It's no wonder, considering all the confusing and often misleading information that reaches the public.
There is much information, crucial to making good policy on energy choices for the future, that never does reach the public. For example most Americans have probably not even heard of the one renewable energy source, that is the most promising, solar thermal electric power plants.
Those with a vested interest in fossil fuels and nuclear power want you to believe that renewable energy like solar and wind can't power the country. I intend to show you, that this is not true.
Calls of "Drill Baby Drill" are absurd and misleading. For example, the amount of oil reserves estimated to exist off California's coast are 10 billion barrels. The U.S. consumes about 7.5 billion barrels per year. So what they are advocating is risking the long term health of the coastal ecosystem, in exchange for about 16 months worth of oil.
Republicans have been taking Senator Pelosi to task for not bringing up a vote, on offshore drilling. Meanwhile, Republicans have voted against renewing the tax credits for solar and wind eight times this year. Talk about shortsightedness! As T. Boone Pickens says, whether we drill or not, "this argument misses the point." It's a bandaid at best. The U.S. only has 3% of the world's oil supply. We consume 25% of the supply. Tapping our offshore oil fields would not produce oil for several years at best and then would only lower gas prices by a few cents a gallon.
What is needed is long term energy solutions. Here is what they don't want you to know. Using less than 1% of our southwest desert lands, solar power plants could power the whole country. This is an area 92 miles by 92 miles, an area which is less than the land now used for coal plants and coal mining. The January 08 issue of Scientific American featured an article called "A Solar Grand Plan", a proposal, (which you can read online) to do just that. Their proposal would create a 69% solar powered grid by 2050.
It proposes building solar thermal and concentrating photovoltaic power plants, in our southwestern deserts, and a network of high voltage DC transmission lines to distribute the power to other parts of the country. This HVDC distribution system is the same thing that T Boone Pickens is recommending to move wind generated power from Texas, and from windfarms in the midwest, to the rest of the country. This will have the added benefit of beefing up the grid, something that is needed anyway.
This HVDC infrastucture is what all the good energy plans call for.
Current thinking is that solar thermal should be emphasized more than the concentrating photovoltaic plants that the SciAm article emphasizes. More on that below.
There is no shortage of good ideas out there.
Google's Clean Energy 2030 plan
Repower America plan
"A Blueprint for U.S. Energy Security".
These plans show how we can achieve energy security and meet the goals of reducing the threat of global warming, using current technology to get started. As we build, the technology will improve and the costs will improve.
One thing these plans call for is plug in hybrid cars, (PHEV) which would achieve an overall 100 mpg for the average driver. Most people drive less than 40 miles a day, cummuting etc. With current battery technology you would use no gasoline for the first 40 miles in a PHEV. Most people would recharge at night when demand is low, by plugging into a 120 volt outlet, using about $1 worth of electricity to recharge. As the grid gets cleaner, the environmental benefits will improve. While some areas are primarily powered by coal, the overall grid is already cleaner than burning gasoline. Plug in Partners has good information on PHEVs, including cost benefits.
from their site:
A motorist driving 9,000 annual gasoline-free miles and 3,000 using gasoline would get 100 mpg (based on vehicles that get 25 mpg).
PHEVs outfitted with a battery pack providing a 40-mile electric range could power, using the all-electric mode, more than 60% of the total annual miles traveled by the average American driver.
A 2004 study by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) found that plug-in hybrids can achieve life cycle costs parity with conventional gasoline vehicles – meaning that over the life of the car the cost will be equal or less despite the initial higher cost. The study calculated gasoline price as $1.75/gallon.
A study by the Department of Energy found that 80% of cars could be plug ins before we would need more base load power to charge them.
Once the grid is clean energy, it can power much of our transportation as well. At that point, electric cars will make perfect sense and we will have had more time, to perfect the technology. If you study these two plans, you will see that they have much in common. By combining the best ideas of these and other similar plans, we can get the job done.
