Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

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RayTomes's picture
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Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

Let us accept that peak oil has happened and that over the next few decades the price of oil will being going up in leaps and bounds in real terms. Is this the end of civilization as we know it? Well, I hope it is the end of Americans driving around in vehicles that are rediculously large just because they want to come off the best if they have a crash. But other than that, let us look at some facts on alternative energy.

1. It should be understood at the start that the huge bulk of energy used by humans at present is from fossil fuels. Nuclear, wind and solar are all just a tiny fraction. If other forms of energy are to replace fossil fuels on a large scale then their cost must come into line. This may happen by increase in oil prices, which will certainly happen, or by reduction of other costs in real terms. I dismiss nuclear as having too many problems. Not only waste disposal, but being also the products of bombs we cannot trust people with them.

2. Solar power generation costs are reducing in real terms at 7% per annum. This reults in a halving of costs every 10.5 years, see http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2009/05/energy-moor... and http://www1.eere.energy.gov/tribalenergy/guide/costs_solar_photovoltaics...

3. Over a period of say 35 years, that would be price reduction to 1/10 what it is now for solar power if the same rate of improvement is maintained. The big advantage of solar power is that it has far less environmental impact because it is using heat that was already hitting the earth, and creating no harmful byproducts in its use (maybe in its manufacture?).

4. I cannot find a figure for the present ratio of oil costs to solar power for equivalent amount of energy. Does anyone know the correct ratio?

5. Wind power is viable and used at present as a means of electricity generation.In part because it offers a balance in supply when other sources such as hydro and fossil fuel burning are subject to fluctuations from weather and fossil fuel prices. Wind tends to produce more when hydro is producing less, so that they are complimentary. Wind cannot be the dominant form of energy production.

6. According to http://www.awea.org/faq/cost.html the costs have varied over time from 30 cents/kilowatt-hour in the early 1980s to 5 cents/kilowatt-hour at present. This rate of improvement is similar to solar power cost improvement so there may still be substantial future improvement yet to come.

7. People are interested in hydrogen and electric cars. There is no doubt that the technology already exists. However neither electricity or hydrogen is actually a source of fuel. Rather they both operate as a battery device for storing energy that is obtained from one source and later used to power a vehicle.

8. It remains that the electricity that is charging the battery or making the hydrogen must have come from some other source. That source will be oil, nuclear, solar, wind or sucking it out of the aether with some new invention. Please don't tell me about cars that will run on water - I don't believe it.

My conclusion is that while there will be big changes in the next few decades resulting from peak oil, there is a very real progress being made in both solar and wind power generation. Substitutions such as solar water heating are already efficient enough to be replacing fossil fuel burning power stations. It does not appear that peak oil will be the end of the world, but it will result in significant changes in the landscape.

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

There was good article on CNN last week that Chris also noted in one of his postings.  It gives you one example of the scale required to replace fossil fuels with alternatives.  In summary, the writer's calcualation assumes that if Americans cut their current consumption by 50% to match the 125 kwh per person per day European levels, the following would be one scenario required to entirely replace fossil fuels with 1/3 each from solar, wind and nuclear:

Solar:  80 square meters per person of solar panels.

Wind:  A wind farm with a total area roughly equal to the area of California, a 200-fold increase in United States wind power.

Nuclear:  525 one-gigawatt nuclear power stations, a roughly five-fold increase over today's levels.

Full Artilce:  Let's Get Real about Alternative Energy

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

Renewables can and will be an important part of our future however they will never come close to replacing our current level of fossil energy consumption. We will have to consume a lot less as fossil energy depletes.

Here are two exceptional talks on the energy potential and costs of renewables. Unlike most renewable discussions, these talks are filled with facts.

David MacKay - Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air – 12-Mar-2008
http://mediaplayer.group.cam.ac.uk/component/option,com_mediadb/task,play/idstr,CU-CSF-Lectures_2008-12_David_MacKay/vv,-1/Itemid,42

Saul Griffith – Climate Change Recalculated – 16-Jan-2009
http://fora.tv/media/rss/Long_Now_Podcasts/podcast-2009-01-16-griffith.mp3

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

Will, scary statistics, but important ones.

I don't think there has been a lot of benefit from the huge increase in energy usage over the last generation or two. Much of it is just wasted. So we could live happily with a lot less.

If we each had solar panels on our house roof or a windmill on each hill, I don't see that as a bad thing.

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Can mushrooms replace oil?

I particularily enjoyed this peice Davos posted May 7th and I haven't stopped thinking about it ever since:
Paul Stamets: 6 ways mushrooms can save the world

I'd really like to see more serious consideration and experimentation on each aspect of this.

Disclaimer: This could just be me going back to the bargaining stage of awareness!?!

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

Ray,

Something that comes to mind as regards your thread has to do with the incredible amount of energy we have wasted in the last 100 years rather than using it to build a sustainable future.  When you look at some of the past civilizations you can see that their structures were able to withstand a good deal of time without requiring replacement. Many are standing today. The Pantheon in Rome has been in continuous service for over 2000 years and it will be open tomorrow!

Our society is full of temporary housing, most of it constructed of wood with roofing and siding that will only last a couple of decades without maintenance or replacement. My field is architecture and I am also a builder having been raised from three generations of designers, inventors, contractors and so on.

