The Next Step: Conversion to the Solar Hydrogen Economy - Part II

Posted on October 18, 2006
Posted By: Warren Reynolds
Topic: Solar
Do you feel that the debate over global warming will jump start the Solar-Hydrogen Economy? What are the factors causing the transition from the Petroleum Economy to the Solar-Hydrogen Economy?

Yes, it will certainly aid as one of the three factors in moving toward the Solar-Hydrogen Economy.

Currently, there are three main driving forces for the transition. The first and most obvious is the rapid rising cost of gasoline (100% in 2 years), fuel oil and the depletion of oil supplies. This is evident in what Alan Greenspan (ret.-Federal Reserve Chairman) said in June (2006): “The balance of the world’s oil supply has become so precarious that even small acts of sabotage or local insurrection has a significant impact on oil prices” Although, the announcement of the Prudhoe Bay oil pipeline shut down and its reduction in the U.S. oil supply did not dramatically effect the price of gasoline. In addition, the recent drop in oil price to $61 per barrel (September 2006) is only temporary due to several factors both nationally and internationally. We can see further increases in the price of oil with the cost of gasoline at $4.60/gal. next year.

The second driving force is our environment, i.e. global warming, and air pollution. A recent poll (2006) of 25,000 U.S. citizens shows that 94% of the people believe that global warming is a problem and action needs to be taken. The poll also indicates that 84% of the public feels that the automakers can do more, e.g. hydrogen autos. A separate poll has shown that 68% of the people believe that hydrogen-fuel cell autos will be available in 10 years.

The third is our national security. In the earlier poll of 25,000 citizens, 56% believe that dependence on foreign oil is a growing source of national security concern.

There is a sense of urgency in the transition. Subsequently, to make the transition, it requires heavy monetary investment, Government support and full public recognition. Thus, we are approaching full public recognition as to the necessity for the transition. However, we must be committed to the marathon of market transition that lies ahead.

How do you feel the development of Solar Hydrogen Economy as an alternative to Petroleum Economy is progressing?

There are two parts to this question. The solar part of “Solar-Hydrogen Economy” has advanced to the point of early commercialization, e.g. wind turbines, PV cells and solar-Stirling engines. The hydrogen part is lagging behind the solar part due to the three remaining problems:

(a) the hydrogen storage tank for autos, (b) cost of fuel cells for autos, and (c) hydrogen fueling station network.

Progress has been made on the hydrogen storage tank for autos. Safety tests in 2002 of GM’s 10,000 psi 3-layer composite tank was approved by Germany’s top safety institute (TUV) as meeting industry standards in Europe and the U.S. These tanks are extremely rugged and safe since they have come through unscathed in crashes that flatten steel cars and shred gasoline tanks. This will certainly enable GM to reach DOE’s 2010 goal of a >300 mile driving range.

The cost of auto fuel cells (FC) has declined from $275/kW in 2002 to $110/kW in 2005. Consequently, a goal of <$50 and preferably $30/kW is the target. The cost of platinum catalyst for the fuel cells has taken a dramatic price increase to over $800/oz. But, only $60-80 of platinum is needed per auto fuel cell. Consequently, R & D is being conducted on other types of metal catalysts. Currently, all of the automakers have their own time-lines for commercialization of the fuel cell auto between 2010 and 2020. In just 7 years of R & D, GM has had a 14-fold increase in the fuel cell power-density with a corresponding drop in cost. GM expects to meet the $50/kW target by 2010. (A fuel cell auto needs about 100 kW of power.) Honda expects to have a commercial viable vehicle also by 2010 while Daimler-Chrysler expects to have their’s by 2012. UPS and FEDEX are planning on using fuel cell trucks by 2008.

Public traded hydrogen economy stocks have fallen from their peaks but are coming back. Since companies like GE and Air Products have taken leadership roles in the development of the hydrogen economy, others will follow quickly. GE recently announced an electrolysis technology that could bring the cost of hydrogen down to around $3/gallon gasoline equivalent(gge)(compare to $2.87 below).

From a National Academy of Sciences 2004 report, cost comparisons of many different combinations of hydrogen supply chain options including carbon emissions were examined and estimated. At that time, oil was $30-35/bbl ($72, August 2006) and gasoline was $1.90-2.10/gallon ($3.65, August 2006). Of the big centralized generation of hydrogen options, the “steam reforming” of natural gas was the least expensive to produce including the cost for the CO2 by-product disposal. However, it did not include the trucking and network of distribution centers to move the hydrogen to the fueling stations, which would be substantial. I feel the best and least expensive route is the generation at the site of usage, i.e. at the fueling station. In this category I believe that the wind-turbine generation of hydrogen is the best solution at the then cost of $2.87/kg hydrogen (vs. $3.65 for gasoline, August 2006). I feel that the report did not go far enough in gathering all the cost data. This 2004 report needs to be reviewed and edited with the current information and data.

In 2005, worldwide revenues reached $40 billion for PV, wind energy, biofuels and fuel cells that is expected to grow four-fold by 2015. Wind power alone had sales of $11.8 billion last year. Fuel cells and distributed hydrogen will grow from $1.2 billion to $15.1 billion by 2015.

My previous prediction of 2010 from Curve II for the 8% “transition point” in the Solar-Hydrogen energy market was a little too early (HYPERLINK to part I, previous interview). The year 2015 would be a better target for the 8% changeover. We are still below my predicted 8% transition point of $70 billion (in the U.S. energy market) before sustained linear growth of the Solar Hydrogen Economy.

Recently, it has been have predicted that by 2034 hydrogen vehicles will have 60% of the market and then by 2038 capture 100% of the market. This is in line with my earlier estimate from curve II of 2040. From the above data and information, the cost of gasoline is very close to the cost of hydrogen on an equivalent per mile basis.

For those hydrogen vehicles that run-out of hydrogen on the highway, a small canister for hydrogen needs to be developed similar to the gasoline can. It can easily be developed now. In summary, the conversion to the hydrogen fuel and economy is moving forward. It is not as fast as I had initially predicted from Curve II (see Part I).

What is the comparison of the energy conversion efficiency of hydrogen-to-auto-power vs. fossil-fuel-to-auto-power?

For the standard gasoline internal combustion engine (ICE), the conversion efficiency is typically 14% from oil-well-to-wheels. Generating the hydrogen by “steam-reforming” of natural gas and for the fuel cell auto, the natural gas-well-to-wheels efficiency is 42%. Generating hydrogen by electrolysis of water, the water-hydrogen-to-wheels efficiency is 44%. Both of these last two processes are three times more efficient for the hydrogen-fuel cell auto vs. the ICE auto.

What do you feel is the best solution for hydrogen in autos: fuel cells or hydrogen/internal combustion engines and why?

I am glad you asked that. In 1995, I attended a local renewal energy show in Riverside, California. At the show was a heavy duty pickup truck with an internal combustion engine (ICE) that was converted to run on hydrogen or gasoline by a local auto mechanic. It had a very large pressurized hydrogen tank in the truck bed. On the floor board next to the gearshift was a small valve that allowed the driver to switch to hydrogen or gasoline for the engine. The owner- mechanic mentioned that he had to modify the carburetor for the hydrogen. I was allowed to drive it for a short test. It was very smooth driving. Yes, there was only water dripping from the exhaust. It did not have the acceleration that a gasoline engine has but who needs to “burn rubber” from a stop sign anyway?

Since that time, the conversion to hydrogen for internal combustion engines in conventional vehicles has been done in a number of auto repair garages in the U.S. There are advantages using hydrogen for the ICE such as oil changes every 500,000 miles and less engine wear.

Ford has been working on hydrogen ICE vehicles since 2000. In 2003, several Ford V-10 H2-ICE vehicles were introduced at the U.S. International Auto Show. They recently announced (July, 2006) that they are leasing a fleet of 6.8-liter SOHC V-10 H2-ICE shuttle buses. The first group of buses are going to Florida and then to other locations across the U.S. The engines were custom built for hydrogen service with cast stainless steel exhaust manifold, twin screw super- charger, compression ratio of 9.4:1, aluminum heads, hardened steel seats, iridium-tipped spark plugs and other minor changes. The engine generates 235 hp at 4,000 rpm.

ISE Corporation now has 50 hydrogen powered ICE buses in service in the U.S., Europe and Japan with a 310-mile range. Unknowingly, the buses are becoming a “billboard” for the hydrogen economy since the bus riders are now hydrogen supporters. The buses have extensive operational experience showing 7 kilometers per kilogram of hydrogen using the Ford V-10 engine. The hydrogen-ICE buses have performed well at 117 o F (Palm Springs) to -17 o F (Manitoba, Canada).

At the 2006 Detroit Auto show, Ford, BMW, Toyota, and Mazda all had hydrogen-ICE autos on display. BMW has announced that their “bi-fuel 7" series autos will be on the road in the U.S. in two years using both gasoline and hydrogen. Mazda plans on leasing 10 of their duel-fuel RX-8 Hydrogen RE coupes by the end of 2006

I feel that this growing use of hydrogen in ICE vehicles and buses is an excellent transition during the time the cost of the fuel cell is being reduced and is moving closer to market realization. The use of hydrogen-ICE vehicles will “spur” the growth of the hydrogen fueling stations across the U.S.

What are your thoughts on the California Hydrogen highway project? What do you think of its progress and planning?

The California Hydrogen Highway Network Action Plan was initiated by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2004. This program is targeting 150-200 fueling stations with stations every 20 miles on California’s major highways by 2010. Thirty-three other States are following this closely.

To carry out this plan, three groups consisting of a Senior Review Committee, Governor’s Team, and Implementation Advisory Panel were formed in early 2004. Over 50 outstanding leaders from Industry and Government make up these three groups. During 2004, a series of public meetings were held on various aspects of the Hydrogen Highway led by the Implementation Panel and its sub-groups.

The siting strategy of the hydrogen stations is based on a combination of factors to provide the greatest hydrogen usage and linkage. This is broken down into three phases. Phase 1 is a 50 station network for the major population centers for both northern and southern California. There are nine current or planned stations already in northern area. Ten additional stations would be sited in the Bay area and Sacrament under Phase 1. The Southern area already has 21 existing stations or currently planned in the L.A. and San Diego areas. Ten more stations would be sited under Phase 1.

Phase 2 and 3 would enable a network of 250 hydrogen stations for 10-20,000 hydrogen vehicles. At this point, there might be a growing number of homeowners having their own hydrogen stations for heating, cooking and auto fueling. The network would focus on station deployments along interstates 5,10,15, and 80.

Under California law SB-76, California’s Air Resources Board provides funding ($6.5 million) for implementing the Hydrogen Highway network plan. The money provides for co-funding up to three hydrogen fueling demonstration stations and the lease-purchase of a variety of hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

As of June (2006), two fueling stations have been opened. One in Santa Monica and the other in Burbank. Request-for Proposals (RFP’s) are available for the development of hydrogen fueling stations and procurement of hydrogen vehicles. Several State agencies have already received Ford hydrogen vehicles for testing. Public meetings have been held on fuel cells and the SB-76 program.

As a side note, as of late May 2006, the Hydrogen Association has a listing of all hydrogen fueling stations across the U.S. (

I feel that good progress has been made toward the hydrogen infrastructure within California in just two years. Planning appears to be quite adequate and thorough. It will certainly lead the way for other States to follow. It should add an incentive to “big oil” and other investors to increase the number of hydrogen fueling stations within California. It also makes the public aware of the fact that there will soon be sufficient hydrogen fueling stations for them to drive the major highways in California. One can now drive a hydrogen vehicle from San Diego to Los Angeles, fuel up and return.

Do you feel ethanol and other biofuels can bridge the gap between fossil fuels and hydrogen or should we put more effort into a hydrogen economy now?

No. I can see that the biofuels and ethanol are just a short “stop gap” attempt to get the nation off of gasoline. I feel that their production should not be continued because we do not have sufficient arable land to fuel all the nation’s autos. They both still generate CO2, which has an atmospheric “half-life” of over 10 years that adds to the reservoir of global warming gases (half of the original amount taken up by oceans and plant growth in >10 years).

