Monday, February 12, 2007

But what alternatives?

I love it when a plan comes together. Jon asks, what are the most viable alternatives?

That is not such an easy question to answer, but I'm anxious to give it a shot.

First, what are not viable alternative energy sources? Hydrogen!! I know you've all heard the hype. Hydrogen is the most plentiful element on earth. The only exhaust from its burning or conversion in a fuel cell is water. Both quite true, but very misleading.

This is because there is no readily available source of hydrogen in its pure form. Most hydrogen is either combined with carbon in hydrocarbons such as oil and gas, or is combined with oxygen as water. That means that a significant amount of conventional energy is required to generate hydrogen which is useful. If generated directly from hydrocarbons, the hydrocarbons are consumed, requiring a large source of conventional petroleum and leaving the carbon to enter the atmosphere, primarily as the potent greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. If the hydrogen is generated from water, electricity is generally used in a process called electrolysis. And, you guessed it, the process requires considerable energy, largely supplied by hydrocarbons today.

All of this means that hydrogen really should be thought of as energy storage similar to a rechargeable battery, rather than an energy source. With any technology generally on the horizon today, generation of hydrogen is both polluting and conventional energy intensive.

So, what are the alternatives closest to being viable? I'll exclude coal, nuclear and heavy oils, even though there is considerable potential for increasing production of these fuels with oil prices above $50/bbl. I consider them to be proven, conventional sources. Beyond that, the most viable way of reducing conventional energy use is conservation. We're talking compact flourescent bulbs, insulation and weather stripping, lighter vehicles, computer control of processes ranging from air conditioning to refineries. Conventional energy use could be significantly reduced with highly attractive investments in these technologies, assuming prices above $50/bbl. And more good news... these technologies can and should be invested in by individuals at the lowest income levels and will decrease the release of greenhouses gases in the process. You and I can make a difference.

Ok, so you wanted to know about the most promising alternative energy sources? Wind, solar heat and low grade geothermal. Let me take them one at a time.

Wind. There is enough energy blowing in the wind to satisfy all the world's demands several times over. We just have to capture it. Unfortunately, that is not necessarily so simple. Most of the wind energy is in remote locations and/or at high elevations. That means a robust electricity transportation system is required. Wind energy is also highly variable. That means either batteries or interconnection of widely varied regions to even out the supply. There is a lot of investment in battery technology today, but for the foreseeable future energy storage in batteries looks like a marginal investment unless grid power is not available. All that said, I think wind energy is currently the most viable alternative energy source.

Solar heat. Notice I'm not talking about generation of electricity by photovoltaic cells, the technology most touted today. In general, photovoltaic cells are not viable alternatives to grid electricity at anything approaching today's energy prices despite the fact that many times world demand is available for the capture cost. This is true because of the high cost and low efficiency of today's cells, as well as because of the variability issue discussed in the section on wind. Solar heat, however, is one of the best, but least recognized alternative energy sources, particularly where electricity is utilized for these purposes. A large part of our energy consumption is for heat and cooling, both of which can be supplied through solar heat. The variability issue can largely be overcome by energy storage in mass such as water, earth and concrete. And, in the case of air conditioning, the largest loads correspond to high solar energy supply periods, ie sunny days.

Low grade geothermal. Again, I'm not talking about the few locations where high grade geothermal is easily accessible to generate steam. These areas are too sparse and protected to generate significant energy supplies. But just a few feet in the ground is an energy supply at nearly constant temperatures which can be tapped for heating and cooling. This applies nearly everywhere there are major populations. A heat pump can extract either heat or cooling (or both at the same time) from this source at substantially higher efficiencies than from the more variable ambient air temperatures.

So there you have it. I realize I've been rather cryptic in my explanations, but perhaps I can go further into the details in the future. So, keep those questions and comments coming.