When you look at the basics of food, shelter, transportation and security and the role energy plays in each then you can begin to decide how you might solve each of those problems.

1)Food and Water: It will need to be produced locally without dependence on fossil fuel for cultivation, fertilization, or harvesting and this emphasis will increase over time. More time will be spent on food cultivation and less on the video games and playstations!

2)Shelter: This should be designed to use the sun to provide for solar heating of the interior spaces and for domestic water. The optimum solution is a passive solar design which requires no other energy to get the job done. Roofs should be designed to capture rainwater and be of a long lasting and fireproof material such as steel. Exterior surfaces should be of cement plaster, stone etc. and preferrably placed over a structure such as insulated concrete to achieve a 1000 year minimum target lifespan. This minimizes replacement efforts which will become significant as energy depletes in the future. 

You will likely be  told that structures like this are way too expensive to build. That is false. I have been doing it for years and I have been competing with wood frame, non solar  temporary structures on a head to head basis. Many of the homes I have constructed  are not truly a passive solar design in that they use an "active" solar system to run pumps and so on but that is because the mainstream new home buyer was not looking for a truly sustainable shelter, not because it could not be done. Homes that are designed to have all the modern conveniences and be powered with big solar electric (photovoltaic) grids are doomed. There isn't enough enegry to build them for all of the population and they will wear out soon enough anyway. Keep it simple ... do it passively and minimize the TVs!

Transportation: The big guzzeling monster trucks, suvs, hummers and the like will happily fade away. I think much of our precious remaining energy will be used to provide transpotation of more and more critical payloads and to maintain communications, electrical power and medical facilities, etc.

As we advance further into this century I think that populations whose survival is to a greater degree dependant on conventional energy for food, shelter and transportation will be increasingly at risk. At some point there will be critical events either due to weather, shortages of resources or energy and the like that we will have to deal with. If we are not prepared then a population reduction will probably occur. That is MHO of course.

For me the BIG QUESTION is whether we have enough energy remaining to build the infrastructure we need to actually reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and that is assuming we would have the political will to get it done.  As I sit here writing this I think we could  do it. We have the technology, we have the knowledge, we have the skills but the old clock is ticking.

Coop

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

ckessel wrote:
Shelter: This should be designed to use the sun to provide for solar heating of the interior spaces and for domestic water. The optimum solution is a passive solar design which requires no other energy to get the job done. Roofs should be designed to capture rainwater and be of a long lasting and fireproof material such as steel. Exterior surfaces should be of cement plaster, stone etc. and preferrably placed over a structure such as insulated concrete to achieve a 1000 year minimum target lifespan. This minimizes replacement efforts which will become significant as energy depletes in the future.

Or as an alternative, a quick built shelter that takes maybe a few days to build, from local materials, is easily maintainable and lasts long enough. Looking at the Pantheon, we forget that a lot of Roman architecture is gone, simply because it was built as temporary of wood, cloth and so on. Yes make the things that are needed to be permanent, permanent. However from a housing and shelter perspective do we need to build a house that lasts 1000 years? I suspect not, even if we did (and it's post crash) I'm sure someone would want to remodel it in 5-10 years. At the moment at least in the US there appears to be a time window for buildings of between 30 and 50 years maximum regardless of the type of building. If we were smart, we'd be building short term constructions that are cheap (in energy and cost) for things that are short term and long term constructions that are more expensive (in energy and cost) for much more permanent buildings. This is something missing from many modern buildings from housing to skyscrapers.

ckessel wrote:
Transportation: The big guzzeling monster trucks, suvs, hummers and the like will happily fade away. I think much of our precious remaining energy will be used to provide transpotation of more and more critical payloads and to maintain communications, electrical power and medical facilities, etc.

Actually there's nothing wrong per-se with any of the vehicles mentioned, it's their use that is the problem. I own two vehicles, an 8 liter 4x4 off road truck (that fits your description of Monster Truck), that's used for hauling heavy loads, and getting to and from my property that's off road, across unpaved and almost uncleared easement, and a Chevy Cavalier that's used for normal commuting. I would not use the truck for a daily commute except in emergency, in the same way that I would not use the cavalier to move a ton of cargo across several loads, because the efficiency is not there, I'd use a lot more fuel shuttling a ton of cargo in the Cavalier than I would in a single load with the truck. Unfortunately as a society we accept that all of the vehicles mentioned are ok for daily travel and that's just not the case.

ckessel wrote:
For me the BIG QUESTION is whether we have enough energy remaining to build the infrastructure we need to actually reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and that is assuming we would have the political will to get it done.  As I sit here writing this I think we could  do it. We have the technology, we have the knowledge, we have the skills but the old clock is ticking.

I think we have the energy, however I don't think that we have the will. It's too fast a shift in priorities, for the political process to handle, or even want to handle. Our political machines currently want to re-arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, to feel like they're doing something, but in actuality they're achieving perhaps a little temporary peace of mind making pretty patterns.

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

Coop, your comments are right on the mark, thanks. Ray

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Lawrence Livermore Lab Debuts Super Laser

US lab debuts super laser
May 30 03:21 AM US/Eastern
 

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A US weapons lab on Friday pulled back the curtain on a super laser with the power to burn as hot as a star.

The National Ignition Facility's main purpose is to serve as a tool for gauging the reliability and safety of the US nuclear weapons arsenal but scientists say it could deliver breakthroughs in safe fusion power.