Yes. We should put more effort into the hydrogen economy now.

Do you feel our current Government is doing all it can for the development of a hydrogen economy?

No. However, during the past three years, there has certainly been a change in the U.S. Government’s approach to the Solar-Hydrogen economy. A 5-year, $1.2 billion Hydrogen Fuel Initiative was presented by President Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address. In July 2005, The House and Senate have held three hearings in both reviewing the progress and the challenges ahead in the hydrogen economy. Bob Inglis (R-SC) stated that the hydrogen economy “has the potential for being the next giant leap for mankind”.

The Government’s DOE has stated that: “full commercialization of the Hydrogen Economy is our national energy destination; assuring that we accurately understand and intelligently manage its course and is, in fact, our duty.” There is the possibility of utilizing Title XVII Loan Guarantees, which might enable the commercialization of the uses of hydrogen fuel cells. The Government passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 containing a number of targets and goals for the hydrogen economy under several sections (805, 808, 811, 812). The DOE Secretary must submit to Congress every 3 years a report describing progress in the eight major task areas. One sub-task is reporting the progress in the infrastructure toward the goal of 100,000 hydrogen vehicles by 2010 and 2.5 million by 2020. Another task is to report the goal of achieving sufficient hydrogen fueling stations in the U.S. by 2010.

In 2003, the National Science Foundation has sponsored a fuel cell center at the University of South Carolina. There are a number of major companies that have joined the center including GM, Air Liquide, Boeing and others.

DOE initiated, in 2004, their “hydrogen, fuel cells and infrastructure technologies program” for advancing the hydrogen economy. This program has many sub-programs including hydrogen production, storage, delivery, fuel cells, safety codes and standards, and technology validation.

Although, DOE has had a small fuel cell R&D program since 1990, it recently has expanded its fuel cell programs. DOE, through three of its National laboratories, have established three different R&D fuel cell programs consisting of (a) PEM (proton exchange membrane) fuel cells, (b) phosphoric acid and alkaline fuel cells and, (c) molten salt and solid oxide fuel cells. Each National Lab has a cluster of 7-9 University research groups also working in those same affiliated areas of fuel cell research.

Since 2004, the National Renewable Energy Lab has had a number of hydrogen fuel R&D programs. In their V.C. Systems Analysis program, they are to validate hydrogen vehicles with >300 mile range, greater than 2,000 hour fuel cell durability and <$3/kg hydrogen production cost. Another task is to identify near-term strategies for developing a hydrogen infrastructure.

There are a large number of programs on hydrogen R&D at DOE. I feel that in some of the R&D areas, the Government could eliminate the “far-out” research programs and tasks such as molten salt fuel cells and others and to place more emphasis on the more applied programs. I feel that the DOE should be more selective in its hydrogen programs it funds.

In summary, it is encouraging to see that the Federal Government is finally taking the initiative to making an effort in advancing the hydrogen economy and giving this economy its public recognition.

The Government is developing many avenues for the production of hydrogen for the Solar-Hydrogen Economy. Should the Government continue to fund the development for the generation of hydrogen from nuclear power plants?

Definitely not. Hydrogen and nuclear power is a recipe for disaster. The Chernobyl explosion at the Ukraine nuclear power station was caused, in part, by a hydrogen explosion. I certainly do not want large volumes of hydrogen being generated at any of the U.S. nuclear power plants. In addition, the U.S. nuclear power plants are 30-40 years old. These “aging dinosaurs” will have to be dismantled costing the consumers billions of dollars in their electric bills.

Do you feel that “Big Oil” will slow or help the further development of hydrogen fuel and why?

“Big Oil” is still dragging its feet. During the 2000-2004 period, some of “Big Oil’s” early plans for the Solar-Hydrogen Economy did appear to hamper the transition away from petroleum. For example, Shell had done R&D for on-board auto gasoline converters to hydrogen for the fuel cells and had proposed their usage. This has been dropped in favor of the hydrogen-ICE auto. At Shell’s home base of operations in the Netherlands, they will soon see a hydrogen public transportation project. Shell Hydrogen has agreed with MAN Truck & Bus Company, N.V. to make an economic study of the project with investment in 2007. Buses will be fueled from a Shell combined gasoline-hydrogen service stations with the buses expected to be operational by 2009.

However, Shell says that “caution may be the watchword” right now. They believe that the time-determining step is the development and the mass production of the competitive fuel cell applications. Shell still has to make that big leap of faith.

Chevron’s hydrogen boss, Rick Zalesky, is in charge of the hydrogen business for Chevron Technology Ventures. Chevron is spending $300 million per year on clean and renewable energy projects. Chevron is opening three more hydrogen fueling stations in 2006, with two in California and one in Florida, for a total of five. Zalesky states that the “old ways” do not work, i.e. centralized fueling networks. Both he and Chevron believe that the method of producing hydrogen where it is consumed makes more sense. Chevron proposes to use the “steam reforming” of natural gas process for producing hydrogen at each station, which requires CO2 sequestering. “Steam reforming” is too energy intensive and that electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen is a better choice. Recent progress on the photocatalytic process using sunlight to produce hydrogen from water has great potential to lower production costs.

British Petroleum’s (BP) Alternative Energy company and GE have teamed up in 2006 to jointly develop and deploy hydrogen power projects for electricity generation. They, too, are using the “steam reforming process with capture of the CO2 by-product and storing in deep geological formations”. One can see that this is a “stop gap” measure since the CO2 will eventually leak back out of the storage formations. They plan on two initial hydrogen power plant projects in Scotland with 475 MW hydrogen fired power plant and California with 500 MW. BP’s Alternative Energy company is their second venture into the Solar-Hydrogen Economy with BP’s first company, BP Solar. BP, in conjunction with Ford Motor Company plans to build a network of fueling stations to support Ford’s fleet of hydrogen-ICE buses in Sacramento, Orlando and Detroit.

By using the “steam-reforming” of natural gas process, the net savings to the Big Oil companies would be on the average about $25 billion per year worldwide. However, I feel that “steam reforming” is not the best way for generating hydrogen since the by-product is CO2. It would be better to use either wind-power or PV electricity to generate hydrogen by electrolysis. This the cleanest and most environmentally safe way to go.

In summary, we still need “Big Oil” to convert their stations over to hydrogen. They will have to dismantle their vast network of gasoline and fuel oil distribution systems. They are not going to do that easily and it will take time. Big Oil is entrenched in their running petroleum business and do not see any immediate threat by the Hydrogen Economy. However, they do see the profit incentive but they are waiting for the fuel cell autos to be produced. Thus, in the future, changing Big Oil would be like getting “an elephant to turn on a dime”. There would have to be some massive downsizing of Big Oil.

I believe that Ford has the best business plan in their hydrogen-ICE auto and that should “spur” Big Oil to downsize and concentrate on hydrogen. I also believe Chevron has the correct idea in their approach to generate hydrogen where it is used, i.e. at the fueling station. But, they should plan for using solar electricity and water electrolysis to generate the hydrogen and not the “steam-reforming” process since the by-product is CO2.

Authored By:
Dr. Reynolds has over 35 years experience in the chemical, nuclear, environmental and solar energy fields for General Electric, Lockheed, U.S. Government and and as an independent corporation owner. He was an Environmental Manager for Lockheed Engineering and Management Services Company. Earlier, he was a technical manager at the Government's National Center for Toxicological Research developing new chemical instrumentation for biomedical research. After receiving his PhD from UCLA, he was

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October, 18 2006

Ferdinand E. Banks says

I certainly hope that we see more solar, hydrogen, wind, etc, but scrapping the nuclear sector sounds like the worst kind of economics to me. You call nuclear power plants that are 30-40 years old "aging dinosaurs", when in truth they are in the bloom of youth. Finland is now constructing the largest nuclear facility in the world - 1600 megawatts - and with a bit of luck that plant should be around for at least 70 years after its doors are opened. Moreover, the older the plant the lower the capital cost (ceteris paribus) - that result follows immediately from the annuity equation. This is the reason why the Finnish installation might produce the lowest cost electricity in the world.

As for the "massive" downsizing of Big Oil, please allow me to ask to what it is to be downsized. Since enormous amounts of money will be required to find and produce new oil, this must be one of the most eccentric suggestions of the new century. And Mr Reynolds, regardless of the attractions of ethanol, butanol, hydrogen and all the rest of it, a very large amount of new oil is going to be required if the international macroeconomy is to be kept in a reasonable working order.

October, 18 2006

Jim Beyer says

This analysis makes no mention of the role PHEVs (pluggable hybrid electric vehicles) may make in addressing our transportation energy demands. This role MAY be significant. If we assume only 50% of a PHEV's motive power comes from its electrical source, then compared with hydrogen (synthesized from water) about 25% less electricity input is needed, by Reynolds own numbers. If the motive component from electricity is higher, say 80%, then 40% less electricity is needed.

True, there are problems with PHEVs, not the least of which is the cost of the batteries, maturity of battery technology, etc. But there are problems with implementing hydrogen as well. These have been stated in other posts.

I don't mean to be critical of Dr. Reynolds specifically, but these broad analyses need to be written in pencil. If one is trying to scribe a new energy system with the difficult requirements of 1) no significant environmental impact, especially w.r.t. GHG, 2) not significantly more expensive than what we have now, and 3) scalable to 6.5 Billion users and more, then one cannot afford to discard concepts that can provide significant benefits.

I realize this is a pain. You write up something, it looks great, and then some other viable concept comes along. Then you have to throw everything away and start over again. Life is hard.

I think Reynolds is correct in the limited viability of biofuels, and he correctly states that we have limited land to support them in any practical sense. But he should also crunch the numbers on the amount of wind/solar resources needed to support hydrogen, especially if fossil fuels and nuclear power are to be excluded. He'd find the number of units needed daunting.

I'd also like to state that we really need big Oil for nothing. If residential/community solar/wind is sufficient to generate electricity for PHEV needs, then a big chunk of their infrastructure (perhaps 80%) is simply unneeded. Synthesized fuels (biofuels, hydrogen, methane, methanol, etc.) can probably be started at the grassroots level. Just walk away from oil.

October, 18 2006

Len Gould says

"The cost of auto fuel cells (FC) has declined from $275/kW in 2002 to $110/kW in 2005. Consequently, a goal of <$50 and preferably $30/kW is the target."

Is this in current $? Reference on the $110/kW?

You dismiss fossil fuels as a source of hydrogen in favour of electrolysis, then dismiss nuclear electricity. Then you dismiss biofuels. Is that rational for the time frame you're proposing? Aren't boi-fuels essentially net CO2 neutral? Have you heard of a new means of generating hydrogen or electricity from solar which is as close to commercial as your timeframe requires?

All quite confusing.

October, 18 2006

Len Gould says

Also, at "PEMFC's current $5,000 / kW, long term goal $1,000 / kW"

Also their life expectancy needs improving, as (my understanding is) the carbon/graphite electrode plates tend to oxidize too quickly.

October, 18 2006

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Jim Beyer, walking away from oil means, in the short run, walking away from our lifestyle. Personally, I'm not in favor of that, and so if we are going to continue to use oil, then we need Big Oil. In the long run oil will have to be replaced for the simple reason that there isn't enough of it, but this is a much more complicated process than many decision makers believe.

October, 18 2006

Jim Beyer says

Prof. Banks: I take any critique from you seriously, so hmmm. Well, I did say walk, not run. I will also acknowledge that on the commercial side, oil has a huge impact and place within our society that I can vaguely comprehend. But for residential, and end-use users, I believe that: 1) the profit margins are higher, so alternatives are likely to be more viable, and 2) this is a major portion of our energy use, especially oil, so the impact is significant.

I do think we should walk away from oil, because frankly, that industry has failed us. They devote enormous resources to maintaining their monopoly and lobby for criminally stupid ideas (such as the hydrogen economy) to be time and money wasters for our researchers. The BP NG-to-H2 plant in the UK cited above, for example, is completely ridiculous and a huge waste of money. They are willing to throw hundreds of millions of away on projects solely for the purpose of image enhancement and obfuscation to dim-witted politicians.

