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Running the US Power Grid on 100% Renewables

Discussions of conventional and alternative energy production technologies.

Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby kublikhan » Tue 10 Apr 2012, 15:09:29

I am splitting this discussion off from the solar subsidies thread.

Is it possible that renewables can supply 100% of our energy needs? One study that looked at this question was here:
A Plan to Power 100 Percent of the Planet with Renewables

This study proposes a mix of wind and solar for 100% of our energy. It mentions we would need to make 200k wind turbines each and every year to get wind power to provide 50% of our energy by 2030. That's about 10x more wind turbines installed per year than we are doing currently. Is that even possible? The article thinks so. Looking at raw materials first:

Enough concrete and steel exist for the millions of wind turbines, and both those commodities are fully recyclable. The most problematic materials may be rare-earth metals such as neodymium used in turbine gearboxes. Although the metals are not in short supply, the low-cost sources are concentrated in China, so countries such as the U.S. could be trading dependence on Middle Eastern oil for dependence on Far Eastern metals. Manufacturers are moving toward gearless turbines, however, so that limitation may become moot.

Photovoltaic cells rely on amorphous or crystalline silicon, cadmium telluride, or copper indium selenide and sulfide. Limited supplies of tellurium and indium could reduce the prospects for some types of thin-film solar cells, though not for all; the other types might be able to take up the slack. Large-scale production could be restricted by the silver that cells require, but finding ways to reduce the silver content could tackle that hurdle. Recycling parts from old cells could ameliorate material difficulties as well.

Three components could pose challenges for building millions of electric vehicles: rare-earth metals for electric motors, lithium for lithium-ion batteries and platinum for fuel cells. More than half the world’s lithium reserves lie in Bolivia and Chile. That concentration, combined with rapidly growing demand, could raise prices significantly. More problematic is the claim by Meridian International Research that not enough economically recoverable lithium exists to build anywhere near the number of batteries needed in a global electric-vehicle economy. Recycling could change the equation, but the economics of recycling depend in part on whether batteries are made with easy recyclability in mind, an issue the industry is aware of. The long-term use of platinum also depends on recycling; current available reserves would sustain annual production of 20 million fuel-cell vehicles, along with existing industrial uses, for fewer than 100 years.


Gearless turbines solves the neodymium issue, but shortages of Indium, tellurium, Lithium, and platinum could pose a problem. We already have a Lithium thread here and I do not really want to go through that whole discussion again. As for Indium, tellurium and platinum, I don't see any easy solution to that problem other than reducing the amount needed and/or going with alternate forms of solar and fuel cells. I already read about work being done along these lines. Manufacturers of solar and fuel cells are putting out models that use a fraction of the rare materials that previous models used. Will this be enough of a reduction? Possibly. The study did not delve into this issue too deeply.

Aside from the raw material needs, can our infrastructure even produce that many turbines/solar panels a year? Currently, no, we would have to expand our current infrastructure. I don't see this as a problem however. We produce 93 million cars and trucks every year, so I don't see a problem producing 200k wind turbines a year. The power grid would have to be upgraded as well. It currently would not be able to handle the intermittent nature of wind/solar providing 100% of our electricity needs. We would need larger lines to transfer power from areas of the country where wind is not blowing to areas where it is blowing. We would need energy storage to store energy for when the sun is not shining. Batteries are too expensive for this, so compressed air storage is probably the most likely candidate for this.

It would not be wise to trash all of our current power plants. They represent sunk costs that have already been paid and we should continue to utilize them to the end of their life. With the exception of those 60 year old coal dinosaurs that belch many times more pollution that a modern plant would. As old plants are retired, we should replace them with renewable energy.

It has been argued by some that renewable energy is a misdirection of resources. With biofuels, I could see the argument. With solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, tidal, etc, I am having trouble seeing the argument. All power generation despoils the environment to some extent. So in the strictest sense, none of them are green. However these renewables are orders of magnitude greener than coal, tar sands, etc. I am not convinced renewables can/will be scaled up in time to counter the effects of fossil fuel depletion and allow BAU. And I have concerns about the supply of rare earths and costs of grid energy storage. But I do not see renewables themselves as a misdirection of resources.

It has also been argued that renewables provide only energy. They do not provide us with food, raw materials, etc. I think that goes without saying. No one has argued renewable energy is some kind of star trek style replicator that can provide for all of our wants and needs. Renewable energy can keep the lights on. But it does not solve the issue of our consumer disposable society that digs resources out of the ground, briefly uses them, and then buries them in landfills. This is unsustainable and needs to be corrected.

The final point I wanted to address was that renewables are not really renewable. The materials to build them were mined by fossil fueled mining equipment. They factories that build them were powered by coal power plants. The vehicles that transported them were powered by diesel. Again, I don't see this as an issue. Our current infrastructure in place uses fossil fuels everywhere. Of course everything we do is powered by fossil fuels. But our fossil fueled infrastructure did not spring up from nothing. It was created by an earlier infrastructure. Everything from biomass to old fashioned muscle power. Pointing out that renewable energy is being built by fossil fueled powered infrastructure is no more relevant than pointing out that the fossil fueled infrastructure was built by muscle, biomass, etc. Burning through the incredible energy bonanza of fossil fuels in a few centuries seems incredibly wasteful to me. However using this energy to power a transition to a more sustainable energy future seems like a very wise move.
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Re: Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby Pops » Tue 10 Apr 2012, 20:39:32

Great post Kub.
There was a post I think at TOD about transitioning sooner rather than later. The point was to expend the energy and capitol now while there is some slight excess rather than later when we a re already short both and getting worse.
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Re: Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby Graeme » Tue 10 Apr 2012, 20:44:12

K, Thanks for starting this thread. I'm sure there is a vast literature on this subject but I was particularly drawn to this review by IPCC. The issue of raw materials is addressed in Box 9.1, p727.