"We have invented the world's largest laser system," actor-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said during a dedication ceremony attended by thousands including state and national officials.


"We can create the stars right here on earth. And I can see already my friends in Hollywood being very upset that their stuff that they show on the big screen is obsolete. We have the real stuff right here."

NIF is touted as the world's highest-energy laser system. It is located inside the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory about an hour's drive from San Francisco.

Equipment connected to a house-sized sphere can focus 192 laser beams on a small point, generating temperatures and pressures that exist at cores of stars or giant planets.

NIF will be able to create conditions and conduct experiments never before possible on Earth, according to the laboratory.

A fusion reaction triggered by the super laser hitting hydrogen atoms will produce more energy than was required to prompt "ignition," according to NIF director Edward Moses.

"This is the long-sought goal of 'energy gain' that has been the goal of fusion researchers for more than half a century," Moses said.

"NIF's success will be a scientific breakthrough of historic significance; the first demonstration of fusion ignition in a laboratory setting, duplicating on Earth the processes that power the stars."

Construction of the NIF began in 1997, funded by the US Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

"NIF, a cornerstone of the National Nuclear Security Administration's effort to maintain our nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing, will play a vital role in reshaping national security in the 21st century," said NNSA administrator Tom D'Agostino.

"This one-of-a-kind facility is the only place in the world that is capable of providing some of the most critical technical means to safely maintain the viability of the nation's nuclear stockpile."

Scientists say that NIF also promises groundbreaking discoveries in planetary science and astrophysics by recreating conditions that exist in supernovas, black holes, and in the cores of giant planets.

Electricity derived from fusion reactions similar to what takes place in the sun could help sate humanity's growing appetite for green energy, according to lab officials.

"Very shortly we will engage in what many believe to be this nation's greatest challenge thus far, one that confronts not only the nation but all of mankind -- energy independence," said lab director George Miller.

The lab was founded in 1952 and describes itself as a research institution for science and technology applied to national security.

"This laser system is an incredible success not just for California, but for our country and our world," Schwarzenegger said.

"NIF has the potential to revolutionize our energy system, teaching us a new way to harness the energy of the sun to power our cars and homes."

http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=CNG.12fab6f6c00a65e15e6fb5e305aacbb7.41&show_article=1

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Re: Lawrence Livermore Lab Debuts Super Laser

Hi Patrick

Controlled nuclear fusion has been just a few years away for many decades now.  :-)

Regards, Ray

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

Quote:

Hi Patrick

Controlled nuclear fusion has been just a few years away for many decades now.  :-)

Regards, Ray

Yes, but never say never:

World's Worst Predictions - Famously Wrong Predictions
Theoretically, television may be feasible, but I consider it an impossibility--a development which we should waste little time dreaming about.
- Lee de Forest, 1926, inventor of the cathode ray tube

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.
- Thomas J. Watson, 1943, Chairman of the Board of IBM

It doesn't matter what he does, he will never amount to anything.
- Albert Einstein's teacher to his father, 1895

It will be years - not in my time - before a woman will become Prime Minister.
- Margaret Thatcher, 1974

This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.
- Western Union internal memo, 1876

We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.
- Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962

Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?
- H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927

640K ought to be enough for anybody.
- Bill Gates, 1981

Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.
- Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872

Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.
- Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949

We don't need you. You haven't got through college yet.
- Hewlett-Packard's rejection of Steve Jobs, who went on to found Apple Computers

King George II said in 1773 that the American colonies had little stomach for revolution.

An official of the White Star Line, speaking of the firm's newly built flagship, the Titanic, launched in 1912, declared that the ship was unsinkable.

In 1939 The New York Times said the problem of TV was that people had to glue their eyes to a screen, and that the average American wouldn't have time for it.

An English astronomy professor said in the early 19th century that air travel at high speed would be impossible because passengers would suffocate.

Airplanes are interesting toys, but they have no military value.
- Marshal Ferdinand Foch in 1911

With over 50 foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn't likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market.
- Business Week, 1958

Whatever happens, the U.S. Navy is not going to be caught napping.
- Frank Knox, U.S. Secretary of the Navy, on December 4, 1941

Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.
- Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, October 16, 1929.

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

For the sake of argument, let's assume that we have 30 years of oil left... independent of cost. That's 30 years of a known power source/fuel remaining, after which we will be SOL. There is no single solution or replacement, which is something we need to accept. Looking for a one-shot wonder is just wasting time and resources.

First, we need to stop wasting the power & fuel we do have.

Electricity is one of those things that needs to be re-evaluated. There are so many things that we use electricity for nowadays simply because it's convenient or because it gives us a slight increase in productivity... but could be powered by other means (mechanical, thermal, etc). When you really think about it, there are very few things that absolutely require electricity to operate... telecommunications, light bulbs, and electronics.

Transportation fuel is the next big hurdle. In this regard, I think that replacing fossil-fuel commuter vehicles with electric versions is an excellent start, especially if those vehicles can be recharged using alternate energy not fossil-fuel grid power. Using the appropriate vehicle for the task is also important (as Gungnir mentioned). Another thing that would greatly reduce vehicle commuting is telecommuting... there are a large number of jobs that do not really require people to all be in the same office, so why keep powering the home and the office when you really only need the home? In this way, the only businesses and commuters would be those that require large machinery or a central location - like large manufacturing or markets. Telecommuting, overall, would require much less energy and fuels because you are maintaining less buildings, using those buildings 100%, and the residence connections could be powered (at least partially) by renewable energy... we're already spending the power on the main communications grid, so that wouldn't change regardless of location (net zero).

