Last year this country used 4,110,259,000 Megawatt-hours of electricity. 23.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 7,117.5 Million Barrels of oil. All of this went to supply our never ending thirst for energy. We are an energy happy society. Seventy percent of that electricity was generated by fossil fuels – Coal and Natural Gas. Seventy Eight percent of the Oil we used went to move us, and our stuff, around – transportation. In fact, over 85 percent of ALL our energy came from non-renewable, finite, fossil fuels. Only 7% came from renewable or replaceable sources. The rest came from nuclear generated electrical power.
It is simple common sense that we cannot go on like this, even without the average annual 3.4% growth in energy consumption. Fossil fuels were created millions of years ago, after mass extinctions of animals and plants. Over those years, sediment built up over the dead matter, which rotted, and then, under mounting pressure from the built up layers of sediment, became the Oil & Gas we use today. So far, in just the last 100 years we have consumed well over half of the known or suspected Oil on this planet. We have consumed well over 1/3 of the known Natural Gas and Coal. Much of what is left of all of these resources has to be recovered by ever more complex, challenging, expensive, and time-consuming methods than were used previously. At this rate we will be completely out of obtainable fossil fuels well within the next 100 years. And, to get any more, the earth will have to go through a mass extinction of life, and still wait a million or so years for it to “cook”.
Of course, eventually, we hope science will find a way to generate unlimited amounts of power. Eventually, someone will develop warp drive, and the associated matter-antimatter power plant. Shortly after that, we will meet Vulcans for the first time. Yet, in the lore of science fiction, even that happens well past when we run out of our current fossil fuels. So, until that day, we need to make the best of what we have, and find other ways to power our society. The clock is ticking. Time is running out.
To be sure, I like my technology. And technology takes energy. I am not one who advocates we should do without. I believe that with reasonable conservation, new sources of energy, and a firm, unwavering commitment to putting those sources in place, we can continue to enjoy today’s technology, and whatever tomorrow will bring. Along the way, we will be saving those finite fossil resources to be used in ways that cannot be replaced – such as that ’66 GTO for Sunday drives.
So, Presented here is my roadmap to energy wealth. With 10 points, this is the path I believe we have to set upon to feed our need for energy, allow us to enjoy our technology, show respect for our planet and it’s environment, and provide for our future needs. In the vernacular, to have our cake, and eat it too.
1 - We need to encourage green building practices and conservation where appropriate and effective.
We are not going to stop driving our cars. We are not going to stop running our Air Conditioners, furnaces, microwaves and lawn & garden equipment. Where we CAN make a difference is in places like making our homes more passively efficient. Installing insulation, plugging air leaks, putting in weather stripping. Building green. We can take advantage, where appropriate and economically sound, of newer appliances and lighting methods. Government can require increasing, but readily achievable, efficiency standards for our gadgets, toys, and tools. We can try to turn our lights off when not in use, without running around in the dark.
2 - We need to start integrating Plug-In Hybrids and Electric vehicles into our transportation system.
Electricity is the most efficient, widely available, and most useable means we have to transport energy. It is also highly amenable to powering our vehicles. With the sole exception of batteries, electric vehicles are mature technology, easily manufactured, and work, drive, and perform virtually the same as current vehicles.Electricity, from an engineering standpoint, is actually a simpler, more desirable and more flexible drive system than current internal combustion drivetrains. Except for those darn batteries. But, as a couple of manufacturers are already proving, the battery technology is already there to support a large part of our short trip, and commuting driving. The only difference to the owner is plugging it in at night – verses stopping at the gas station.
While we currently generate most of our electricity with fossil fuels, large electrical generating plants are far more efficient at using resources than a conventional internal combustion vehicle. While those plants produce pollutants and greenhouse gasses, it is much easier to control those at a relatively small amount of places, as opposed to a couple hundred million point sources. Electricity can be distributed with relatively little loss, and electric vehicles themselves are quite efficient at making use of the electricity. With all things considered, electric vehicles are still several times more efficient at using our fossil fuels than gasoline powered ones. Electric vehicles also remove the source of emissions away from crowded inner cities, contributing to a cleaner local environment in our cities.