Historically, economic development has been strongly correlated with increasing energy use and growth of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Renewable energy (RE) can help decouple that correlation, contributing to sustainable development (SD). In addition, RE offers the opportunity to improve access to modern energy services for the poorest members of society, which is crucial for the achievement of any single of the eight Millennium Development Goals.

Theoretical concepts of SD can provide useful frameworks to assess the interactions between SD and RE. SD addresses concerns about relationships between human society and nature. Traditionally, SD has been framed in
the three-pillar model—Economy, Ecology, and Society—allowing a schematic categorization of development goals, with the three pillars being interdependent and mutually reinforcing. Within another conceptual framework, SD can be oriented along a continuum between the two paradigms of weak sustainability and strong sustainability. The two paradigms differ in assumptions about the substitutability of natural and human-made capital. RE can contribute to the development goals of the three-pillar model and can be assessed in terms of both weak and strong SD, since RE utilization is defi ned as sustaining natural capital as long as its resource use does not reduce the potential for future harvest.

The relationship between RE and SD can be viewed as a hierarchy of goals and constraints that involve both global and regional or local considerations. Though the exact contribution of RE to SD has to be evaluated in a country specifi c context, RE offers the opportunity to contribute to a number of important SD goals: (1) social and economic development; (2) energy access; (3) energy security; (4) climate change mitigation and the reduction of environmental and health impacts. The mitigation of dangerous anthropogenic climate change is seen as one strong driving force behind the increased use of RE worldwide. The chapter provides an overview of the scientifi c literature on the relationship between these four SD goals and RE and, at times, fossil and nuclear energy technologies. The assessments are based on different methodological tools, including bottom-up indicators derived from attributional lifecycle assessments (LCA) or energy statistics, dynamic integrated modelling approaches, and qualitative analyses.
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Re: Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby radon » Wed 11 Apr 2012, 05:08:07

Very interesting subject. I have been in and out reading this forum from early 2005 perhaps. Since I was out for protracted periods sometimes, I could have missed some extensive and detailed discussions on various subjects. And whenever you raise an issue on this forum these days, you always run into risk of being dismissed outright: "oh, we have discussed this zillion times already".

What I think I have never seen is a reference to comprehensive full-cycle analysis of the viability of renewables or other non-oil resources ("alternatives") as self-reproductive energy sources, and sustainable population levels that they can support. There have been guesses in the order of the 0.5-1 billion of sustainable population levels that the planet can support, but those related to a primitive subsistence society rather than to an advanced alternative-technology based one.

Lots of hysteria dismissing alternatives outright has a lot to do, apparently, with people psyching over their personal petty inconveniences. "Oh, gas is going to 4$, we will all die!". I am not sure, but I suspect that it may have a lot to do with the American (and overall western, to some extent) political culture. This culture is based on bargaining (or whining as a cynic would say) whereby you need to blow your trumpet presenting your case looking as bad as possible in order to ensure that you bargain out a piece of pie as big as possible. The absolutely great advantage of this arrangement is that it is peaceful and prevents violence; its disadvantage - is that it clouds the picture with emotions and hinders a rational discussion. Since the majority of the participants here are US residents, this, if true, may have tangible impact on the discussions here.

Simple examples of a self-reproductive non-oil-based cycles may look like this:
1) A wind farm produces electricity + hydrogen/methane. Hydrogen/methane are then used to power movable vehicles that are used to build further wind farms.
2) A hydro-dam generates electricity that is used to synthesize fuels (ethanol/hydrogen/methane etc.) to power vehicles used to build further hydro-dams.

What is important is the distinction between the energy that keeps the lights on (electricity) and fuels that power movable vehicles. These fuels tend to be liquids for the following reasons:
1) They occupy the entire storage space unlike solid fuels (coal etc.)
2) They are non-escapist unlike gaseous substances (hydrogen/methane).
Therefore they normally ensure the greatest energy density per unit volume of storage which is crucial for vehicles, especially manned ones.
But there is nothing to suggest that it is absolutely paramount that the liquid fuels have to be manufactured at a huge positive ERoEI. They can be manufactured at a negative ERoEI, as long as the entire energy system is ERoEI positive, and as long as ICE or other liquid-fuel (or indeed non-liquid-fuel) vehicles are more efficient than horses. When people claim that oil inevitably has to be the primary energy source they totally overlook this fact. The key advantage of oil and other liquid fuels is not that they have to be the primary energy sources, but rather that they are particularly suitable to serve as transportation fuels.

The viability of an alternative-energy based system would require a comprehensive life-cycle analysis of its ERoEI. There have been references to such an analysis for some very specific alternative solutions, think this was solar courtesy of cephalotus, but don't think we have come across a comprehensive system-wide analysis. The OP link article attempts to initiate such an analysis. It makes important steps of identifying the energy needs and resource constraints, but stops short of addressing the life-cycle ERoEI.

