Connecting The Dots…

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Often partial solutions to our problems are presented on the Internet but nobody puts the pieces together. Recently, I have focused quite a bit on the energy issue, and I have found that solutions abound, but the political will to implement them is lacking, or they appear uneconomical because they are, by themselves in fact uneconomical.

A good example of this is wind power penetrating the grid at more than about 20%. By itself taken in isolation, with all other variables ignored; more than about 20% seems impractical because of the variability of wind. But taken with other solutions the picture is quite different.

Our existing electrical grid is mostly an AC grid, the east and the western grids aren’t substantially connected, and overall it’s inefficient, unreliable, and at capacity straining to meet ever growing demands.

If this weren’t the case; if we modernized our electrical grid adding east-west ties and converting all spans longer than 300km to DC transmission, first, doing this alone would be like adding 15% additional generating capacity to the grid without any additional pollution because we could cut the losses from around 17% to around 2%. Moreover, efficient east-west transmission would allow us to distribute the peak load across the time zones requiring less peak capacity and making more efficient use of the capacity we already have, above and beyond grid losses.

If we can utilize geographical diversity with wind generation, something only possible with the modernization of our power grid; then the total capacity available from wind power never falls below about 1/3rd of peak capacity, and then we could, if we choose, simply overbuild capacity and supply our entire electrical needs from wind alone. I’m not advocating wind alone, ideally we’d use a mixture of renewable sources, solar, geo-thermal, ocean-current, ocean-wave, tidal, ocean-thermal, various forms of hydro (there are forms that can capture energy from the movement of river water without dams), etc.

We could generate all of our electricity by wind if we so choose simply by building 3x as much capacity as we need and modernizing the electrical grid. But there is a snag, wind, presently the least expensive method of generating electricity, less so even than coal now, would lose it’s attractive economics if we had to overbuild by 3x AND if there were no market for that peak power.

Add in some other technologies, for example, we can take electricity, carbon dioxide, and water, and using one of three processes, we can make an alcohol called butynol which can directly be used as a replacement for gasoline in ordinary gasoline cars. Butynol actually has tremendous advantages over gasoline. Butynol produces only 3% of the hydrocarbon emissions, almost unmeasurable carbon monoxide emissions, and greatly reduced nitrous oxides relative to gasoline. It also produces slightly better fuel mileage and power, greatly reduced acidic blow-by products (thereby enhancing engine life) and less waste heat (also enhancing engine life).

We can make butynol from electricity, carbon dioxide, and water by one of three methods. There exists a kind of reverse fuel cell that was recently invented that uses a catalyst in the presence of electricity to convert carbon dioxide and water to butynol. That is one method; it’s a method that from what I’ve read Richard Branson paid to have developed to produce butynol as a renewable jet fuel. However, there are two other methods also that can be used, carbon dioxide can be electrolyzed into oxygen and carbon monoxide, the carbon monoxide can be mixed with steam to form “process gas”, and then in the presence of catalysts, this can be used to create a variety of useful hydrocarbons including butynol. Lastly, electricity can be used to create sufficient heat to disassociate carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide and oxygen and then the same process that follows electrolysis can be used. The last process has been demonstrated on an industrial scale, I’m not sure if the first processes have made it out of the lab, but they have at least been demonstrated in the lab. Using the latter two processes it is also possible to make synthetic diesel.

If use the electricity generated during times when there is excess capacity to create butynol, we can replace imported oil used for gasoline and diesel, while at the same time providing a market for the peak electrical production, thereby allowing wind power to be economical even when capacity is overbuilt, and we create a market for the carbon dioxide generated by existing coal and gas fired plants instead of just releasing the carbon dioxide into the air. When the butynol is burned it will release carbon dioxide, but this is displacing oil that would have been burnt, so the net result will be a reduction in carbon dioxide and if we can bring enough renewable electricity capacity online to eliminate the need for fossil fueled power generation, then we can continue to make butynol by sequestering carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, thus making the process a closed loop resulting in no net carbon dioxide increase.

Any one of these elements by themselves may not be economic; but they are all mutually synergistic and implemented together they could eliminate our dependency upon foreign oil first, and later eliminate our dependency upon fossil fuels (or for that matter abiotic oil) entirely.

We should be doing this, and we should not be doing it ten or fifty years from now, we should be doing it now.

Category: Future

4 comments on “Connecting The Dots…

  1. Water is the source of life – treasure it! R4.
    Water is the source of all life on earth. It touches every area of our lives. Without it, we could not thrive — we could not even survive.

    Sustainability – “We strive to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
    We should discourage wastefulness and misuse, and promote efficiency and conservation.
    “Conservation is really the cheapest source of supply,”
    For the benefit of mankind, maintain the quality of life and preserve the peace and tranquility of world population. Water resources must be preserved – to sustain humanity. We must eliminate wasteful utilization of water, conserve our water sources and implement rigid conservation methods. We should utilize solar and or other source of renewable energy to operate desalinization projects from the oceans. Utilize renewable energy sources to purify and transport the water to its final destination. As world population increases the scarcity of water will become a cause for conflict, unless we take steps now to develop other sources of water for drinking, rainwater harvesting – storm-water and gray-water utilization. Designing of landscaping that uses minimal amount of water.
    “With power shortages and a water scarcity a constant threat across the West, it’s time to look at water and energy in a new way,”
    To preserve the future generations sustainability, we should look into urban farming – vertical farming. The term “urban farming” may conjure up a community garden where locals grow a few heads of lettuce. But some academics envision something quite different for the increasingly hungry world of the 21st century: a vertical farm that will do for agriculture what the skyscraper did for office space. Greenhouse giant: By stacking floors full of produce, a vertical farm could rake in $18 million a year.
    Jay Draiman, Energy and water conservation consultant
    May. 2, 2008
    PS.

    Hydro dynamics: forget oil. Sharing freshwater equitably poses political conundrums as explosive and far-reaching as global climate change.
    Quoted from other sources
    Anyone who has ever stood on a beach and looked out into the vast expanse of an ocean knows that there is a lot of water on this planet. In fact, 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. It may seem like water is all around us, but safe, clean, reliable drinking water is not a cease¬less resource. The problems facing drinking water range from failing infrastructure, to climate change, to insufficient supplies.

    Personal Conservation
    Preserving our water resources is not a job for water industry professionals alone. We all have a vested interest in ensuring that water remains safe, af¬fordable and available. Therefore, each individual American has a responsibility to monitor and control their water use, There are many simple ways for people to reduce excess water use, lower water bills and protect the environment, espe¬cially in die spring and summer months, Beyond the standard constraints of watering the lawn only when neces¬sary and washing car wisely by using soap and a bucket of water, some steps include: draining water lines to outside faucets, disconnecting hoses, shutting off outdoor water sources during cold weather and running a small trickle of water on whiter nights to prevent pipe from freezing.
    Conclusion
    Water supply management is an issue that affects us all. It may not be apparent to every citizen today, but with climate change and population shifts transforming the United States, it soon will be. Effective solutions need to be put into place today before we are faced with a water crisis. A focus on careful planning, treatments, innova¬tions and conservation measures will help to create stability for long-term water management. Commitment to keeping water at the top of the list for communities and citizens will better prepare us for whatever the future of water holds.

    WATER!
    The indispensable source of life-without water there would be no industry, no agriculture and, most importantly of all, no life. In dry parts of the world this essential commodity is even more precious. Almost all human actions involve water from taking a shower to reading a newspaper to driving a car or simply eating a sandwich – almost everything we do or touch is somehow related to this precious treasure. We ask that you stop and think how you use water and what you can do to conserve this essential natural resource.
    *Water, beliefs and customs,
    *Water as a vehicle of the economy,
    *Water, source of art and life, irrigation and cultivation.
    The people have decided to act to try and develop a real awareness program on the theme of water preservation and distribution in an attempt to help maintain the original purity of rivers and streams.
    In many parts of the world water sources and wells are not equally distributed. Water as a source of life can also be at the source of conflict.
    Whether we live in India, Iceland or the Atlas… we have always tried to trap and tame water. Dams, pumps, canals, water treatment centers; there are so many different ways to exploit this resource that we often forget how fragile this unique and essential treasure actually is.
    Unfortunately, many of the things we do every day can harm our water. That’s why all people and government should be working with municipalities, farmers, business leaders and developers just like you to take action to protect our water and clean it up.
    Small changes can make a big difference. This guide outlines practical things we can all do to preserve and protect our water. We all need to be part of the solution.
    Concentrated Solar Power, which requires no solar panels at all. It works by concentrating sunlight onto a small pipe using cheap parabolic reflectors. The pipe contains a liquid that’s heated to very high temperatures by the sun and drives a steam boiler that rotates a turbine to generate electricity (much like nuclear power plants, but without the nuclear waste). It’s cheap, low-tech, and far more affordable than solar power. Plus, it can be built in practically any desert, so it doesn’t take up valuable land. As another bonus, when CSP operations are built near the ocean, they can desalinate ocean water as a side effect, providing fresh water for irrigation to grow food. This is the only renewable energy technology I know of that can produce cheap energy, fresh water and crop irrigation all at the same time. Plus, it has no emissions, no toxic chemicals, no nuclear waste and very little environmental impact..
    “You can’t escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today” – Abraham Lincoln said it.
    “That man is richest whose pleasures are the cheapest” – Henry David Thoreau.
    “To waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed” – Theodore Roosevelt.
    “When the ‘study of the household’ (ecology) and the ‘management of the household’ (economics) can be merged, and when ethics can be extended to include ‘environmental’ as well as human values, then we can be optimistic about the future of mankind. Accordingly, bringing together these three E’s is the ultimate holism and the great challenge for our future” – Eugene Odum.