But, more important, most alternative energy sources – wind, solar, hydro, wave & tidal, Biogas fuel cells, produce electricity as their end product. That makes them a natural for integrating into our larger electric grid. As all these distributed sources feed their, maybe small, portion of power to the grid, electric vehicles can use the amalgamated sum of their energy. Eventually these alternative sources will start displacing our fossil power plants, moving us closer to the goal of total renewable energy, and less fossil fuels. Every time we convert energy to another form, we lose some of it, It is much more efficient to use the energy in the form it is created – electricity.Of course, many people do not have one car for commuting, and another one for longer trips. Most vehicles have to support many uses, For that reason, Plug-In hybrids are a sound alternative. With a plug-in, short trip driving is accomplished with electricity from our grid. When there is a need to drive further, old, reliable gasoline is still there to provide the range. A win for practicality, energy, and the environment.
3 – We need to encourage the conversion of fleet vehicles and long haul trucks to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG).
There are some places where electric vehicles or plug ins do not make sense right now, either for technical, or economic, reasons. Fleet vehicles – Busses, city trucks, taxi cabs, the list is long. These vehicles have to make many short stops, often with longer distances mixed in. These are conditions that will deplete a battery rapidly. However, these vehicles are normally fueled at centralized locations, where infrastructure can be put in place readily. These vehicles should be encouraged to use CNG – Compressed Natural Gas. Simularly, long haul and inter-city trucks make long trips, and need significant levels of power. This is also well outside the capacity of current battery technology. But, the fueling points for these are also contained to a relatively small number of places that could also easily support CNG refueling infrastructure. The technology for CNG fueled vehicles and trucks currently exists and is readily obtainable.
CNG is also a highly suitable bridge fuel for our other vehicles. Currently CNG is much cheaper than gasoline per Gallon Gasoline Equivalent (GGE), and it creates less pollution and greenhouse gasses than gasoline. There are many CNG vehicles available already, and many more on the way. Fueling with CNG is also getting easier. There are currently as many CNG fueling stations in the US as there are E89 stations, and more are being put in every week. Unfortunately they are most concentrated in certain areas, but that will change as the market expands. You can also purchase a compressor station for your home, and use your own natural gas supply to refuel. There are currently some subsidies and tax credits in place for purchasing both the vehicle, and the fueling station. The conversion is a simple one for a manufacturer, and dual fuel vehicles are becoming common. CNG tanks do take up room in the vehicle, and their range is normally shorter than a comparable gasoline or diesel one. However, these are things that are easy to live with. Finally, a plug-in hybrid using CNG for it’s internal combustion engine would be the best of both worlds.
We must keep in mind though, CNG is only a bridge to eventual electric when the battery technology is there or replaced by something else. Our current natural gas supply is getting smaller, and new supplies are more expensive to recover. This, along with increased demand, will certainly drive prices much higher. And, remember, it is still a finite, fossil fuel.
4 - We need to strengthen, expand, and upgrade our electric distribution infrastructure.
Of course, to power all these new electric vehicles, and in order to power our existing homes, buildings and industry, we need to get the electricity from all these generation sources to the end user. We also need to be able to combine the outputs of the many smaller distributed generators. That is the job of our electric grid.
Currently our nation's electric grid is frail, outdated, and in many places, overburdened. It also does not have the control capacity currently to accept large amounts of power from wind farms or other power producers, nor can it presently take advantage of a large amount of distributed generation. We need to expand, enlarge, and update the grid. Larger, more efficient conductors, better, more flexible switch and distribution yards, and many more ways to allow power to be fed into the grid from many more, smaller, sources of electricity. Supply and demand of the electric grid has to be managed in real time. The grid cannot store electricity – yet – we must make exactly as much electricity as we use, no more, no less. So, achieving the goal of distributed generation requires better and more flexible control systems.
This is the purpose behind Smart Grid. Putting in place more flexible and robust control mechanisms to allow this management. At the user end, Smart Metering will allow, not only better monitoring, but the ability to control individual distributed generation at our homes and offices (such as Solar PV), and allow for the accounting and measuring of the energy produced or consumed. Smart metering will enable the economic benefits of distributed generation.
5 - We need to find ways to incentify large scale wind power projects, and make it easier for them to supply power to our national grid.
