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Gail Tverberg

Gail Tverberg

Gail Tverberg is a writer and speaker about energy issues. She is especially known for her work with financial issues associated with peak oil. Prior…

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Renewable Energy's Inconvenient Truth

The energy needs of the world’s economy seem to be easy to model. Energy consumption is measured in a variety of different ways including kilowatt-hours, barrels of oil equivalent, British thermal units, kilocalories and joules. Two types of energy are equivalent if they produce the same number of units of energy, right?

For example, xkcd’s modeler Randall Munroe explains the benefit of renewable energy in this video. He tells us that based on his model, solar, if scaled up to ridiculous levels, can provide enough renewable energy for ourselves and a half-dozen of our neighbors. Wind, if scaled up to absurd levels, can provide enough renewable energy for ourselves and a dozen of our neighbors.

There is a major catch to this analysis, however. The kinds of energy produced by wind and solar are not the kinds of energy that the economy needs. Wind and solar produce intermittent electricity available only at specific times and places. What the world economy needs is a variety of different energy types that match the energy requirements of the many devices in place in the world today. This energy needs to be transported to the right place and saved for the right time of day and the right time of year. There may even be a need to store this energy from year-to-year, because of possible droughts.

I think of the situation as being analogous to researchers deciding that it would be helpful or more efficient if humans could change their diets to 100 percent grass in the next 20 years. Grass is a form of energy product, but it is not the energy product that humans normally consume. It doesn’t seem to be toxic to humans in small quantities. It seems to grow quite well. Switching to the use of grass for food would seem to be beneficial from a CO2 perspective. The fact that humans have not evolved to eat grass is similar to the fact that the manufacturing and transport sectors of today’s economy have not developed around the use of intermittent electricity from wind and solar.

Substituting Grass for Food Might “Work,” but It Would Require Whole New Systems 

If we consider other species, we find that animals with four stomachs can, in fact, live quite well on a diet of grass. These animals often have teeth that grow continuously because the silica in grass tends to wear down their teeth. If we could just get around these little details, we might be able to make the change. We would probably need to grow extra stomachs and add continuously growing teeth. Other adjustments might also be needed, such as a smaller brain. This would especially be the case if a grass-only diet is inadequate to support today’s brain growth and activity.

The problem with nearly all energy analyses today is that they use narrow boundaries. They look at only a small piece of the problem–generally the cost (or “energy cost”) of the devices themselves–and assume that this is the only cost involved in a change. In fact, researchers need to recognize that whole new systems may be required, analogous to the extra stomachs and ever-growing teeth. The issue is sometimes described as the need to have “wide boundaries” in analyses.

If the xkcd analysis netted out the indirect energy costs of the system, including energy related to all of the newly required systems, the results of the analysis would likely change considerably. The combined ability of wind and solar to power both one’s own home and those of a dozen and a half neighbors would likely disappear. Way too much of the output of the renewable system would be used to make the equivalent of extra stomachs and ever-growing teeth for the system to work. The world economy might not work as in the past, either, if the equivalent of the brain needs to be smaller.

Is “Energy Used by a Dozen of Our Neighbors” a Proper Metric?

Before I continue with my analysis of what goes wrong in modeling intermittent renewable energy, let me say a few words about the way Munroe quantifies the outcome of his energy analysis. He talks about “energy consumed by a household and a dozen of its neighbors.” We often hear news items about how many households can be served by a new electricity provider or how many households have been taken offline by a storm. The metric used by Munroe is similar. But, does it tell us what we need to know in this case?

Our economy requires energy consumption by many types of users, including governments to make roads and schools, farmers to plant crops and manufacturers to make devices of all kinds. Leaving non-residential energy consumption out of the calculation doesn’t make much sense. (Actually, we are not quite certain what Munroe has included in his calculation. His wording suggests that he included only residential energy consumption.) In the US, my analysis indicates that residential users consume only about a third of total energy.1 The rest is consumed by businesses and governments.

If we want to adjust Munroe’s indications to include energy consumed by businesses and governments, we need to divide the indicated number of residential households provided with energy by about three. Thus, instead of the units being “Energy Consumed by Dozen of our Neighbors,” the units would be “Energy Consumed by Four of Our Neighbors, including Associated Energy Use by Governments and Businesses.” The apparently huge benefit provided by wind and solar becomes much smaller when we divide by three, even before any other adjustments are made.

What Might the Indirect Costs of Wind and Solar Be? 

There are a number of indirect costs:

1) Transmission costs are much higher than those of other types of electricity, but they are not charged back to wind and solar in most studies.

