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Eternal Energy Production

According to Wikipedia, the most optimistic assessment of proven fossil fuel reserves is:

  • Coal: 417 years
  • Oil: 43 years
  • Natural gas: 167 years

This calculation assumes that reserves could be produced at a constant level for that number of years and that all of the proven reserves could be recovered, neither of which is likely to occur.

And then what?

For one thing, as Dr. Eric A. Davidson, President and Senior Scientist at Woods Hole Research Center puts it, “If we burn all known reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas, we will warm the earth by more than ten degrees Fahrenheit, creating a world unfit for civilization and the life support systems of the Earth upon which we depend. Our children and grandchildren will ask how we could have been so short-sighted and selfish.”

For another we will have accelerated the raising of sea levels by 69 feet, which will wipe out trillions of dollars worth of coastal infrastructure and will surrender sovereign territory to inundation without putting up a fight.

Actually we will have been active participants in the most monstrous act of sabotage ever perpetrated.

And then there are the products made from fossil fuels such as, medicines, cosmetics, plastics, synthetic fabrics, and lubricants. Where will these come from?

According to the USA Energy Information Administration, global primary energy consumption for the year 2006 was made up as follows:

Fuel type

 

Average power in TW

Percent

Oil

 

5.74

36.54%

Gas

 

3.61

22.98%

Coal

 

4.27

27.18%

Hydroelectric

 

1

6.37%

Nuclear power

 

0.93

5.92%

Geothermal, wind, solar energy, wood

 

0.16

1.02%

Total

 

15.71

100.00%

Close to 87 percent of the world’s energy came from fossil fuels for a total of about 14 terawatts.

A team lead by Physicist Martin Hoffert estimates that by 2050 the world will need 30 terawatts of primary energy and that at least half of it will need to come from non-fossil sources.

Were it to come from fossil fuels, then global reserves would be depleted twice as fast as current projections and ten degrees Fahrenheit warming would be on us that much sooner.   

By 2050 we would be out of oil, as will be the case 5 years later in any event with current consumption. And if we start converting coal and gas to liquid fuels their rates of decline will also increase.

The IEA has forecast it will take $8 trillion in investments in the oil industry over the next 25 years to maintain oil production at current levels.

Why would any diligent manager make such an investment; in an enterprise that will do at least as much damage again to the environment and will cease to be a going concern 18 years later?

An investment in the right renewable energy on the other hand, is an investment in the planet’s future as well as an outlay with an open-ended return. It is also an investment that is ultimately going to have to be made, so best do it now rather than pouring trillions into trying to prop up a dying industry and compounding environmental damage in the process first.

So what are the renewable energy alternatives?

They are solar, wind, hydroelectricity, geothermal power, biomass, nuclear, tidal, wave power, ocean thermal energy conversion, space based solar power and salinity gradients.

As renewable detractors love to point out solar and wind are intermittent and thus can be relied on only about a third of the time. They also have a high NIMBY quotient and require significant space.

We have already tapped most of the hydroelectricity available but could squeeze out a little more but nowhere near the 15 terawatts required. And again there are NIMBY and environmental issues.

The Earth’s internal thermal energy flows to the surface by conduction at a rate of 44.2 terawatts.  Seventy percent of this flows into the oceans however, so it is estimated that the potential for electricity generation from geothermal energy ranges between .035 to 2 terawatts and again there are NIMBY issues as the process is believed to be associated with localize earthquakes.  

Biomass could be significant were it not for global food and water shortages as well as the soil mining issue.

According to the IPCC, “Today it is not clear how and by which technologies the current problems facing nuclear energy may be resolved. What actually happens will depend on how safety, waste disposal, and proliferation concerns are resolved, and whether the green house debate adds increasing importance to nuclear energy’s ‘carbon benignness’. Consequently, after 2020 completely different nuclear futures may unfold varying from an almost five-fold expansion between 1990 and 2050 to a 20 percent decline.”

Even if nuclear were to expand five fold, it would still produce only a third of the 15 terawatts of renewable energy required and considering it also produces twice as much waste heat as energy, it would add an additional 10 terawatts of heat to an already overheating planet.   

