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Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air
Old 05-18-2009, 02:51 PM   #1
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Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air

Found this article on CNN...

Commentary: Let's get real about alternative energy - CNN.com

Quote:
We need to understand how much energy our chosen lifestyles consume, we need to decide where we want that energy to come from, and we need to get on with building energy systems of sufficient size to match our desired consumption.

Which lead me to this website...

David MacKay: Sustainable Energy - without the hot air: Contents

Quote:
I recently read two books, one by a physicist, and one by an economist. In Out of Gas, Caltech physicist David Goodstein describes an impending energy crisis brought on by The End of the Age of Oil. This crisis is coming soon, he predicts: the crisis will bite, not when he last drop of oil is extracted, but when oil extraction can’t meet demand – perhaps as soon as 2015 or 2025. Moreover, even if we magically switched all our energy- guzzling to nuclear power right away, Goodstein says, the oil crisis would simply be replaced by a nuclear crisis in just twenty years or so, as uranium reserves also became depleted.

In The Skeptical Environmentalist, Bjørn Lomborg paints a completely different picture. “Everything is fine.” Indeed, “everything is getting better.” Furthermore, “we are not headed for a major energy crisis,” and “there is plenty of energy.”

How could two smart people come to such different conclusions? I had to get to the bottom of this.
Quote:
If all the ineffective ideas for solving the energy crisis were laid end to end, they would reach to the moon and back.... I digress.
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Old 05-18-2009, 03:06 PM   #2
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You made me think about the first time I heard about solar panels - it was probably 1977 and my advisor was dabbling in reading and trying to tie together all the very basic research going on at the time. Everyone thought he was nutz, including fellow professors.
Fast forward to now, where oil dependence is slowly (very slowly) showing signs of substitution with alternative energy sources.
At some point, consumption will exceed production capacity and/or natural supply. I may even see this happen in my lifetime.
I have a positive outlook in that current and technology advances will solve some of the logistics of energy demand.
I have a so-so outlook that human beings will adapt well to oil shortages. The last time I recall hearing that people had to ration on a semi-global scale was during WWII.
How well will we do, as a race, if the oil supply becomes scarce?
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Old 05-18-2009, 04:20 PM   #3
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When oil becomes scarce I am hoping we have moved on to other forms of energy.
The big question is will that happen in 5 years, 15 years or 100 years?
I have heard arguments for all three. Personally, I think it is better to be prepared early, than caught unprepared.
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Old 05-18-2009, 08:37 PM   #4
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This crisis is coming soon, he predicts: the crisis will bite, not when he last drop of oil is extracted, but when oil extraction can’t meet demand – perhaps as soon as 2015 or 2025.
This tells me that the original author (Goldstein) or the guy quoting him is either not very smart of lazy in his choice of words. Assuming there's no artificial force (e.g. government rationing) that overrules the market, there will always be enough oil to meet demand--at the price set by the market. The exact same situation we have right now and since the first drop was discovered.


Quote:
Moreover, even if we magically switched all our energy- guzzling to nuclear power right away, Goodstein says, the oil crisis would simply be replaced by a nuclear crisis in just twenty years or so, as uranium reserves also became depleted.
Unlikely. (Link)
Quote:
The amount of Uranium that is available is mostly a measure of the price that we're willing to pay for it. At present the cost of Natural Uranium ($165 per kg) is a small component in the price of electricity generated by Nuclear Power. At a price of $US110 per kg the known reserves amount to about 85 years supply at the current level of consumption with an expected further 500 years supply in additional or speculative reserves. The price of Uranium would have to increase by over a factor of 3 before it would have an impact of the cost of electricity generated from Nuclear Power. Such a price rise would stimulate a substantial increase in exploration activities with a consequent increase in the size of the resource (as has been the case with every other mineral of value). The price of Uranium rose to a peak of over 300/kg in 2007 but has since declined to $165 by early 2008.. The world reserves of Uranium have increased by around 50% since the end of 2003.
So, there's quite a bit of uranium out there, even if we started using a LOT more of it. And, all the above assumes we don't develop and use fast breeder technology--which is already within our technical capability (they've been used for years in Japan), will be economically viable if uranium prices go up, and which uses uranium fuel up to 60 times more efficiently than we do at present. There are safety/proliferation concerns, but compared to the virtual certainty Mr Gore has presented us with--boiling our oceans and chocking to death on CO2, these minor concerns seem trivial.