Jay 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." The American way of life is not negotiable.
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, retrofits etc. The source of energy must be by renewable energy such as Solar-Photovoltaic, Geothermal, Wind, Biofuels, Ocean-Tidal, Hydrogen-Fuel Cell etc. This includes the utilizing of 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. (Sales tax on renewable energy products and energy efficiency should be reduced or eliminated)

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. (This can be done by amending building code)

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 at market price), 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. As an inducement to buy hybrid automobiles (sales tax should be reduced or eliminated on American manufactured automobiles).

This is a way to expedite our energy independence and economic growth. (This will also create a substantial amount of new jobs). 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) (rainwater harvesting, water conservation) (energy and natural resources conservation) in order to achieve our energy independence.

"To succeed, you have to believe in something with such a passion that it becomes a reality."

Jay Draiman, Energy Consultant
Northridge, CA. 91325
Feb. 13, 2007

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.

The Oil Companies should be required to invest a substantial percentage of their profit in renewable energy R&D and implementation. Those who do not will be panelized by the public at large by boy cutting their products.

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 2

4 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. (Installation should be paid “performance based”).

Installation of renewable energy and its performance should be paid to the installer and manufacturer based on "performance based" (that means they are held accountable for the performance of the product - that includes the automobile industry). This will gain the trust and confidence of the end-user to proceed with such a project; it will also prove to the public that it is a viable avenue of energy conservation.

Installing a renewable energy system on your home or business increases the value of the property and provides a marketing advantage.

Nations of the world should unite and join together in a cohesive effort to develop and implement MANDATORY RENEWABLE ENERGY for the sake of humankind and future generations.
The head of the U.S. government's renewable energy lab said Monday (Feb. 5) that the federal government is doing "embarrassingly few things" to foster renewable energy, leaving leadership to the states at a time of opportunity to change the nation's energy future. "I see little happening at the federal level. Much more needs to happen." What's needed, he said, is a change of our national mind set. Instead of viewing the hurdles that still face renewable sources and setting national energy goals with those hurdles in mind, we should set ambitious national renewable energy goals and set about overcoming the hurdles to meet them. We have an opportunity, an opportunity we can take advantage of or an opportunity we can squander and let go,"
solar energy - the direct conversion of sunlight with solar cells, either into electricity or hydrogen, faces cost hurdles independent of their intrinsic efficiency. Ways must be found to lower production costs and design better conversion and storage systems.
Jay Draiman
Northridge, CA 91325

Jeremy Waters said...


I was going to start by saying that I don't doubt the validity of your argument, but I do. I'm just not knowledgeable enough to know for sure. But, to stray from the energy topic a bit, let's talk about the government mandates.

HOLY COW!!!!! Is there anything you don't want the government to do!! Seriously, the federal gov't, under the Constitution, has no business doing half the things they already are. Adding more to the federal gov't is a ridiculous idea. The market will take care of things and state/local gov't can do the rest.

First off-- building codes. The federal gov't has no business dictating any kind of building code. Did I miss the power's enumeration the last time I read the Constitution?? Regions differ so vastly that handling that sort of thing anywhere out of a local gov't is just stupid. I've spent years in the construction industry in various states and (for the most part) the codes in each place made a lot of sense. Oh, and they were TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. The local and state governments can and should handle this sort of thing, not the federal government.


The market will do surprising things. For example, think of how much the automobile industry is touting about gas mileage in their commercials. Why? Because people are concerned about it. The market naturally reacts to demand. The nature of the energy market is that it takes time to react as Max stated above. But obviously the demand is growing for more efficient use of energy, and the market is responding. From a market standpoint, federally regulated changes like your talking about Jay would create huge inefficiencies.

Personally I believe that the people in the U.S.A. should be responsible for their own actions and not have their green vegetables shoved down their throats by the federal gov't. The kinds of regulations you talk about are a large reason this country is in a sad state. The longer responsibility and the choice to be responsible are taken from the individual, the faster our societies collapse will come.

(Now stepping off the soapbox)

Jeremy Waters said...

Max, explain to me (the uneducated) how solar heat can be utilized for air conditioning. Please?