According to Siemens, “it is widely agreed that tidal stream energy capacity could exceed 120GW globally,” which is about two orders of magnitude less than is required.

A study, ASSESSING THE GLOBAL WAVE ENERGY POTENTIAL presented to the 29th International Conference on Ocean, Offshore Mechanics and Arctic Engineering concluded the global gross wave resource was about 3.7 TW.

It is estimated the oceans of the world are accumulating 330 terawatts of excess heat each year and that as much as 25 terawatts of this heat can be converted to electrical energy by the process of ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC).

A future gigawatt space power system has been proposed but the current capacity to put such a system into orbit is limited.  

The global osmotic, or salinity gradient, power capacity, which is concentrated at the mouths of rivers, is estimated by Statkraft to be in the region of 1,600 to 1,700 TWh annually. This is about two orders of magnitude less than the 2008 global consumption of 132,000 TWh.

In conclusion it is hard to see how Hoffert’s 15TW of renewable energy can be attained by 2050 or how the 14TW currently being produced from fossil fuels can be replaced in the absence of a large OTEC component, which seems self-evident considering the oceans are the largest hot as well as cold reservoirs on the planet.

In fact we can obtain over 80 percent of the total 2050 need from this one source and can continue to do so as long as the sun shines and the icecaps melt on a seasonal basis to replenish the ocean’s cold, deep, heat sink, which OTEC would insure would continue to be the case.

Jim Baird's picture

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Discussions

I K's picture
I K on June 13, 2013

Computer driven cars have the potential to knock off around 2-3TW from the current 15TW demand.

Simple upgrades can knock another 2-3TW off demand leaving you with a more manageable ~10TW to find.

I K's picture
I K on June 13, 2013

The UK is a good example to take. If you multiply by 100 you get 6.4B people. So imagine a world with 6.4B rich people and some 2B poor people. Knock off 20% for basic efficiency gains and the world would need

Fuel / Would Need / Current production

Coal / 3,120 MTOE / 3,730 MTOE (so we produce an excess of 20%)

Gas / 6,250 BCM / 3,360 BCM (so we need to produce 86% more)

Oil / 117MBPD / 89.8MBPD (so we need to produce 30% more)

Electricity / 28,000TWh / 22,500 (so we need to produce 25% more)

This doesn’t seem that bad or an unachievable goal. The biggest challenge looks like the natural gas increase which is a large 86% and shale may have solved that.

Numbers from BP energy statistics 2013

If you assume computer driven cars are invented and deployed and they result in just a 1/4th reduction in oil need then we currently produce more oil and coal than 6.4B humans would need living like we do in the UK. The only challenge seems to be natural gas which needs to expand quite a lot.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on June 14, 2013

In scenarios involving large percentages of sun, wind, OTEC, and nuclear power, the difficult-to-replace fossil fuel becomes oil.  Breakthroughs with batteries or hydrogen might happen, or they might not.

We can boost the odds of success by developing ammonia fuelled vehicles.  No technology breakthroughs required, just cheap and conventional ICE power.

One up and coming technology that we should accellerate is Solid State Ammonia Synthesis.  This is basically a fuel cell that operates in reverse, making ammonia from water, nitrogen, and electricity.  It has been demonstrated at laboratory scale, using Proton-Conducting Ceramic materials, at about 400C.  It has the potential to be as efficient as hydrogen by electrolysis, but it makes a fuel that is much more storable and practical.

Alistair Newbould's picture
Alistair Newbould on June 14, 2013

To me “the biggest challenge” would appear to be capturing the carbon emitted by these fuels. Or have we made real progress with conversion into chalk?

I K's picture
I K on June 14, 2013

Storing carbon will probably not be necessary. In the UK times 100 example plus computer cars we can cut oil and coal demand from todays level. Natural gas would have to go up some 80% but this forgets that the UK has no hydro but the world does. Take that into account and it reduces it to around plus 50%.

So 6.4B rich people can emmit a little less than now.