Big Oil and Big Coal have co-opted the DOE, which essentially wastes most of its budget on "clean coal" (which isn't) and oil exploration research projects. Viable, rational alternative energy strategies are given short shrift by them.

We had some good warnings shots in '73 and '79 and we blew it. Now we are scrambling to replace oil AND deal with global warming.

I agree with your assessment, but we still need to move away from fossil fuels. Walk, don't run. Big Oil really can't be trusted to be concerned about our long term interests as individuals and as a planet, and they are too powerful to be so easily reined in. It's not the best situation to be in.

October, 18 2006

Warren Reynolds says

Prof. Banks: Thank you for your kind comments. Let me answer some of your questions.

As you know, Big Oil operates with centralized processing and distribution systems to move the gasoline and fuel oil from the refinery to the consumer. As Mr. Zalesky (Chevron's Hydrogen czar) has stated: the "old ways" do not work, i.e. centralized, and Chevron agrees. The hydrogen fuel is being generated "at the site" of usage, i.e. filliing stations. Thus, all the massive infrastructure of processing and distibution will have to be eliminated or downsized.

You are correct that a very large amount of new oil is going to be required if the international macroeconomy is to be kept in working order. However, the oil just won't be there. Let me point out that as far as exploring for new oil is concerned, the globe has been searched many times over by geologists from all the oil companies. THERE ARE NO more "Saudi" sized fields. As V.P. Dick Cheney said in a 1999 speech (while still CEO of Haliburton), "there will be an average of 2% annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead, while, conservatively, a 3% decline in production". That means we will need an additional 50 million bbls. per day by 2010. The 50 million bbls/day is just not possible. His assessment is supported by numerous geologists, scientists and oil CEOs. As of 2006, it is already coming true.

As Jim Beyer has pointed out about the 5 % oil shorfalls in '73 and '79, the price of oil nearly quadrupled. An even small drop in production can be devastating to the economy. The coming "oil shock" won't be so short lived due to the onset of a new permanent declining oil production. Five main oil producing nation's have already peaked in oil production and are in decline. The economics is that there will be an oil "crash" by 2010-12 due to the large difference between demand and supply. It will wreck havoc with our economy. (see Yes, we will have a different lifestyle reminiscent of the '30s depression. Just imagine for the moment that oil was no longer available as of tomorrow. We would have massive layoffs, scarcity of food at the market, intermittent electricity and riots in the street. Not a pretty picture. Yes, Prof. Banks, I agree with you our additction to oil supports our current lifestyle.

Len: I believe the quoted $5,000/kw at the California website was in error. A $50/kw times a 100 kw requirement per FC auto is $5,000. The PEMFC data that I quoted of $110/kw in 2005 was from GM's actual data.

Jim: Yes, there are problems with PHEVs. The most obvious is that they are a much more heavier auto than the ICE standard auto. That is why the auto makers will not make PHEV trucks since it reduces the load capacity. The other is that the fuel cells last two to three times longer than batteries and hence the batteries will cost more in the long run.

October, 19 2006

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Dr Reynolds, where the oil thing is concerned we are basically in complete agreement. As for Jim Beyer, his observations deserve further elaboration, followed by the widest possible distribution. Let me also note that I am not trying to wear the hat of a spokesman for Big Oil, but I really don't see the point in trying to dispense with those people, because Mom and Pop type operations don't have a great deal to offer when it comes to finding and producing large quantities of oil.

By "oil crash" Dr Reynolds is probably referring to a global production peak. I also don't see how this can be avoided, although it seems to me that 2010-12 might be too soon. Of course, whenever it comes it will be too soon, and the social and macroeconomic consequences could be horrific.

October, 19 2006

Len Gould says

Gotta admit that if it were implemented, it's a sweet system. The large H2 electrolysis station load makes a perfect sink for any excess electricity production from eg. wind or solar, allowing peak efficiency operation for remaining baseload generation. Only problem with that is it presumes less-than-100% usage of the investment in electrolysers, which are capital-intensive.

October, 19 2006

Todd McKissick says

Len, the leveling of the grid with this additional load does have tons of grid benefits, not only shifting peaking generation to cheaper baseload but also shifting transportation load to the grid. To overcome the local stations economic problem of under utilization of the electrolyser, why not implement onsite CSP at the station. Since CSP can store it's heat for use at any time of the day, that can be turned into electricity for increasing the station's 'valleys' of H2 generation.

If you're wanting an efficient station, you'd probably install some form of renewable assistance anyway, so why not use it to also make your expensive electrolysers more economic at the same time?

October, 19 2006

Arvid Hallén says

Ferdinand, would you care to speculate on the effects of the global economy due to the peaking of world oil extraction?

What kind of crisis are we looking at? Recession like the 70's, rationing like WW2 or depression like, well, the Great Depression? Or something even worse?

October, 19 2006

James Hopf says

I certainly concur that IF hydrogen is to be used to power cars, it will be generated, through electrolysis, at the point of demand (home or service station). I've seen the numbers on the costs and energy losses of H2 distribution, and they're awful enough to make centralized (e.g., thermochemical) H2 production more costly and less efficient overall, despite the much higher H2 production efficiency. Thermo-chemical (nuclear, solar thermal, or geothermal) H2 production plants will be used, as opposed to electrolysis, at large H2 demand centers, such as refineries or synfuel plants.

Once again, however, I don't see the H2/fuel cell concept ever standing a chance against the PHEV or pure electric car.

A PHEV system may weigh more, at present, than a simple ICE, but what's the weight compared to a fuel cell car? That's the issue, isn't it? Both would use electric motors, so we're talking about the weight of the batteries versus the weight of the fuel cell, plus the H2 storage system (be it heavy pressurized bottles or tanks filled with some solid or liquid H2 "getter" material), plus any other equipment required to handle the H2 fueling process. I for one am not (yet) convinced that the fuel cell car weighs any less.

As for the truck maker's statement on PHEV weight, if the price of fuel gets high enough, it will be worth it to pay for a more powerful drivetrain (to take the extra PHEV system weight). It's not like the extra weight would ever be enough to make the PHEV vehicle consume for fuel.

In terms of cost (including issues of battery life versus fuel cell life, etc.), we need to avoid the error of counting on significant advances in one area while assuming that the other technology stays frozen at today's performance. I'm pretty sure that today a PHEV car costs a small fraction of what an H2 fuel cell car does, even with current limits on battery life (an extra ~$10,000 versus ~ a million dollars, I think). Sure, fuel cell costs will come down, but so will battery costs. Battery life will also increase, and battery weights will come down. Battery technology is developing extremely rapidly. Personally, I don't see the fuel cell car winning the vehicle cost race.

And of course all the above analysis does not (yet) consider the elephant in the room, i.e., the much lower overall (well-to-wheel) efficiency of the fuel cell approach. For both systems, the raw input is electricity (into the home or service station). The difference is that the fuel cell approach will require 2 to 3 times as much input electricity per mile traveled. This will be a huge factor in the overall economics, not to mention the fact that the H2 approach would be a shameful waste of natural resources, and would have a correspondingly increased environmental impact.

In terms of grid relief, the H2/fuel cell approach still does not offer significant advantages over the PHEV or electric car. Yes, you can create H2 at off-peak times (or when the wind is blowing hard), but you can also charge PHEV's at those times. Not only would PHEV's generally be charged at night (an off-peak time), but smart meters can be used to manage the process even more rigorously. They would be programed to charge the plugged in car at a pre-arranged time (that would be different for each customer) or at a time of minimum demand (i.e., minimum spot price). In short, the same methods and protocols that would be used to tell a service station when to generate H2 could be used to tell a PHEV charger to activate. No issue here.

October, 19 2006

Graham Cowan says

Airports may also make sense as large hydrogen demand centres, since the replacement of large airliners' 50-to-100-tonne kerosene loads with 20-to-40-tonne liquid hydrogen loads seems likely to yield real mass savings. A small but beneficial converging series feedback may occur: having knocked 50 tonnes off an aircraft's required take-off mass for a certain range, one may then be able to deduct another tonne or two because it takes less fuel to lift a lighter aircraft. The extra bulk, at airliner scale, does not appear to be prohibitive.

(In cars a 25-kg full gasoline tank would typically be 20 kg gasoline, 5 kg tank; its replacement by an lH2 tank such as Magna-Steyr has provided for BMW would contain 8 kg lH2, 120 kg tank walls. Those tank walls include a ~0-kg vacuum layer.)

This necessary massiveness of containment -- and highly pressurized, ambient-temperature tankage is much larger and heavier still, and able to explode lethally, even underwater -- means an aluminum-burning car's fuel-and-ash-bin complex would be much lighter than any kind of hydrogen reservoir, for the same energy capacity, even if all the aluminum were in the form of aluminum oxide. As with hydrogen, a distribution infrastructure already exists: one can go to a grocery store or two and buy 100 kg of aluminum foil.

--- G. R. L. Cowan, former hydrogen fan
Internal boron combustion will give cars nuclear cachet

October, 20 2006

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Arvid, many thanks for suggesting that I have all the answers to what will happen in the event of an oil production peak. Actually I don't, but I have some of them, and if I give another of my take-no-prisoner lectures at the Royal Institute of Technology, then I will see that you get an invitation.

But the fact of the matter is that there is a great deal of talk these days about what could happen in the event of an oil peak, to include the undulating plateau that the CERA people are talking about, and this talk is being circulated from the very top - i.e. the White House - to the absolute intellectural bottom, by which I mean the Stockholm School of Economics. You see, even our friends on Sveavägen in wonderful Stockholm realize that a peak probably means a bad spell of inflation, which in turn will lead to a ratcheting up of interest rates, and if they know it then everybody should know it. The good Alan Greenspan understood all of this perfectly, although he DID NOT understand why the macroeconomy did not take a beating when the oil price moved over $70/b. And neither did I for that matter, although I've started thinking about it again.

The thing that interests me though is a map that appeared in a US government publication in l973 or l974 showing landing zones for marines (and perhaps paratroopers) in a certain part of the world. I cant really figure out why I seem to be the only person on the face of the earth who saw that document, although when I mentioned it to Professor Douglas Reynolds of the University of Alaska he told me that he knew about it and Dr Kissinger had referred to it on some occasion.

In any event, you should be able to pick up the story from here. And if not, and you show up at Professor Aleklett's talk next week, maybe he will straighten you out.

October, 20 2006

Arvid Hallén says

I have met and spoken to Professor Aleklett several times, and he states that as he is no economist he won't say anything about the economy or oil prices. He just looks at the production and reserve numbers.

And then he shows a picture from the winter of 1945, before the age of oil in Sweden, with himself as a little boy, covered in pelts sitting in a horse sleigh in a snowy forest...

It'll be a great pleasure to talk to you on the 26th.

October, 24 2006

Steven Peterson says

Dr. Reynolds, when I read your answer about funding research towards hydrogen generation at nuclear power plants I had to pause from reading. Your answer gave me the distinct impression that you were a crackpot. I see by your work experience, however, that you ought to have some knowledge of nuclear power. This forces me to conclude that you have allowed your predisposition toward local vs. central generation of hydrogen to influence your answer.

Surely you realize that throwing in Chernobyl was nothing short of a red herring - a scare tactic I would expect from an eco-terrorist, but not from someone proporting to have a logical science and economics based discussion of where we ought to be going.

If we are genuinely looking for answers to the problems caused by oil - pollution, political unrest, running out, and whatever follows that - we must keep all avenues of promise open. Motive power from EVs, with the electricity coming from a clean source like nuclear power seems much closer to reality to me. If hydrogen really is the way to go, and I doubt it, then it would be wise to encourage nuclear power, since it could be the cornerstone of either.

Or is it that a massive increase in nuclear-generated electricity would make the picture you are trying to paint look a little fuzzy?

