Common Sense Energy Foundations

It is difficult to make sense of the many claims and counter-claims about different forms of energy. Will we all be driving electric cars in 5 or 10 years? Can wind and solar replace the need for nuclear, coal, and gas power generation plants? To answer these questions, we need a basic foundation of energy facts.

For example, it is instructive to compare the energy densities of various transportation fuels. How do gasoline and diesel compare to more fashionable approaches to powering transportation vehicles?

Image Source: http://www.realclearenergy.org/charticles/2014/01/06/nothing_beats_gasoline_and_diesel_on_density_107446.html

The above image illustrates the superior energy content of diesel and gasoline, over competing forms of energy sources for transportation. Energy densities improve as you move further to the right on the chart. Notice the abysmal energy density of electric storage batteries, and compressed hydrogen gas.

This massive discrepancy in energy density will not be erased within the next 5 or 10 years. In other words, diesel and gasoline will continue to enjoy a significant advantage for probably 20 years or more.

Below is another comparison of energy densities for a wider range of energy sources:

Generation

Process

Fuel

Thermal Energy

(Calorific Content)

kWh/Kg

 

 

 

Thermal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brown Coal (Lignite)

2.8

Coking (Black) Coal

8.3

Oil

12.5

Natural Gas (North Sea) [1]

10.8

Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) is a mixture of Propane and Butane

13.8

Propane

13.9

Butane

13.7

Kerosene (Paraffin Oil)

13.0

Petrol (Gasoline)

13.0

Diesel

12.9

Bio diesel

10.9

Ethanol

8.3

Methanol

6.4

Dry Wood

4.4

Green Wood

2.5

Agricultural Crop Residues

2.5 – 5.0

Municipal Waste

2.0 – 2.5

Uranium 235

22,800,000

 

Hydrogen [2]

39.4

 

Candy Bar (Mars Bar)

5.55

Table Source: http://www.mpoweruk.com/energy_resources.htm#costs

As we have pointed out before, nuclear fuel energy density is orders of magnitude greater than anything else available. In other words, any national or international energy policy that fails to incorporate newer, cleaner, cheaper, safer, more efficient and reliable nuclear energy reactors, is an exercise in politically correct stupidity.

While we are developing cleaner, safer, cheaper, more reliable and efficient nuclear reactors, we will need to use fossil fuels as “bridge technologies.”

But shouldn’t we be worrying about all that carbon being emitted by carbonaceous fuels? Not really. Clearer heads in atmospheric science are quick to separate “climate science” from climate alarmism and carbon doomerism. In today’s climate science, it is the doom-skeptics who carry the clearer and brighter light. So, we are free to continue using carbon-based fuels, as long as we understand that we will need to move to nuclear power for most of our large scale electricity and industrial heat production.

We will not be able to place a nuclear reactor in every residential household or transportation vehicle, so we will still need a way to distribute energy beyond the limits of the power grid. We will still need liquid fossil fuels for transportation. And we will need reliable backup power sources in case of unforeseen grid failures — such as fuel cells, generators, large scale electrical storage batteries, etc. Finally, we will need to be able to supply power to geographically isolated areas, such as islands and extremely remote villages.

For islands and remote villages that are unable to support a small modular nuclear reactor for heat and power, off-grid power sources such as hydro, wind, solar, biomass etc. combined with electric storage batteries, will be important. Backup generators and fuel cells would be helpful as well.

In terms of electrical storage batteries, the flow battery is the most promising candidate for most fixed site storage. This is because of the inherent scalability of the flow cell approach.

Below are a few links providing more information on approaches to the flow cell:

http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2013/rechargeable-flow-battery-enables-cheaper-large-scale-energy-storage-0816.html

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/research-markets-global-ess-business-124600816.html

http://www.flowbatteryforum.com/

http://alfin2300.blogspot.com/search/label/flow%20cells

It is interesting to compare the “flow cell” concept with the “fuel cell” concept, featured in the Al Fin Energy articles linked to below:

http://alfin2300.blogspot.com/search/label/fuel%20cells

The chart below is an attempt to compare cost of electric power generation for various technologies. You should be aware that the considerable cost of backup and power grid upgrades for the intermittent unreliables — big wind/solar — is not included, so wind and solar power costs should be at least doubled. You should also be aware that not all forms of power generation are economically scalable to the degree required by advanced societies. Further, you should be aware that offshore wind costs are far greater than portrayed under the “wind” category, and that over-optimistic estimates for the capacity factors and power-plant lifetimes appear to have been used for wind and solar. C’est la vie.

