Friday, September 02, 2011

Borrowed Thoughts on the Eternal "Energy Crisis"

The truth is that our current energy use is minuscule. The entire world burns about 345 Quads of fossil fuel every year. Known coal reserves contain 200,000 Quads, oil shales 10 million quads, the deuterium in the ocean 10 trillion Quads..... To believe that energy shortages are our biggest problem requires very special blinders.

People have been panicking about "energy crises" since Og the cave man noticed that the supply of fallen branches near the cave was dwindling. There was a panic about "running out of wood"; Watt developed an efficient steam engine and England switched to coal. There was a whale oil shortage in the 1800s; Drake developed oil drilling. There were multiple panics in the 20th Century about running out of oil; we developed nuclear fission, offshore natural gas, efficient solar cells, fuel cells, hybrids, better wind turbines… and then continued to find oil anyway, but when we do need to switch there are multiple technologies available and more on the way.

Energy produces new energy; Watt's steam engines were used to pump out coal mines to produce more coal. Today's reactors and drill rigs produce the energy to make mining equipment and develop new power sources.

Huber and Mills make several points in The Bottomless Well. One is that we don't really want "energy," we want useful order ("negentropy" in physics). Order can only be produced by creating disorder somewhere else, by having energy flow from more concentrated to less concentrated states. If you don't have a good grip on the concept of entropy, then read this; you can't talk effectively about "energy" if you don't know what it is.

This is why talk of "conserving energy instead of producing" is self-contradictory. If we want a clean environment, we have to use energy flowing from a more concentrated source to a more dispersed state to power the separating and recycling of pollutants. Now, this flow could occur in the Sun and be collected by rooftop solar panels, or it could occur in a space-based reactor and be transmitted via microwave and then high-tension line to your house. But life doesn't exist without that energy flow.

Any successful "energy-conserving" technology in fact leads to the consumption of more energy. _Bill Walker

The cost of extracting oil from the earth has not gone up over the past century, it has held remarkably steady. Going forward, over the longer term, it may rise very gradually, but certainly not fast. The earth is far bigger than people think, the untapped deposits are huge, and the technologies for separating oil from planet keep getting better. U.S. oil policy should be to promote new capital investment in the United States, Canada, and other oil-producing countries that are politically stable, and promote stable government in those that aren't. _Oil, Oil, Everywhere
  • Forty-nine percent of respondents believe Saudi Arabia exports the most oil to the U.S., while just 13% correctly identified Canada as our top foreign supplier. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the U.S. imported 58.2% of its petroleum (including crude oil) in 2007, but only 16.1% of all imports came from Persian Gulf countries.
  • More than 67% believe we can meet future energy demand through conservation and efficiency. Historically, in contrast, energy demand actually increases alongside efficiency gains. And because energy use is not static, conservation leads to only marginal reductions in demand. The EIA projects global energy consumption to increase 50% from 2005 to 2030 and U.S. energy use to increase 11.2% from 2007 to 2030.
  • Just 37% correctly answered that no one has ever died from the actual generation of nuclear power in the U.S. Though the U.S. has not built a nuclear-power reactor since the nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979, 104 active reactors safely generate roughly one-fifth of our nation’s electricity.
  • Sixty-three percent of those surveyed believe that human activity is the greatest source of greenhouse gases. In fact, such emissions are significantly smaller than natural emissions. The burning of fossil fuels is responsible for just 3.27% of the carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere each year, while the biosphere and oceans account for 55.28% and 41.46%, respectively.
  • Less than 28% correctly believe that U.S. air quality has improved since 1970. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the six most common air pollutants have decreased by more than 50%; air toxins from large industrial sources have fallen nearly 70%; new cars are more than 90% cleaner, in terms of their emissions; and production of most ozone-depleting chemicals has ceased. These reductions have occurred despite the fact that during the same period, gross domestic product tripled, energy consumption increased 50%, and motor vehicle use increased almost 200%.

Discussion of "EROEI" -- energy return on energy invested -- is often just as much off the mark as disscussion of energy conservation. Cheaper energy is used to produce more expensive or more useful energy and products. Cheaper substitute feedstocks are used in place of scarcer and more expensive feedstocks in industrial processes.

Religious disciples, zealots, and slaves of peak oil suffer from the greatest scarcity -- the scarcity of human ingenuity. By imagining only their indwelling visions of doom, they are unable to break through their mental cobwebs and out of their mental ruts. Thus it is left for more ingenious and useful men to do the work for those who choose to dwell in idle doom wasting.

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Blogger warpmine said...

Wonderful! Setting them straight, I love this site. Thanks

4:34 PM  

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