Obviously, the alternatives may fail to ensure that the party can go on in the way it has so far. But then, the question of whether the party can go on is absolutely different from the question whether the alternatives may comprise a self-sustainable energy cycle with a good chunk of surplus energy. Some will also affirm that the oil happens to be, even if by accidence, the most energy-dense form of fuel - this may well be true, but for the response to that argument see the previous sentence.

kublikhan wrote:The final point I wanted to address was that renewables are not really renewable. The materials to build them were mined by fossil fueled mining equipment. They factories that build them were powered by coal power plants. The vehicles that transported them were powered by diesel. Again, I don't see this as an issue. Our current infrastructure in place uses fossil fuels everywhere. Of course everything we do is powered by fossil fuels. But our fossil fueled infrastructure did not spring up from nothing. It was created by an earlier infrastructure. Everything from biomass to old fashioned muscle power. Pointing out that renewable energy is being built by fossil fueled powered infrastructure is no more relevant than pointing out that the fossil fueled infrastructure was built by muscle, biomass, etc.


It may be relevant, in the sense that the renewables infrastructure needs to be amortised and reproduced, to provide for wearing and tearing, fixes, expansion etc. If it cannot be done without fossil fuels that this basically should mean that renewable energy is not self-sustainable, and, for practical purposes, is not 100% viable. Whether it can is an open issue.
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Re: Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby sunweb » Wed 11 Apr 2012, 08:55:52

kublikhan - Supposition and wishful thinking submitted as sure to happen possibilities is rampant your presentation.

Recycling - fossil fuel dependent. Making all those cars or 200k wind generators each year to cover only 50% of the needed energy by 2030 - underwritten by fossil fuels.

You are not using Replicators? I was sure that was how all the wind generators and solar panels were materializing.

"It has also been argued that renewables provide only energy. They do not provide us with food, raw materials, etc. I think that goes without saying."
Fossil fuel also provides energy which is used for shoes, food, raw materials. This was my early point so your reply is simply glib. (Fossil fuels also provide medicines, plastics, etc.)

Yes, I have to agree that horses cause pollution - what? We can use that to grow crops. So the pollution created using fossil fuels for solar and wind devices is okay because it is like being just a little bit pregnant?

What to me is the real lack of understanding of the situation is the claiming that previous energy transitions were dependent on the previous energy source to make that transition.
Gathering and hunting - solar energy via photosynthesis and processed photosynthesis through other animals and ourselves.
Horticulture and non-fossil fuel agriculture - solar energy via photosynthesis, processed photosynthesis through other animals and ourselves and some mechanical wind and water energy.
Industrial agriculture - all of the above plus the concentrated energy of time, photosynthesis and earth pressure for fossil fuels. All are solar as in sun dependent.

What I understand your dream to be is that when there are no fossil fuels that a portion of humanity will use incoming solar energy to produce the devices needed to capture the energy of that incoming energy. That they will then when necessary have generated enough energy (stored?)to reproduce themselves as an oak tree or horse. And along with gathering enough energy to reproduce themselves, they will also provide energy for mining, processing, manufacturing, installing, transporting and repairing whatever items are wanted including the distribution systems.

And what about the few billion people who will be the trickle down recipients of this bonanza of self creating energy? What about the resources we will take from them as we do now?

"We will do anything and everything to maintain our present personal level of energy use and the comfort it affords us. We will do anything and everything to the earth, to other people and even to ourselves to continue on this path. And if we don’t have the energy level we see others have, we will do anything and everything to the earth, to other people and even to ourselves to attain that level. The proof of this assertion is simple; we are doing it."
From: The Curmudgeon Report
http://sunweber.blogspot.com/2011/02/cu ... eport.html

"Burning through the incredible energy bonanza of fossil fuels in a few centuries seems incredibly wasteful to me. However using this energy to power a transition to a more sustainable energy future seems like a very wise move."

I agree. What does your sustainable future look like? And for what are you using this energy that you need to do this balancing trick of robbing Peter to pay Paul as long as the overall ERoEI is positive (by how much)? You will you make hoes or I Pods? Tractors, snow blowers, jet skis, four wheelers? Trinkets or shoes? How much energy do you really need?

The middle ages had several problems. People making people unrestrained - still a problem. Weather variability - still a problem. Natural disasters - still a problem. Us against them - still a problem. Inequality - still a problem. I submit the real problems facing humanity are not energy, there is enough incoming energy from the sun being converted via photosynthesis and through other animals and ourselves to live a joyful life.

If each of you believe in this, then do it. Get a grant, take up a collection do whatever you can to show that 200k wind generators and the other devices proposed in the http://www.scientificamerican.com/artic ... gy-by-2030 article can produce themselves, reproduce themselves, create the infrastructure for other materials and produce those materials.

Again, I believe we live in different worlds, with a different belief in humanities fit into the web of life - so we must agree to disagree.
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Re: Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby kublikhan » Wed 11 Apr 2012, 17:56:04

"Recycling - fossil fuel dependent. Making all those cars or 200k wind generators each year to cover only 50% of the needed energy by 2030 - underwritten by fossil fuels."
And this is a problem because.....? I am not seeing the problem of using fossil fuels to power the mining, processing, manufacturing, installing, transporting, etc. of creating the infrastructure of renewable energy. Once that renewable infrastructure is in place, fossil fuels would no longer be needed to provide power for all of the above mentioned activities. The energy would come from renewable sources such as wind, PV, hydro, etc.