If we all started buying locally a little more, we could also reduce interstate/international plane, ship and truck transportation. Highway truck transportation is an area where we "waste" a lot of fuel... large cargo is almost always better transported (resource and cost) by train, which is something we seem to have forgotten. Newer trains are much cleaner and more efficient than older ones, we just need to maintain or augment the track systems (which is still cheaper than building and maintaining highways).

Renewable energy is very site specific. Passive and active solar designs are great starts for new buildings, but that doesn't address any of the existing buildings that may be improperly sited and designed. Solar, wind, hydro, geo-thermal, etc will all depend on their availability in your area. Even the best solar panel isn't going to be enough if you live somewhere that has 3 months of near total darkness; and no amount of windmills are going to be enough if you live in a dead-calm. Each combination of system is going to depend on what is available in your location and what you need to power (which goes back to using less and what you really need electricity for).

The Powers That Be cannot work on the custom scale that will be required, they only deal in one-size-fits-all solutions; therefore, we can't rely on them to come up with a solution to this particular problem. We can, however, give them a little direction in how they should be spending our remaining years of fossil fuels and "cheap energy". They need to be promoting energy conservation and improved efficiency (not bailing out failing gas-guzzler manufacturers). They need to focus on repairing and extending the rail system. They need to give us more tax breaks and incentives to adopt whatever renewable energy systems that make sense in our location, and not just for homeowners but businesses too. Promote and offer tax breaks for telecommuting in the appropriate business sectors. Invest a little more in research aimed to develop improved capture technologies instead of funding yet another military action. They can't give us the solution, but they certainly can remove some of the obstacles!

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

I also haven't given up on cold fusion yet, Pat. Others have reproduced those experiments with results showing that even if no actual fusion is happening in those cells, something is. Because they are getting more energy out than they are putting in.

One scientist claims to have discovered protons in his experiment.

Hopefully this last round of experiments will bring some grant funding into this area.

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

PlicketyCat wrote:

First, we need to stop wasting the power & fuel we do have.

This is certainly the most important issue. And yet Green parties that have been saying this for decades (e.g. since 1972 in New Zealand) remain on the fringe, and mainstream politicians pander to the majority who do not want to take their medicine just yet.

Quote:
Electricity is one of those things that needs to be re-evaluated. There are so many things that we use electricity for nowadays simply because it's convenient or because it gives us a slight increase in productivity... but could be powered by other means (mechanical, thermal, etc). When you really think about it, there are very few things that absolutely require electricity to operate... telecommunications, light bulbs, and electronics.

On a trip to England many years ago I was very impressed by two things built in Victorian times.

1. A huge bridge span that was built and taken by barge to a river mouth to be raised and placed between towers at the two sides of the river. Each high tide they locked it in place on the towers. Each low tide they put more spacers in to hold the span up. The tide lifted it up over a few days to where they wanted it.

2. A cable car that links the towns of Lynmouth and Lynton http://www.itraveluk.co.uk/photos/showphoto/photo/241.php where the cable cars are connected around a pully. It runs over a small stream. When passengers are getting in and out the tank in the lower car is emptied and the tank in the top one is filled with water from the stream. After the passengers are ready, they simply take the brakes off!

These are brilliant use of nature's bounty!

Your other comments are also well thought out, thanks!

Regards

Ray

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

Hey there.   First time poster here, so please go easy on me....

Firstly, with renewable energy sources there comes a big problem in the fact that oil is used to produce such products. The people that run the big picture will simply look at the facts. How much energy do you get back from how much energy you've invested. 

800 Million internal combustion engine cars that all run on oil are on this planet. It takes uncounted amounts of Oil to make those cars and engines, and you cannot plug any new technology into a internal combustion engine. With 7 gallons of oil in every car tyre, nobody will ever be able to make new combustion anything, because there will not be enough oil.

With people talking about electric or hydrogen cars, I must bring you back to the fact of how much energy(oil) it take to produce the tyres, let alone the car itself....the paints, the resins, the shipping, heating the metals etc etc...there will never be 800million electric powered vechicals. Furthermore, electricity is not a energy source, the electricity is generated by burning or using some other kind of energy.

So, Electricity is key to a industrial civilization.....  How do we go about producing electricity cleanly?

Nuclear is too expensive. The construction of a nuclear power plant is a energy intensive processes. 

Tidal. Salt water is extremely corrosive. The energy cost of just manufacture and maintaining these machines is rediclous. 

Wind & Solar are the only two renewable energy's that can have a immediate impact, and benefit...But also have problems.

Now what about FOOD?

Plant matter gets all its nutrients from soil. Now, if you keep sucking all the nutrients out the soil is useless. Plant matter was allowed to decay, to compost and return these nuitents(re-sock). But, we as species have become so disconnected with the earth, we don't have any sense of its functions. Top soil is not much more than a sponge, which we pour chemicals that we get from Oil and natural gas, and without those chemicals the soil turns into a 'junky' and become worthless. Oil powered machines plough, plants...etc etc, now you need to irrigate them(with water that is pumped by electricity...wheres that electricity coming from...oil, natural gas, coal) Then you fertilise it...Made from natural gas...pesticides made from oil....then comes shipment across the world..using..you guessed it...OIL!!