A 2014 study by the International Energy Agency indicates that transmission costs for wind are approximately three times the cost of transmission costs for coal or nuclear. The amount of excess costs tends to increase as intermittent renewables become a larger share of the total. Some of the reason for higher transmission costs for both wind and solar are the following:

(a) Disproportionately more lines need to be built for wind and solar because transmission lines need to be scaled to the maximum output, rather than the average output. Wind output is typically available 25 percent to 35 percent of the time; solar is typically available 10 percent to 25 percent of the time.

(b) There tend to be longer distances between where renewable energy is captured and where it is consumed, compared to traditional generation.

(c) Renewable electricity is not created in a fossil fuel power plant, with the same controls over the many aspects of grid electricity. The transmission system must therefore make corrections which would not be needed for other types of electricity.

2) With increased long distance electricity transmission, there is a need for increased maintenance of transmission lines. If this is not performed adequately, fires are likely, especially in dry, windy areas.

There is recent evidence that inadequate maintenance of transmission lines is a major fire hazard.

In California, inadequate electricity line maintenance has led to the bankruptcy of the Northern California utility PG&E. In recent weeks, PG&E has initiated two preventative cut-offs of power, one affecting as many as two million individuals.

The Texas Wildfire Mitigation Project reports, “Power lines have caused more than 4,000 wildfires in Texas in the past three and a half years.”

Venezuela has a long distance transmission line from its major hydroelectric plant to Caracas. One of the outages experienced in that country seems to be related to fires close to this transmission line.

There are things that can be done to prevent these fires, such as burying the lines underground. Even using insulated wire, instead of ordinary transmission wire, seems to help. But any solution has a cost involved. These costs need to be recognized in modeling the indirect cost of adding a huge amount of renewables.

3) A huge investment in charging stations will be needed, if anyone other than the very wealthy are to use electric vehicles.

Clearly, the wealthy can afford electric vehicles. They generally have garages with connections to electrical power. With this arrangement, they can easily charge a vehicle that is powered by electricity when it is convenient.

The catch is that the less wealthy often do not have similar opportunities for charging electric vehicles. They also cannot afford to spend hours waiting for their vehicles to charge. They will need inexpensive rapid-charging stations, located in many, many places, if electric vehicles are to be a suitable choice. The cost of rapid-charging will likely need to include a fee for road maintenance, since this is one of the costs that today is included in fuel prices.

4) Intermittency adds a very substantial layer of costs. 

A common belief is that intermittency can be handled by rather small changes, such as time-of-day pricing, smart grids and cutting off power to a few selected industrial customers if there isn’t enough electricity to go around. This belief is more or less true if the system is basically a fossil fuel and nuclear system, with a small percentage of renewables. The situation changes as more intermittent renewables are added.

Once more than a small percentage of solar is added to the electric grid, batteries are needed to smooth out the rapid transition that occurs at the end of the day when workers are returning home and would like to eat their dinners, even though the sun has set. There are also problems with electricity from wind cutting off during storms; batteries can help smooth out these transitions.

There are also longer-term problems. Major storms can disrupt electricity for several days, at any time of the year. For this reason, if a system is to run on renewables alone, it would be desirable to have battery backup for at least three days. In the short video below, Bill Gates expresses dismay at the idea of trying to provide a three-day battery backup for the quantity of electricity used by the city of Tokyo.

We do not at this point have nearly enough batteries to provide a three-day battery backup for the world’s electricity supply. If the world economy is to run on renewables, electricity consumption would need to rise from today’s level, making it even more difficult to store a three-day supply.

A much more difficult problem than three-day storage of electricity is the need for seasonal storage, if renewable energy is to be used to any significant extent. Figure 1 shows the seasonal pattern of energy consumption in the United States.

Energy Consumption

(Click to enlarge)

Figure 1. US energy consumption by month of year, based on data of the US Energy Information Administration. “All Other” is total energy, less electricity and transportation energy. It includes natural gas used for home heating. It also includes oil products used for farming, as well as fossil fuels of all kinds used for industrial purposes. Related: Oil Rebounds On Rare Market Optimism

In contrast with this pattern, the production of solar energy tends to peak in June; it falls to a low level in December to February. Hydroelectric power tends to peak in spring, but its quantity is often quite variable from year to year. Wind power is quite variable, both from year to year and month to month.

Our economy cannot handle many starts and stops of electricity supply. For example, temperatures need to stay high for melting metals. Elevators should not stop between floors when the electricity stops. Refrigeration needs to continue when fresh meat is being kept cold.

There are two approaches that can be used to work around seasonal energy problems:

Greatly overbuild the renewables-based energy system, to provide enough electricity when total energy is most needed, which tends to be in winter.

Add a huge amount of storage, such as battery storage, to store electricity for months or even years, to mitigate the intermittency.

Either of these approaches is extremely high cost. These costs are like adding extra stomachs to the human system. They have not been included in any model to date, as far as I know. The cost of one of these approaches needs to be included in any model analyzing the costs and benefits of renewables, if there is any intention of using renewables as more than a tiny share of total energy consumption.