Those in power want you to believe that these solutions will be too expensive. Nothing could be further from the truth. For example, the solar proposal published by SciAm calls for spending about $400 billion in public money, over a period of about 40 years. This is less public money, than we spent to build the high speed information highway over the last 35 years. And that is about how much we give to oil companies, in the form of tax credits and subsidies, every 8 years. So by spending about 1/5 of the tax dollars that we now give away to oil companies, we could power the entire nation with solar energy in the southwest.
It's a sign of how misinformed we are, that most Americans probably haven't even heard of solar thermal energy(also called CSP for concentrating solar power). Solar thermal power plants use the heat from the sun to generate electricity, by boiling water to drive a steam turbine generator. This is so low tech that we could have done it 100 years ago. If you can build parabolic mirrors or Fresnel lenses to concentrate sunlight, and if you can build a steam driven electric generator, you can build a solar thermal power plant. In fact, some designs use flat mirrors. Solar thermal plants can generate electricity at night or during cloudy periods by storing heat. One method uses molten salts, which are excellent at retaining heat. Their power output can remain steady when clouds pass by. The scale of these plants is in the hundreds of megawatts. Two plants proposed for the Mojave Desert are for up to 800 and 900 megawatts each. One gigawatt(GW)equals 1000 megawatts. One gigawatt would power San Francisco or about 770,000 homes.
This is not intermittent energy. CSP can be used as base load power like we now use coal plants. It is even better than baseload, because it revs up during the day, peaking in the late afternoon, perfectly matching the demand cycle. Then it continues to provide steady power on into the night. Plants can be designed to run all night.
An excellent article on solar thermal and it's benefits is at:
Here's what Joseph Romm, author of the above article, says.
He is talking about on a global scale.
The key attribute of CSP is that it generates primary energy in the form of heat, which can be stored 20 to 100 times more cheaply than electricity -- and with far greater efficiency
Plants can be built rapidly -- in two to three years -- much faster than nuclear plants. It would be straightforward to build CSP systems at whatever rate industry and governments needed, ultimately 50 to 100 gigawatts a year growth or more.
To replicate 100 gigawatts a year growth with nuclear would mean building 50-100 nuclear plants a year.
Yeah, and hell may freeze over some day too.
And a related article on solar thermal, also by Joseph Romm:
I don’t believe any set of technologies will be more important to the climate fight than concentrated solar power (CSP).....It is the best source of clean energy to replace coal and sustain economic development. I bet that it will deliver more power every year this century than coal with carbon capture and storage — for much less money and with far less environmental damage.
http://solarsouthwest.org/ Solar Southwest Initiative has more info on solar thermal power.
Trans Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC) is a plan to power Europe, the MidEast, and Northern Africa with electricity, combined heat and power(CHP), and water desalinization, all from solar thermal plants. It includes building an HVDC transmission system throughout the area.
Read more here: The article has an excellent analysis of solar thermal.
The sunlight can be intensified 1000 fold with concentrating solar.
They do need intense sunlight to be cost effective, hence the emphasis on the southwest. With 1% of the Sahara Desert, you could power the whole world with current technology. 3% of Morroco would power all of Europe. Green Wombat's website has many articles on solar power plants being built or on the drawing boards in California and Arizona. The three power companies in California have already signed on for about 3 gigawatts of solar power plants. About 2 gigawatts of this is solar thermal. It's just the beginning. http://greenwombat.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/
According to a report by the Western Governors Association, the solar thermal industry could build 13 gigwatts of capacity by 2015. They said that when there are 4 gigawatts of installed units, the price would be below 10 cents/kWh.
Since there is already about 2 gigawatts approved by power companies or being built in California, that souldn't take long. Prices are projected to fall further after that to 5-8 cents/kWh.
The report also said that 300 gigawatts of solar thermal could be built near existing transmission lines. After that, more transmission lines would be needed.
I have already mentioned HVDC grid expansion. HVDC has far less line loss over long distances than AC lines. And it doesn't have the large electromagnetic field that people are concerned about with AC. By long distance, I mean anything over 30 miles.
For comparison, total coal generating capacity as of 2006 was 313 GW and generated 50% of kilowatt hours in the U.S.
Total U.S. nameplate electric generating capacity is 1,075 GW.