October, 24 2006

Arthur Ochoa Jr says

Gentlemen: How come no one in thge US is talking about Space Solar Satellites as a central generating option? I seem to remember that the proposals by William Glasser and NASA back in the 70's showed that they could be busbar competitive after we got the first couple built. Issue was the capital cost of the first couple. But a "transatlantic railroad" level "energy independence" bond issue could mobilize the nation. Anyone want to bet against a version of Moore's Law on the cost/performance curve of solar cells? Where would we be now if we had ceased development of electronics because the cost of a 4 function calculator kit was $100 in 1973? The Japanese are continuing to examine the option, I believe: 24 hour availability of baseload capacity. Offload the storage to home electrolytic refueling sations to generate high pressure hydrogen. Have there been any studies of a combustion steam turbine? If I have stored stoichiometric H2 + O at 2000 psi, why not combust it directly into my vehicle's steam turbine? Or open cycle with atmosphere into the power turbine section of a CT. Thermal storage has the disadvantage of continual leakage through the insulation. I'm no chemist, but there must be a procedure to generate methanol from hydrogen and atmospheric carbon dioxice. The burning of which as a vehicle fuel will lead to no net production of CO2. Sure, there's an energy cost, but .we DO have a liquid fuel distribution infrastructure, and .. it seems to me that a rational industrial civilization MUST, at some point, take responsibility for the system as a whole. I'd like to be here for the grandkid's problem -- after we can get to a carbon neutral civilization, sea level control requires that we must then recapture the CO2, cool off the planet, and regenerate the polar ice caps. Which is going to require some hellacious winters.

October, 25 2006

Graham Cowan says

There are respectable hydrogen-energy advocates; I used to be one, Dr. John McCarthy still is. But much of the current crop seem, for whatever reason, to have a soft spot in their hearts for large public oil and gas revenues, and to have heard, on enough occasions, that the hydrogen economy will be really getting its legs under it in ten to 15 years. It is as if the nth repetition of that phrase or one like it turned a light bulb on in their heads, a light bulb bearing the legend, "Hydrogen is nonthreatening".

Not, to be sure, physically nonthreatening to hypothetical hydrogen motorists of the walk-walking, whole-shot-paying variety. That's one reason why they remain hypothetical. That physical threat is one reason why hydrogen is no economic threat to lovers of fossil fuel sin tax revenue.

(I used to think someday when I had enough money I'd just have to get a hydrogen car ... but we have the example of the governor of California to tell us that people who think thus do not continue to think thus when they have the money.)

The process for making methanol from hydrogen and CO2 is the well-known Lurgi process. A Moore's Law for PV would require the Sun to reach twice its present brightness 18 months from now, and be four times as bright three years from now. I am not in favour of that.

--- G. R. L. Cowan, former hydrogen fan
Burn boron in pure oxygen for car power

October, 25 2006

Todd McKissick says

Steven, If you knew it was possible for a mostly solar economy with hydrogen (even counting it's inefficiencies) to compete with any other source of power pricewise without any subsidies, wouldn't you be promoting that over all others? This is where many of the solar advocates stand. It has been my experience that only those having done limited research in the alternatives field will advocate using other sources at all. I'm not saying the hydrogen part is the most efficient carrier for mobile transport, but it does have plusses that in it's favor. It is a storage method for mismatched grid power exchanges that is easily transferred to your car. It easily distributed to the masses on a massive scale. Also, there isn't any CO2 involved in any part of the process.

Arthur, I'll take the bet on a Moore type law for PV. When considering performance, both the cost per watt and the land use efficiency need to be considered. Sure mfg techniques will make them better, but until they make drastic leaps, the newest versions won't have economies of scale to bank on. Then there's their direct competitor, CSP which is cheaper, more land efficient and has simple storage. PV development is comparable to investing in Langley's steam airplanes in 1900.

As far as some of the bio processes being net CO2 neutral, that's bull. No such thing. Saying that discounts the CO2 that would have been converted to nutrients if the plants were used in a natural way. It's this process that the earth uses to regulate CO2 levels. What would happen if all the CO2 subtractors on the earth became neutral?

Graham, from what I see of the Lurgi process, it seems a bit too complex for a distributed application. Given that the solar energy available to distributed users is abundant enough to support transportation needs to a degree, how do we get this excess in our cars in the form of methane? Seems to me it's better to just take the hit on using simple straight H2.

October, 25 2006

Jim Beyer says

I would not bet on a Moore type law for photovoltaics. Moore's law indicates that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit would double every 24 months (some say 18 months).

But a transistor is just a switch for turning on or off a piece of information. Because information is abstract, it can get as small as it wants - no penalty there. But a solar cell must absorb light energy and convert it, with some kind of efficiency, to electrical energy. The amount of energy actually reeceived is not abstract at all, but based on the percentage of light energy hitting the panel.

Since the amount of light is basically fixed, you are left with either increasing the efficiency of the panel, or lowering the cost of it. Both have boundaries of reasonableness not much more than a factor of 2, 4, or 8 from where we are now.

October, 25 2006

Graham Cowan says

McKissick says,

... from what I see of the Lurgi process, it seems a bit too complex for a distributed application. Given that the solar energy available to distributed users is abundant enough to support transportation needs to a degree, how do we get this excess in our cars in the form of methane?

The Lurgi process makes methanol, not methane. Methane cars, aka CNG cars, do exist, but not in great numbers. I suspect McKissick doesn't drive one, so in my opinion he neglects to ask whether anyone wants methane in his car before asking how it will get there.

Too complex for a distributed application? So what. Solar in intrinsically a large-scale centralized power source. Its intrinsic scale is necessarily one where on cold winter nights it is inexpensively available from elsewhere on the planet, or off it, or from very large reservoirs that were filled at very low cost per MWh the previous summer. Only thus can it accommodate customers of the unenlightened sort who do not choose personally to do things like "take the hit on using simple straight H2" or methane.

--- G. R. L. Cowan, former hydrogen fan
How I think motorists will voluntarily nuclearize and solarize

October, 25 2006

Jim Beyer says

For your information:

There are more than 250,000 CNG (methane) cars on the road in the United States today, and millions worldwide. There are fewer than 5,000 methanol cars in the United States. I don't know about their worldwide numbers.

October, 25 2006

Todd McKissick says

Actually, Graham, that was a typo and I meant methanol.

Living in the midwest, I know many farmers who run their trucks from methane (aka natural gas) with switchover capabilities. They all state how much cheaper it is and how there's no noticable difference in power. The extra tank needed in addition to a gasoline tank precludes people from using it on cars.

Regarding the question I meant, solar being intrinsically a large scale only source is a myth. It is best for distributed use for exactly the reason you state it isn't. Storage in the form of heat is best done on a small scale where it's easier to insulate cheaply and in smaller installations where you can get away with oversizing the system by a few percent. This is especially beneficial when you can make use of the extra capacity on demand. Now add in the benefits of having a raw heat source onsite for any domestic use or making your electrolysis a little more efficient. Then one has to consider the extra land used for solar collection and storage method. I'd rather spread both across millions of buildings than take up hundreds of new square miles.

So these enlightened people can be net zero energy at most locations below around 45 deg Lat. Above that, oversizing or purchasing energy in other forms might be required sometimes.

October, 25 2006

Graham Cowan says

Storage in the form of heat is best done on a small scale where it's easier to insulate cheaply?

How many percent of oversizing is "a few"?

I think Peter Glaser, not Glasser, is the name associated with early SPS studies.

October, 25 2006

Todd McKissick says

Unlike large scale installations, I would think a residential system can tolerate around 10% extra cost without the customers leaving in droves. Keep in mind that a 10% price increase would most likely increase capacity more than that. This is because only the cheap parts of the system need to be uprated i.e. collectors and heat storage. Oversizing by say 20% capacity in your home system year-round would go along way toward eliminating the bad weather spells without sun.

The "downside" to this extra cost is that at times of the year when this extra capacity isn't needed to run the house you get to use the backup reserve as hydrogen in your car, so it's not really a bad thing. Either that or you can sell it back to the NG/H2 pipeline. The question essentially becomes how much vehicle power do you want to pay for in your home system.

It wouldn't surprise me if the DOE taking over CSP research 20 years ago was meant to set the pace of it's development and preclude private investment. It sure seems curious that Spain's Solar Tres project timeline got extended so much right after the US bought into their research expenses. Also of note is that residential solar thermal electric qualifies for exactly no research grants.

October, 26 2006

Roger Arnold says

Regarding solar power satellites, there's really no point in discussing them. Regardless of technical merit and long range feasibility, there is simply no way that the necessary infrastructure could get funded. The present business and cultural climate precludes it. As a country, to the extent that we focus on anything at all beyond sports and the latest Hollywood gossip, it's the Dow-Jones average. What matters to our business leaders is the bottom line for the next quarter. We don't undertake public works programs on the scale required to build solar power satellites.

Which is probably just as well, because if we tried it, it would quicly degenerate into a giant corporate welfare fiasco. We no longer have the cultural integrity to pull off another Apollo program.

October, 26 2006

Dimitrios Siozopoulos says

Would it be feaseable to have a hydrogen - electrick plant - to replace the coal for its main power sourse in the near future and would companies be willing to invest in such venture

October, 26 2006

Arvid Hallén says

Hydrogen is, unlike coal, not a source of energy but a carrier for energy.

What I am saying is that it is very possible to build a power plant that burns hydrogen, bu the problem is there are no hydrogen mines.

The hydrogen would likely be made from coal or natural gas and it would be smarter, cheaper and better for the environment to burn the coal and gas in the first place instead of turning it into hydrogen and then burning it.

Of course, it would be even better for the environment and the econmy to replace said coal power plant with a nuclear power plant.

October, 26 2006

Malcolm Rawlingson says

Warren, Your clear opposition to anything nuclear is obviously based on no knowledge of the subject. Your papers on the solar hydrogen are very interesting (if implausible and impractical) and I read them both quite enthusiastically until I came to your item on nuclear energy. I do hope your knowledge of the other subject areas is better than that displayed wrt nuclear power. With respect to Chernobyl you are completely factually wrong.

Under the following heading in Paper #2 - your most recent

"The Government is developing many avenues for the production of hydrogen for the Solar-Hydrogen Economy. Should the Government continue to fund the development for the generation of hydrogen from nuclear power plants?"

you said

Definitely not. Hydrogen and nuclear power is a recipe for disaster. The Chernobyl explosion at the Ukraine nuclear power station was caused, in part, by a hydrogen explosion.

Here is the correct explanation. The explosion that occurred at Chernobyl was not caused by hydrogen. Not in whole or in part. Hydrogen had absolutely nothing and I repeat nothing to do with the destruction of the core. The core explosion that occurred was a STEAM explosion caused by a rapid release of fission energy from the core. Where did you get your information? Amory Lovins - perhaps. He is the only person I can think of that knows even less than you appear to.

You also said

"I certainly do not want large volumes of hydrogen being generated at any of the U.S. nuclear power plants"

What are the differences between large volmes of hydrogen being produced at nuclear sites and large volumes of hydrogen being produced anywhere else. The hazards of hydrogen are the same wherever it is made or stored. The best protected structures in the world are nuclear power plants. It is in fact the SAFEST place to make it. even if all the hydrogen produced exploded it would have no effect on the core - none.

And finally you said

"In addition, the U.S. nuclear power plants are 30-40 years old. These “aging dinosaurs” will have to be dismantled costing the consumers billions of dollars in their electric bills".

The phrase "ageing dinosaurs" is (I am quite sure) intended to portray (to those that do not know anything) some level of lack of safety and unreliability.

In the US as with many other large nuclear power producers the reliability of nuclear power plants is increasing the older they get.. They are now operating at AVERAGE capacity factors in excess of 90%. There is not a single other type of industrial plant that operates at these levels of reliability - none. If that is a measure of an ageing dinosaur then I suggest to you that the world needs more not less of this highly reliable technology. In Canada CANDU plants are highly reliable as are plants constructed in Romania, China and other countries. In fact the "ageing dinosaurs" in China are only two years old. Decommissioning costs are born by the utility and are already factored into the price of the electricity they produce. There will be no additional cost to decommission them Plus they will be operated for at least another 20-30 years. Plenty of time to pay fopr themselves dozens of times over as they already have done.