EROEI

(Click to enlarge)

Figure 2 illustrates the high energy cost that can occur by adding substantial battery backup an electrical system. In this example, the “net energy” that the system provides is essentially eliminated by the battery backup. In this analysis, Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) compares energy output to energy input. It is one of many metrics used to estimate whether a device is providing adequate energy output to justify the front-end energy inputs.

Figure 2. Graham Palmer’s chart of Dynamic Energy Returned on Energy Invested from “Energy in Australia.”

The example in Figure 2 is based on the electricity usage pattern in Melbourne, Australia, which has a relatively mild climate. The example uses a combination of solar panels, batteries and diesel backup generation. Solar panels and backup batteries provide electricity for the 95 percent of annual electricity usage that is easiest to cover with these devices; diesel generation is used for the remaining 5 percent.

The Figure 2 example could be adjusted to be “renewable only” by adding significantly more batteries, a large number of solar panels, or some combination of these. These additional batteries and solar panels would be very lightly used, bringing the EROEI of the system down to an even lower level.

To date, a major reason that the electricity system has been able to avoid the costs of overbuilding or of adding major battery backup is the small share they represents of electricity production. In 2018, wind amounted to 5 percent of world electricity; solar amounted to 2 percent. As percentages of world energy supply, they represented 2 percent and 1 percent respectively.

A second reason that the electricity system has been able to avoid addressing the intermittency issue is because backup electricity providers (coal, natural gas, and nuclear) have been forced to provide backup services without adequate compensation for the value of services that they are providing. The way that this happens is by giving wind and solar the subsidy of “going first.” This practice creates a problem because backup providers have substantial fixed costs, and they often are not being adequately compensated for these fixed costs.

If there is any plan to cease using fossil fuels, all of these backup electricity providers, including nuclear, will disappear. (Nuclear also depends on fossil fuels.) Renewables will need to stand on their own. This is when the intermittency problem will become overwhelming. Fossil fuels can be stored relatively inexpensively; electricity storage costs are huge. They include both the cost of the storage system and the loss of energy that takes place when storage is used.

In fact, the underfunding issue associated with allowing intermittent renewables to go first is already becoming an overwhelming problem in a few places. Ohio has recently chosen to provide subsidies to coal and nuclear providers as a way of working around this issue. Ohio is also reducing funding for renewables.

 5) The cost of recycling wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries needs to be reflected in cost estimates. 

A common assumption in energy analyses seems to be that somehow, at the end of the design lifetime of wind turbines, solar panels and batteries, all of these devices will somehow disappear at no cost. If recycling is done, the assumption is made that the cost of recycling will be less than the value of the materials made available from the recycling.

We are discovering now that recycling isn’t free. Very often, the energy cost of recycling materials is greater than the energy used in mining them fresh. This problem needs to be considered in analyzing the real cost of renewables.

 6) Renewables don’t directly substitute for many of the devices/processes we have today. This could lead to a major step-down in how the economy operates and a much longer transition. 

There is a long list of things that renewables don’t substitute for. Today, we cannot make wind turbines, solar panels, or today’s hydroelectric dams without fossil fuels. This, by itself, makes it clear that the fossil fuel system will need to be maintained for at least the next twenty years. Related: Russia Predicts The Death Of U.S. Shale

There are many other things that we cannot make with renewables alone. Steel, fertilizer, cement and plastics are some examples that Bill Gates mentions in his video above. Asphalt and many of today’s drugs are other examples of goods that cannot be made with renewables alone. We would need to change how we live without these goods. We could not pave roads (except with stone) or build many of today’s buildings with renewables alone.

It seems likely that manufacturers would try to substitute wood for fossil fuels, but the quantity of wood available would be far too low for this purpose. The world would encounter deforestation issues within a few years.

7) It is likely that the transition to renewables will take 50 or more years. During this time, wind and solar will act more like add-ons to the fossil fuel system than they will act like substitutes for it. This also increases costs.

In order for the fossil fuel industries to continue, a large share of their costs will need to continue. The people working in fossil fuel industries need to be paid year around, not just when electrical utilities need backup electrical power. Fossil fuels will need pipelines, refineries and trained people. Companies using fossil fuels will need to pay their debts related to existing facilities. If natural gas is used as backup for renewables, it will need reservoirs to hold natural gas for winter, besides pipelines. Even if natural gas usage is reduced by say, 90 percent, its costs are likely to fall by a much smaller percentage, say 30 percent, because a large share of costs are fixed.

One reason that a very long transition will be needed is because there is not even a path to transition away from fossil fuels in many cases. If a change is to be made, inventions to facilitate these changes are a prerequisite. Then these inventions need to be tested in actual situations. Next, new factories are needed to make the new devices. It is likely that some way will be needed to pay existing owners for the loss of value of their existing fossil fuel powered devices; if not, there are likely to be huge debt defaults. It is only after all of these steps have taken place that the transition can actually take place.

These indirect costs lead to a huge question mark regarding whether it even makes sense to encourage the widespread use of wind and solar. Renewables can reduce CO2 emissions if they really substitute for fossil fuels in making electricity. If they are mostly high cost add-ons to the system, there is a real question: Does it even make sense to mandate a transition to wind and solar?

Do Wind and Solar Really Offer a Longer-Term Future than Fossil Fuels?

At the end of the xkcd video, Munroe makes the observation that wind and solar are available indefinitely, but fossil fuel supplies are quite limited.

I agree with Munroe that fossil fuel supplies are quite limited. This occurs because energy prices do not rise high enough for us to extract very much of them. The prices of finished products made with fossil fuels need to be low enough for customers to be able to afford them. If this is not the case, purchases of discretionary goods (for example cars and smart phones) will fall. Since cars and smart phones are made with commodities, including fossil fuels, the lower “demand” for these finished goods will lead to falling prices of commodities, including oil. In fact, we seem to have experienced falling oil prices most of the time since 2008.

Oil Price

(Click to enlarge)

Figure 3. Inflation adjusted weekly average Brent Oil price, based on EIA oil spot prices and US CPI-urban inflation.

It is hard to see why renewables would last any longer than fossil fuels. If their unsubsidized cost is any higher than fossil fuels, this would be one strike against them. They are also very dependent on fossil fuels for making spare parts and for repairing transmission lines.

It is interesting that climate change modelers seem to be convinced that very high amounts of fossil fuels can be extracted in the future. The question of how much fossil fuels can really be extracted is another modeling issue that needs to be examined closely. The amount of future extraction seems to be highly dependent on how well the current economic system holds together, including the extent of globalization. Without globalization, fossil fuel extraction seems likely to decline quickly.

Do We Have Too Much Faith in Models? 

While solar and wind are now cheaper than coal in most of the world, the idea of using renewables certainly sounds appealing, but the name is deceiving. Most renewables, except for wood and dung, aren’t very renewable. In fact, they depend on fossil fuels.

The whole issue of whether wind and solar are worthwhile needs to be carefully analyzed. The usual hallmark of an energy product that is of substantial benefit to the economy is that its productionWhile the renewable energy push is well under way, there are some major flaws still ahead for the burgeoning industry tends to be very profitable. With these high profits, governments can tax the owners heavily. Thus, the profits can be used to aid the rest of the economy. This is one of the physical manifestations of the “net energy” that the energy product provides.

If wind and solar were really providing substantial net energy, they would not need subsidies, not even the subsidy of going first. They would be casting off profits to benefit the rest of the economy. Perhaps renewables aren’t as beneficial as many people think they are. Perhaps researchers have put too much faith in distorted models.

By Gail Tverberg via OurFiniteWorld.com

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Leave a comment
  • Mamdouh Salameh on October 26 2019 said:
    Renewable Energy’s inconvenient truth is that it will never replace oil, and natural gas now or ever. This truth is underpinned by four pivotal principles.

    The first principle is that there will be no post-oil era throughout the 21st century and probably far beyond. Oil will continue to reign supreme all through particularly in transport and petrochemicals.

    The second principle is that there will be no peak oil demand either. While an increasing number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads coupled with government environmental legislation could slowly decelerate the demand for oil, EVs could never replace oil in global transport throughout the 21st century and far beyond.

    The third principle is that with global oil consumption exceeding 100 million barrels a day (mbd) and growing, the notion of imminent energy transition looks like an illusion. In fact hydrocarbons accounted for 84.7% of global primary energy consumption in 2018. That remains so despite being challenged by serious environmental policies and despite a global expenditure of $ 3.0 trillion on renewable energy during the last decade. This is a hefty price to pay just to gain only a percentage point of market share from coal.

    The fourth principle is business opportunities. Global investment in renewables pales in size when compared with that in oil and gas exploration and production, refining and petrochemicals. Oil and gas will remain the core business of Big Oil well into the future or at least until returns on clean energy start making commercial sense.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
  • Mike Berger on October 26 2019 said:
    If you cannot get capacity factors correct, everything is suspect.
  • Jeff Green on October 26 2019 said:
    An article I read out of Vox, "Is 100% Renewable Energy Possible"

    The way out is massive amounts of storge that doesn't exist in society right now. One easy area to tap into is the batteries in cars. If BEVs can also provide electricity based in storage, you can add backup to the grid of several hours. On the low side, several weeks are needed.
  • JohnVeech on October 26 2019 said:
    Extremely well stated - and spot on - but the points are sadly not understood by many.
  • No No on October 27 2019 said:
    You're right

    Nuclear power is needed. Molten salt reactors are safe, cant melt down, very efficient, can be modular, work 24/7 all year around, are clean, 1000x better than archaic fossil fuels and are orders of magnitude more energy dense per unit than fossil fuels.