Concentrating PV ( photovoltaic) plants use similar parabolic mirrors, fresnel lenses etc. to concentrate sunlight on photovoltaic solar cells or panels. Specialized solar cells that can take advantage of the increased light are used.
Thomas Edison, 1931
I'd put my money on the sun & solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.
Republicans keep pushing nuclear energy, claiming it is a simple solution and good for the environment. I don't rule out nuclear power altogether, but it has numerous problems, and is not as green as it's promoters claim.
One of nuclear's biggest problems is water. It takes billions of gallons to cool a single reactor. We are already seeing potential problems with this. A reactor in Alabama had to be breifly shut down last summer during a drought in that region. How reliable will the sources of cooling water be in a changing climate?
An Associated Press analysis of the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors found that 24 are in areas experiencing the most severe levels of drought. All but two are built on the shores of lakes and rivers and rely on submerged intake pipes to draw billions of gallons of water for use in cooling and condensing steam after it has turned the plants’ turbines.
Every nuclear power plant will require about $500 million to dismantle it, when it has outlived it's useful life. This adds to the nuclear waste disposal problem.
Every nuclear reactor represents about $200 million for it's share of Yucca Mt. in Nevada, to dispose of the waste.
These numbers are from:
Nuclear power doesn't give us energy independence. We import 65% of our oil and 90% of our uranium. And now Russia is being lined up as a future source of 20% of our uranium.
The United States and Russia signed a deal that will boost Russian uranium imports to supply the U.S. nuclear industry, the Commerce Department said Friday…."
The new agreement permits Russia to supply 20 percent of US reactor fuel until 2020 and to supply the fuel for new reactors quota-free.
So if, under a President McCain, we build a bunch of new nuclear reactors -- they could be fueled 100 percent by Russia.
I can almost hear Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin saying, "Excellent."
Nuclear power is not safe. According to Argonne National Laboratory, an airliner crashing into a nuclear power plant could cause a complete meltdown, even if the containment building isn't compromised. Think the twin towers disaster was bad?
The more nuclear reactors that are built all over the world, the more fissionable material there will be, which can be stolen by terrorists and used against us. Just look at the concern over Iran's nuclear program. How many times may this kind of scenario be played out if nuclear energy proliferates all over the world?
The transportation of radioactive waste from all over the country to Yucca Mt. is potentially dangerous, as well as expensive.
In the United States, current surcharges on nuclear power are too low to cover expected disposal costs. In addition, the US government foolishly absorbed all risk for an on-time opening of a repository for commercial nuclear waste -- despite longstanding technical and political challenges associated with making this happen.
There is no accountability with nuclear power. The Price-Anderson Act places most of the liability for nuclear accidents on the backs of taxpayers, not the nuclear power industry.
A nuclear power plant costs about $4,000 per kilowatt to build, compared with $1,400 per kW for wind energy. Actually that's now an outdated number.
Florida Power and Light estimates that new nuclear plants would cost between $5,500 and $8,100 /kW to build.
Prices of electricity from new nuclear plants are estimated to be somewhere between 12-17 cents kWh. So much for "electricity too cheap to meter" as the nuclear industry promised decades ago.
Solar thermal can meet those prices now, with prices falling to half that much in the not very distant future.
A new study puts the cost of new nuclear plants and their electricity even higher.
Generation costs/kWh for new nuclear (including fuel & O&M but not distribution to customers) are likely to be from 25 - 30 cents/kWh..
Wind and solar are much quicker to get up and running than nuclear or coal. And both can start generating power before large wind or solar farms are completed, because they are modular in design.
Nuclear power is heavily subsidized. According to Earthtrack, Federal subsidies to new nuclear power plants are likely between 4 and 8 cents per kWh (levelized).
If you want to know more, read "The Lean Guide to Nuclear Energy" pdf online. It's a real eye opener.
After reading this you will understand, that what you have been told about nuclear energy thus far, is completely misleading. It is not a long term solution, in any way shape or form. It is inherently unsustainable. Unsustainability is not what we are looking for.
from The Lean Guide to Nuclear Energy
The world’s endowment of uranium ore is now so depleted that the nuclear industry will never, from its own resources, be able to generate the energy it needs to clear up its own backlog of waste.
