The Case for Renewable Energy Processes

1.1 Global Trends

During the last 100 years, we have created a global warming time bomb while nearly exhausting our energy reserves. The population of the planet and the global energy consumption both quadrupled, and the global gross world product (GWP) increased sixfold. We treat the atmosphere, the rivers, and the ocean as "open sewers" while consuming 5.5 billion tons of coal, 33 billion barrels of oil, and 100 trillion cubic foot of natural gas every year. The total yearly electricity consumption is 15 trillion kWh and that is also estimated to triple during the next 50 years. While nuclear warheads will not increase our energy reserves, there are enough in storage to destroy the planet 25 times over, and now the arms race is also expanding into space. In 2008 the total global GWP was about $68 billion, the GDP (gross domestic product) of the United States was about $15 trillion and her military budget for 2009 exceeds that for Social Security. The public believes that the main problems we face are the economy and the wars without realizing that both are the result of the energy crisis.

This trend of increasing population and per capita consumption of energy and other resources is approaching the "tipping point." The climate-driven disruption of food, water, and land resources is threatening stability by causing mass migration, disease, and malnutrition. Islands and coastal regions face flooding and hurricane damage. Changing rainfall patterns are turning the semiarid regions of the planet into arid ones, the melting of glaciers threatens drastic reductions in the water supplies of vast areas, including India and China, and even the fishing rate of the oceans has exceeded the sustainable limit. We are racing toward self-destruction like a car with its gas pedal floored and stuck.

Today the per capita yearly energy use on the planet ranges from 1,000 kWh/yr in Africa to 16,000 kWh/yr in North America. These numbers alone should convince us that the advanced industrial nations have not only the need, but also the duty to correct the damage they have done and the only way to do that is to implement clean and inexhaustible energy technologies.

Global Energy Consumption: Actual and Projected

Global Energy Consumption: Actual and Projected

Year

-Total fossil----Total fuel---Fossil envelope figure 1.1

Availability of the known fossil fuel reserves. (From NASA, 1999.)

Year

-Total fossil----Total fuel---Fossil envelope figure 1.1

Availability of the known fossil fuel reserves. (From NASA, 1999.)

My reason for writing this book is to show that the future does not need to be bleak, that we can overcome this planetary emergency. We do have both a free energy source and the know-how to convert today's oil-based economy into an economical, clean, and inexhaustible one in the future.

1.1.1 Global Energy Reserves and Trends

The time for holding conferences and writing articles is over. The Secretary General of the United Nations, on September 24, 2007, put it this way: "The time for doubt has passed." It is time to build those demonstration plants that will clearly establish the feasibility and costs of the various alternative energy systems. It is time to start to replace fossil fuels with clean and renewable energy sources such as solar-hydrogen.

Figure 1.1 shows the global fossil energy resources and the rate at which they are being consumed.

When discussing global energy consumption, the unit of energy most often used is the quad (Q). One Q equals 1 quadrillion Btu (1015 Btu), 1.055 exajoules (EJ), 172 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe), or 0.293 petawatt hour (pWh = 1012 kWh)* of electricity. One Q is also equivalent to the yearly energy produced by over two dozen nuclear power plants, the energy content of 10,000 supertankers of oil, 400,000 railcars of coal, or 28 billion cubic meters of natural gas.

As shown in Figure 1.1, the total fossil fuel reserves of the globe are estimated to be about 75,000 Q, and the total energy consumption is rising at

* kilo (k) = 103, mega (m) = 106, giga (g) = 109, tera (t) = 1012, peta (p) = 1015, exa (e) = 1018, googol = 10100.

figure 1.2

World marketed energy use by fuel type, 1980-2030. (From Energy Information Administration (EIA), International Energy Annual 2004 (May-July 2006), http://www.eia.doe.gov/iea. Projections: EIA, System for the Analysis of Global Energy Markets (2007).)

figure 1.2

World marketed energy use by fuel type, 1980-2030. (From Energy Information Administration (EIA), International Energy Annual 2004 (May-July 2006), http://www.eia.doe.gov/iea. Projections: EIA, System for the Analysis of Global Energy Markets (2007).)

a rate higher* than the supply of fossil fuels. The difference between the curves is being met from nuclear and renewable energy sources. The fossil envelope (dotted line) describes the likely future consumption of fossil energy (coal, oil, and natural gas). The area under this curve is the total of the known fossil reserves on the planet.

The curve projects a maximum yearly fossil fuel production capability of about 700 Q, which could be reached by 2050. It also projects the total exhaustion of the fossil energy supply by the year 2200. Besides being exhaustible, the burning of fossil fuels also releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. In spite of these facts, the global dependence on fossil fuels is projected to increase (Figure 1.2).

The global energy consumption during the half-century 1950-2000 increased from 100 to 400 Q. Today, it is about 450 Q and is rising at a rate of about 15 Q/yr. It is expected to reach 600 Q by the year 2020. The present energy consumption of the United States is about 100 Q. The global and domestic energy needs are being met mostly by fossil and nuclear sources (Table 1.3).

1.1.2 Traditional Energy Sources and Costs

As shown in Table 1.3, nearly 90% of the global energy demand is met by fossil and nuclear sources. Of these sources, nuclear is unsafe, fossil is polluting, and both are exhaustible. The costs of all forms of fossil fuels increased drastically during the last 5 years. In early 2008 the wholesale price of a million Btus of energy in the form of coal was about $6, in natural gas about $10,

* 2007 Solar Energy—Complete Guide to Solar Power and Photovoltaics, Practical Information on Heating, Lighting, and Concentrating—U.S. Department of Energy.