    Can also use dedicated thermal solar on the equator, geothermal in volcanic areas, or nuclear to produce tons of hydrogen that can be turned into ammonia to transport around the planet for hydrogen based power. Unlike fossil fuels hydrogen is limitless and all you really need is energy and water.

    The only reason we still use fossil fuels is greed, not economics or convenience like they say. Better cheaper options exist. The fossil fuel industry is a cancer on humanity.
  • John Smith on October 27 2019 said:
    What your analysis leaves out, is the cost of not transitioning to sustainable energy. If we have storms, coastal flooding, and environmental conditions that does not allow life on the planet, it would look cheap.
  • gary stoutenburg on October 27 2019 said:
    No matter how much you try to paint green energy as an issue, the path forward is clearly obvious. More and more households are buying EV vehicles, installing solar panels on an individual basis. Governments are walking away from Oil & gas wherever they can, whole nations are legislating and end to fossil duel powered cars. Power transmission is not an issue when people have solar on their property. Even if it can't supply 100% of their needs, many report that 75 - 80% of their needs being met which in any case is a big reduction in commercial power. While it may take time , the future of oil & gas providing the world with energy is dwindling. It's as obvious as the nose of your face and by denying this you do a disservice to yourself and your investors.
  • Daniel Williams on October 27 2019 said:
    Offshore wind is now 3.9p/kWh, and new installations have higher capacity factors than gas turbines (60%+).

    There has always been demand peaks and troughs (each day) that are not met by nuclear or coal. In fact, there is no need for even new gas turbines, because daily demand fluctuations are not that different to the average intermittency provided by wind resources or solar PV.

    What needs to happen and indeed is happening is that the transmission costs associated with wind and solar will disappear when the electricity and gas markets become interconnected via hydrogen electrolysis.

    Gas turbines are being retrofitted to accept 20% hydrogen by 2020, and 100% by 2030 in the EU.

    Renewables do add costs for transmission upgrades. However, they are now the cheapest form of energy available. Lazard's annual unsubsidised levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) reports make the case very clear.

    Fossil fuels still require vast subsidies, loans and other support, even after 100 years of cumulative investment. The myth of cheap fossil energy needs to end - locating it, extraction, transporting it to a refinery and finally trucking it to a gas station is not cheap. Or shipping it from Saudi Arabia or whatever.
  • Gumby Koontz on October 27 2019 said:
    Gail, sure, the traditional fossil fuels are still dominant to this day , but you ought to know better than to think that it can be "written into bibles" for others to read and follow. Nothing stays the same.. Small changes happens everyday so it is going to take quite a long time for "unreliable" clean energy to take over.. We have a big job ahead, of course.
    As for now, we probably do not realize that the traditional fossil fuel producers including oil, gas, and coal are starting to suffer "fender benders" they are getting beat up as they keep going .. strong for now.. There are quite visible dents.
    Coal is dead in developed nations but still roaring alive in China and India, for example. Who would have dreamt that the iconic Powder Basin around Gillette, Wyoming are dying already.. They are the lowest cost coal mines in the world. Nobody wants coal. Of course, they are trying to export coal through the coastal ports of Pacific Ocean out to China and elsewhere to stay viable.. but are prevented from doing so due to environmental issues related to storage of coal at the shipping ports so close to major metropolitian areas.. Coal dust are unsettling.
    if I take you to oil producers, you probably recalled that they used to "brag" that shale rock are there to frack only if oil prices are right "way higher". Then came solar and wind with help of government subsidies , the oil producers started spilling oil in the Gulf of Mexico so that they no longer need to stay offshore for more oil as they head toward shale rock literally overnight. They figured out ways to lower costs of fracking to stay alive.. We used to think that oil prices could not come down again , anymore. We have $50 oil flooding up to our eye levels whether we want it or not. They would love to raise oil prices through "oil shocks" that keep repeating so many times since the granddaddy of oil shocks in 1973 when OPEC quadrupled oil prices.
    Gail, you probably still look around and muse that solar and wind still cannot hack it as many industries like aluminium smelters require "pipes" of electricity or natural gas to produce goods we depend on for our daily lives.. I am familiar with almost all industries . I can agree with you on energy diversity. We will still produce oil and gas to make fertilizers, plastics, asphalt, lubricants, etc..
    What we are trying to do is .. to muzzle the snarling dogs of oil ! They belong to their doghouses and they can howl for all we care.. We are continuing with our clean energy advances.. taking market share away from oil and gas as well as coal.
    I am sure that you are familiar with the technological breakthroughs of solar and wind.. Twenty years ago, I would never thought that we can build 12 megawatt wind turbines.. We used to think that 100 KW wind turbines was too cumbersome to handle..
    On the last note,, you have to wake up and appreciate that we still have vast amounts of solar and wind left to tap all around the world. We are still working on superconductivity , so if we will make breakthroughs on that. I need not tell you what it can mean for us.. We can send electrons half way around the world to a customer during night time or where wind is not currently present..
    We are getting there even if it will take many more decades to achieve that.
    Enjoy your oil and gas investments while you can with the rich dividends.. if you have any.. while it lasts.
  • John Savard on October 27 2019 said:
    This article makes a very valid point. For many reasons, wind and solar power can't subsitute for more than a tiny fraction of our fossil fuel use. But we do have other energy resources that could substitute for a much larger portion of our fossil fuel use: we don't need to generate any electricity using fossil fuels when we have the technology to build breeder reactors. And even grass could play a role: while making ethanol for motor vehicles beyond a certain amount comes into direct conflict with food production, Robert Zubrin points out that methanol (which does require a different kind of car engine) has no such constraint.
  • Randall DeWitt on October 27 2019 said:
    Wind and solar systems have the ability to utilize lift technologies to store energy that can be utilized later to turn a generator when the winds are not blowing. Such systems can also utilize hydraulics in combanation to run hydraulic powered pumps or motors with such stored lifted energy. Such lift weights can be massive enough to take days or weeks to release all their stored energy.
    Our greatest green energy potential globally, is to develop methods to harvest large aquatic thermal vents and stable volcanoes, which can produce large volumes of electricity, fresh water, and valuable minerals, all while venting off a compensating volume of thermal contamination from the waters. A process that I feel is necessary to stop the rapid decline of the planetary ice.
  • Lee James on October 27 2019 said:
    I've found Ms. Tverberg to be a thought-provoking writer. But I guess I'm not quite ready to throw in the towel because we face collapse and because none of our energy solutions work.