I K's picture
I K on June 14, 2013

Oil is as easy as the rest. Until fairly recently oil was the only choice (gas wasnt common in the USA until the 60s and the 80s in Europe.  Coal needs a secondary working fluid so isn’t feasible in transport) and from the 80s to 2000 oil was cheap and gas not much less.  So the scarcity of oil is a fairly new thing its only the last twn or so years.

A very easy way to link oil and gas again ao both are abundant is to bbuold new airplanes as LNG. Airplanes use a huge quantity of oil and the infrastructure to put LNG in the bigger airports would be small peehaps just 50-200 airports would cover a majority market share. 

Computer cars will also see oil demand fall notably. And you could have fleets of CNG or even battery comouter taxis further reducing oildemand.

Infrastructure takes time to build and plan. If oil stays expensive vs gas for a prolonged time then planes cars ships homes etc will convert

I K's picture
I K on June 14, 2013

Also pay no heed to reserve estimates.  For the last 40 years the USA and the UK have had only 10-12 ywars production left

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on June 14, 2013

Jim, I’m not a big fan of the OTEC energy priority. But I don’t see how we keep feeding ouselves 20 years from now. There was a guy, Durwood Dugger, who kept writing (on TEC) about NPK (fertilizer) limits and had some ocean ideas.

The old story how the Indians taught the Pilgrims to grow corn by burying a fish-head next to each seed is probably pretty true.

Population growth and per capita consumption growth face many limits. The ocean holds many essential options. Climate, food, water, energy, and guns seem to be issues in our future. If you ever get your OTEC island built, I would love to visit.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on June 14, 2013

Clearly society has a collective need/desire to reduce carbon emissions.  But individuals first must do the right things for their own familes.  That can make energy efficiency strategies difficult to realize in practice (e.g. thoroughly insulating an existing home is a major renovation which must compete with other spending priorities).  

It is much lower risk for society to provide abundant low emission energy.  That way, if our efficiency goals fall short, even after all our collective efforts, we can still suceed in lowering emissions.

For nuclear-friendly countries and those that have access to high quality CSP or OTEC resources, this will be no problem.  For anti-nuclear countries who try to rely on variable renewables, fossil fuels will continue to provide the majority of their energy; this implies an important role for CC&S.

I K's picture
I K on June 14, 2013

CCS isn’t required because chemistry is already CCS-ing more than half of what ia burnt into the air via FF. So as long as you can cut current burn by around half the co2 problem is solved.

So if you could decarb electric (nuclear wind or solar plus global grid) and convert a portion of heating to this no carbon electric then there is no need to CCS.

Also my example of 100 x UK with a 20% efficency gain isn’t in my view that big a challenge or cost. The UK and the USA aee both getting more efficient, population increase is masking this efficency somewhat.  Id suggest the uk per capita will be 20% more energy efficient in 20 years time with no action by government.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on June 14, 2013

I K,

1) When do you estimate that Computer cars can be a reality,  How many years.

2) In a free (and litiguous) society like the USA, how do you think people will give up the cars they currently own, or who will pay to upgrade those cars if they are not to be replaced or banned?

3) If 1 and 2 above are not happening anytime soon, should we not have a plan B, as Nathan was suggesting?

I K's picture
I K on June 14, 2013

1) I think its likely within 20 years and then about 10 years for them to represent most miles driven. It could happen sooner

 

2) I dont think you need to ban current cars time will take them away. In the uk for instance aprox 2 million new cars arw baught  per year and 2 million old ones go to the scrap heap. Therefore within ten years most the old cars are gone. Most people will opt for self drive taxis over private cars becuase it will be considerably cheaper especially for the young who have insurance costs of over 2k dollars in their forst year plus some 2k dollars to learn to drove ect. Why when ba conputer taxi may be as cheap as ten cents a mile.

