Monday, January 01, 2007

Energy independence - coming?

New technologies are causing alternate energy sources to leap forward - more capable and cheaper. Will they enable energy independence for the US, when combined with the fossil-fuel sources? How soon? James Lewis at American Thinker summarizes the news of progress and is is good news, very good. First, solar energy:
After years of hope and hype, there seems to be visible movement toward new energy sources that stand a decent chance in market competition with current oil, natural gas and coal. ... the Department of Energy has just announced a breakthrough in the efficiency of solar to electricity conversion. Boeing-Spectrolab achieved the 40 percent efficiency, more than twice a previous record, using a sunlight concentrator and a "multijunction converter". This is much like a normal solar voltage converter with several novel features, including the ability to convert the infrared and ultraviolet light spectrum, about half of the energy in sunlight, which has not been usable before. The Department of Energy claims that "This breakthrough may lead to systems with an installation cost of only $3 per watt, producing electricity at a cost of 8-10 cents per kilowatt/hour, making solar electricity a more cost-competitive and integral part of our nation's energy mix." ... Are these technologies marketable? A lot of good ideas never make it to the real world. At the target of 8-10 cents per kW/hr, solar would not need extraordinary subsidies, once it is mass-produced. MIT's Technology Review argues that modern solar cells are essentially plastic sheets, much easier to make on a large scale than brittle silicon junctions.
The bigger picture is covered by James Woolsey, former director of the CIA in the Wall Street Journal today (free link):
Bet on major progress toward independence, spurred by market forces and a portfolio of rapidly developing oil-replacing technologies. In recent years a number of alternatives to conventional oil have come to the fore--oil sands, oil shale, coal-to-diesel and coal-to-methanol technologies. But their acceptability to a new Congress, quite possibly the next president, and a public increasingly concerned about global warming will depend on their demonstrating affordable and effective methods of sequestering the carbon they produce or otherwise avoiding carbon emissions.
One key to progress is high oil prices. True. While oil is expensive we are motivated to seek alternatives; when it drops, the motivation is killed. The danger is that OPEC will manipulate the price to lower it below the economic point where investors will put their big bucks on the development of plug-in hybrid cars, etc. Woolsey doesn't give a number, but a friend with an oil-industry leader in his family thinks it is around $60 per barrel. Woolsey points out how we can avoid OPEC manipulation. Plug-in hybrids are (will be) recharged overnight. There is less demand for electricity at night, so it has lower value. And it costs less. Large power plants that provide the "base capacity" are very expensive to start and stop, so they are only changed at monthly or seasonal times. So the marginal cost of providing more energy from these base plants is very low, as well. This increases the economics of hybrid cars. So? As we use substantially less fossil fuels for cars OPEC loses leverage over us. As OPEC's market gets smaller the members will be driven by pure economic need to get revenue and they will not want to reduce revenue for gaming their customers. Biomass:
... Indeed two years ago the National Energy Policy Commission (NEPC), making reasonable assumptions about improved vehicle efficiency and biomass yields over the next 20 years, estimated that just 7% of U.S. farmland (the amount now in the Soil Bank) could produce enough biomass to provide half the fuel needed by U.S. passenger vehicles, and that production costs for cellulosic ethanol were headed downward toward around 70 cents per gallon. Further, conversion of only a portion of industrial, municipal and animal wastes--using thermal processes now coming into commercial operation--appears to be able to yield an additional several million barrels a day of diesel or, with some processes, methanol.
I firmly believe American ingenuity can make huge progress. But we have seen politics get in the way - ethanol won't stand on its own merits because the farm state Congressmen demand a gift for their farmers. And there will be more interference from Algore types. Woolsey covers the topic more thoroughly; read it.

1 comment:

YJay Draiman said...


In order to insure energy and economic independence as well as better economic growth without being blackmailed by foreign countries, our country, the United States of America’s Utilization of Energy sources must change.
"Energy drives our entire economy." We must protect it. "Let's face it, without energy the whole economy and economic society we have set up would come to a halt. So you want to have control over such an important resource that you need for your society and your economy."
Our continued dependence on fossil fuels could and will lead to catastrophic consequences.

The federal, state and local government should implement a mandatory renewable energy installation program for residential and commercial property on new construction and remodeling projects with the use of energy efficient material, mechanical systems, appliances, lighting, etc. The source of energy must by renewable energy such as Solar-Photovoltaic, Geothermal, Wind, Biofuels, etc. including utilizing water from lakes, rivers and oceans to circulate in cooling towers to produce air conditioning and the utilization of proper landscaping to reduce energy consumption.

The implementation of mandatory renewable energy could be done on a gradual scale over the next 10 years. At the end of the 10 year period all construction and energy use in the structures throughout the United States must be 100% powered by renewable energy.

In addition, the governments must impose laws, rules and regulations whereby the utility companies must comply with a fair “NET METERING” (the buying of excess generation from the consumer), including the promotion of research and production of “renewable energy technology” with various long term incentives and grants. The various foundations in existence should be used to contribute to this cause.

A mandatory time table should also be established for the automobile industry to gradually produce an automobile powered by renewable energy. The American automobile industry is surely capable of accomplishing this task.

This is a way to expedite our energy independence and economic growth. It will take maximum effort and a relentless pursuit of the private, commercial and industrial government sectors commitment to renewable energy – energy generation (wind, solar, hydro, biofuels, geothermal, energy storage (fuel cells, advance batteries), energy infrastructure (management, transmission) and energy efficiency (lighting, sensors, automation, conservation) in order to achieve our energy independence.

Jay Draiman
Northridge, CA. 91325

P.S. I have a very deep belief in America's capabilities. Within the next 10 years we can accomplish our energy independence, if we as a nation truly set our goals to accomplish this.
I happen to believe that we can do it. In another crisis--the one in 1942--President Franklin D. Roosevelt said this country would build 60,000 [50,000] military aircraft. By 1943, production in that program had reached 125,000 aircraft annually. They did it then. We can do it now.
The American people resilience and determination to retain the way of life is unconquerable and we as a nation will succeed in this endeavor of Energy Independence.

Solar energy is the source of all energy on the earth (excepting volcanic geothermal). Wind, wave and fossil fuels all get their energy from the sun. Fossil fuels are only a battery which will eventually run out. The sooner we can exploit all forms of Solar energy (cost effectively or not against dubiously cheap FFs)the better off we will all be. If the battery runs out first, the survivors will all be living like in the 18th century again.

Every new home built should come with a solar package. A 1.5 kW per bedroom is a good rule of thumb. The formula 1.5 X's 5 hrs per day X's 30 days will produce about 225 kWh per bedroom monthly. This peak production period will offset 17 to 24 cents per kWh with a potential of $160 per month or about $60,000 over the 30-year mortgage period for a three-bedroom home. It is economically feasible at the current energy price and the interest portion of the loan is deductible. Why not?

Title 24 has been mandated forcing developers to build energy efficient homes. Their bull-headedness put them in that position and now they see that Title 24 works with little added cost. Solar should also be mandated and if the developer designs a home that solar is impossible to do then they should pay an equivalent mitigation fee allowing others to put solar on in place of their negligence.