Shortages of uranium – and the lack of realistic alternatives –leading to interruptions in supply, can be expected to start in the middle years of the decade 2010-2019, and to deepen thereafter.
Every stage in the nuclear process, except fission, produces carbon dioxide. As the richest ores are used up, emissions will rise.
It is reasonable to conclude that,even if the nuclear industry presented no other problems, “peak uranium” would rule out the prospect of the nuclear industry being in any way an answer to “peak oil”, and to scarcities of gas and coal.
Nuclear energy certainly has disadvantages, quite apart from the clincher problem of the depletion of its fuel. It is a source of low-level radiation which may be more dangerous than was previously thought. It is a source of high-level waste which has to be sequestered. Every stage in the process produces lethal waste, including the mining and leaching processes, the milling, the enrichment and the decommissioning. It is very expensive. It is a terrorist target and its enrichment processes are stepping stones to the production of nuclear weapons.
For more on the limited prospects for nuclear energy go to:
and here is a series of 5 articles on the prospects for nuclear power.
During the recent presidential election campaign we often heard "clean coal" mentioned as an energy solution for the future. But is clean coal really a viable solution? The answer is a big "maybe" someday.
First of all, clean coal will be expensive. A study done for the California Public Utility Commission estimated that the cost of coal gasification with carbon capture would add 16.9 cents per kWh to the price of coal.
This is referred to as CCS or Carbon Capture and Sequestration, which entails pumping CO2 deep into the earth.
To do this on a global scale, we would have to pump huge amounts of CO2 into the ground on a scale like how oil is pumped out now.
The technology for clean coal is not ready and will probably take a decade or more to develop. Some estimates are closer to 15-20 years.
There is presently only one tiny pilot plant in Germany using carbon capture and sequestration or CCS. We can't afford to wait. Research can continue, but throwing large amounts of money into commercializing clean coal now, will be money better spent on solar and wind which are ready now.
We have a lot of old coal plants that are not suitable for CCS. More than half were built before 1973.
There is also the problem of accountability. How would we monitor whether other countries are really storing the CO2 underground.
Even if CO2 is captured and sequestered, that doesn't eliminate the pollution from coal. Coal burning is a principal source of mercury, radionuclides, arsenic and other toxins in the air and water. Tens of thousands of Americans die every year of repiratory disease from coal burning. The fish we eat are full of mercury. Some of the mercury is from other sources like gold mining, but coal is a major contributor. We certainly can't afford to keep adding more mercury to the ocean ecosystem. The mining of coal has an enormous impact on the land and the health of people. The tops of hundreds of mountains have been blown off to mine coal in Appalachia. On Christmass eve 2008 a billion gallons of coal fly ash sludge spilled from a failed containment pond in Tennessee. This is nearly 100 times as large as the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. In 2000 there was a similar spill of 300 million gallons of coal sludge that extended 75 miles to the Ohio River. The EPA called it the biggest environmental disaster in the history of the Southeastern U.S.
I will repeat what I said earlier, in case you missed it.
Using less land than now used for coal plants and coal mining, Solar Thermal would power the entire United States.
Much more in depth analysis of clean coal can be found at these links.
You may have heard talk of the potential of Canada's tar sands as a source of oil. The Environmental Defense Fund calls it the most destructive project on Earth.
This process produces three times as much greenhouse gases as conventional oil production. By 2020 it will have released twice as much as all the cars and trucks in Canada. The process uses up enough natual gas per day to heat 3 million homes. It creates toxic tailings ponds that cover 50 square kilometers. It uses twice as much fresh water as the city of Calgary, which ends up in those tailings ponds.
Even a former Premier of Alberta is concerned. Peter Lougheed who served as Premier from 1971 to 1985 was recently quoted on the oil sands as saying:
"... it is just a moonscape. It is wrong in my judgment, a major wrong... So it is a major, major federal and provincial issue."
However, there is a silver lining in all this. A recent Canadian parliamentary committee recently stated that:
"A business as usual approach to the development of the oil sands is not sustainable. The time has come to begin the transition to a clean energy future."