Ultimately.. I think its all going to fall down to,  small communities living off one another. People have got to start learning about farming, first aid, construction...etc etc.. With the depletion of oil, the human population will fall. With planet earth running out of clean water, and food...Wars will be won and lost.....To me the future doesn't look so bright.

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

Ray,

Our most critical energy need is liquid fuel for transportation.  The investment in battery research by Toyota the past 30 yeares has been impressive, but has producted almost nothing.  As Kunstler has pointed out, the battery in your great grandfathers 1913 Oldsmobile is the same battery technology that we use in most cars today.  The vast majority of 'green' technologies do nothing for transportation.

We have the capacity to produce lots of electric through green or nuclear, but only geothermal,  hydro, and nuclear can base load the grid.

Most individuals have no concept how special nuclear energy (fission) is.  On a mole per mole basis, we are looking at a 50,000,000 fold increase over carbon-based fuels.  While many green technologies are, at best,  looking at a 5x or 10 x gain, nuclear blows everything else out of the water.  

About 5 years ago I was giving a tour to some San Jose State nuclear chemistry students (they have one of the few undergraduate nuclear chemistry programs in the nation). The professor told me about the natural nuclear reactions in stream beds in Africa billions of years ago.  The U235 half-life is about 1/10 of the U238, so if we go back a few half lives, the U235 exceed 3% and is fissionable.   Since Uranium is as dense as gold, it can accumulate in streambeds and in the presence of water, go critical.

The point of all this techno-babble is that after billions of years in the bottom of a streambed, the nuclear by-productes migrated 99 meters.

We have no technical problems getting rid of nuclear waste - only political ones. 

I also question if we can build a green energy industry without a carbon based fuel platform.

Nate

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

Farmer Brown,

I work on NIF.  We are close to net energy gain.  NIF is a single pulse laser (1 shot per day) and will not produce electricity.  The next laser project (LIFE) is currently being designed to produce elecricity.  LIFE will be a high rep rate laser (10 to 15 shots per second) and is in the very early stages of design. 

Nate

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

Just a minor comment. I think it is important to keep in mind that part of the price of putting up wind and solar is the diesel fuel it takes to get the job done. Just consider my killer pole-tracking PV system:

a. Iron ore from Brazil shipped to China using bunker fuel. Steel production in China. Pole shipped to USA with bunker fuel.

b. Pole transported across the country on 6 mpg 18-wheeler truck to my house.

c. PV panels - oil, coal, natural gas, clean water in the manufacturing process.

d. All items (PV, tracker, inverter) shipped to my house on different 6 mpg 18-wheeler trucks

e. backhoe bellowing clouds of black smoke to dig the hole for my PV system

Sometimes people fall into the oil vs renewable paradigm. However, I think it would be helpful to think of "how are we going to use the last of the affordable oil, to get renewables on track or to drive SUVs to Wal-mart and back?"

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

"The big advantage of solar power is that it has far less environmental impact because it is using heat that was already hitting the earth"
Let's make this clear....  NO HEAT "hits the Earth" because heat cannot travel through a vaccuum like space.

When LIGHT hits a surface on the Earth, or even the gases in the atmosphere, light is converted to heat.  Just so you know...

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

...

It is natural to attach much importance to an area in which you have devoted a significant proportion of your working life and hopes for the future. It is hard to admit fulsomely that, on mature reflection, a lot of it does not stack up or really be sustainable in a future minus easy oil and the abundant easy availability of raw materials. Let us consider Ireland as an example.

...

How Sustainable Is Renewable Energy?

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?
...the New Year’s Eve blog post from Chuck Burr at Southern Oregon Permaculture (Why Permaculture: Energy Decent, Solar Case Study) was timely. At a time when plenty of people are still insisting that the whole world can adopt a middle-class lifestyle powered by renewable energy resources, Burr cited hard numbers from a representative case study – his own solar-powered home – to show why high-tech renewables are at most a way station partway down the Long Descent. His argument will be familiar to readers of this blog: the photovoltaic system that powers his home won’t generate enough electricity in its lifetime to both account for the power that goes into making and maintaining it, and provide enough electricity to maintain a modern lifestyle for its end user. Burr went on to suggest, reasonably enough, that using high-tech renewables is still a good idea for now, since it will help cushion the future in which green plants may well turn out to be the most efficient source of primary energy around.

He’s likely right, but there are challenges in the way of even so modest a project. The obvious issue – the fact that the very large number of people closing in on their 99th and last week of unemployment benefits, and the even larger number caught in the stagflationary vise of dwindling wages and soaring bills, aren’t going to be in any position to buy and install expensive photovoltaic systems – is symptomatic of a far more profound and pervasive difficulty.


 ...
 
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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

My Two Cents on Energy.

Cars waste 80% of their fuel moving the car, not the person. Most systems waste 80%. Single family houses are 80% waste. Cities are 80% waste. Education is 80% waste. This is why conservation is such a big bang for the buck. I learned at my off the grid cabin the best way to do something is to not do it or not have it. Have less. Do less. Think and act small and slow. 

