although hydrogen does indeed have some benefits in certain applications, it’s my task today to separate the reality of useful fuel cells from the hydrogen hype.

That may seem like a bold statement to you now, but by the end of this article, you’ll understand why.

I think he did demonstrate the point, so I will merely refer you to his essay for a good debunking.

Those Darn Farmers

I say that with tongue in cheek, because I grew up on a farm that my family still owns and operates. But this one struck me as funny:

House Farm Bill Includes Production Fee For ’98-99 Oil Leases

WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- The U.S. House of Representatives included a measure that would impose a fee on production from controversial 1998-99 oil and gas leases in a farm bill it passed Friday.

Lawmakers have been trying since last the Congress to force the companies to renegotiate the leases, which omit royalty price thresholds, saying the omission could end up costing tax payers $10 billion in lost royalty payments.

The Government Accountability Office estimates that around $1 billion in royalties has already been lost as a result of the price-thresholds omissions, and that they could cost taxpayers an additional $9 billion in the future.

Although six companies – including BP PLC (BP), Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSA), ConocoPhillips (COP) and Marathon Oil Corp. (MRO) – have agreed to pay royalties on the leases on production from October 2006, they only represent a fraction of the total lease owners.

Around 40 companies representing 80% of the production haven’t agreed to renegotiate the leases, including Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), Total SA (TOT), Chevron Corp. (CVX) and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC), according to Interior Department data. Democrats have been seeking royalty payments for all output from the leases.

While I do note that my own company has agreed to pay royalties, I can’t get past the irony that a farm bill would attempt to rectify the situation. Perhaps in the next energy bill, we can get rid of those darn sugar subsidies. I mean, come on. I can argue a case for corn subsidies. I don’t want our corn farmers to be put out of business by cheap imports (even though we get subsidized high-fructose corn syrup as part of the deal). But sugar? Give me a break. Aren’t we fat enough already without subsidizing the problem?

July 29, 2007 Posted by | energy policy, farm policy, hydrogen, solar efficiency, solar power | 31 Comments

A California Solar Dilemma

After grappling with the thought experiment of replacing all of our electricity consumption with solar panels, the problem came into focus. This problem seems simple, but it isn’t trivial. As I mentioned, I have seen people approach this problem in several different ways, and after tackling it myself I believe that all of those approaches are wrong. So, I decided to produce a graph to help illustrate exactly how I see the problem:

Typical Solar Cell Power Curve vs. Actual California Demand Curve on July 12, 2003

The way I came up with this graph was by modeling the solar cell power curve based on Google’s Solar Panel Project, which they update daily for solar electricity produced. You can presume at this point some hypothetical number of panels to produce 36 GW at peak power. The reason for 36 GW is that I found a presentation that showed actual load behavior in California on a summer day in 2003, and peak power demand was 36 GW.

It became clear to me why some people are approaching this from different directions, and why neither answer is actually correct. One approach looks at peak demand, and installs enough solar panels to meet that. But as you can see, peak demand doesn’t correspond to peak output. The second approach looks at the demand for the entire day, and then attempts to produce that in 4 or 5 hours. That isn’t correct either. You need to produce the required daily output in the total area under the solar power curve. But, you need to be able to store it. And due to storage losses, you actually need to produce quite a bit more than you expect to be consumed in any particular day.

That, I believe, is the correct way to solve the problem. In all of the approaches I have seen as I have studied the problem, I haven’t seen this specific approach. Thoughts? Just eye-balling it, it looks to me – presuming you have a workable storage solution – that you would require about double the power of the peak demand number in order to produce the required energy each day. In other words, if that solar power curve topped out at 70 GW or so, that would be enough energy produced in a day to meet that demand curve.

I don’t have time to work on this any more right now, but I will come back to it. My chapter is due on August 1, and I am still tidying it up. But I think the next approach is to either integrate the area under the solar output curve, or approximate it as a square wave – and then develop the relationship to daily demand.

July 28, 2007 Posted by | California, solar efficiency, solar power | Comments Off on A California Solar Dilemma

A California Solar Dilemma

After grappling with the thought experiment of replacing all of our electricity consumption with solar panels, the problem came into focus. This problem seems simple, but it isn’t trivial. As I mentioned, I have seen people approach this problem in several different ways, and after tackling it myself I believe that all of those approaches are wrong. So, I decided to produce a graph to help illustrate exactly how I see the problem:

Typical Solar Cell Power Curve vs. Actual California Demand Curve on July 12, 2003

The way I came up with this graph was by modeling the solar cell power curve based on Google’s Solar Panel Project, which they update daily for solar electricity produced. You can presume at this point some hypothetical number of panels to produce 36 GW at peak power. The reason for 36 GW is that I found a presentation that showed actual load behavior in California on a summer day in 2003, and peak power demand was 36 GW.

It became clear to me why some people are approaching this from different directions, and why neither answer is actually correct. One approach looks at peak demand, and installs enough solar panels to meet that. But as you can see, peak demand doesn’t correspond to peak output. The second approach looks at the demand for the entire day, and then attempts to produce that in 4 or 5 hours. That isn’t correct either. You need to produce the required daily output in the total area under the solar power curve. But, you need to be able to store it. And due to storage losses, you actually need to produce quite a bit more than you expect to be consumed in any particular day.

That, I believe, is the correct way to solve the problem. In all of the approaches I have seen as I have studied the problem, I haven’t seen this specific approach. Thoughts? Just eye-balling it, it looks to me – presuming you have a workable storage solution – that you would require about double the power of the peak demand number in order to produce the required energy each day. In other words, if that solar power curve topped out at 70 GW or so, that would be enough energy produced in a day to meet that demand curve.

I don’t have time to work on this any more right now, but I will come back to it. My chapter is due on August 1, and I am still tidying it up. But I think the next approach is to either integrate the area under the solar output curve, or approximate it as a square wave – and then develop the relationship to daily demand.

July 28, 2007 Posted by | California, solar efficiency, solar power | 87 Comments