From: Paul Fernhout <email@example.com>
Great seminar just now!
Energy is clearly a very important issue. Hew Crane raised many good
points. I would like to address some of these issues he raises.
I'm a big fan of Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute,
http://www.rmi.org/ who do much research on energy issues. From what I
remember of their work, here are a few key issues from information I
mostly learned from books like "Brittle Power" and "Soft Energy Paths".
My suggestion is that any energy dialog bring in these people and their
figures and approaches. Perhaps they would like to be part of the
Here are the types of points Amory Lovins might make:
1. The current land area used in the US related to fossil fuel mining,
refining, storage, and distribution is roughly 1% of the US land area.
So, it is not fair to say renewables would use a similarly large amount
of area and disregard this amount of space used by conventional
techniques. For example, the area under existing power lines in the US
(for right of ways - a huge expanse) is sufficient to generate all
electric power used in the US if it was covered with photovoltaics.
2. Wind power over the last few years has become financially competitive
with fossil fuels for peak power generation because of improvements in
design and increasing production. As a side note, assuming the speaker's
figures are correct, to produce one CMO equivalent of power (1500
generators / week * 52 weeks * 50 years = 3,900,000 generators. This is
much less than the number of automobiles produced every year. And, if
this was installed, it would produce 1/2 of the current world energy use
(2.5 cmo) -- each and every year. Land used for wind power can
frequently be used for other uses -- grazing, farming, or
photovoltaics. Advances in turbines that generate power at lower wind
speeds make more areas available for use for wind power than were
previously though possible.
3. When considering nuclear power, remember that to an extent nuclear
plants are like batteries. Fossil fuels are used to mine the ore, refine
it, and construct the nuclear power plant. If all the power to do so
came from nuclear plants, the costs of nuclear energy would be many
4. If you include various external costs related to oil production (like
military forces in the Persian Gulf), the true cost of oil would be
several times higher ($80 per barrel instead of now ~$10-20 per barrel).
At those costs, many renewables are cheaper now.
5. Remember that we need to distinguish between liquid and gaseous fuels
(which are convenient) and fossil fuels. You can produce hydrogen (a
gaseous fuel) by electrolysis of water. You can produce liquid fuels
(alcohol, methanol, etc.) by chemical synthesis given enough energy. So,
you can have liquid fuels without using fossil fuels.
6. Energy efficiency can do much to reduce energy demand. Amory Lovins &
associates coined the term "Negawatts". For example, it is easy to make
a refrigerator 5-10X more efficient than typical ones by using more
insulation and putting the compressor on top (since heat rises). Such
are made by a company called "SunFrost". http://www.sunfrost.com/
Flourescent lights are improving in quality, and are much more
7. Growth estimates cited probably assume people in developing nations
adopting the worst of today's technology. Technologies are becoming more
energy efficient. Look at how much more computing one can do per watt of
energy. America uses twice the amount of energy per unit of industrial
output than Europe or Japan, showing how much many processes can be
8. Don't get me started on the social and economic implications of
nuclear power... Especially in terms of centralized authorities, large
scale risky investments, implications for privacy and security, and so
forth. The nuclear power history has a very dirty history for many
reasons. See the links at: http://www.rmi.org/faq/energyq.html#6
If you want big investments and centralization, then in my opinion,
solar power satellites make more sense. http://www.ssi.org/energy.html
At least they can beam power directly to airplanes in flight according
to recent research, and also get us doing interesting things in space.
Personally though, I prefer more decentralized approaches for core
9. Recent advances in photovoltaics (especially combining light
collection of visible spectrum piped to interiors with power conversion
of remaining wavelengths) may soon make them much more competitive.
(From a recent "Popular Science" article.)
10. What the renewable energy advocates want more than anything is a
level playing field. For the oil industry there are billions of dollars
of subsidies every year in terms of tax credits and other tax advantages
(like depletion allowances). This is coming out of the taxpayers pocket.
I believe hundreds of billions have been poured more directly into
nuclear power development. Beyond that are the military subsidies
related to these technologies. Renewables advocates would be happy if
those costs would be factored into the costs of the energy sources. Some
links at: http://www.rmi.org/faq/energyq.html#5
There are no easy answers, but remember the incredible number of people
who use energy (all of us) and the large numbers of people who are
already involved with the energy industry in some way. So, there are
many people to implement solutions. Don't be too overwhelmed by large
numbers and costs. If fossil fuel and nuclear solutions were fairly
priced today in terms of external costs like tax subsidies,
environmental damage, and military requirements, we would see an
immediate switch to alternatives and more energy efficient technology.
For that reason, I am quite hopeful for our energy future -- especially
if developing countries can be given advanced technology, rather than
having them simply duplicate the current antiquated American fossil fuel
infrastrucure. Unfortunately, the politics and finances of development
often entail developing nations being sold the technology that no one
wants anymore in the developed world (like for example DDT or old
nuclear reactor and dam designs).
We need to figure out ways to prevent that from happening with energy
technology the same way it has happened in the past with other
Developers of custom software and educational simulations
Creators of the GPL'd Garden with Insight(TM) garden simulator
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