People don't need gasoline or electricity. Machines need gasoline and electricity. We are dependent upon machines the way children are dependent upon their parents. At my cabin I have very few machines off the grid. I have propane lights, propane stove, wood heat, canoe with paddles, boat with a gasoline motor (no road, I have to boat in), and a gasoline chain saw. I have a 60 watt solar panel with two batteries to run my cell phone, computer, and recharge some flashlights. When I go home to the city I feel like my 1600 square foot house is a mansion of waste. So is the city. We use energy for entertainment. Waste is a status symbol. We just wasted $160,000 on my daughters four year college education (half paid with scholarships and gifts). We humans will expand and waste if we can. Right now China is becoming more American and America is becoming more Chinese. I bought two electric powered bicycles, (made in China) at Walmart for $300 each. No more up hill pedaling. I love them. 

Conservation is number one but people have a status symbol of waste and mansions. I have learned to live on so much less at my cabin but I don't want to be forced to live like that and no one else does either. I lived happily there in my first cabin, a 10'x10,' I could heat in a Minnesota winter with a 7,000 btu RV propane heater. Small is beautiful. That 10'x10' had a loft and I slept there with the wife and two kids and we loved it. Now we have a 20'x32' cabin which is much nicer. 

Energy wise I never miss electricity now that I have my solar 60 watt and can charge the phone and computer. The propane cooking is a huge big deal, my favorite appliance. The propane lights give off too much heat but they aren't used that much in summer. Firewood heats so well. I heat my water with an instant heat propane shower for $120 that works with a solar charged battery pump. All in all our energy needs can be cut way back residentially. Regarding the military, no. Regarding NYC. No. Regarding industry. No. 

The future is going to be a lot of fun down sizing. I am looking forward to reducing our consumption and reducing our "stuff". Conservation is the bast bang for the buck. We can have so much fun downsizing. I look forward to meeting the Chinese in the middle. Like Walmart says we need to do more with less.

It's not the Great  Depression. It's the Great Transformation. 

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

xraymike79 wrote:
...the New Year’s Eve blog post from Chuck Burr at Southern Oregon Permaculture (Why Permaculture: Energy Decent, Solar Case Study) was timely. At a time when plenty of people are still insisting that the whole world can adopt a middle-class lifestyle powered by renewable energy resources, Burr cited hard numbers from a representative case study – his own solar-powered home – to show why high-tech renewables are at most a way station partway down the Long Descent.

I've looked at this guy's site, and whilst I totally agree that "the whole world can [not] adopt a middle-class lifestyle powered by renewable energy resources", I think he has made some mistakes......  Like many people. he uses solar power as a "solution" to his energy problems instead of it being an integrated part of the whole system (a totally PERMACULTURE principle)

1) He himself admits that his home is badly designed and requires a lot of electric space heating in winter , his greenhouse is way warmer..... at least he does say "I got up early this morning to dial in my solstice sunrise and sunset compass which I hope to use for a far more energy efficient dwelling in the future."  You better believe it, I could easily design a house in Southern Oregon that would require very little heating even in winter (I've lived in Oregon for an admittedly short time and I have a fair idea of what it's like..)

2) His array looks like (without knowing exactly what the panels are) ~4kW.  If you can't make do with 4kW, then you're doing something wrong.  We have 3.5kW and generate an average FIVE TIMES what we need and sell it to the grid at a substantial profit.  I would never ever contemplate a tracking system for starters, they are way too costly, are something just waiting to go wrong, and it's cheaper to just buy 10% more panels fixed to a roof or other  structure.

3) Why the hell does this system have THREE inverters?  Can't you buy 5kW inverters in the US? Plus they are the old fashioned toroid transformer type which require way more resources to make and are nowhere near as efficient in the low light conditions he obviously suffers from in winter.  Speaking of low light, I would piss those crystalline panels off and use lower emergy amorphous ones which now cost way less than the conventional ones (we sell them here for $1.50/W)

4) By using solar only, he has put all his eggs in one basket.  Oregon has a great wind resource (especially compared to where I live in Australia which has a poor wind resource but a great solar one).  So an additional 2.5kW wind turbine would probably fix his energy deficienciess. There are now available great little units like this http://www.solazone.com.au/aerofortis.htm , some of which (not shown on our website) produce 240/120V AC that you can put a plug directly into a socket to sell the power!  When I next get some money LaughingI'd consider one for here http://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2010/10/04/powering-up-for-the-collapse/

The multiple inverters and tracking racks are serious reasons why this cost $50,000.....  Our 3.5kW system, two systems in fact installed 5 1/2 years apart which have battery backup to boot, cost half that.  And I would've thought this stuff would be cheaper in the US than in Australia.

What is very very important in any renewable energy system is designing for the conditions.  Whilst I admittedly started with a totally blank slate and was able to optimise EVERYTHING at our place, with great success I might add, the integration of all systems in your patch with everything else that is there cannot be stressed enough.

I also disagree with the notion that solar NEVER pays back the energy it takes to make the equipment.  read this: http://www.lowimpact.org/solarenergypayback.pdf

Mike

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

Damnthematrix wrote:
He himself admits that his home is badly designed and requires a lot of electric space heating in winter

But this is most of the US - and probably most of the western world?  Houses were not designed with energy efficiency as the key goal.  Is it desireable that we begin down that path? Yes, but there are a lot of houses that adding massive solar arrays may be considerably cheaper/environmentally friendlier than tearing down a house and rebuilding a better one.