 

3) an ammonia powered land fleet is a unrealistic dream. Simple steel plants with their associated oxygen plants cost billions id loke to see you produce 100mbpd of ammonia!  Your lopking at TRILLIONS.  whats more important is that the real cost of oil is actually very very very cheap.  Governments will just cut oil taxes if ammonia is cheaper than oil. Ammonia would need to be somewhere around 20 dollars a barrel for it to truly replace the majority of oil. Thats far fetched and even if it were not your not going to ramp up to 100mbpd over night.  Whereas computer cars cut demand drastically.  You need not a single penny spent. They also offer far more advanrages than saving oil. The energy saving is the sideshow to the ten trillion dollars a year the twch will be worth!

I K's picture
I K on June 14, 2013

Lets try this.  Which is more far fetched of the two.

Electrify the roads and have cars draw power direcrly from above as a lot of trains do today. Advantage.  Very energy efficient no need to carry a battery pack (you would peehaps have a small one that takes you upto 5 miles off grid)

 

 

Or 

 

Use electricity to make hydrogen to make amonia a process which will need 3x as much primary energy as above and one that needs a hell of a lot more money to make 50mbpd of amonia

 

 

I think both are absurd but it is clear the ammonia idea is far more absurd than electrifying roads. so any ammonia dreamers forget it we would electrify roads well before we consider ammonia with 3x as much wnergy use and 3x as many steps.

 

 

But both pale in comparison to computer cars. No cost yet minus 80% fuel. With computer cars you could possibly have ammonia or hydrogen or eleteic or CNG or bio diesel becuase you need far fewer caea and much less energy. 

 

Clifford Goudey's picture
Clifford Goudey on June 14, 2013

Jim, I respect your fondness for OTEC but realistically there are enormous technological hurdles to overcome to make it economical plus the resource is a half a world away from the load.  It surely is an approach for the western tropical Pacific and a few other locations to consider, but it has little relevance to the US, Europe, or Asia.
I also sense you are too quick to dismiss the array of other renewable technologies and offer very low estimates of their global potentials and overstate the arguments against them.  For example, the World Energy Council reports far more wave energy that you suggest and it is hard to imagine a negative consequeice of tapping it.  There are literally hundreds of wave energy technologies under development to tap this resource and many are already commercialized.
It is clear that a broad mix of renewable technologies will need to be brought to bear as we prepare for the end of the fossil fuel age.  Solar and wind have a head start and the marketplace will determine how fast and where other candidates become viable. 

Clifford Goudey's picture
Clifford Goudey on June 14, 2013

Good point regarding middle east oil and gas being half-a-world away, but the means of transporting that energy to the demand locations is quite proven. 

I’m unclear on your suggestion that OTEC is unique in its role to mitigate climate change. Every kWh generated by renewables is 1.2 to 2.2 lbs of atmospheric CO2 avoided.

Clifford Goudey's picture
Clifford Goudey on June 14, 2013

Time will tell, Jim.  However, Jacobson and Delucchi of Stanford argue that we can do it without even mentioning OTEC. http://news.stanford.edu/news/2011/january/jacobson-world-energy-012611....

Ralfy Mann's picture
Ralfy Mann on June 14, 2013

In order to get an idea of what rich people need, you may look at current oil consumption for the U.S., which is around 19 Mb/d for less than 5 pct of the world’s population. And in general, when you look at the ecological footprint of people in industrialized countries, you will realize that their resource requirements are many times more than the global average, which is already slightly higher than what biocapacity will allow.

In short, we are already in overshoot, and that’s with only around 15 pct of the world’s population availing of a middle class lifestyle (e.g., cars, houses, etc.). For 80 pct of the world’s population to have the same, we will need more than one earth.

 

Ralfy Mann's picture
Ralfy Mann on June 14, 2013

The petrochemicals and other resources needed to make such vehicles plus the need to make more vehicles as part of a global capitalist system driven by competition will lead to higher energy and resource use.

 

Ralfy Mann's picture
Ralfy Mann on June 14, 2013

Theoretically, it is possible to move to manufacturing and mechanized agriculture that use less oil but the transition takes several decades, and we don’t have that time. In addition, as demand for various resources and energy increase due to a growing global middle class, then energy and resource use will have to go up significantly.