"Fossil fuel also provides energy which is used for shoes, food, raw materials. This was my early point so your reply is simply glib." And the scientific american article linked to above examines the energy needs for all purposes. It was not limited to only our electrical needs. If it was, the renewable energy infrastructure examined in the scenario would be much smaller.

"So the pollution created using fossil fuels for solar and wind devices is okay because it is like being just a little bit pregnant?"
See my first point above. Once the renewable energy infrastructure is in place, we would no longer need to burn fossil fuels anymore.

"What to me is the real lack of understanding of the situation is the claiming that previous energy transitions were dependent on the previous energy source to make that transition....All are solar as in sun dependent."
And with the exception of tidal and geothermal, so are most of the renewable energy sources(hydro, wind, PV, etc). They are solar powered. IMHO, you have failed to make your case for why using fossil fuels to power the transition to next generation solar sources is either impossible or undesirable.

"We will do anything and everything to maintain our present personal level of energy use and the comfort it affords us. We will do anything and everything to the earth, to other people and even to ourselves to continue on this path. And if we don’t have the energy level we see others have, we will do anything and everything to the earth, to other people and even to ourselves to attain that level. The proof of this assertion is simple; we are doing it."
I see a powered up society that runs on clean renewable energy better than a powered down society that runs on dirty fossil fuels.

"What does your sustainable future look like? And for what are you using this energy that you need to do this balancing trick of robbing Peter to pay Paul as long as the overall ERoEI is positive (by how much)? You will you make hoes or I Pods? Tractors, snow blowers, jet skis, four wheelers? Trinkets or shoes? How much energy do you really need?"
Industry would have to more closely mimic nature with a closed loop industry. Wastes can no longer be dumped into the environment and need to be recycled back into the industrial process. See this article for more details:
The Cradle to Cradle Alternative

"I am developing an orchard/garden for sell and/or trade. I have reconditioned an old home and built a huge root cellar. I have designed a greenhouse using glass that should be almost self-heating here in northern Minnesota. Put the walls up last week. Am anxious to experiment with growing and drying. Steep learning curve. a happy man who has studied energy for four decades. Who lived off the grid for many years, the first ten without electricity. And who is not afraid of hard work or living more simply.
...
Again, I believe we live in different worlds, with a different belief in humanities fit into the web of life - so we must agree to disagree."
And if we did live in a high tech world powered by a large amount of sustainable energy production, would you find this world objectionable? It sounds as if you think the Amish lifestyle is the best way forward for humanity. I admit, I don't envision humanity taking this path in the future. But I don't see that as a bad thing either. I don't want to see humanity continue to trash the ecosphere, but I don't have a problem with technology and high levels of sustainable energy production either.

"If each of you believe in this, then do it. Get a grant, take up a collection do whatever you can to show that 200k wind generators and the other devices proposed in the http://www.scientificamerican.com/artic ... gy-by-2030 article can produce themselves, reproduce themselves, create the infrastructure for other materials and produce those materials."
I propose that the wind turbines envisioned in the mentioned article can easily provide the energy needed to both reproduce themselves and power society. I do not see humanity having a problem providing the raw materials needed for their initial construction. And at the end of their life, most of the raw materials used in their construction can be recycled into the next generation of power plants, or used for another productive human enterprise.
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Re: Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby ralfy » Wed 11 Apr 2012, 20:49:58

http://sites.google.com/site/peakoilreports/
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Re: Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby Graeme » Wed 11 Apr 2012, 23:44:16

The answer is yes but preferably in a society where economic and population growth is zero.
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Re: Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby radon » Thu 12 Apr 2012, 03:04:45

Graeme wrote:The answer is yes but preferably in a society where economic and population growth is zero.


Looks like a comprehensive life-cycle analysis based on logic and formulas rather than on feelings and beliefs. Worth reproducing conclusions:

Based on the output of our model, as displayed in Figs. 1-4, we come to the following conclusions. With very little input of fossil fuels (just 1% of current consumption annually), we can create a RE infrastructure with wind farms and photovoltaic
panels that will be able to power the entire world energy system in no more than forty years, and in many scenarios, with modestly greater inputs, fossil fuels become superfluous in only twenty years. This infrastructure will be self-sustaining with only 10% of RE capacity being used to regenerate it (while 5% of RE to regenerate new RE isn’t sufficient
to benefit from exponential impacts on time scales relevant
this half-century). And again, this all can be done with merely 40% of the present annual consumption of global fossil fuel spread out over the entire period.
These conclusions are based not on future technological discoveries but rather on conservative values for lifespan and EROI from existing and currently operating wind and solar technologies.


A note of scepticism, - this analysis is still based on a variety of assumptions that are sometimes based on empirical data and sometimes "chosen", as the authors themselves stated.

Then the question is: why not go for it? This is what they themselves say:

The primary anticipated obstacles to implementing
this transition are non-technical, including lack of political will and economic prioritization.