Damnthematrix wrote:
His array looks like (without knowing exactly what the panels are) ~4kW.  If you can't make do with 4kW, then you're doing something wrong.  We have 3.5kW and generate an average FIVE TIMES what we need and sell it to the grid at a substantial profit.  I would never ever contemplate a tracking system for starters, they are way too costly, are something just waiting to go wrong, and it's cheaper to just buy 10% more panels fixed to a roof or other  structure.

Those could easily be 315W size panels, there are 8 on each tracker, so with 24 that could be a 7.5kW system.  I agree trackers seem to be much too expensive for the potential problems, however, the trackers in the picture look like Zomeworks passive trackers.  They have no motors or electronics so those may have far less problems that traditional trackers.

Damnthematrix wrote:
Speaking of low light, I would piss those crystalline panels off and use lower emergy amorphous ones

The problem is the amorphous panels generate less power for a given surface area, so if you are space constrained you may be better off picking a different technology. It's trade offs, if you don't have the space or your mounting hardware will be expensive (pole mounts).  Same trade off with going with trackers versus non-tracking.  One solution does not fit all.

Damnthematrix wrote:
By using solar only, he has put all his eggs in one basket.

Chuck Burr wrote:
What I am finding is that a solar electric system, despite having three solar arrays does not cover the energy needs of our farm.

Totally agree with you on this point.  It is clear if he was surprised that his solar didn't meet his needs he clearly did not do proper research.  There are lots of resources that can very accurately predict your production.   In his case the Amorphous may have been a much better solution as well as micro inverters.  And yes, trackers and the pole mounts for them add considerably to the cost of a system.  If you have the space and can do roof or ground mounts you will save a lot.

Damnthematrix wrote:
Whilst I admittedly started with a totally blank slate and was able to optimise EVERYTHING at our place

That is a huge advantage - so you might want to keep that in mind when blasting away at other solutions.  Smile

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

rhare wrote:

Damnthematrix wrote:
He himself admits that his home is badly designed and requires a lot of electric space heating in winter

But this is most of the US - and probably most of the western world?  Houses were not designed with energy efficiency as the key goal.  Is it desireable that we begin down that path? Yes, but there are a lot of houses that adding massive solar arrays may be considerably cheaper/environmentally friendlier than tearing down a house and rebuilding a better one.

Even if it doesn't work...???

rhare wrote:

Damnthematrix wrote:
His array looks like (without knowing exactly what the panels are) ~4kW.  If you can't make do with 4kW, then you're doing something wrong.  We have 3.5kW and generate an average FIVE TIMES what we need and sell it to the grid at a substantial profit.  I would never ever contemplate a tracking system for starters, they are way too costly, are something just waiting to go wrong, and it's cheaper to just buy 10% more panels fixed to a roof or other  structure.

Those could easily be 315W size panels, there are 8 on each tracker, so with 24 that could be a 7.5kW system.  I agree trackers seem to be much too expensive for the potential problems, however, the trackers in the picture look like Zomeworks passive trackers.  They have no motors or electronics so those may have far less problems that traditional trackers.

Well, they're NOT 315W panels, because AFAIK, only Supower make them and they're black, not blue..... I also own passive solar tracking parabolic mirrors......  and the tracking is broken.  In time I will fix it, maybe.... I want to use them to drive a freezer.

Quote:

http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/1849/2986/1600/IMG_0021.jpg

Speaking of low light, I would piss those crystalline panels off and use lower emergy amorphous ones

Quote:

The problem is the amorphous panels generate less power for a given surface area, so if you are space constrained you may be better off picking a different technology. It's trade offs, if you don't have the space or your mounting hardware will be expensive (pole mounts).  Same trade off with going with trackers versus non-tracking.  One solution does not fit all.

Quote:

I'm well aware of this.....  but Chuck Burr looks in no way space constrained if he's on a far,,,,,

By using solar only, he has put all his eggs in one basket.

Quote:

What I am finding is that a solar electric system, despite having three solar arrays does not cover the energy needs of our farm.

Quote:

Totally agree with you on this point.  It is clear if he was surprised that his solar didn't meet his needs he clearly did not do proper research.  There are lots of resources that can very accurately predict your production.   In his case the Amorphous may have been a much better solution as well as micro inverters.  And yes, trackers and the pole mounts for them add considerably to the cost of a system.  If you have the space and can do roof or ground mounts you will save a lot.

Whilst I admittedly started with a totally blank slate and was able to optimise EVERYTHING at our place

Quote:

That is a huge advantage - so you might want to keep that in mind when blasting away at other solutions.  Smile

I wasn't blasting.....  I was merely commenting.

Mike

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

Damnthematrix wrote:
Well, they're NOT 315W panels, because AFAIK, only Supower make them and they're black, not blue

I went back and looked at the ouitput graph provided in the article and then compared it to the estimated output from PV Watts.  You are right, that has to be a very small system, under 4kW or they had a very very bad weather pattern all year.   It looks like it would have to be about 3.5kW to produce what was shown, which means those are probably around 150W panels.   The $50K is really a silly price  particularly with the price of trackers realative to the number/size of panels on the trackers!  Of course I didn't see it mention when this system was built, if it was several years ago that might explain some of the choices.