More info on tar sands here:
Wind and solar can provide most of the power for our future energy needs. They never need any fuel, to prospect for, mine, transport, refine, store, burn, fight wars over, or clean up the mess from. It's our future. Oil and other fossil fuels will only go up in price. The price of solar is falling fast and will soon be cheaper than fossil fuels. The American Wind Energy Association forecasts that installed capacity could grow from 11,603 MW today to around 100,000 MW by 2020. That's 100 gigawatts, or a nearly 90 gigawatt increase. Hoover Dam produces about 2 gigawatts. Some nuclear plants are that big, but the average plant in the U.S. is about 1 GW.
A government study found that for less than 2 cents/day per household, we could have 300 gigawatts of wind power by 2030. That would be 20% of electric generating capacity in the U.S. The Google energy plan looks to have 380 GW by 2030.
From the Google energy plan summary:
More on winds potential:
An earlier study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory explored more rapid scale-ups of wind capacity, and found that up to about 600 GW by 2030 was feasible. Our target, 380 GW in 2030, is therefore not at all unrealistic.
And that's just wind!
Solar can do more. Add photovoltaic panels on rooftops etc. all over the country to the solar plants in the southwest and you have both distributed and centralized solar energy on a vast scale. We could have 80% solar and wind powered electricity by 2050
Denmark already has 20% wind power. Parts of Germany and Denmark have 40% wind power. We are told that wind and solar are too intermittent. Why isn't that a problem in Denmark. Could it be because they have no oil company lobby?
The sooner we start building this new clean energy infrastructure, the better.
As we build, the costs will fall. Photovoltaics are becoming more efficient and cheaper to make. Economies of scale will kick in as these industries grow, further reducing prices.
One company on the cutting edge, Nanosolar, says their thin film PV solar systems can be built for less than the cost of a comparable coal fired plant, without the need for any coal or any other fuel. One application of their solar systems being promoted, is for small towns to devote acreage on the outskirts of town to solar power. Ten acres would power 1,000 homes, 20 acres 2,000 homes and so forth.
Nanosolar’s founder and chief executive, Martin Roscheisen, claims to be the first solar panel manufacturer to be able to profitably sell solar panels for less than $1 a watt. That is the price at which solar energy becomes less expensive than coal. With a $1-per-watt panel,” he said, “it is possible to build $2-per-watt systems. According to the Energy Department, building a new coal plant costs about $2.1 a watt, plus the cost of fuel and emissions.
In many parts of the country solar prices are already competitive, during hours of peak demand, when rates are higher. This is particularly so in sunny areas that also have high electricity prices. Also, solar puts out the most energy when it is most needed and when prices are the highest. At those peak prices, solar is already competitive.
We can't afford to wait. Oil is ruining our economy and our environment. SetAmericaFree estimates the annual hidden costs of oil and gas, including the subsidies mentioned above, at over $800 billion. If these costs were reflected in prices at the pump, gasoline would be about $8/gal more than now. Their estimate of oil and gas company tax credits and subsidies is over $80 billion annually. The mililtary costs of protecting oil shipments are estimated at $100 billion annually. And oil adds $700 billion annually to our trade deficit, mostly with nations we don't get along with. Throw in the costs of the two wars in Iraq in both lives and money and oil starts to look pretty expensive.
McCain wanted to give $4 billion more in tax credits to oil companies. Exxon/Mobile made $40 billion in profits last year, and the top five companies made a combined $123 billion. We are subsidizing the past, when we should be subsidizing the future.
Note- I have seen another estimate of $39 billion for oil tax credits. The higher figure I show is for oil and gas. I'm not sure why there's such a discrepencey between these two, but it's not surprising that these numbers differ so much.
It takes a Sherlock Holmes to find them all, because they've been buried in so many bills over so many decades, often as earmarks.
According to a study- Koplow's 2007 report to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development:
Estimating U.S. oil and gas subsidies is very challenging. Subsidies rarely involve cash payments. Instead scores of U.S. government agencies and departments create hundreds of programmes to support the U.S. energy sector. And there is no requirement for the federal government to keep track of all this.