Whatever you say or do, nuclear power IS going to be play a vital role in meeting the energy demands of the worlds population for many years to come. And (if your hydrogen dream ever comes to fruition) nuclear power WILL be the way it is produced. In fact it is very likely that nuclear power ( limitless energy source) in conjunction with hydrogen production and carbon sequestration would be a much better way to go to produce methane instead of hydrogen. The gas methane can be pumped directly into the existing extensive network of pipelines with NO modification. A much cheaper and much more plausible alternative than producing hydrogen in places where the Sun does not shine alot.

An interesting article...but if your intention is to scaremonger - say so - if it is not please get your nuclear facts straight or ask someone that knows the subject.


October, 27 2006

Todd McKissick says

"In addition, the U.S. nuclear power plants are 30-40 years old. These “aging dinosaurs” will have to be dismantled costing the consumers billions of dollars in their electric bills".

I'm more of the opinion that the author meant that there are quite a number of older plants with large dismantling costs waiting to be sprung on the consumer. Since the current fleet is generally in the same age group, this will be significant if they all hit at the same time. I don't mean that they don't have much usable lifetime left since most will probably extend their licenses and even uprate, but when it does begin, it will be costly. I don't beleive that all of these costs are built in because in the real world, inflation and unforseens always overrun budgets on these type of expenses. That doesn't even consider all the R&D subsidies for any new generations of plants. It seems completely logical to me that the utilities will try all they can to recover everything they can squeeze out of the consumer and the potential for lower (or even stable) rates will die off. I can't see any forseen path where rates have a snowball's chance of dropping.

Case in point, yesterday's headline right here in Energy Central:

Duke wants lines open to rate hikes: Goal: Recover costs of future plant, even if it is never built

Oct 25 - McClatchy-Tribune Business News Formerly Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News - Christopher D. Kirkpatrick The Charlotte Observer, N.C. Duke Energy Corp. said in a regulatory filing late Tuesday that state officials "may have misunderstood" its request to recover $125 million in planning costs for a nuclear plant in Cherokee County, S.C., even if a plant is never built.

A couple years ago, Nebraska had just finished making very drastic budget cuts because of a $20M shortfall when we got hit with a $145M federal lawsuit for declining on a former governor's promise to host a nuclear storage facility. We haven't recovered from that yet. We've been told for years that inexpensive nuclear shields us from rising coal costs (our other major source) but my rate has risen 45% in 3 years. I'm sure glad I heat with non-volitile natural gas! (ha ha)

To the consumer, it doesn't matter if rising CHARGES are due to technical issues, fuel costs, corporate greed/arrogance (checked Duke's dividend lately?), inflation, political/social roadblocks, accidents or taxes/fees. People are fed up with rampant energy costs.

October, 27 2006

Roger Arnold says

Todd, you write "people are fed up with rampant energy costs." That's a popular meme--a nice sound byte that conveys strong resolution. Just the kind of thing that politicians love to repeat. If people hear it enough, they may well decide "yeah, that's right! I'm fed up with rampant energy costs!" But is there really much basis for it?

Sure, costs have risen significantly over the last few years, mostly because of the rapid rise in natural gas prices. But in absolute terms... well, google failed me when I went looking for historical information on the cost of electricity, but for back as I can remember (quite a while, now), 10 cents / kilowatt-hour has been a good rule of thumb for the cost of electricity. That holds back at least to the early 1970s. In that same period, houshold incomes have inflated by roughly a factor of 10. So in constant dollars, we're paying only about a tenth as much for each kilowatt-hour as our parents did. That didn't seem to be big problem for them.

We're spoiled. Energy is CHEAP!

October, 28 2006

Don Giegler says


Try and from the home page choose Electric Power Annual. The Annual contains many interesting items like Table 8.2 , Average Power Plant Operating Expenses for Major U. S. Investor-Owned Electric Utilities, 1994 through 2005 (Mils per Kw-hr).

October, 28 2006

Roger Arnold says


Thanks. Actually, I found that one (I think), but it didn't go far enough back. I was looking for something that covered at least the last five decades.

October, 29 2006

Don Giegler says


Try report number DOE/EIA - 0562(96). Figure 15. Real Retail Prices of Electricity Sold by Utilities, 1970-1991 shows what you might be after. The plot shows that in 1991 dollars a sporadic increase from about $0.057/Kw-hr in 1970 to around $0.085/Kw-hr in 1982 occurred. This was followed by an almost steady decrease from $0.085/Kw-hr in 1982 to close to $0.068/Kw-hr in 1991. Would guess that the 3.6 decades of data turned up so far could be extended further back by a more clever searcher than I am, e.g., Forrest McDonald at Brown University in 1962 was able to track down Chicago Edison/Commonwealth Electric commercial and residential rates from 1892 to 1909. Bye the bye, they fell from $0.20/Kw-hr in 1892 to $0.10/Kw-hr in 1897 to $0.05/Kw-hr in 1906 to $0.025/Kw-hr in 1909.

October, 29 2006

Todd McKissick says

Point taken that the "price" of electricity has dropped or might even have been stable in certain markets, but by including that list of causes as I did, I was hoping to convey that people are tired of writing larger checks lately. My household usage has not gone up a tenfold - it most likely has gone down in recent years from my spending a ton on becoming more efficient, yet my monthly payment has risen by 45%. I believe the reason to be 1) price, 2) taxes and 3) some sort of fees which are allowed to be charged to recover some cost because some company convinced some politician they were needed. All three have risen for different reasons, but if #3 sounds convoluted, that's because I don't know of any resource where I can turn to track how that money flows. It's this hidden cost that gets under people's skin.

Somebody please clarify for me what justifies all the pac money spent on legislature and how that doesn't game the system for more of my money to go to these companies. No one throws hundreds of millions to both sides of political campaigns just because they want to help them both get elected.

October, 30 2006

Malcolm Rawlingson says

Roger Arnolds replies here and others made me think.

Considering what electricity is capable of doing it is very true that electrical energy is cheap - maybe even dirt cheap. For about a hundred bucks a month I get, 1. Lights when the sun does not shine. 2. Refrigerate all my food 3. Deep freeze storage for food 4. Run all household cleaning and maintenance appliances. 5. Cook food 6. Run computers, games televisions and all electronics. 7. Heat and cool my house (primary energy for heating is gas - but still need a fan to blow the heat around). 8. Run all my power tools 9. Charge batteries 10. Available 24 hours a day 7 days a week whenever I need the supply.

You know there is nothing else I buy that gives me that much value and versatility. Of course I like low electricity prices but Roger is right energy is cheap.


October, 30 2006

Richard Smith says

Question to all...I am not an an engineer, but I can't wrap around a couple of things. First, if--as I think we all must agree--solar power lacks th 24/7 power intensity/quality that is required to energize the US econonmy, how can it produce the quantity of H required to do much of anything? Could it be possible from an engineering/physics perspective to power NYC, LA, Cleveland, Tampa...

Seems to me the answer is obvios. Should sola be part of the answer...Sure...Should H be part of the answer...Sure...Should coal, natural gas, nuclear power be the generation that makes H feasible...No brainer

October, 31 2006

Jim Beyer says

I checked around and found a few historical prices for electricity. The original Edison Pearl street plant (NYC) sold electricity for 24 cents per kilowatt-hour in the late 1880's. In 1932, electricity was sold for about 5.5 cents per kilowatt-hour (US). These are in unadjusted dollars, so inflation would bring them much higher compared to today.

But I don't much buy this "energy is cheap" notion. Compared to what? Not certainly to what we are accustomed to. One could just as easily say, "living to 50 is a long life", because historically, it is a long life compared to times in the past. But that doesn't mean we aren't desireous of living longer in this day and age.

The other problem with is argument is that though, say, solar electricity is "cheap" at 20 cents per kw-hr, electricity from coal is CHEAPER at 5 cents per kw-hr. All things being equal, people will buy electricity from coal. The fact the GHG emissions are not properly assessed to this base cost is highly problematic, perhaps catastrophically so for our society. But you can't get people to stop burning coal simply by saying a more expensive method of production is still "cheap". The consumer and the market will laugh in your face.

The problem isn't the cost of electricity, per se. It is the implications of the use of the cheapest method of electricity production (coal) .

October, 31 2006

Todd McKissick says

Jim, those implications are a large reason driving the incredible growth of PV sales these days. The main reason, I think, is that some people realize that a high capital purchase (mitigated by currennt subsidies) today with no fuel bills locks in their price against future increases.

It isn't very accurate to compare prices over the years because they don't show the added costs. The dollar amount I write my check for each month is only partially made up of the advertised price. On top of that is added about 8 other charges. (I even noticed that my state taxes these fees AFTER adding in the city taxes - double taxation?) I firmly believe that all these extra fees are underhanded means of paying more to the utility company without admitting an accurate price increase.

BTW: My estimation is that within 5-10 years, solar (not PV) will be cheaper than coal is now. I just hate the thought of that being pushed out to 15-20 years.

October, 31 2006

Jim Beyer says

According to the inflation adjuster, 24 cents in 1885 would be about $4.92 in 2005 dollars. And 5.5 cents in 1932 would be about 67 cents in 2005 dollars. So the cost of electricity has dropped from those levels, even with all the extra taxes added.

Todd, I agree that GHG emission is a big problem with burning coal, but until and unless these emissions are regulated, many will burn coal until something cheaper comes along. And I agree with you -- it is hard enough to develop an alternative energy strategy even without the obfuscation and foot dragging of the utilities. And they seem to do that quite well.

October, 31 2006

Don Giegler says

Metrics can sure be embarassing. Oh well, one can turn to implication, human nature, opinion, regulation and conspiracy theory. Particularly if one has a horse in the race...

November, 01 2006

Roger Arnold says

But you can't get people to stop burning coal simply by saying a more expensive method of production is still "cheap".
Bingo! That's EXACTLY the problem. Just like you can't get them to stop buying cheap imported goods from Wallmart by pointing out that the loss of jobs here is undermining the long term viability of the economy. The "tyranny of the cheapest", abetted by a culture and ideology unwilling to assess external costs, is going to seal our doom!

Or so it looks to me in gloomier moments. If we're not willing to impose a stiff carbon tax, then not even a massive expansion of wind and solar energy resources is going to put a dent in CO2 emissions. It will reduce fuel consumption for electricity generation, but all that will do is reduce the price of fossil fuels and discourage conservation. Use will shift, but total consumption will still be pegged at "all we can get our hands on", because fossil fuels will remain the cheapest source of energy available.

And that's doubly true if we do actually shift to the fabled hydrogen economy. A ton of coal used to produce hydrogen by carbothermic reduction of steam will yield two and a half times as much hydrogen as a ton of coal used to generate power for an electrolysis cell. Anybody want to take bets on how soon wind and solar will be able to produce electricity at one third the cost of coal? That's what it will take to make "clean" carbon-free hydrogen a reality.

Ah, well. Maybe I'll feel a little better after November 7?

Either that, or a lot worse.

November, 01 2006

Don Giegler says

And how do assess the external cost of the happy arrival of our 300 milionth citizen, Roger?

November, 01 2006

Don Giegler says

And how do you assess...

November, 01 2006

Don Giegler says


November, 02 2006

Len Gould says

A non-issue Don, as almost all population increase in N America is due to immigration, not births. Or are you thinking we should halt immigration?

November, 02 2006

Malcolm Rawlingson says

As Richard Smith points out, powering a city like New York or Los Angeles cannot be done with solar or wind or any combination the two. While I personally like the idea, those that dream of the wind/solar utopia need a big reality check.

The unfortunate reality is that it will take hundreds of square kilometers of solar collectors and many hundreds of windmills all operating under continuosly optimum conditions to generate sufficent electricity for the present demand let alone growth in those cities. While it is nice to dream......the scale of our electricity usage is beyond the cabability of wind and solar technology and likely always will be.

Furthermore, as I have stated here many times here, the intermittency of solar and wind systems means their capacity factor is far below acceptable levels to be of any large scale use. The Sun can only deliver at best an average capacity factor of 50% (ie they don't work at night). The wind is notoriously variable and as the best sites are used up the capacity factors will decrease from the already low levels they are at now.