Image Source: http://www.mpoweruk.com/energy_resources.htm#costs

Most people are just barely learning about the cluster-foque their governments are preparing for them:

Germany’s industry at risk

UK to pay rich crony wind investors billions to switch off

There are some hopeful signs that a few of the dangers and pitfalls of the intermittent unreliables are being faced by some political and media organisations:

The EU orders Britain to end subsidies for wind and solar
EU officials give Britain until the end of the decade to phase out wind and solar subsidies. This is good news for UK energy consumers, but bad news for well-connected green UK cronies.

CBS’ “60 Minutes” presented a feature on the dismal failure of Obama’s “clean stimulus”
Unfortunately, CBS failed to expose the massive political cronyism displayed by the Obama debacle, with $billions of funds transferred to Obama campaign funders and bundlers that will never be repaid.

On the whole, EU and US governments continue along a path that can only end in catastrophic failure unless common sense energy facts are allowed to triumph over green ideological doctrine before irreversible tragedy strikes.

More links:

John Droz on wind

http://tedrockwell.typepad.com/files/factsreport2010apr.pdf

http://carbon-sense.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/why-wind-wont-work.pdf

http://withouthotair.com/

http://wattsupwiththat.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/lindzen_testimony_11-17-2010.pdf

http://www.climate-skeptic.com/2007/09/table-of-conten.html

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4 Responses to Common Sense Energy Foundations

  1. John says:

    Nice to have you back, missed your insights. Still have not made that first mil to start an island but not giving up hope.
    I would disagree with just one part of the article where you say all the other forms of energy are viable, get your island, outpost or remote location and put in a reactor and everything else is viable,
    not smart enough to know if thorium is really viable but if so it would be a game changer for your dangerous children.
    Truly nice to see you writing again!!!!
    Thanks John

  2. alfin2101 says:

    Thanks, John.

    My preference for isolated locations would be some sort of scalable nuclear reactor, containing enough fuel to go at least 50 years between re-fueling. But for small settlements, the technology is not likely to be scalable or affordable for decades. Wind and solar can be used off-grid and in remote areas, as a workable “booby prize.” If micro-hydro is available most of the year, very little electrical storage or backup fossil generation will be necessary.

    My internal mind model for thinking about isolated locations is to imagine a human settlement at about 40 to 50 degrees latitude, roughly 200 years after the onset of an intense global ice age. Most human residents nearby will have either migrated equator-ward or died off long since. Unless you are located near a large coal mine or accessible natural gas deposit, fuel supplies and transportation routes will be covered by ice and snow most of the year. You can look forward to about another 100,000 years of similar conditions. How did you survive till now, and more importantly what do you do now?

    • John says:

      A couple of different answers depending on where we are technologically speaking.
      If we are still living these shitty short lives that we are now with no life extending abilities yet, then if the politicians were going south, we should dig in and figure out how to go Eskimo, it would be a much more pleasant life, at least you were working to survive rather than to support them.
      On the other hand if we got to the Kurzweil , Heinlein point in life where we more or less pick how long we want to be around, then unless the earth gets hit by one of those 10 super catastrophes, not much should be able to kill us off.
      I have thought for a long time that power, energy, and politics are entwined, and the is why a politician wants power (energy) it is just that they need us to make it use full for them, but if you can figure out the energy function then most all else becomes easy unless you have some chump directing what to do with the energy that has been created.
      I’m more worried that we might be on the verge of the next level but the wrong people will still be directing the show, and because energy and power can be for good or bad it could be the type where you get the Mark Session or what ever his name was who may have come across a viable way out of our dilemma with thorium but thinks that the one who should control it is the USgov. and wants a partnership with them. If it was built in the 60’s with new technology it should be repeatable 40 or 50 years later with out to much help from above, so either thorium is not that viable or the dude is so much of a statist that he wants to redevelop the technology that was quenched by the same group that killed it the first time.
      Sorry way off subject but I guess my point is that without knowing what is doable and what is not it is real hard to give you a good answer as to what you would want to do or how to go about it, I’m afraid (not really but a little) that we might hit the next level and miss it because the wrong people have control of it.
      Only reason I think an island is cool is because you could work for your selves, instead of donating to your own destruction, otherwise not wasting the resource building an island could be enjoyed moving ahead instead of running away.
      I’ll think about it some more and get back to you if anything good comes to mind. Not that it is that great of a mind ;>)
      John

  3. alfin2101 says:

    I like islands as well.

    The only reason for posing the mind-problem of surviving in the middle of an ice age is that it demands some creative solutions. I don’t expect anyone to give the answers, just think about the possibilities.

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