Thursday, May 05, 2005

Exhaustion is Strength

Steven Strong is President of Solar Design Associates, a group of Architects and Engineers who design environmentally responsive buildings and systems which incorporate the latest in innovative solar technology. They recently designed and installed some systems on the White House. He has been a true leader in the field.

I just love the strength through exhaustion line in his recent piece in Renewable Energy Access as he describes the energy policy that was trotted out by the POTUS last week.

"With a troubling backdrop of skyrocketing gas prices, and worldwide concerns over energy, President George W. Bush outlined energy proposals last week that he said would help ensure energy independence and national security. Rather, the business-as-usual proposals are nothing more than a program of strength through exhaustion, a recipe for higher prices, and a sure way to increase US dependence on imports of petroleum, natural gas, and uranium.

"This latest energy proposal is a desperate attempt to continue business-as-usual while pretending to address to the real energy issues facing our country. Ample evidence exists to show that the end of the fossil fuel era is upon us. The massive additional investments proposed in the status quo will only soak up capital resources essential to building the bridge to the post-petroleum era.

"Coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear are mature technologies that have been fully commercial for many decades. The fact that the administration now feels they are in need of additional billions to prop them up should send an obvious signal that these sources and systems are in decline and that our energy future is and should be different from our energy past.

"When the American public and the free market are truly given the opportunity to choose, energy efficiency and renewable energy are on the top of nearly everyone's priority list - outside of the Washington beltway.

"The President has it right when he says our continued dependence and greater reliance on fossil increases energy imports and seriously undermines our economic and national security. It is important to point out that every president since Richard Nixon has come to this conclusion at some point during his term. The key issue is what have we actually done about it? Not much - regardless of who has been in the White House.

"Numerous recent studies from the Energy Information Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, the Union of Concerned Scientists and others, are all in accord that the significantly increased use of "high value" energy efficiency together with accelerating renewable energy is the fastest, least expensive and best option to offset oil imports and cut harmful emissions that are changing the earth's climate while creating millions of new US-based jobs.

"Any energy program to move America away from petroleum dependence and forward into the 21st century must include a significant focus on energy efficiency and renewable energies. "We must begin now to rapidly move renewable technologies into large-scale production and the marketplace", Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, Ph.D. (R-MD) recently told the House of Representative in a Special-order hour-long presentation on Peak Oil, where he called for a new Apollo-scale program to accelerate renewable energy into the main stream."

Renewables are ready.

They are proven, reliable and off-the-shelf. We have the tools and the technology to begin the transition to the post-petroleum era. We need only the political will to use them. "

Pretty nice piece I'd say.

Problem is, it's not quite true.

In order to really determine if an energy system is profitable, you have to look at it in very basic terms. How much energy do I have to put in to get a certain amount of energy out? Often, price is generally a proxy for this ratio.

For example, it is estimated that an Iraqi barrel of crude takes only 3 dollars to produce. At 50 dollars a barrel, that is 17 to 1 ratio. The best oil fields have higher ratios, marginal fields drop below 10 to one.

This is critical.

If a solar panel takes one unit of energy to manufacture and it only produces 2 units over its lifetime, it is just barely a good investment. The price is somewhat irrelevant from a societal point of view. If the process consumes more energy than it creates, it is a dumb thing to do on a grand scale. More simply, we cannot move into a post carbon age with technologies that must be manufactured with carbon fuels in order to be cost effective.

The good news is there are many renewable technologies with high energy out\ energy in ratios.

Certain wind fields in high wind regimes have ratios above 10 to 1. Consequently, the energy that comes off these fields can be priced quite economically. If you produce hydrogen with this energy at a 80% efficiency, the ratio drops to 8 to 1. If you burn the hydrogen in a turbine at a 10,000 BTU heat rate, the ratio drops to less than 3 to 1. If you use a fuel cell at 80 % efficiency, the ratio stays at 6 to 1.

Green buildings can have very high energy output ratios.

Certainly, most efficiency measures that control lights when people leave the room with light bulbs that use one fourth the energy to provide the same amount of light have very high energy ratios.

Ethanol fuels generally have very low energy output ratios.

The photovoltaic panels that Steve installs have energy ratios that range from 2 to 1 to a high of 4 to 1. The ratios can be changed somewhat by reducing the energy in the frame, and in the glass, and also by better more efficient manufacturing techniques.

Thin films ratios are better. Some third generation solar electric technologies are moving into the 6 to 8 to one ratios.

And power paints will be much better still.

I agree with Representative Bartlett,

"We must begin now to rapidly move renewable technologies into large-scale production and the marketplace", Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, Ph.D. (R-MD) recently told the House of Representative in a Special-order hour-long presentation on Peak Oil, where he called for a new Apollo-scale program to accelerate renewable energy into the main stream."

If more Republicans were PhDs,

instead of bug exterminators,

The Earthfamily could move away from war and scarcity,

and move towards true peace and prosperity.

Instead of strength through exhaustion,

we need peace through innovation.

Earthfamilyalpha Content



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved the bug exterminator quip, you make a good point!

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this seems so basic, why is it not discussed more in energy policy circles?

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is very helpful. thanks

9:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would wager that there are as many cynical PhDs as there are exterminators who even know the meaning of the word.
A little appreciated downside of the wind energy turbines is that they are difficult and dangerous to service.
Unless humans were equipped to hover like a hummingbird, crawling into the hub of the giant whirly-gig for maintainance and repair is quiet precarious.

10:46 AM  
Blogger oZ said...

Actually servicing is not an issue for wind turbines. There is no crawling into hubs. the service areas are as big as freight train, and as safe as any large mechanical environment can be. There have been no deaths since the beginning years and injuries are not known to be extraordinary.

That said, thanks for your comments FM.

12:34 PM  

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