Case solved. Looks like peak energy is no longer a problem. 8O
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Re: Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby Pops » Thu 12 Apr 2012, 12:24:18

Here is a related post at TOD
http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5965

Here you can see the boundaries of the Renewables Gap—the optimistic assumptions on top, pessimistic on the bottom. The lines represent, under each scenario, the net energy supplied by oil, minus the energy invested that year in building renewable energy production, plus the energy produced that year by the renewables brought on-line to date:


Image
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Re: Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby kublikhan » Thu 12 Apr 2012, 20:28:21

Nice posts guys. The energy trap and Oil drum articles make a similar point. Aside from the dismal results the energy numbers give us, there is still the problem of political will for implementing the new energy infrastructure. I think Hirsch was right that we are looking at an energy problem that will take decades to fix, and things will get worse before they get better. Hubbert called it a spiral of adversity we would first have to go through. Bleh, this information has depressed me. I'm going to go look at something meant to entertain and pacify the masses, in my gas guzzling car and fossil fuel powered home.
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Re: Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby radon » Fri 13 Apr 2012, 08:12:07

I thought that the things were much worse, the linked stories inspire some optimism actually.

The first good news is that you only need to re-invest 10% of the energy for the renewables' replacement, as per Graeme's report. Even if they are off by a factor of 2, and we have to re-invest only 20% of the energy (this, incidentally, brings us roughly to EROI of 5 that is close to EROI of 4 - pessimistic TOD's scenario), - even then it leaves us with 80% energy surplus. This is really a lot. I thought that the renewables' depreciation rate would be 70-80%+, possibly even over a 100%, rather than 10-20%. Not only is it self-sustainable - it generates hefty surplus. This means that we probably do not need a command economy and rationing in order to base ourselves on renewables, and can go on with good old markets.

This also means that we can really feed expansion of the energy network withdrawing only marginal energy amounts from consumption: if 10% are needed for replacement, than 10%+5% will presumably replace+grow the generation capacity by around 5%. The additional 5% withdrawn from consumption is 5%/(100%-10%)= 5.6% withdrawn from consumption. This is very good, - it is so good that I have difficulty believing it. In case of 80% depreciation that would be the whole 5%/(100%-80%)=25% of consumption.

The transition is the toughest part. The Renewables Trap/Gap links are very informative on this, along with the discussions in comments to them. It looks like that the TOD article's main objective is to illustrate that the challenges to employing renewables are formidable (this is clear anyway). To these ends, it focuses on its pessimistic scenario. This pessimistic scenario is built in such way that it is highly unlikely that the things can be any worse than this scenario. It also makes a number of assumptions.

TOD's article is trying to calculate how much green energy would be required to substitute present date oil production. After some deliberation, the author takes the ratio 1:1 for conversion of oil energy to green energy. This is actually quite an arbitrary assumption making the whole model a bit abstract. For example, oil is used both as transport fuel and electricity generator. TOD's focuses on total energy output, but assumes that there are no losses in the process (1:1 conversion ratio), while in fact the losses attributed to electricity generation can be anywhere in-between 30 to 60%. Meaning that the green energy required to substitute oil as per TOD's model can be overstated by as much as a factor of 3. This makes this model very conservative, to say the least.

Another thing is that the boundary condition that the output energy has to be equal to the present day output energy, whether expressed in TWs or in oil barrels extracted, is a bit artificial. Nothing conditions that the total output cannot slide down before re-surging to the current levels and above. Arguably, this situation can be summarized as "the things have to get worse before they get better". Familiar cure, called austerity, isn't it - Greeks are through it, why others should be spared, it's not lethal, sometimes milder sometimes not. But in fact, the austerity can be mitigated or altogether avoided. The energy transition subsidy can be drawn from non-oil sources, including fossil (coal, gas) and other. Is there a better use for the shale gas glut, for example.

Another thing: the Chinese have increased their energy consumption nearly two-fold over the last decade. Their population grew modestly over the same period. Now they are half of the US consumption. Meaning that their last decade growth is around 5-6% of the world's total consumption. The Chinese, at broadly the same population levels, did not suffer from widespread hunger 10 years ago despite being at half their present energy consumption. Meaning that all these 5-6% are mostly discretionary energy use in pursuit of lifestyles rather than basic survival. Fear to say what kind of untapped resource is the US, Western Europe (and Russian/Saudi Arabian etc) consumption in this sense. When reviewing the links I came across the numbers that state that 49% of the US energy consumption is spent on housing use, while only 22% on industrial use. This is sobering.

Greame's report for some reason overlooks the Trap-Gap problem altogether, it states that the investment requirement can be evenly spread over the course of 40 years rather than heavily-weighed upfront. Would be interesting if TOD's and Greame's article criticize each others assumptions and came up with an agreed model (always tiring to sort out others people messy numbers :) ). Greame's model is more purist in the sense that it employs differential equations rather than excel tables.

From the Trap-Gap perspective, it does not really matter if the resource that you are trying to exploit is called "oil" or "renewables", as long as the upfront capital expenditure is the same. It is difficult to imagine that the upfront expenditure required for building an offshore oil platform is substantially smaller than that required for offshore wind farm. And oil development entails exploration costs, dry holes etc., "misunderestimated" resources, while wind farming is spared from those. Therefore this Trap-Gap logic applies equally to oil resources. It might make sense to let the markets to sort out the way it should go. It may well be the case that at equal Trap-Gap characteristics oil development still takes precedence as it leads to cheaper production of the liquid transportation fuels.