Using the electricity produced from them in a solar/wind hydrogen economy has very large cost implications and I doubt that it could be made economic. While it would smooth out production it still does not change the fact that a solar/hydrogen plant can only operate when it is receving sunlight. In Northern parts of the continent that is not very often.

The only large scale emissions free method of producing hydrogen is nuclear power. Producing hydrogen from a nuclear power plant has many advantages. Most current designs of nuclear plant operate best at continuous base load. As more are built above the base load requirement then power will need to be adjusted to meet grid demands. Newer plants with load following capability will be required. However if hydrogen production is added to the equation then nuclear plants can simply switch the load from the grid to hydrogen production at times when the grid demand is lower. That way thay can operate at their curent very high capacity factors (90% or better) and produce cheap hydrogen at the same time.

Adding the step of converting that hydrogen to methane by combining with carbon (from coal or perhaps CO2) can be done relatively simply. Producing methane of course gets over the high cost of changing over our current gas distribution system, hydrogen is then just an intermediary - a carrier of energy.

Large scale electricicty production together with large scale hydrogen/methane production is the simplest, cheapest and best way of becoming independent of off shore energy supplies. Wind and solar energy will have a role but sad to say not on the scale necessary to run large cities economically....unless you ask the Times Square advertisers to shut off their displays at night when the wind isn't blowing.....or shutdown the subway when it gets dark.

Spending billions on generation technologies that don't work will do more harm to the North American economy than everyone in North America buying their socks at Walmart could ever do.


November, 02 2006

Todd McKissick says

Very innovative plan ya got there, Malcolm. Deja Vu? The problem with centralized nuclear powering such a system is that if we're adding transportation to the electrical load (assuming this is the goal of the H2 part), then we will need a far greater transmission and distribution network than exists today. So we will need enough new central plants and power lines to not only go 100% nuclear and cover the increase, but also cover the transportation load and its increase. That's what I call not feasable. By the way, this also means dumping the lower grade waste heat from the plant, otherwise you would then have to transport the methane or hydrogen to the city.

If you would research some concentrating solar systems other than what the national labs did two decades ago, you'd learn that sunlight is the fuel, not the system's output. Stating that solar's capacity has anything to do with it's fuel delivery duty cycle is as errant as it would be to say the same for nuclear's fuel delivery cycles. Onsite low grade heat storage and its CHP use is the piece that you're missing. It works on a residential scale but not as well in centralized generation scales.

Regarding solar's piece of the pie, each LA residence receives their average needed energy on just 14 sq m (150 sq ft) of roof space. NYC residences require 18 (<200 sq ft). Each is a personal economic decision. If you're going to constantly say that solar is a technology "that don't work", please do your homework and read past chapter one.

Don, which do you regard my second paragraph on 10/31 as then? ...and how's your horse doing? Mine's great.

November, 02 2006

Malcolm Rawlingson says


Nuclear power plants can easily meet the fuel demand of the transportation sector. There is no debate. More will be required but mass producing anything makes it cheaper.

I will take your word for it that each LA resident receives their average energy need on just 14 square meters of roof space. But if I am not mistaken it gets dark at night in LA as it does in every city in the world. THAT means not only have you to install PV cells on every single roof in the entire city you ALSO have to install storage capacity in each residency to cover the times when the sun is not shining.

It is debateable whether such a scheme would work even in LA where it is sunny. It most defintiely does not work in New York or Toronto or other places where the Sun is does not make a frequent appearance. Of course the word "average" is in there. Which means it is sunny in the summer time and not sunny in the wintertime in NYC. Bit awkward when your solar panel is producing no electricity on a freezing cold day in NYC when you want your furnace on.

The other piece of the argument is that while a resident may receive enough sunlight for personal use that does not include the use that industry needs which is a great deal more than that and is needed at times of the day when it is not sunny. I just do not see a steel mill firing up an electric furnace in the tens of megawatt range from solar panels on people rooftops. Nice but it is a non starter.

Increasing the number of nuclear plants on an existing site is very feasible. Producing hydrogen to make methane is also relatively easy and quite feasible. Connecting to a gas line is also very feasible. Yes there is waste heat produced and it is something to consider but I doubt very much whether it would add to water body temperatures in a significant way. A good point to consider though.

I did not say that soalr power does not work. I am an advocate of solar panels for home use. I said it is simply not powerful enough produce the quantity of energy needed for a large industrial ecobnomy

If you add transportation requirements to the nuclear infrastructure it can be done without too much new technology. If you add transportation requirements to the solar infrastructure you need a bigger roof tops.

I am not making the argument that soalr has no place. The argument is that it is too weak an energy source to power a modern industrial economy. The only emissions free method that can meet all of these requirements is nuclear.

If you want to go back to a subsistence economy solar and wind will take you there. if you like all the modern conveniences of life you need oil and natural and nuclear produced electricity. If you don't like oil and natural gas ---- or they run out there is just nuclear power remaining.

Nuclear can do all of it. Solar and wind can not. Those are the facts. As much as I support the use of solar energy the arguments for it's large scale use are badly flawed practically and economically.


November, 02 2006

Don Giegler says

A bit of each should cover it, Todd. As for the horses, DOE/EIA's EPA Table 8.2 is probably as good a measure as any of how they're doing.

By golly Len, you've established some rare new metrics - energy consumption per native-born and energy consumption per immigrant! As first generation on one side and Heinz 57 on the other, on immigration, to quote one of this forum's sages, I'm "conflicted".

November, 02 2006

James Hopf says


Using centrally generated electricity to power electric cars or PHEVs, or to make H2 for use in cars, will not require increased transmission capacity, even if the H2 is generated at distributed locations (i.e., at residences or service stations). Electric/PHEV cars will be charged at times of minimum demand (i.e., at night). H2 would also be generated at night, at times of minimum demand. This is one of the beauties of the approach. Cheap, off-peak power. No incremental transmission costs.

Personally, I think solar has a lot of potential for residential heating, and other low temp heat applications. This is where it will penetrate first, and this is good as it will displace natural gas (something that we desperately need). Somewhat later, CSP or perhaps even PV distributed solar will start to be used to help with peak power demand (both in terms of generation capacity and grid capacity). Trying to store solar energy for nighttime electric power, or using it to power cars (either through direct charging or generating H2) will be the last thing to happen, if ever. Lower cost off-peak sources like wind or nuclear will be used as the source of power.

November, 03 2006

Malcolm Rawlingson says

James and Todd et al. In warm climates where the Sun shines alot there is no question that solar hot water heating and even PV could be useful in lowering demand for electricicty and natural gas using a distributed network based on home rooftops. But many millions of people do not live in areas where it is sunny alot plus the energy used during the night time will require storage of some form or another adding to the already high cost of such systems. Our energy infrastructure is the human innovation that allows us to live comfortable lives in cold, not-so-sunny parts of the world. If we wish to continue to do that AND we wish to continue to do that (when the inevitable day comes when oil and natural gas are not available) only one practical alternative is left that produces no CO2 - that is nuclear energy. Let me illustrate with a real life example (mine). Some years ago I was fortunate enough to own a house with a large indoor swimming pool. It had a very large solar hot water system installed on the pool room roof (60 square metres of collector area). I installed an automatic temperature controlled 3-way valve such that when the temperature on the roof was greater than the temperature of the pool water the valve opened to allow pool water to the roof to capture the suns heat....subject to a temperature set point....the temperature I wanted the pool to be at. If the pool water was below the setpoint and the temperature of the roof was below the temperature of the pool water system controls operated an electric booster heater to bring the pool water to the setpoint without sending water to the roof (which would have cooled it down).

The house was in Canada where I choose to live. In only TWO months of the year July and August was the electric heater not used at all. For 4 months of the year May and June and September and October the electric heater was switched on to compensate for the lack of solar heating. The rest of the time ONLY the electric heater was in use since there was not enough heat from the Sun to keep the water at its setpoint temperature.

So based on this experience I would strongly suggest that at best solar heating in across much of the north and north eastern USA and all of Canada cannot provide all of the demand. The pool temperature setpoint of course is significantly less than that required in a hot water heater. (80 F as opposed to 115 to 125 Ffor typical HW tanks)

Of course a swimming pool consumes alot of energy and there are some that would say I should not be allowed to have such an energy consuming beast. And that brings me to the conclusion that the ONLY way solar and wind energy can meet the energy demand of an industrial economy is for us NOT to live in an industrial economy and for our choices to be curtailed (either by deliberately increasing energy price or by political will). And that is really what all this debate is about - a profound lowering of the standard of living of North America.

The only way solar and wind energy supplies can meet the energy demand is by drastically curtailing the use of energy to the point where wind and solar power CAN meet the demand. That would seem to meet the objectives of energy activists and that is why any solution (such as nuclear) that can meet CURRENT and FUTURE needs very easily is opposed every single step of the way with arguments that are factually baseless. What else can explain the fact that the clearly incorrect statement by Warren Reynolds above that Chernobyl was caused hydrogen explosion (totally and completely false) was challenged by only one person here - me. My apologies if I missed any one else that noticed it but it seems strange that in a forum of energy experts only one person seemed to pick it up. Warren THEN used this statement to back up the claim that hydrogen should not be produced at nuclear sites because (based on Chernobyl's "hydrogen explosion" it's too risky. Complete garbage.

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that this debate is not about energy. It is very much about reducing energy demand by changing our society to a bycycle and windmill sociological utopia without giving the public any say in the matter.

The choice is plain and simple. If you want to stop CO2 emissions AND you want to maintain (or dare I say it) IMPROVE the standard of living of millions of people in the world then there is only one technology that has the capability to do it.

That is nuclear energy. Like it or not. The Chinese know it. The Indians know it. When North America wakes up one day it will find it no longer has the highest standards of living in the world. Wake up folks - the lifestyle you all enjoy is about to disappear.


November, 03 2006

Jim Beyer says

A few corrections.

I checked the U.S. DOE 2006 budget of about 24 Billion dollars.

Of that, about 17 Billion went to nuclear or nuclear related and environmental activities. This includes nuclear waste handling as well as defense-related activities, and activities to safegaurd nuclear materials (Frankly, some of it seemed out of the purview of DOE, but there you go.) Only 1.2 Billion went to energy efficiency and renewable energy. Money to renewable energy decllined, and money to fossil and nuclear energy was increased, from the previous year.

Since very little of this 17 Billion seemed to be research, I'm not sure why the nuclear industry isn't paying for it, if it is so darn inexpensive.

The budget I saw could be found at

November, 03 2006

James Hopf says


The DOE "nuclear" budget is indeed very large, but virtually all of it goes towards nuclear weapons activities, or the clean up of nuclear weapons sites. For reasons like this (i.e., your confusion), I think the whole nuclear weapons budget and administration should be moved from DOE to DOD, where it belongs. Some of the money also goes towards things like fusion, space power and general (non-power) nuclear technology research. Only a few hundred million dollars per year goes towards programs that in any way benefit the commercial nuclear power industry, directly or indirectly. This is less than half the renewables and conservation budget.

You suggest that research is OK, but that the industry should pay for non-research stuff. Little, if any, of the nuclear budget that does "benefit" the industry is not research. Most of the few hundred million that I mentioned above is for research projects like the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative and advanced reactors, including the H2 generating HTGR. Only a few projects, amounting to a few tens of millions of dollars, such as the "Nuclear 2010" program, could be considered non-research.

Existing reactors receive absolutely no help of any kind from the government. All plant decommissioning costs, waste management costs, and even the costs of being regulated (i.e., NRC) are paid for by the industry. Note that just because something appears as a budget item, it doesn't mean that offsetting funds aren't being collected by the govt. (the NRC and Yucca Mtn. budgets being a good example of this). Reseach is really the only area in which the govt. helps nuclear.

And yes, the situation is going to change in the future, as a result of the 2005 Energy Policy Act. The law provides significant subsidies for the first ~6 reactors (only) to help kick start the industry and demonstrate that plants can be built, etc.. These subsidies, on a per kW-hr basis, are similar to those given to renewables and clean coal (IGCC) plants. I support all of these policies, given the large, unaccounted-for external costs of fossil fuels, including air pollution (~25,000 deaths every year), CO2 emissions, and energy dependence.