  2. To be sure water is important to life; it’s one of the first things we look for on another planet when considering whether that planet may or may not be capable of supporting life.

    That said; fresh water on Earth is a secondary problem. Water is an issue only to the degree energy is an issue because there is plenty of salt water and energy can turn salt water into fresh water.

    You and I disagree with respect to priorities. You make the statement, “As population rises water will become more scarce”.

    Well, that’s true; but let’s look at the first part of that equation, “As population rises”, and attack that issue first.

    Population doesn’t rise in developed countries with robust economies except through immigration.

    The lesson there is, if we can eliminate poverty globally, we’ll eliminate population growth. In my view, this ought to be priority number one because sustainability depends upon a stable population.

    Eliminating poverty, even with conservation, is going to require increased energy production and that can’t be accommodated by fossil fuels.

    Even worse; the production of fossil fuels has at least temporarily peaked, and even though recent discoveries and new technology will no doubt allow it to continue to grow, no new technology will produce more air; or ocean capable of absorbing carbon dioxide; therefore it’s important that the use of fossil fuels not increase, even if we are capable of doing so.

    However, the demand is growing and supply is stable or shrinking, if this issue isn’t addressed immediately we’re looking at a world of economic collapse, widespread hunger, and increased population growth rate.

    So we need to consider every option available to replace declining sweet light crude production, we can not, absolutely can not “forget oil” as you suggest.

  3. Renewable Energy Manufactures/suppliers should use their own product to manufacture.

    The manufacturers’ of Solar Panels and other forms of renewable energy with related support products manufactures/suppliers – should have at least the decency to practice what they preach what they market to the public.
    That would be the best marketing approach I can think off.
    If they believe in the product they manufacture/sell, they should utilize it to its fullest potential.
    It will give the manufacturer the actual experience of utilizing the product on a daily basis, view and experience any shortcoming or improvements that are needed, implement the improvements and capitalize on that revision to improve the product and its performance.
    This will instill confidence in the public to purchase the product.

    Jay Draiman, Energy Analyst

    PS
    As with any new technology, PV will become more efficient, cheaper and cleaner to produce. In order for this to happen we (Governments / NGOs / Individuals) need to invest more time and money into making PV viable, e.g. through increased incentives, regulations, technical standards, R&D, manufacturing processes and generating consumer demand.
    Just like the automobile industry, the manufacture used its own product.
    Over the years the automobile industry and technology has evolved from the early 1900 to what it is today the year 2008.
    I predict that in 10 years the automobile we know today will change drastically for the better, with new fuel technology and other modification that will improve its scales of economy and features.

  4. While I understand the appeal in that and some manufacturers do in fact do that, I disagree, and here is why…

    Right now demand for solar panels outstrips supply. To me it makes sense to put them into use where they will displace the most conventional energy and do the most good.

    A manufacturer might be located in Seattle where there is little sunshine, at the same time someone might be putting together a solar farm outside of San Diego, where there is lots of sunshine, and moreover where the peak electrical load tends to correspond closely with peak solar output.

    So if the panel were to stay here and be used at the manufacturers, it’s only going to produce a fraction of the power it could be producing, and even that may not be well-matches with load so some power may be wasted.

    On the other hand, if it goes to the San Diego solar farm, it’s going to make much more power over it’s lifetime and little if any of that power will be wasted.

    Given the immediacy of our energy shortage, I think we need to put clean renewable energy production where it is most effective rather than where it generates the most PR value.

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