Energy subsidies are often simply hidden from public scrutiny. It's only recently been revealed that 40 companies granted leases between 1996 and 2000 for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico do not have to pay royalties for the publicly-owned resource. This is worth nearly a billion dollars a year in lost revenue to the federal government, according to a 2008 study by Friends of the Earth (FOE), a U.S. environmental NGO, and may ultimately total 50 billion dollars.
Subsidy programms from 1918 are still in place. "I'm not aware of any oil and gas subsidy that has ever been phased out," said Koplow, the leading expert on U.S. energy subsidies
In a time of skyrocketing oil prices and profits, why did the George W. Bush administration in 2005 authorise an additional 32.9 billion dollars in new subsidies over a five-year period?
This massive government intervention distorts energy markets, making it very difficult for alternative energy sources to compete without similarly massive subsidies. "And it promotes America's addiction to oil," Larsen added.
Koplow found that total U.S. federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry in 2006 were $49 billion. That's 66% of all energy subsidies. The total investment in conservation $2 billion.
There are also state and local subsidies. The World Bank also gives them subsidies.
Investing in renewable energy will benefit the economy, the environment, the energy issue and national security.
Our lack of political will to develop renewable energy in the U.S. threatens to put us in a position, of playing catch up with other producers.
Green Wombat comments on Abu Dhabi Torresol solar project with ambitions in U.S. southwest.
Abu Dhabi is not content to just sell you the oil that fuels your SUV; now its going to sell you sunshine to keep your lights on and power your electric car when the internal combustion engine goes the way of the buggy whip. Masdar, the oil-rich emirate’s $15 billion renewable energy venture, and Spanish technology company Sener on Wednesday announced a joint venture called Torresol Energy to build large-scale solar power plants in Australia, Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and the United States.
(They are targeting the same American southwest, where the authors of the Solar Grand Plan proposal are encouraging America to invest.)
The irony is too rich to leave unsaid: A leading oil producer invests billions in carbon-free energy while a leading consumer of fossil fuels - the United States - continues to subsidize Big Oil, while offering only tepid support for green technology.
It is inevitable that climate change will foster the rise of renewable energy - the only question is which countries and companies will profit from the new energy economics. It is entirely possible that the U.S. will trade energy dependence of one kind - on Middle East oil - for another - on Middle East and European solar technology - in the era of global warming. It’s no coincidence that most of the solar energy companies with contracts to build utility-scale power plants in California and the Southwest have overseas roots - Ausra hails from Australia, BrightSource was founded by American-Israeli pioneer Arnold Goldman, Solel is based in Israel and Abengoa is headquartered in Spain.
The same can be said for America's lack of leadership in supporting photovoltaics and wind energy. American companies have made some innovations and advances in solar PV, but the largest producers are all outside the U.S. We once had leadership in wind energy but conservatives cut the funding and we are now far behind Europe.
from the proposal in the Scientific American article:
The greatest obstacle to implementing a renewable U.S. energy system is not technology or money, however. It is the lack of public awareness that solar power is a practical alternative—and one that can fuel transportation as well. Forward-looking thinkers should try to inspire U.S. citizens, and their political and scientific leaders, about solar power’s incredible potential. Once Americans realize that potential, we believe the desire for energy self-sufficiency and the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will prompt them to adopt a national solar plan.
If you would like to learn more about what it will take, to keep global Carbon emissions at a level that will stave off the worst case scenarios of climate change; and learn what the best options are for sustainable energy to achieve that, the following links are recommended.
An Introduction to the Core Climate Solutions
Science magazine article on Stablilization Wedges to solve global warming http://carbonsequestration.us/Papers-presentations/htm/Pacala-Socolow-ScienceMag-Aug2004.pdf
Article by Joseph Romm in "Nature" http://www.nature.com/climate/2008/0807/full/climate.2008.59.html
I have talked about energy sources (will cover other renewables in later posts), but as this article shows, conservation and efficiency are the best bang for the buck.
Energy Efficiency - The Core Climate Solution.