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Re: Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

RayTomes wrote:

Let us accept that peak oil has happened and that over the next few decades the price of oil will being going up in leaps and bounds in real terms. Is this the end of civilization as we know it?

Ray....  I think the UNAVAILABILITY of oil will have greater impact than the price.

<SNIP>

RayTomes wrote:
2. Solar power generation costs are reducing in real terms at 7% per annum. This reults in a halving of costs every 10.5 years, see http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2009/05/energy-moor... and http://www1.eere.energy.gov/tribalenergy/guide/costs_solar_photovoltaics...

3. Over a period of say 35 years, that would be price reduction to 1/10 what it is now for solar power

If only we had 35 years........!

RayTomes wrote:
4. I cannot find a figure for the present ratio of oil costs to solar power for equivalent amount of energy. Does anyone know the correct ratio?

You focus way too much on the cost.  It's the energy stupid - to misquote Clinton, not calling you stupid ;-)

<SNIP>

RayTomes wrote:
My conclusion is that while there will be big changes in the next few decades resulting from peak oil, there is a very real progress being made in both solar and wind power generation. Substitutions such as solar water heating are already efficient enough to be replacing fossil fuel burning power stations. It does not appear that peak oil will be the end of the world, but it will result in significant changes in the landscape.

Living in the sub tropics of Australia, I have come to one conclusion......  I'm sure glad I don't live anywhere that gets snowed in for more than a month!  The early settlers of your northern climes were very hardy people indeed, and those living there now are not.  They can only occupy those cold climates because of fossil fuels.....  their demise, I think, is only a matter of time.  Unless of course the planet does warm signifantly...

Mike

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it is a nice post

it is a nice post

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Energy: Can other forms of energy replace oil?

EROEI Table

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I'm comfortably living

I'm comfortably living off-grid in Pennsylvania, where it snows about four months out of the year.  I have 1.5kW of solar and 1kW of wind.  My house is a passive solar design, supplemented with a solar thermal system, allowing the sun to provide the vast majority of my heating needs.  I also have wood stoves as well as propane (for convenience -- not dependent on it).  Everyone could live this way if they really wanted to.  It only takes forethought, not any great sacrifice or expense.

I think the future of automotive fuel is natural gas.  We have several quadrillion cubic feet of it (enough to last a few hundred years at least) under our feet here in PA.  There's a huge boom here right now as gas companies fight to lease land and drill wells.  That's why natural gas prices have languished even as oil and other commodities skyrocket.  It's basically at the cost of production now.  If even 20-30% of vehicles switch to natural gas, it will seriously dend the demand for, and therefore price of, crude oil.  Moreover, internal combustion engines converted to burn natural gas are the perfect intermediate step to those which convert natural gas to hydrogen for fuel cells.  Once you have this infrastructure in place, then you can start converting some vehicles to run purely on hydrogen, which can be produced from many various sources.  You can't just implement a hydrogen infrastructure overnight as some would like to.  This natural gas (fossil fuel) path to a hydrogen (non-fossil fuel) infrastructure is the natural, organic method of achieving a future non-fossil fuel energy infrastructure.  But even when that is established, natural gas will probably be the primary source of hydrogen for the foreseeable future, since it can be converted (reformed) with approximately 80% efficiency and it will be cheap to drill it for a long time to come.  Natural gas is primarily methane, which is four hydrogen atoms and one carbon atom, approximately double the H/C ratio of petroleum.

Another technology that needs to reach wider adoption is micro-cogeneration, which is the combination of on-site electricity generation with space and water heating, utilizing either combustion or fuel cells.  Different fuels can be used, but natural gas is the most suitable in most cases.  Combined electric and heat generation efficiency can exceed 90%!  This would work great in concert with renewable sources.  It would also be an efficient way to both heat your home and charge an electric car simultaneously.

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passantgardant wrote: I

passantgardant wrote:

I think the future of automotive fuel is natural gas.  We have several quadrillion cubic feet of it (enough to last a few hundred years at least) under our feet here in PA. 

Really........  a few hundred years?  And I suppose it's all coming out of shale?  And at what ERoEI?

passantgardant wrote:
There's a huge boom here right now as gas companies fight to lease land and drill wells.  That's why natural gas prices have languished even as oil and other commodities skyrocket.  It's basically at the cost of production now.  If even 20-30% of vehicles switch to natural gas, it will seriously dend the demand for, and therefore price of, crude oil.

And the price of NG will remain static when demand soars...?

passantgardant wrote:
Moreover, internal combustion engines converted to burn natural gas are the perfect intermediate step to those which convert natural gas to hydrogen for fuel cells.  Once you have this infrastructure in place, then you can start converting some vehicles to run purely on hydrogen, which can be produced from many various sources.

It's way more efficient to just burn the NG.  It takes more energy to split methane into H2 than you can ever recover from the H2.  AND, NG is much much easier to store than H2.  Besides, fuel cells are not even reliable yet.

passantgardant wrote:
You can't just implement a hydrogen infrastructure overnight as some would like to.  This natural gas (fossil fuel) path to a hydrogen (non-fossil fuel) infrastructure is the natural, organic method of achieving a future non-fossil fuel energy infrastructure. 

How do you work that out?  Methane is a FF, and turning it into H2 is NOT independence from FFs....

There will never be a Hydrogen economy......  for starters, where will the money come from???

Mike

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