Strict limits or taxes on air pollution, CO2, and imported oil & gas would be better than the subsidy approach, but for now it's all we've got. Unless policies change, dirty conventional (non-IGCC) coal plants and baseload plants powered by Middle Eastern gas will continue to rule the day. When all issues are considered, this is very definitely not the lowest-cost approach for our country. The ecological, public health, economic and geopolitical costs will be enormous. It high time that the "market" reflected and acknowledged these very real costs. The fact that it doesn't is the primary failure of our energy policies.

November, 05 2006

Malcolm Rawlingson says

In Canada the entire cost of handling, storing and safeguarding used nuclear fuel is ENTIRELY paid for out of revenues generated by the sale of nuclear generated electricicy. There are NO government subsidies of any sort. No other industry factors the cost of its by products into its product cost. Not one.

Even so nuclear electricity is still cheaper than all other sources with the exception of hydroelectric plants. It is cheaper than coal, much cheaper than gas and much much cheaper than wind or solar (which do require subsidisation to make them economic). Hydrolelectric plants are only cheaper because they can get away with flooding vast areas of land with no associated environmental impact costs.

So, let's see, we have a technology that produces zero Carbon Dioxide emissions, zero Suplphur Dioxide emissions, zero Nitrous Oxide Emissions, creates valuable products (electricity and medical radioisotopes), manages its fuel cycle completely from start to finish, employs thousands of highly skilled North American technical workers to construct and operate, and improves the lives of millions and millions of people with zero damage to their health.

Would someone kindly tell me what is WRONG with that. Name one industry that is even close to that level of performance.


November, 05 2006

Malcolm Rawlingson says

James, I agree with you. Although I am no expert on US Federal Government funding one should not jump to the conclusion that because a budget line item has the word "nuclear" in it automatically means that the nuclear electricity generation industry is the recipient. It is not.

In the UK the budgets of civil nuclear programs were split off from all others many years ago for the very reason you cite and I'd suggest the US does the same. Then you would see that the Space and military applications far outweigh those of civilian uses by many times.

It is also ironic that there is even a need for a Government incentive now. The only REAL reason this is required is because the anti-nuclear movement knows full well that the best way to price nuclear electricity off the markert and bankrupt its investors is to introduce delay after delay into the schedule of an already committed power plant. That is the tactic used in the past and one that will be used again I am sure. The public of course are the ones that pay for these antics and they have paid a very high price. As a direct result of their work the US is heavily dependent on gas and oil energy imports from overseas much of it from unstable dangerous regions of the world. Nuclear power could have substantially reduced that dependence and will be able to now that the public realises that there are very very few choices left.


November, 06 2006

Len Gould says

World Aluminum Production by Country

Production of new aluminum, where almost the only input is electric energy, has long been a useful indicator of a country's energy and economic condition. Interesting to note that in 2001 Russia's production exceeded the US, and then in 2002 China overtook both of them in a blowout, and (if not already doing so) is soon likely to exceed them both combined.

November, 06 2006

Len Gould says

Also notable that aluminum production would make an excellent energy storage medium for erratic electricity producers, if only someone would figure out a "resource following" smelter setup.

November, 07 2006

Roger Arnold says

Len, even though aluminum production is the classic example of an energy-intensive process, it's actually not a good candidate for use of intermittent power. One problem is that the capital cost of the production equipment is still substantial, and utilizing that equipment at an average of only 30% of its capacity would be disasterous to the bottom line.

Furthermore, the equipment, as it is, simply cannot be operated intermittently. The big pots of molten cryolyte are kept hot by waste heat from electrolysis. They have to be operated more or less continuously to avoid freezing up. One could probably redesign the system with good high temperature insulation to enable operation to be throttled down when power was less available, but you'd want to have some level of continuing operation even then.

Malcom, with all due respect, I'd have to assert that your solar hot water system was not well engineered for your climate region. It was obviously leaking too much heat to the outside air during winter. A well-designed solar hot water system should be able to deliver half a kilowatt of heating per square meter for water at 75 C any time the sun is out, even when the outside temperature is -40. Of course, that would likely be an evacuated tube model, much more costly than the cheap flat-plate designs.

Regarding this statement:

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that this debate is not about energy. It is very much about reducing energy demand by changing our society to a bycycle and windmill sociological utopia without giving the public any say in the matter.
The debate is different things to different people. It's rarely well defined--which is why it goes around in circles so much. But I'd agree that there's a camp to which that statement could be fairly applied.

I recall reading, some time way back, a collection of letters written by prominent anti-nuclear activists. It was clear that they weren't really worried about safety of nuclear plants. They were worried that nuclear power would be successful. They seemed to ascribe all the things that they hated about modern society to the evil of "central power generation", in their minds epitomized by nuclear. Nuclear power became a symbol for everything they hated about our soulless modern consumer society.

It isn't rational, but people often attack symbols with a particular passion--especially when they feel powerless to do anything about the reality behind the symbol. I guess it's understandable, but I really despise running under false colors.

November, 07 2006

James Reardon says

Dear Sir,

In discussing the progressive development of hydrogen economy distribution infrastructure you stated: "I feel the best and least expensive route is the generation at the site of usage, i.e. at the fueling station. In this category I believe that the wind-turbine generation of hydrogen is the best solution........". I absolutely agree with your observation.

I am convinced that water electrolysis is the simplest, safest and most sensible mechanism to produce hydrogen on-site. The wind turbine generation to create the electicity is an idea I have agreed with for years. On-site production eliminates the distribution channnels and associated problems with transporting the volatile hydrogen. Hydrogen fuel transportation is expensive and unecessary. The on-site generation also eliminates the need for the existing oil corporate infrastructure from controlling the generation and distribution process as they shift gas stations to hydrogen staions. Micro processing on-site will eventually be available to consumers at home. I am working on an aquaculure project utilizing simple water electrolysis processors (electrolyzers) to produce hydrogen and the hydrogen is then used to catalyse fuel cells, with water being reproduced in the circulation process. That Water always returns unto itself is the simplest fact on which to base the processes. Simplicity works.

Thank you for your insights.

Sincerely, James Michael Reardon.

November, 07 2006

Todd McKissick says

For me, this debate boils down to a few basic differences in the two camps. One group looks at the problem from an engineering only point of view. i.e. nuclear can do it all and we don't want to 'waste' any money, resources or time on any competitors because nothing can be a cost competitive as nuclear. While only technically true, it is possible. Is it plausable? Hardly. In the real world, there's no way the industry can satisfy enough of the population on it's downsides. Any energy source can be made to satisfy the problems as long as enough money is thrown at it, but there is still too much debate and indecision at all levels for an unrefuted consensus. This will inevitably limits it's adoption rate.

The other group of debaters may or may not support nuclear, but they certainly realize that 100% nuclear is NOT the answer. Transmission costs and land use will skyrocket because without time-of-use metering, most electrical use (including car charging) will remain at 5:00pm. On top of that, using predominantly only one energy source is a competition disincentive and leaves the door open to corruption. After the last 6-7 years, I trust my dog to leave a raw steak alone more than I trust big corporations. Every single day I read more to support this in the news so I don't see that changing.

So what to do? Well, most sensable people open mindedly research all the alternatives and pick their personal winners. If their research is complete enough and they fairly equate all factors like physics, resources, human nature, politics, regulation and economics, they will come to some conclusion. Usually, they will then fill in the remainder with non-renewable energy sources in ranked order. From what I've seen, this usually starts and ends with nuclear since IMHO no other fossil fuel is acceptable long term.

The problem with these two groups debating is that there are no set rules. One side touts the benefits of its candidate based on "iminent" future improvements but evaluates their opponent on only past performance. This happens in relation to the technical arena, the infrastructure required, research and implimentation timeframes, the economical and the political aspects too. Reading past comments with an eye open for this is very entertaining. This especially happens on the money side. No one has broken down the cost into it's contexts. For example, there are consumer direct and indirect costs, utility costs (which are passed down to the consumer) and governmental costs (also passed down).

In reality, the debate should center around two basic differences. Renewable energy adoption rates most likely result from nuclear's adoption rate. For example, if everyone knew that 700 new reactors were funded and already being built, you couldn't sell a renewable system anywhere. Conversely, nuclear's adoption rate depends on renewable's competitiveness. If everyone knew that renewable offerings met the scale, economic and reliability requirements, investor risk for nuclear plants would prevent even current ones from completion. The other difference is that nuclear is more of a 'push' solution while renewables are more based on 'pull' type market forces. Different groups of people are the customers in each case. Since we need both for fair competition, I think this should be where we start.

November, 07 2006

Jim Beyer says


I've heard the viewpoint that "greens" are pushing us to bicycles and windmills before, but I don't think they are. Perhaps it is your thoughfulness that sees that all viable options seem to be eliminated, so we will be left with only bicycles to ride. It is more likely that renewable energy advocates who don't like nuclear energy do not really understand what this means to them. They MAY be advocating bicycles without even knowing it. I think this is probably the most likely scenario.

On the other hand, the "we should have all the energy we need, d*mn it!" camp needs to be a bit realistic about growth numbers, which they don't discuss too often. All the energy they want. Ok, fine. For how many people? 6.5 Billion? 10 Billion? 100 Billion? At what point do we curtail growth until we figure this stuff out, rather than the other way around (figuring out how to build things to accommodate the growth). So I think both sides have some unrealistic notions going for them.

And quickly building lots of nuclear power plants isn't exactly easy either, is it? Don't all the existing plants store their own spent rods on site, because the 50 Billion dollar Yucca Mountain storage facility is still not ready, and won't be until at least 2012 or later? Given that, it seems highly unlikely that any new nuclear power facility will come on-line in the United States before 2015.

The Fermi II plant in Monroe, Michigan generates about 1200 Megawatts, day in and day out. That's about 28,800 Megawatt-hours per day, or 28,800,000 kilowatt-hours per day, if I'm keeping my zeroes straight.

Compare this with a renewable source, home-oriented that can produce (on average) 1000 watts, or 24 kilowatt-hours/day. If this source was replicated in 1.2 million homes, then that would equate to a nuclear power plant like Fermi II. If the source had a solar component, there would likely be some additional heating benefits in addition to the kWe produced.

I don't want to get into what nuclear power plants cost, because I don't really know. Reading a figure of $1500/kw, that would mean a Fermi II size plant would run about 1.8 Billion dollars. Is that reasonable? To be cost competitive, the fiction renewable energy gizmos on the 1.2 Million homes would run about $1500 each. Obviously, PV solar is way too expensive for this sort of thing, but maybe something else is available, or will be.

The point is, all things being equal (and I know, they are NOT), distributing the generation over the homes seems favorable at least in some ways, to generating everything from a single point source. And it doesn't seem to be more than a factor of 10X off from what is probably rather favorable nuclear power cost estimates. So, on the face of it, not a completely horrible notion.

November, 07 2006

Malcolm Rawlingson says

Thanks Jim I appreciate your comments. There is no doubt that renewables have a place. But proponents seem to advocate that it is a reasonabkle leap from running ones household on solar (or wind) to running a modern industrial economy on these widely distributed and intermittent and uncontrollable sources. All I am saying simply is that you can not.....unless the problem of storing electricity is solved and solved on a very large scale at an economic price. Tam hunt has proposed some ways that it could be done but from he says I doubt that any of the methods is economic.

Perhaps I am being harsh on some of those people who truly believe that this can be done (and do not wish us to become third world economies). I think I was there at one time myself.

Of course it sounds like I favour nuclear and nothing else. What I said here and elsewhere is that IF you do not want to burn coal, IF you do not want to burn natural gas, IF you don't want to burn oil then the ONLY real option for large scale electricity production is nuclear.

I would consider myself an avid environmentalist and see no conflict whatsoever in advocating nuclear as the greenest option of them all. The manufacture of PV cells on the scale envisaged by some would require huge energy inputs and I doubt whether this would be recoverable.

Also building nuclear plants is relatively easy. We know how to do that. We also have learned from the French experience that the best and the cheapest way to build them is to make many of them the same so that we do not build a series of "one offs" as we have done in the past. In other words mass produced identical nuclear power plants can be produced at very resonable costs and with long (50 years plus) life expectancies.

