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Alternative energy matrix

The Do The Math blog has been going through the numbers on various forms of alternative energy, mostly with an eye to how abundant they are, e.g. solar is abundant, wind is useful, tides are niche (locally useful, globally irrelevant.) I'd been planning on summarizing and linking at some point -- but he went and did it himself, with table and links:


His whole schtick, by the way, is back of the envelope calculations on growth, energy, and sustainability issues, fed by and sometimes checked against looked up facts. It's all pretty near. And depressing/alarming. Posts outside this series have included "if exponential economic growth continued, what would that mean?" and "is there enough lead to power the US for a week from lead-acid batteries"?

See the comment count unavailable DW comments at http://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/306343.html#comments


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 9th, 2012 08:13 am (UTC)
I'm not particularly worried about running out of energy, the fact I didn't see in his posts (I only looked at the once you linked to and a couple of others) was that the planet has a whole lot of coal, and coal liquefaction works really well. So, we won't be running out of energy for more than a century.

Of course, the (rather severe) downside is that burning coal releases greenhouse gases and both coal liquefaction & burning the resulting synthetic liquid fuel also release greenhouse gases. Also, even with good scrubbers, there will likely be at least some sulfur released. So, environmentally coal sucks, however, if liquid fuel prices start to go up too much, it's also going to be used. Also, it seems that there's more natural gas than we previously thought, if we're willing to poison ground water and create (hopefully small) earthquakes to get it. The only thing we're actually running out of on a short-term time scale is oil.

My strong preference is for the result to be a rapid switchover to solar and etc while burning coal, my hope is for a gradual switchover, and my fear is for a pitifully slow switchover from coal to solar and other sustainable fuels that only gets kicked into high gear sometime in the early 2100s, when the coal starts to run out (risking an energy trap at that point).

Regardless, I'm very worried about global warming, but we're not going to have any risk of hitting any sort of energy trap for a century or so. Ultimately, global warming is going to get obvious enough to start a switchover well before we start running out of coal. I hope the switchover is fast enough to keep global warming from getting even worse.
Feb. 9th, 2012 08:27 pm (UTC)

Jump to "Plenty of Hydrocarbons"

"The graphic conveys that in order of increasing cost, enhanced oil recovery, tar sands and heavy oil, gas-to-liquids, coal-to-liquids, and oil shale add substantial stocks at production costs that are only 2–10 times that of conventional oil. Those who are primarily interested in climate change are not too happy with the implications, but this situation could alleviate concerns over oil decline...

I will admit that personally, this is the strongest evidence I have seen for why I should not worry about peak oil. I will completely understand if we part company here, and you conclude that post-peak conventional oil decline does not pose a significant threat to our way of life...

So how can I look at the total hydrocarbons figure and still have concerns? Most simply, peak oil is about rates, not amounts. It’s also about economics, the speed with which we could scale, energy returned on energy invested (EROEI), carbon caps, and other practical matters. The fact that oil prices recently rose by a factor of three while no relief arrived from other hydrocarbons can be taken as empirical evidence that the vast amount of hydrocarbons in the ground is not immediately useful in a pinch. The market did not cradle us and take care of business, as the perennial promise goes.

Also worth pointing out is that when U.S. oil production peaked in 1970 at 3.5 billion barrels per year, we had about 40 billion barrels in proven reserves and at least 60 billion barrels of additional resource yet to be discovered. Neither the amount in the ground, nor the will to increase production held sway over the actual rate of extraction."

Edited at 2012-02-09 08:28 pm (UTC)
Feb. 9th, 2012 08:30 pm (UTC)
So, total supply is obviously a hard constraint, but how much you can get out, for what effort, is also a constraint. Fixed output and rising demand will mean higher prices anyway. Falling or more expensive output, heh.
Feb. 9th, 2012 05:28 pm (UTC)
Thanks for introducing me to this blog; I really like this guy's perspective.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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