    Clearly, renewable energy works best when you can blend it with hydropower. You can even make steel with electric arc furnaces. KW are readily produced by wind turbines and solar panels; now for improved load management, transmission line interconnection and electric storage.

    For a great variety of reasons we need to wean ourselves of fossil fuel as soon as possible. I don't think we should wait for economic collapse or false techno solutions to do it. Some smaller countries are already succeeding, such Costa Rica and Scotland. We Americans simply need to get our priorities straight -- we have no real national energy plan other than more of the same.
  • Erik P on October 28 2019 said:
    An expected political diatribe. Of course renewable energy is less energy dense and requires storage, compared to non renewables. All energy systems also require different grid set up to be efficient in delivering energy from source to user.

    However, much of current renewable energy focus is on energy storage. Pumped hydropower is one instance of long lasting method of energy storage. In addition, countries now export (and import) energy, which buffers demand/supply differentials. Of course in developed countries swapping to renewable is costly because of existing systems and prior failure to engage with renewables due to non-renewable lobbying.

    The bottom line is that non renewables are political and make a country vulnerable (eg oil and nuclear imports) as well as posing security threats and human rights problems. Renewables are not untouched by these issues, but they are so to a much lesser extent. Fundamentally, regardless of cost, sustainable energy is the only future we have, because it is sustainable.
  • ben Dussan on October 28 2019 said:
    It appears that the author sees the use of solar/wind/hydro as a means to stop/substantially reduce CO2 emissions from burning of fossil fuels. However, in my opinion although CO2 is not a pollutant, burning, and industrial uses, of fossil fuels do emit toxic pollutants which must at least be minimized for the sake of all living matter on earth. To me, it appears that the judicious generation of electricity by solar/wind hydro backed up by natural gas and oil (sorry, no coal) fired power plants will enable us humans to minimize the burning of fossil fuels, and satisfy our needs for electricity.
    It is noted that the need for power grids is a one time cost to be added for the generation of solar/wind/hydro power.
    I do agree that battery backup can be quite expensive and somewhat impractical, also on account of the fact that batteries most probably would have to be replaced every 5-10 years.
  • Fredrico Maxim on October 28 2019 said:
    1+2) If you have solar+battery on your home there are no transmission costs. As solar+battery gets cheaper, homes will disconnect from the power grid. This both frees up space on the existing transmission lines and reduces the need for centralized energy. I checked where I live and a few years ago solar on my roof would have been cheaper than buying it from the utility. I havent redone the calculation, but its likely very soon solar+battery will be cheaper than the utility as I wont be paying any transmission costs.

    3) The UK already has more charging stations than gas stations according to Nissan. This is already exists and we will see this happen in other countries as time goes on. Im not sure the argument here though, this is a private sector decision. I have seen charging stations at offices and retail in addition to gas stations. Electric charging will likely be more widely available than gas stations due to the related infrastructure already being available everywhere. Generally, it is much cheaper to run off of electricity than gas so that is also better for those of lower income. By the time electric vehicles are available at a lower income price point, charging and battery technology will be much better so the hours to charge wont exist.