I have no problem with storing used fuel at nucklear sites. the whole concept of Yucca mountain seems dumb to me - a total waste of money. Reprocessing the used fuel is by far the better investment and much of the early fuel in storage is now 40 years old and very much less radioactive.

The other problem I see with distributed generation is that it favours those who can afford to put them in and causes those that depend on the centralised system (those that are far less well off) to shoulder the entire cost of operating the system. Since those that have solar systems still rely on the availability of the grid I would suggest charging the cost of that availability directly to them so that they shoulder their part of the cost of building and maintaining it. This is already done in some jurisdictions.

Todd suggests that there is enough space on roof tops to power the average household. He may be right - during a nice sunny day in California. How do you power a forty story high rise in NYC on a cloudy day or at night in the middle of winter.Not from PV cells on the roof to be sure. So I have grave reservations about decentralizing the power system this way and even more reservations powering it with PV solar heat or windmills or any other source opf energy that we cannot control. I think it is a recipe for disaster.....and expensive.

In Quinshan Province, China, Atomic Energy of Canada recently constructed two CANDU plants from start to megawatts out in less than four years. On time and on budget and both reactors are operating very well. So it is not a matter of technology it is a matter of political will.

While the politicians huff and puff over energy the electrical grid system on which we all depend is getting older and more taxed than at any time in the past. If we do not start building new plants very soon and very quickly we will all find out whether we can run the North American economy on renewables. There will be nothing else.


November, 07 2006

Steven Peterson says

Malcolm: [My apologies if I missed any one else that noticed it but it seems strange that in a forum of energy experts only one person seemed to pick it up. Warren THEN used this statement to back up the claim that hydrogen should not be produced at nuclear sites because (based on Chernobyl's "hydrogen explosion" it's too risky. Complete garbage.]

Well, Malcolm, I did notice, the b.s. about Chernobyl, and called it out as a red herring - But your more complete debunking was more eloquent.

Malcom, again: [I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that this debate is not about energy. It is very much about reducing energy demand by changing our society to a bycycle and windmill sociological utopia without giving the public any say in the matter. ]

Bingo! Few will say it, but that type of thinking (unvoiced even by the wistful dreamers that would wish it) MUST be behind some of the incohherent babbling and following of babblers in our society.


November, 08 2006

Todd McKissick says

Steven, the argument that proponents of renewables are even accepting of a society with "less" than currently projected growth is pure incoherant babbling on your part. Most advocates, including myself, desire more energy availability, not less. Fortunately, we understand that unchecked energy growth is a recipe for disaster. This is an additional reason some people look to renewables - to offset their energy greed. Once they become familiar with the various options, they take a look at the resources they have available to them and usually find that there is more than enough 'free' energy going by to cover their needs AND wishes. It's unfortunate that Malcolm can't see this as the enormous benefit that it is. Sure people in NYC will need most, if not all, of their electricity piped in, but compare that to a hog farmer in western nebraska with geothermal underneath the cow lot. Talk about a cash cow! That guy can generate 10kw - 5mw from wind, 1 kw - 1 mw from solar, 25 kw - 750 kw from methane or 25 kw - 10 mw from geo. He can even do them all together. (61 kw - 16,750 kw, with most above 90% capacity) The decision on where each of these customers gets their electricity will be a CUSTOMER DECISION. Therefore, no one needs to 'plan' which to allow. The market will decide based on cost and all of the other variables important to the customer at purchase time. This goes for the NYC customer as well. I'm pretty confident that the favorite choice there will be grid purchase which will create a market for suburban nuclear plants. The market is a wonderful thing, embrace it and keep the contests fair and it will work out.

I don't see the answer as trying to control population growth. It's well documented that as developing regions' standards of living increase, their birth rates drop. It's called ensuring the propagation of their species.

Malcolm, regarding solar thermal not being viable except "during a nice sunny day in California". I think you might enjoy this tidbit. An average roof with good southern exposure needs an average of 2 kwh/m2/day of sun to become self sufficient. (including the IR during cloudy times) Anything over that amount is free energy which can be used elsewhere or less roof space can be used. The entire lower 48 states except WA, OR, and some around the Great Lakes receives this as their minimum monthly average sun in the dead of winter. If such a system was installed in WY or ME, there would be a significant increase during the summer months (2.1 > 4.6) and consequently can be sold at a profit. A southern CA system receives a minimum of 3 kwh/m2/day and so it would be designed 2/3rds the size. It's INCREASE in the summer months (after extra cooling load) would not be as large, percentage-wise, resulting in better average utilization, but longer system payback.

November, 09 2006

Malcolm Rawlingson says

Todd, Solar energy isn't viable that is why few people except those that can afford it have them. - especially solar PV. Solar PV arrays are available from my local hardware store. Don't see hoards of folks rushing out to get their "free" energy. Why???With all this freely available energy on their rooftops there should be line ups at the solar power dealers. Why not???

Customers already have the capacity to make their own energy decisions. It seems to me that they prefer to just turn the switch on the wall to make the light come on than run up onto the roof in winter to clear the two feet of snow blocking your solar panel from working or having to run a generator at night when the Sun doesn't shine. Fine if your a 45 year old farmer in Wisconsin with a cuppla hundred acres. Not so fine if your an 80 year old living to day to day.

For the average person solar and wind are non starters. If itv was even close to viable we would already be doing it. The fact the people are not tells me everything I need to know. People vote with their chequbook.

People can collect their own water from their roof tops too. They don'y...why because it is easier to produce it in centralised plants.

people can make kit cars from parts. They don't because its easier and better to go to the local dealer to buy one made in a centralised plant.

It is called an industrial economy. Solar energy is not sufficient to make it work.


November, 10 2006

Jim Beyer says


Everything you say is true: "People CAN do X, but they don't because it's easier to do Y."

It is true, that is, until it isn't. You say we have an industrial economy, and we need to have all this energy to make it work. But if oil is peaking, then something MAY have to give. In a sense, you may be as unrealistic as the no-oil, no-coal, no-nukes environmentalists that simply want everything to be the same, but green.

Well, nuclear power, even if quickly built, will not easily replace oil, and especially not oil and coal. That's a hard row to hoe even without any consumer or political opposition. More than 85% of our total energy use in the U.S. (85.65 out of 100 Quads) comes from fossil fuels. 85 Quads! That's huge! And some of that is used for mundane things like low and mid-temperature heating, something which electricity is quite poorly suited for.

(Hard) truth be told, we will run out of oil, which will cause problems, especially with transportation. If we are wise and nimble (like, for the first time ever..) we can shift to trains, public transportation, and PHEVs. With any luck, these changes can match the decline in production. But only to a point, because non-transportation uses of oil are still significant. But we have a bit more time to figure that one out.

Coal is even worse, because it isn't a shortage per se, but merely problematic, due the to GHG emissions. If something cheaper, or reasonably equivalent to coal isn't worked out, then we may be in big trouble. We will just keep burning it, probably until severe environmental changes severely disrupt agricultural centers worldwide. And then lots and lots of people die.

It is not simple economics, because we've never faced peak oil before. (Maybe peak whale oil. I guess the whale population dropped, but we weren't so industrialized then.) You could say people voted with their checkbooks in New Orleans, and look what it got them. They got screwed over.

Yes, it's called an industrial economy. An industrial economy built on oil. Nuclear energy is not sufficient to make it work, either. At least not as is.

I appreciate you sentiment about nuclear power, because frankly, a few glowing metal rods shoved underground are the least of our problems. But I don't think it is wise to spit into the wind of peak oil and climate change that is blowing us in the face. If either of them come to pass, we are in for a pretty rough ride.

November, 10 2006

Todd McKissick says

Malcolm, I don't know where you have been, but you could not be more wrong. Even regarding the inefficient and expensive PV you continue to cite (which I DON'T promote beyond niche), in many markets throughout the US, it has a payoff-to-free-energy time frame of less than 20 years BEFORE any subsidies. This is for a technology that currently costs $8,000 per kw and is only 10% efficient. That's dismal at best and still people ARE flocking to them. Yet prices are not coming down because demand growth is threatening world silicon supply (and new development promises threaten large production ramp-up risks). How does this not constitute high demand? I must have learned my economics in a less progressive school. :(

For clarity of our conversation I will define solar thermal electric once again. It's not your father's PV. It has been used for over 20 years, it is 4 times as efficient as PV at roughly 1/3rd the cost. It's heat supply is cheap and easy to store for 24 hour dispatchable use. It's proven capacity on those older systems regularly tops 90%. It has a configuration scalable to residential systems which can make use of 95% of it's waste heat stream via CHP. Using just 10 kw heat, you could get 4 kw electrical and 5.4 kw thermal out. You tell me what the 'system' efficiency is? The documented cost 20 years ago was 12 cents/kwh for systems without counting the CHP half.

I'm amused at your statement, "If it was even close to viable, we would already be doing it." First off you have to define "we", because other countries are doing it. The Federal Ministry for the Environment Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety in Germany just commissioned a study for H.R.H. Prince El Hassan Bin Talal, the President of the Club of Rome for the Trans-CSP scenerio which will ship 700 twh/yr from North African countries to Europe by 2050. The estimated cost is 4 cents Euro for generation and 1 more for transmission via HVDC. This one project amounts to roughly 18% of Europe's estimated demand. Keep in mind that this plan still doesn't capture the waste heat component that a home based system has use for. I've ran scenerios in which a residential system could pay for itself in anywhere from 1 to 20 years.

If the cost was $0.12/kwh 20 yrs ago and they're nearly paid off now, why isn't it's development being continued, you ask? A better question would be why DOE's statistics never made it into the report to congress.

February, 07 2007

brian ooms says

In North America the average insolation at ground level over an entire year (including nights and periods of cloudy weather) lies between 125 and 375 W/m² (3 to 9 kWh/m²/day). This represents the available power, and not the delivered power. At present, photovoltaic panels typically convert about 15% of incident sunlight into electricity; therefore, a solar panel in the contiguous United States on average delivers 19 to 56 W/m² or 0.45 - 1.35 (kW·h/m²)/day .This means that in order to match the output of one 1,000 MWe power plant , an area of many square miles would be needed to be dedicated to solar collection. Is it realistic that a large city could be powered by this form of energy? Does anyone know just what the power consumption of greater NYC is? . In August 2005, ConEdison reported a DAILY electrical energy usage of 260,000 MWh. Please feel free to figure out just how much land area of solar energy collection would be necessary to deliver this amount of electricity. (I'll just tell you it is over 5000 square miles. If you disagree find out for yourself , Just don't simply assume this number is incorrect because it seems incredible ). Malcolm is a realistic person. Even with future technology gains that are not even forseeable result in 100% conversion of solar to electricity, the land mass needed would still be not feasable. Power could not be generated solarly in the city to supply itself (in the 319 square miles in Greater NYC area). Now the people who think that solar is green must realize that all that land in the country that the bears and squirrils live in would have to be covered up with solar collecting devices... then you all will be complaining about the scourage that covers the land. As for wind power, one cannot simply turn it on or off at will. Nor can one have it when the wind does not blow. People need to realize that many alternative energy sources , due to their inherrant disadvantages of mass requirements of resources such as land and raw materials and uncontrollability such as when the wind blows, will not free us from fossil fuel dependance and allow us to be able to shut off ( decomissioon) one single conventional coal or gas fired power plant. Another thing for those who believe that any sort of energy storage system (i.e. batteries) could be used for those times when power is generated during the day by sun. What sort of environmental problems will result from the disposal of spent batteries. They don't last for ever and there will certainly would need to be a lot to store enough to power one city like New York. You experts need to keep quite about what you believe so those that think and understand the nature and necessity of energy solutions are heard and not contradicted. With a realistic point of view, one can see that there is one current available energy source that is virtually limitless in production capacity and and can be cleaner than anything else. The technology for dozens of different types of nuclear reactors has been proven for nearly a half century. I suggest that you learn about some of them. Yes, some generate mass amounts of high level waste and others actually generate so little ( and low level waste at that) . Yucca mountain would never be filled up.

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