Looks like the markets may at the end point the way forward through the energy pricing mechanisms. Maybe this is what the elusive "TBTP" are trying to achieve, not totally unreasonably.

One other optimistic thing about the fact that the renewables appear to be self-sustainable and generate substantial surplus even at current levels of technological development: tackling the energy problem may not require a revolutionary technological breakthrough. Evolutionary development like a kind of Moore's law in the renewables efficiency may mitigate the transition. And civilization crush and feudalism can be avoided.
Last edited by radon on Fri 13 Apr 2012, 08:33:32, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby Beery1 » Fri 13 Apr 2012, 08:23:48

Because oil is so cheap, we waste an incredible amount of energy. I'd say we waste at least half the energy we consume - and I think that's a conservative estimate. I'm sure that we could power our lives using 100% renewable energy, but while oil is still cheap (and let's face it, it will still be cheap at $1000/bbl), there's little point in conserving. People enjoy wasting energy, and that won't change until energy really gets expensive.

When the price of oil makes us really want to power down our lives to a reasonable minimum, then we can talk about switching to renewables. But right now, there's no point even discussing it, because oil is so cheap and we waste so much of it that we don't even know what our basic need for energy is.
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Re: Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby cephalotus » Fri 13 Apr 2012, 11:23:48

radon wrote:... After some deliberation, the author takes the ratio 1:1 for conversion of oil energy to green energy. This is actually quite an arbitrary assumption making the whole model a bit abstract. For example, oil is used both as transport fuel and electricity generator. TOD's focuses on total energy output, but assumes that there are no losses in the process (1:1 conversion ratio), while in fact the losses attributed to electricity generation can be anywhere in-between 30 to 60%. Meaning that the green energy required to substitute oil as per TOD's model can be overstated by as much as a factor of 3. This makes this model very conservative, to say the least.


The conversation rate to make methane out of electricity, water and CO2 is roughly 60%, so you have the factor 1,7, not 3.
You can do almost everything with methane which you can do with oil (except maybe flying planes), some things work even better like power plants.

There is also huge potential in replacing oil with electricity using different technology. You can make 1kWh heat out of 1kWh oil with a boiler, but you can make up to 4 kWh heat out of 1kWh electricity when using a heat pump.
A car that drives 100 miles with 100kWh of oil will only need about 30-40kWh of electricity to run those 100 miles with an electric drive train and a battery.

One other optimistic thing about the fact that the renewables appear to be self-sustainable and generate substantial surplus even at current levels of technological development: tackling the energy problem may not require a revolutionary technological breakthrough. Evolutionary development like a kind of Moore's law in the renewables efficiency may mitigate the transition. And civilization crush and feudalism can be avoided.


There are now plans how to produce solar energy for as low as 2,5 €ct/kWh in PV power plants in cloudy Germany by the year 2017 (only 5 years ahead):

http://www.wattner.de/fileadmin/downloa ... 202017.pdf (in German)

I predict that Germany will produce more synthetic methane from solar and wind energy in only 10-15 years than it gets from its own natural gas resources.
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Re: Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby radon » Fri 13 Apr 2012, 12:35:19

cephalotus wrote:The conversation rate to make methane out of electricity, water and CO2 is roughly 60%, so you have the factor 1,7, not 3.

This actually works both ways: oil(methane) -> electricity and electricity -> oil(methane). TOD's author first goes looking into oil -> electricity, and this works at some 30% (to 60%) conversion rates. Meaning that you have to have 3 kW of oil equivalent in order to produce 1kW of electricity. Then he goes on saying that only little oil is used to produce electricity, it is used more as transportation fuel, therefore the conversion rate should be taken at 1:1, rather than 3:1, - as a result overstating the potential renewables energy requirement by as much as 3:1, and particularly so if we ignore transportation fuels. Strictly speaking, this 1:1 conversion rate looks totally arbitrary, he provides no proof to substantiate it. One may say that since oil is widely used in transportation, then indeed the conversion rate should be closer to 1:1, because oil->gasoline is more efficient than electricity -> gasoline. But even oil -> gasoline is not 100% efficient, it results in significant energy losses during the refining process.

The other thing about TOD's model is that it is limited to oil-generated energy. It does not encompass non-oil resources, and this significantly limits its scope. Overall, it is very useful for the purposes of illustrating the orders of magnitude of the transition problem, and highlighting obstacles and priorities. But its limitations are exclusion of non-oil resources from the picture and some arbitrary assumptions.

You can do almost everything with methane which you can do with oil (except maybe flying planes), some things work even better like power plants.
As long as we have enough energy, we can synthesize any fuel that we need, including avia- or rocket. We can even synthesize rear earth elemenets, even though that will be hugely energy intensive.

You can make 1kWh heat out of 1kWh oil with a boiler, but you can make up to 4 kWh heat out of 1kWh electricity when using a heat pump.
This one I am struggling to understand. How about the energy preservation law? This basically means that e-cat is possible.

I predict that Germany will produce more synthetic methane from solar and wind energy in only 10-15 years than it gets from its own natural gas resources.


