Energy legitimately too cheap to meter
- June 28, 2018
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According to Wikipedia, "too cheap to meter describes a commodity so inexpensive that it is cheaper and less bureaucratic to simply provide it for a flat fee or even free and make a profit from associated services."
The phrase is usually ascribed to Lewis L. Strauss, former chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, who said in a 1954 speech to the National Association of Science Writers, "Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter... It is not too much to expect that our children will know of great periodic regional famines in the world only as matters of history, will travel effortlessly over the seas and under them and through the air with a minimum of danger and at great speeds, and will experience a lifespan far longer than ours, as disease yields and man comes to understand what causes him to age."
The promise of 1954 has gone by the board considering expenditures on primary energy currently total about $6 trillion USD. Added to that the International Monetary Fund estimates, fossil fuels, which make up 78 percent of the total primary energy consumption total, received $5.3 trillion in subsidies in 2015 and a 2013 UN study says primary production and processing in sectors like agriculture, forestry, fisheries, mining, oil and gas exploration and utilities cost the world economy cost the world economy $7.3 trillion a year in damage to the environment.
All tolled these costs amount to about 24 percent of the nominal world national product of $78.28 trillion USD for 2014.
Putting a price on carbon over and above this would be tantamount to triple dipping and puts the other goals like freedom from famine, cheap, fast, transportation and increased life spans Strauss alluded to and the others Richard Smalley mentioned in Future Global Energy Prosperity: The Terawatt Challenge beyond reach.
In the recent Foreign Affairs Why Carbon Pricing Isn't Working, Jeffrey Ball of Stanford, points out, "there is little evidence for what has become an article of faith in the climate fight: that carbon pricing should be society's main tool to keep the planet cool."
Microsoft has recently announced it is testing the feasibility of situating underwater data centers, which offer the benefit of free cooling of their servers.
What they and pretty much everyone else have failed to recognize, however, is the same devices that direct heat away from the central-processing units of their servers, heat pipes, which move heat through the phase changes of the working fluid they contain, can also direct the entire heat load of global warming to a depth of 1,000 meters where, in the tropics, a portion of the heat can be converted in turbines to vital energy.
Hands down the oceans are the largest storehouses of energy on the planet. They hold 93 percent of the heat of warming, which will find its way back to the surface triggering even more warming than we are currently experiencing.
The science indicates that the thermal inertia of oceans allows us a lead time of about 32 years before the existing heat resurfaces, at which time the planet will be 62 percent hotter than today's 1.2oC and at 2oC we are in serious trouble.
Sequestering surface heat in the deep extends the lead time to 250 years, at which time, given that the diffusion rate of ocean heat, is 1 centimeter a year, the heat will be back on the surface and can be recycled.
The thermodynamic efficiency of heat conversion to work, given the differential between tropical surface temperatures and deep-water, is about 7.6 percent.
The current imbalance between incoming and outgoing energy at the top of the atmosphere is about 0.58 plus/minus 0.15 watts per square meter.
Since the surface of the earth is 510 million square kilometers the energy accumulating in the environment amounts to about 295 terawatts.
Since 93 percent of the heat of warming is accumulating in the ocean we can relocate about 274 terawatts of this by converting 21 terawatts to electrical energy and the residual 253 terawatts will be available later to produce additional work.
The heat of warming, in fact, can be recycled 13 times while providing one and a half times more energy than is currently derived from fossil fuels, 13 times longer than the entire 250-year span of the fossil-fuel era.
The following chart shows the annual cost of 125,000, 200-megawatt, heat pipe OTEC plants would be $3.7 trillion USD.
The assumptions for the chart are:
- Plants of a floating ship design.
- The cost of the 100MW plant is 66 percent of the base cost of the conventional 100-MW plant of $4,000/kW.
- Each doubling of the size of a 100MW plant lowers plant cost by 22%.
- Cost of ship designs by N. Srinivasan and M. Sridhar, "Study on the Cost Effective Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion Power Plant," Offshore Technology, pp. 1-13, 2010.
- All cost assumptions from MIT thesis, Assessment of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion by Shylesh Muralidharan, B. Tech. Mechanical Engineering, Pondicherry University. Revenue from plants is 1.38 times the current revenue from primary energy estimated at $6 trillion.
- The environmental benefit is 20% of the current environmental cost of business estimated in 2013 at $4.7 trillion/yr.
This is $2.3 trillion less than and 39 percent more energy than is currently provided by current energy sources. And when you back out fossil-fuel subsidies, let alone the environmental cost of the energy, it would be cheaper and less bureaucratic to simply provide it for a flat fee or even free and make a profit from the associated services, which include reduced surfaced heat loading, sea-level rise and storm surge, atmospheric CO2 concentration as well as ocean acidification. All of which amounts to $1 trillion more than the cost of the energy.
Essentially the cost of the energy meter can and should be run in reverse as shown in the above gif.