Wind power scales up nicely. Large wind turbines are very efficient, and can be sited where many of the objections to them - noise and aesthetics are two - are not as relevant. However they are an expensive initial investment, they require much maintenance, and the electric infrastructure has to be in place to deliver the power they produce. There are also many ecological concerns - bird strikes, and even concerns by Air Traffic Control with radar interference. While wind has the potential to be a formidable source of our electrical needs, we need to aggressively identify and resolve the issues facing it's adoption. This is a place where government, in the arenas of regulation, rights, licensing, and subsidies or tax abatements, can have a significant positive impact.
6 - We need to encourage and promote residential solar Photovoltaic power, and distributed generation.
Solar Photvoltaics, unlike wind, scale DOWN very well. A large solar installation is very expensive, uses a lot of land, and is complex. A small installation however, which can supply a significant percentage of a homes electrical needs is simple, reliable, and becoming much more cost effective every day. This kind of distributed generation removes much of the burden from our electrical grid, brings our homes closer to energy self-sufficiency, and is the ultimate in environmentally friendly. Again, government, via subsidies to homeowners, and regulatory oversight, can do much to get this technology in place.
7 - We need to rebuild our Railroads, and encourage more use.
Railroads are the second most energy efficient way we have to move goods - after Ships. They are four times more efficient than trucks for moving large amounts of material long distances. Although I truly do lament the effect it would have on our trucking industry, we need to move more of our long distance shipping to this old, stable, and efficient method.
8 – Biogas
While Biogas is not sufficient in quantity to power our vehicles, it is already proven as an effective source for small, distributed, electrical generation. It also can serve well in third world countries for cooking, refrigeration, and some space heating. In combination with Large Scale Wind, and small-scale Solar PV, biogas from landfills or agricultural and livestock waste, can make a significant contribution to our overall supply of electricity.
9 – Small-scale electric generation – distributed generation.
From small hydro, to tidal currents, there are many ways to generate electricity from natural phenomena. By promoting, and encouraging these small-scale systems, and not trying to make them the be all – end all of power, they can also make a significant contribution to our overall electricity supply. We need to encourage small scale innovation, and make it easier and economically possible for small companies, with a good idea, to put their creations in place, and connect them to our infrastructure. With appropriate modernization, our electric grid is an enormous resource. It has the potential of allowing the interconnection of a multitude of small scale power producers, all contributing their share to the national need for energy. Not only will this reduce our need for fossil fuel generation, but it can be the incubator for the creation, and proliferation of profitable and innovative small business. Combining residential and small commercial solar photo-voltaics, with the outputs of thousands of producers like “Bob’s tidal power”, we can switch this country from centralized fossil fuels to decentralized, reliable, and environmentally sound distributed power sources.
10 – Industry and manufacturing.
While there is much basic research into alternative energy going on in this country, the sad fact is much of the applied research, design, and especially manufacturing of alternative power systems is happening in other parts of the world. We need to find ways to bring both the technology, and the industry back home. This is again a place where local, state and federal government can rightfully encourage progress. By encouraging technology transfer from basic research to private industry. By providing financial backing to those industries to support and develop innovation. By economic and political incentives to re-purpose idled production assets, factories, and facilities into the production of the physical hardware we need to accomplish our energy goals. By making it easier and less expensive for companies to acquire and retain skilled workers, engineers and managers. By a vigorous, directed, and unrelenting push to rehabilitate our basic educational systems. By a purposeful, and high profile campaign to enhance science, technology, engineering and math education and interest in our schools. By encouraging Americans to once again embrace science and technology.
Finally, incorporating all ten of these steps, I would propose a project, and an investment, by this country and it’s citizens. A project on the scale of, and in the spirit of, Apollo and the moon landing in the sixties. We need to set forth an agenda, a time-line, and a goal. We need not have all the answers, we need not specify how we will accomplish it, but only what it is we will accomplish. We need to make it not only a national priority, but a national agenda, and a national passion. We have spent many billions propping up our financial systems. Whether that was necessary is not the subject of this dialog. However, moving forward, we need to dedicate the same level of resources, financially, politically, and spiritually, to achieving not only energy independence, but responsible, renewable, abundant energy. We CAN do it. We have the technology - now. We have the need – now. We only need the intestinal fortitude from our politicians, our government, our leaders, our industry, and our citizens, to make the commitment, and follow through.
So, there it is. My Ten steps to a better, cleaner, more vibrant and sustainable energy future. I am available for consulting work if the fee is right. Drop me a line!No, really, I want your thoughts. Please comment!