To put this in perspective:

In 2009, Germany was the 4th larger gas producer in the EU producing 14,497 mcm
http://www.energydelta.org/mainmenu/edi-intelligence-2/our-services/country-gas-profiles/country-profile-germany


The same article says that in 2009 Germany imported 94,557 mcm, including 35, 751 mcm from Russia. So presumably the renewables-sourced methane volumes will be quite significant.
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Re: Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby kublikhan » Fri 13 Apr 2012, 15:18:27

radon wrote:Another thing is that the boundary condition that the output energy has to be equal to the present day output energy, whether expressed in TWs or in oil barrels extracted, is a bit artificial. Nothing conditions that the total output cannot slide down before re-surging to the current levels and above. Arguably, this situation can be summarized as "the things have to get worse before they get better". Familiar cure, called austerity, isn't it - Greeks are through it, why others should be spared, it's not lethal, sometimes milder sometimes not. But in fact, the austerity can be mitigated or altogether avoided. The energy transition subsidy can be drawn from non-oil sources, including fossil (coal, gas) and other. Is there a better use for the shale gas glut, for example.
I had these same thoughts too. We are lucky that all fossil fuels are not peaking at exactly the same time. Some of that short term pain can be alleviated by drawing down other fossil fuels faster, until renewables can come online. And the most highly inefficient users of fossil fuels are likely to be the ones that go first. Which suggests to me that energy decline and economy decline will not be 1-1. I am predicting the economy will decline more slowly than energy supply.

radon wrote:Another thing: the Chinese have increased their energy consumption nearly two-fold over the last decade. Their population grew modestly over the same period. Now they are half of the US consumption. Meaning that their last decade growth is around 5-6% of the world's total consumption. The Chinese, at broadly the same population levels, did not suffer from widespread hunger 10 years ago despite being at half their present energy consumption. Meaning that all these 5-6% are mostly discretionary energy use in pursuit of lifestyles rather than basic survival. Fear to say what kind of untapped resource is the US, Western Europe (and Russian/Saudi Arabian etc) consumption in this sense. When reviewing the links I came across the numbers that state that 49% of the US energy consumption is spent on housing use, while only 22% on industrial use. This is sobering.
This is exactly why I never bought the "peak oil = massive dieoff" arguments. What if the US lost fully half of it's energy consumption? Well then it would be down near Europe and Japans per capita energy consumption. Hardly end of the world stuff.

radon wrote:One other optimistic thing about the fact that the renewables appear to be self-sustainable and generate substantial surplus even at current levels of technological development: tackling the energy problem may not require a revolutionary technological breakthrough. Evolutionary development like a kind of Moore's law in the renewables efficiency may mitigate the transition. And civilization crush and feudalism can be avoided.
I agree with you here too. Look at how much cheaper(monetarily and energy wise) just solar and wind have gotten in the last 30 years. Now imagine someone crunching the numbers for a renewable energy transition 30 years ago. It must have looked even uglier back then. Makes me wonder if it was not such a bad idea after all that we didn't implement a crash renewable program 30 years ago. What we have now is so much better than what we had back then.

radon wrote:
You can make 1kWh heat out of 1kWh oil with a boiler, but you can make up to 4 kWh heat out of 1kWh electricity when using a heat pump.
This one I am struggling to understand. How about the energy preservation law? This basically means that e-cat is possible.
I think it would be more accurate to say you that when you use a heat pump you can use a little but of energy to move a lot of heat. That doesn't violate the energy preservation law or mean the e-cat is possible.

The reverse of a heat engine is a heat pump, which uses a little bit of energy to move a lot. Air conditioners, refrigerators, and some home heating systems use this technique. Somewhat magically, moving a certain quantity of heat energy can require less than that amount of energy to accomplish. For cooling applications, the thermodynamic limit to efficiency is given by 100×Tc/(Th−Tc), again expressing temperatures on an absolute scale. A refrigerator (usually a freezer with a piggybacked refrigerator) operating at room temperature can theoretically achieve 1100% efficiency. The Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER), which is displayed for most new cooling devices, is theoretically bounded by 3.4×Tc/(Th−Tc), which in this example is 36. Today’s refrigerators achieve EER values of about 12, so that only a factor of three remains. The same can be said for the Coefficient of Performance (COP) for heat pumps, which is bounded by Th/(Th−Tc). Like refrigerators, these are performing within a factor of 2–3 of theoretical limits.
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Re: Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby radon » Fri 13 Apr 2012, 16:56:13

kublikhan wrote: Look at how much cheaper(monetarily and energy wise) just solar and wind have gotten in the last 30 years. Now imagine someone crunching the numbers for a renewable energy transition 30 years ago. It must have looked even uglier back then. Makes me wonder if it was not such a bad idea after all that we didn't implement a crash renewable program 30 years ago. What we have now is so much better than what we had back then.


Computers are bought with the a horizon of 3-5 years in mind. This kind of time horizon works OK with Moore's law. But solar/wind purchases/investments can be made with time horizons of 30-40 years. With Moore's law in place, you may be disincentivised to spend on solar today if you know that in two years time you will buy twice as much energy generation capacity for the same price. This may seriously impede investments in the sector development. The economics are tricky here. Not sure whether the markets would work better here or government intervention is needed really.