How high? If most of the world followed resource consumption of the U.S., Canada, and Australia, the global population will need several earths.

Finally, energy efficiency in a global capitalist system won’t help because businesses use underutilized resources for more profits. Thus, efficiency doesn’t lead to conservation but more consumption.

 

Paul O's picture
Paul O on June 14, 2013

Ik,

I think your Idea is worthwhile in small but industrialized countries and incities, but not so in very spread out countries and urban ares.

The US and Australia will have a rough go of it with computer driven cars/taxis, while UK would be ideal, small compact, relatively rich.

Alistair Newbould's picture
Alistair Newbould on June 16, 2013

I agree we need to stop producing CO2, but think this will take too long. We are already pushing 400 ppm which equates to a very hot world. Which is why I feel retrofitting CC&S with a solid (not compressed gas) output looks very useful in the short to medium term. I certainly would not advocate disposal in the oceans. We have used that as a sewer for far too long. However it seems to me a short step from chalk to a useful building material. Are there any working examples, or models of OTEC? Apologies to all if I have missed the relevant posts – new to the site and loving it. Time to implementation?

Alistair Newbould's picture
Alistair Newbould on June 16, 2013

I K , I love your optomism. But how does it square with CO2 concentrations rising from 315 ppm to 400 ppm over the last century? And are you dismissing tipping points as science scaremongery?

Alistair Newbould's picture
Alistair Newbould on June 16, 2013

Nathan, great point. Much of the talk here is on the big projects, big energy sources, and big social changes. There are 7 billion of us on this planet (too many by far) and we all should be able to do something to affect CO2 levels. In your example of other expenditure versus insulation I see a number of options. Perhaps “electricity suppliers” could become “energy managers” and install insulation in peoples homes. The “power” bill for the home would stay the same and the electricity supplied may be capped to a lower level until the capital is repaid. You could do the same with solar water heaters. Then solar water heated central heating. These have inbuilt storage. Another way may be for city councils to make similar investment repaid in the same way. The householder would have an incentive to save more on their power bill to repay the loan faster so all the savings were in their pocket. Perhaps a Lions Club project could work in the same way, or just a collection of people with $ to spare. Absolutely nothing to stop this from happening right now.

I K's picture
I K on June 16, 2013

Are you suggesting the UK is a poor country?

The UK has around 64 million people, multiply by 100 and you get 6.4B people.

This is how much energy the UK -20% efficency uses x 100

Fuel / UK x 100 / Current production in the world

Coal / 3,120 MTOE / 3,730 MTOE (world produces an excess of 20%)

Gas / 6,250 BCM / 3,360 BCM (world needs to produce 86% more)

Oil / 117MBPD / 89.8MBPD (world needs to produce 30% more)

Electricity / 28,000TWh / 22,500 (so we need to produce 25% more)

 

So current production is not far off what is required for 6.4B rich people especially when you take into account the UK has no hydro but the world does

I K's picture
I K on June 16, 2013

OTEC is not going to produce 10TW of eletricity it cant.

Put it this way, you need to move over 300TW of heat.

All the humans on earth generate just 0.7TW of heat.

Dip a human in water and you have roughly the temp gradients we are talking about with OTEC

So your OTEC devises will need a surface area equal to some 3 trillion humans or 6 trillion square meters.

An area nearly 20 x the size of germany.

In my books if a tech is visible from space, its not likely going to work.

 

And this is before you even consider that you need to space your devises so they dont impact each other

 

*Yes im aware a copper heat exchanger is going to be more conductive than human skin but not magnitudes more and in a marine inviroment critters will do their best to reduce the effectiveness of the heat exchanger.

I K's picture
I K on June 16, 2013

once again a heat pipe is not a magic devise it doesnt get around the fact that you need to move some 30 maybe 50x as much heat as eletricity you want

And if you want 10TW eletricity you need to move 300-500TW of heat a huge figure made impossible by the low temp gradients.

As noted dip a human in water, that is 2 square meters of surface area transferng only 100 watts of heat.

 

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