And then there's thorium. Thorium can be used in reactors in a way similar to uranium, but not quite. It is a fuel, but cannot sustain a chain reaction on its own, you need to add uranium, plutonium, or another neutron source in the mix, but then it provides plenty of energy. There's about as much thorium in the earth's crust as uranium, so were' talking about maybe hundreds of years of additional energy ath the prsent rate of consumption (less if we start getting ALL our electricity from reactors, but even 100 years would be plenty--we'll have fusion or something else by then).
About thorium reactors: (Link)
Quote:
What if we could build a nuclear reactor that offered no possibility of a meltdown, generated its power inexpensively, created no weapons-grade by-products, and burnt up existing high-level waste as well as old nuclear weapon stockpiles? And what if the waste produced by such a reactor was radioactive for a mere few hundred years rather than tens of thousands? It may sound too good to be true, but such a reactor is indeed possible, and a number of teams around the world are now working to make it a reality. What makes this incredible reactor so different is its fuel source: thorium.
All these wonderful, clean developments will come our way once oil and coal get more expensive. So, everyone should do their part to hasten that day--drive an SUV, crank up the air conditioning, buy a house like Al Gore's, and fly to the environmental summit angst-fest in your private jet.
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Old 05-18-2009, 10:16 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by samclem View Post
This tells me that the original author (Goldstein) or the guy quoting him is either not very smart of lazy in his choice of words. Assuming there's no artificial force (e.g. government rationing) that overrules the market, there will always be enough oil to meet demand--at the price set by the market. The exact same situation we have right now and since the first drop was discovered.
You're confusing consumer demand and the market. If you can't recognize that there will be a crisis if/when oil supply can't meet consumer demand, then you need to give it some more thought.
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Old 05-18-2009, 10:43 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by eridanus View Post
You're confusing consumer demand and the market. If you can't recognize that there will be a crisis if/when oil supply can't meet consumer demand, then you need to give it some more thought.
Consumer demand makes the market. If less oil is produced, the price will go up. As price goes up, total demand (at the increased price) decreases. Americans drove less when gasoline was $4 per gallon, and we'd drive still less (demanding less fuel) if it goes to $10 per gallon.

(Below from Wikipedia)


Quote:
The supply and demand model describes how prices vary as a result of a balance between product availability and demand. The graph depicts an increase (that is, right-shift) in demand from D1 to D2 along with the consequent increase in price and quantity required to reach a new equilibrium point on the supply curve (S).

Oil demand should be viewed as fairly inelastic in the short term, but more elastic over the longer term.

Yes, I've thought about it, thanks.
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Old 05-18-2009, 11:00 PM   #7
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Not to worry, these guys have it all figured out:
Scientists find bugs that eat waste and excrete petrol - Times Online
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Old 05-18-2009, 11:34 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by samclem View Post
Consumer demand makes the market. If less oil is produced, the price will go up. As price goes up, total demand (at the increased price) decreases. Americans drove less when gasoline was $4 per gallon, and we'd drive still less (demanding less fuel) if it goes to $10 per gallon.
The author is suggesting that the oil price spike will happen more quickly then we can change. Thus, the "crisis." Before society can adapt, a lot of ex-urbanites will be filling up (or wanting to fill up) their 2 ton metal boxes with $10/gallon gas. The demand is obviously about our current lifestyle, which is more than an academic question about the supply/demand curve.
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Old 05-18-2009, 11:49 PM   #9
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When oil gets scarce...I will have work again. Sorry, guys. I have my own agenda.

I "heart" dirty oil.
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Old 05-19-2009, 08:34 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by RetiredGypsy View Post
Not to worry, these guys have it all figured out:
Scientists find bugs that eat waste and excrete petrol - Times Online
Men have been doing this all along. Of course, women don't fart...
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Old 05-19-2009, 09:27 AM   #11
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Sam, while the adjustment is made to higher prices there will be potential for a crisis.
The quicker prices change and the less prepared we are the greater the crisis will be.
When gas went north of $4/gallon I recall quite a bit of anxiety and some loss of jobs (absolutely nothing compared to what we have seen since, but the price spike didn't last).
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Old 05-19-2009, 11:26 PM   #12
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Sam, while the adjustment is made to higher prices there will be potential for a crisis.
The quicker prices change and the less prepared we are the greater the crisis will be.
Yes, there is more potential for disruption if the price of oil goes up faster. But:
- Is there any particular reason to assume that we know enough about how this will work to even bother with acting? Look at all the interdependencies--oil production-->price changes-->demand changes-->rapidity of alternative energy development-->decline in demand in response to price.
- Is there any reason to believe that some sort of government-run cenrtral planning effort will be more effective than allowing market forces to determine winners and losers?

Bottom line: With regard to oil and energy in general we have a functioning market. It works very well over time: more demand drives more supply (of various kinds). Maybe there will be hiccups in the future, but sometimes a bit of pain is what is needed to force change. Let's pay the bill once we know what it is.

I think it's more valuable to spend time working to fix situations where we have market failure. An example would be pollution: contributing to pollution benefits the polluter while everyone else pays the bill. There are no market forces at work. If we can figure out how to internalize those external costs so that market can function, we'll have accomplished something useful.
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