I think it would be more accurate to say you that when you use a heat pump you can use a little but of energy to move a lot of heat. That doesn't violate the energy preservation law or mean the e-cat is possible.
Right. Basically this means that a heat pump is a non-closed system. The energy preservation law is OK.
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Re: Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby kublikhan » Fri 13 Apr 2012, 17:42:19

radon wrote:Computers are bought with the a horizon of 3-5 years in mind. This kind of time horizon works OK with Moore's law. But solar/wind purchases/investments can be made with time horizons of 30-40 years. With Moore's law in place, you may be disincentivised to spend on solar today if you know that in two years time you will buy twice as much energy generation capacity for the same price. This may seriously impede investments in the sector development. The economics are tricky here. Not sure whether the markets would work better here or government intervention is needed really.
No biggie either way. Projecting further cost decreases into the future shows solar becoming cheaper than coal in 2020. Even if cost decreases continue after that point, the fact that they are cheaper than alternatives still act as an incentive to purchase them. On the other hand, if cost decreases slow down or stop, that puts a damper on the "wait and see" attitude as well.

Over the last 30 years, researchers have watched as the price of capturing solar energy has dropped exponentially. There’s now frequent talk of a "Moore’s law" in solar energy. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy has watched solar photovoltaic price trends since 1980. They’ve seen the price per Watt of solar modules (not counting installation) drop from $22 dollars in 1980 down to under $3 today. Averaged over 30 years, the trend is for an annual 7 percent reduction in the dollars per watt of solar photovoltaic cells.

If we look at this another way, in terms of the amount of power we can get for $100, we see a continual rise on a log scale.

What do these trends mean for the future? If the 7 percent decline in costs continues (and 2010 and 2011 both look likely to beat that number), then in 20 years the cost per watt of PV cells will be just over 50 cents. Indications are that the projections above are actually too conservative. First Solar corporation has announced internal production costs (though not consumer prices) of 75 cents per watt, and expects to hit 50 cents per watt in production cost in 2016. If they hit their estimates, they’ll be beating the trend above by a considerable margin.

What does the continual reduction in solar price per watt mean for electricity prices and carbon emissions? Historically, the cost of PV modules (what we’ve been using above) is about half the total installed cost of systems. The rest of the cost is installation. Fortunately, installation costs have also dropped at a similar pace to module costs.

The cost of solar, in the average location in the U.S., will cross the current average retail electricity price of 12 cents per kilowatt hour in around 2020, or 9 years from now. In fact, given that retail electricity prices are currently rising by a few percent per year, prices will probably cross earlier, around 2018 for the country as a whole, and as early as 2015 for the sunniest parts of America.

10 years later, in 2030, solar electricity is likely to cost half what coal electricity does today. Solar capacity is being built out at an exponential pace already. When the prices become so much more favorable than those of alternate energy sources, that pace will only accelerate.

We should always be careful of extrapolating trends out, of course. Natural processes have limits. Phenomena that look exponential eventually level off or become linear at a certain point. Yet physicists and engineers in the solar world are optimistic about their roadmaps for the coming decade. The cheapest solar modules, not yet on the market, have manufacturing costs under $1 per watt, making them contenders – when they reach the market – for breaking the 12 cents per Kwh mark.

The exponential trend in solar watts per dollar has been going on for at least 31 years now. If it continues for another 8-10, which looks extremely likely, we’ll have a power source which is as cheap as coal for electricity, with virtually no carbon emissions. If it continues for 20 years, which is also well within the realm of scientific and technical possibility, then we’ll have a green power source which is half the price of coal for electricity.
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Re: Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby radon » Sun 15 Apr 2012, 04:15:48

Another issue is the lack of reselience of the renewables-based systems to catastrophes and destruction.

With abundant oil, we can re-build an oil-based infrastructure from scratch relatively easily. However, with oil gone, we will have difficulty re-building renewables-based infrastructure in the event the latter is destroyed by war or a major catastrophe. Even 20% or more going off-line all at once would present a major problem. As one of the recent articles on the front page stated, 4 barrels of oil provide energy equivalent of a 1 lifetime manpower input. How much would it take to build one wind rig relaying solely on manpower? And for how long would the energy have to be completely diverted from consumption into capital investment in renewables before the capacity is totally rebuilt? Probably, quite a protracted period.

In these circumstances quite a lot of energy would have to be saved in sorts of strategic reserves in the form of hydrogen, methane, or other synthesized energy-rich chemicals, in order to provide for rebuilding of the renewables infrastructure in case of a major disruption.
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Re: Is 100% Renewable Energy Viable?

Unread postby radon » Sun 15 Apr 2012, 05:23:24

kublikhan wrote:
radon wrote:... The Chinese, at broadly the same population levels, did not suffer from widespread hunger 10 years ago despite being at half their present energy consumption. Meaning that all these 5-6% are mostly discretionary energy use in pursuit of lifestyles rather than basic survival. Fear to say what kind of untapped resource is the US, Western Europe (and Russian/Saudi Arabian etc) consumption in this sense. ...
This is exactly why I never bought the "peak oil = massive dieoff" arguments. What if the US lost fully half of it's energy consumption? Well then it would be down near Europe and Japans per capita energy consumption. Hardly end of the world stuff.


This is particularly relevant whey they talk about the policitical difficulty of diverting some 5-8% of the total energy generation from consumption to capital investment in renewables in order to cover the Trap-Gap.
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