    4) This is already priced in via in the solar+battery equation. If islands go completely renewable because it cheaper, the argument is null. Yes intermittent energy adds a cost, but you wouldnt move over until that cost is lower. Batteries are also much better for the grid than frequency matching (I think thats the term) as has been demonstrated in Australia. It is not appropriate to use a battery cost chart from 2013. It is not appropriate to use a iphone 5 (2013) to demonstrate smartphone technology when today we have the iphone 11 (2019). Things have changed dramatically and battery technology will continue to get much better.

    5) This isn't done with fossil fuels so why the exception? Nuclear plant teardown is on the taxpayer but we don't put that into account. What about remediating old oil wells? That's on the taxpayer too. The large health cost from fossil fuels is not counted so to be fair all costs on both sides should be counted. Regarding solar panels, the first solar cell still generates electricity from over 50 years ago. The solar panels could sit on a roof for 50 years, the output would be reduced but many would still be working.

    6+7) Fossil fuels will always be around but what they are used for will change. Today, 63% of oil is used for transportation. As far as new purchases of planes, ships and cars that number will drop dramatically to essentially 0 within the next 40 years. For cars, likely within 15 years. That 37% of oil use today will increase in importance for the fossil fuel industry. Coal will disappear for energy generation, today in the developing world, financing is harder to get for coal plants because financiers calculate the $ and it's risky with solar+wind getting so cheap. As far as natural gas in concerned, I think it will always have a place for heating and cooking. For electricity generation it will likely still be there in 50 years but in a marginal role.
  • michael smith on October 29 2019 said:
    I love the smell of oil in the morning!!!!
  • Fred Klammt on October 29 2019 said:
    Bought to you by the fossil fuel lobby? Such a load of misdirection and cherry picking 'facts' whatever those are construed to be these days. Ever hear of microgrids, Queen's 2.5gw Lithium battery storage, european's electricity rebels, on and on...
    I can't wait to see the large transmission towers start coming down and for gasoline to approach $10/g as all sides try out their new toys and create chaos.
    Yes, of course renewables can't handle a 12+ hour airplane flight, or a steel mill, or even a MIG welder... but stay tuned.. as Ozzie Zelner's green illusions turn into delusions and Elon Musk reaps his just deserves.
    If anyone ever designed an infrastructure system like we have now to get from Point A to Point B - their teacher would flunk them.
  • Kay Böhm on November 13 2019 said:
    Only 200 years until CO2 doubled +2°C with +1.9ppm/a and 550 000Mt nature cycling most of sea 70% O2 from CO2 -50Mt in BRD.
    Near all increasing coal, oil & gas.

    Best for dubai future is aircon delivering energy and water condensed out of air with (centrifugal) compressor there hot & dense cooled with CO2 for new turbine at end back with 2. centrifugal compressor cooling all of turbine surfaces under thermal isolation only electricity no heat out

    for all steam power plants.

    Air expanded cold cooling look scuna diver compressor if filling bottles much water and air compressor or bottle first hot but after cooled down all air quick out is cooling but comoressor energy lost not if cooled with CO2 for turbine and air expansion used agsin for compressor like car turbo.

    Energy for turbine compressor is going into CO2 as heat and pressure used again at turbine inlet together with heat input parallizing 3 room dimension particle heat movement for driving turbine blades or disc stack in recommended tesla type used for earth gas going hot also sucking hot air in dubai etc. condensing much water to be cooled with turbine CO2.

    Maybe add titanium production also needing cheap energy and invest in biggest reserves paraguay but more important for cheap production using H2 most produced in Abu Dhabi instead Cl2 for reduction of TiO2 with heat (600°C) and catalysator (CaH) to TiHx heated further over 1000°C decomposition to Ti + H2 dircetly legated etc. instead old expensive "kroll" suggested first by myself also to bugatti for titanium engine Chiron halfed to 8 cylinder for VW.
  • Kay Böhm on November 13 2019 said:
    Tesla earnings with e-cars, hyperloop and SpaceX only on cost of world taxpayers.

    Build maglevs for old wheel rails attracting regulated to 1cm upwards to rail head in gap to rail foot (about 2•5•10 cm 50kg e-magnets both sides both rails together 400t/100m) and sidewards to rail legs also with linear engine attracking to left/right direction changing fields of remagnatisized rail heads not taking out and both rails to bend at switches added downward attraction innner curve sides or full down hard brake normal swifel brake or energy recovering linear engine brake and pendolino technology later glass vacuum tunnel added with last s doors and flexible near touching rib rings against air infliow and noise wandering driving faster noise and for huge monster cities, with vertical artificial light agrar culture towers, self driving electro cabin and container maglev system without rail switch movement and time (sliders between U-profile rails open to inner side attrackting upwards and disattrackting downwards and sidewards at switch only to one side against disattrackting magnets only there going out at other side holded up with disattrackting e-magnets at switch) and computer optimized gaps driving non stop until at side railways in (agrar) towers etc.

    Make CNG also with water power electricity for H2O electrolyse H2 exotherm reaction with air CO2 to CH4. CO2 heavier N2 and O2 can be easy extracted with gas centrifuge also fertilzer in glass green house.
  • Kay Böhm on November 13 2019 said:
    Cold fusion without hot plasma shooting heavy nucleoses like lead steam into D2O out of ring accelerator like small LHC opening magnetic beam to steam also accelerating ships.

    Iran can shoot over persian gulf with chinese weishi rocket throwers also to taweelah water desalination.

    Recomended object defense systems (not blocked ?) like rheinmetall mantis with new to make laser search shield for low flying stealth drones.

    Also for new Mjôlnir tank added Rheinmetal ADS, 155mm Haubitze 2000 with vulcano munition first 20km high 1m exact laser guided also from drones and small zeppelins searching infrared, optical day & night, accustic and radar, new 700kg MBDA meteor with CBN shell, CNG, O2 and cone inlet air rockets, 12 • 2m wheels with e-engine also driving under water at coasts radar invisible etc.

    Schools should teach the childrens how to build solar desalination at beach with new blacked like coca cola water between black walls for keepimg salt or dirt inside 1 glutter 1 angled placed glass.

    Only 200 years until CO2 doubled +2°C with +2ppm/a.

    Just let up a container ship stomache of cheap black carbon soot made insustrial for colours and tires in eye of typhoon darkening the upper counter rotating invisible system until heated up by sun likely breaking it's eye for weakening to normal thunder bolt storm rings long time special huge submarine etc.

    Efficiency can be increased using over 60% wasted heat with CO2 tesla turbine etc.,

    Build a space rocket airplane shell TiB2, 4 wings front high outside turnable with 700bar CNG/O2/air of cone swifeld in rocket cone bottom - engines for normal airports & mars or

    Build a ship that can drive under water of far planets, stand in air, dive in gas planets and fly in space near speed of light after 1 year with 1g using ring accelerator and linear slow down in tube of beam to steam mass (lead, gold or mercury etc.) shot into D2O causing ship acceleration and D-D fusion solving also energy problem on earth or linear out with fine magnetic focus a dangerous gun in space or arriving under water etc. Fusion with ITER etc. needs extreme high temperature and pressure for punshing small nucleouse of D against T over own heat movement instead punsh of linear moving of big nucleoses like from lead steam out of ring accelerator.

    Also neutrons in H2O reactor causing some fusion with small less energy nucleos most energy fission products 167MeV not coming out and fusion barrier is only 0.1MeV.

    Check fission to fusion ratio of uranium solution in D2Ö with test neutron generator or inside CANDU reactor.

    Build new nuclear reactor in Fukushima zero risk all cases also war with bunker blaster always not enough out for nuclear catastrophe because nuclear fuel only ThO2 later fission products baked as fine granulate in RBN cubic boron nitride called white diamond or coal only with isotopes B-11 and N-15 latest lucky lowest neutron absorption for only ThO2 refill 30 year pebble runtime inside new pebble bed HTR with tungsten reflector, all around about 1.6m walls out of rib steel, lower melting concrete insiide tungsten double steel inside lirhium-7 cooled to turbines.

    Double passive stop in 1s and overheat self ow down all unburnable and insoluble

    so quakes and tsunami no problem also without decay heat problem inner helium not radioactive if coming out but normally staying steel closed.

    Between pebbles tungsten tubes with holes as helium chimneys and placeholder for innee stop rods down in 1s with spring if electricity cut from melt, pressure or mercury swap switches all around turnable control rods.

    About 1 mio. 5-6cm 200g RBN pebbles for 1 GWth each 1kW after stopped under 100W cannot melt RBN hard up to 2800°C also without inner and outer coolant moving and radiating heat first in concrete melting buffer until less 2% etc.,

    Settle in deserts on earth with water rice fields and black snow forests inside glass green houses cooled but delivering energy much more efficient solar panels not needing a drop of water to add because all steamed water condensed out outside or inside with centrifugal compressor there hot and dense cooled with CO2 for compact heat transfer to turbines at end with 2. compressor for CO2 backflow to steam inlet cooling all surfaces thermal isolated, then air expanded cold and the electricity produced used also for H2O electrolyse H2 reacting exotherm with out of air gas centrifuge CO2 to CH4 for future 700 bar CNG tesla turbo loaded rocket nozzles turbine or normal engine cars with added tesla CO2 steam turbine engine for generator, battery, and e-wheel axis etc.

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