TABLE 1.3

Global and Domestic Energy Sources

TABLE 1.3

Global and Domestic Energy Sources

Global

United States

Energy Sources

(%)

(%)

Oil

35-37

39-40

Coal

25-26

23-24

Natural gas

20-25

21-24

Wood and biomass

9-10

*

Nuclear

7.5

8

Hydroelectric

2.4

7

Solar

0.6

a

Geothermal

0.4

a

Wind

0.05

a

* The combined total of these three sources is about 2.5% and is included in the 7% listed for hydroelectric.

* The combined total of these three sources is about 2.5% and is included in the 7% listed for hydroelectric.

and in the form of oil about $30. On the average, power plants pay about 80% of the commercial prices while residents pay from 150% to over 200%.

Table 1.4 lists the types of electric power plants and their shares in the total production of electricity in the United States. The total energy consumption of the United States is about 100 Q, of which industry consumes 32.5%, transportation 28%, residents 21%, and commerce 18%. Of the total energy consumption, about 15 Q is used in the form of electricity.

One of the reasons for the present energy crisis is that powerful business interests are trying to extend the use of fossil and nuclear power. Figure 1.5 describes (according to the Nuclear Energy Institute) the cost of electric power generation in the United States during the decade 1995-2005. One might observe that nuclear and coal costs are shown as being the lowest, and hydroelectric and wind power costs are not listed at all. It should also be noted that although the Nuclear Energy Institute shows the coal and nuclear electricity generation cost at about 2.0i/kWh. This has changed drastically in the last couple of years, because the cost of both uranium and of all fossil fuels at least doubled. For example, in the spring of 2008 the wholesale price of a metric ton of coal was around $140, while in 2003 it was $25. Similarly, the cost of a kilogram of uranium increased from $10 to $75 during the last decade. Therefore, such data as provided by the Nuclear Energy Institute in Figure 1.5 is totally misleading. The reality is that by the time electricity reaches a household, it is 10 times that shown in Figure 1.5 for nuclear (in 2007 in Connecticut, we paid about 18i for a kilowatt hour of electricity).

Another major problem with the global electricity system is the lack of continent-wide electric grids that could serve both to distribute and to store electricity. This "net metering" capability (Section 1.4.3.1) is essential to make

TABLE 1.4

Total Electricity Generation in the United States, by Energy Source and Type of Producer, 1995-2006 (1000 mWh)

TABLE 1.4

Total Electricity Generation in the United States, by Energy Source and Type of Producer, 1995-2006 (1000 mWh)

Period

Coal

Petroleum

Natural Gas

Other Gases

Nuclear

Hydroelectric Conventional

Other Renewables

Hydroelectric Pumped Storage

Other

Total

1995

1,709,426

74,554

496,058

13,870

673,402

310,833

73,965

-2,725

4,104

3,353,487

1996

1,795,196

81,411

455,056

14,356

674,729

347,162

75,796

-3,088

3,571

3,444,188

1997

1,845,016

92,555

479,399

13,351

628,644

356,453

77,183

-4,040

3,612

3,492,172

1998

1,873,516

128,800

531,257

13,492

673,702

323,336

77,088

-4,467

3,571

3,620,295

1999

1,881,087

118,061

556,396

14,126

728,254

319,536

79,423

-6,097

4,024

3,694,810

2000

1,966,265

111,221

601,038

13,955

753,893

275,573

80,906

-5,539

4,794

3,802,105

2001

1,903,956

124,880

639,129

9,039

768,826

216,961

70,769

-8,823

11,906

3,736,644

2002

1,933,130

94,567

691,006

11,463

780,064

264,329

79,109

-8,743

13,527

3,858,452

2003

1,973,737

119,406

649,908

15,600

763,733

275,806

79,487

-8,535

14,045

3,883,185

2004

1,978,620

120,771

708,854

16,766

788,528

268,417

82,604

-8,488

14,483

3,970,555

2005

2,013,179

122,522

757,974

16,317

781,986

270,321

87,213

-6,558

12,468

4,055,423

2006

1,990,926

64,364

813,044

16,060

787,219

289,246

96,423

-6,558

13,977

4,064,702

Source: Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Source: Energy Information Administration (EIA).

U.S. Electricity Production Costs

1995-2005 (Averages in 2005 cents per kilowatt-hour)

2005

Nuclear 1.72

U.S. Electricity Production Costs

1995-2005 (Averages in 2005 cents per kilowatt-hour)

2005

Nuclear 1.72

1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 figure 1.5

Electricity production costs during the decade of 1995-2005. (From the Nuclear Energy Institute.)

the energy of intermittent energy sources (solar, wind, tide, etc.) continuously available.

The actual average wholesale cost of 1 kWh of electricity in 2007 in the United States (in cents), as a function of fuel used to generate it (according to the New York Times, July 11, 2007) was as follows:

Pulverized coal 5.7

Nuclear 6.4

Coal gas 6.6

Natural gas 7.3

Solar thermal 12.0

If a $50/ton carbon emission charge is mandated, renewable energy cost would become more competitive as follows:

Wind Biomass

Nuclear Natural gas Wind

Pulverized coal Coal gas Biomass Solar thermal

Living Off The Grid

Living Off The Grid

Get All The Support And Guidance You Need To Be A Success At Living Off The Grid. This Book Is One Of The Most Valuable Resources In The World When It Comes To When Living Within The Grid Is Not Making Sense Anymore.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment