CLOates
Last Rev.:
6-Aug-2007
Norman, Oklahoma, USA

Time for Solar and Wind Energy
Revised and Expanded Yet Again

(Added 6-Aug-2007)

If you're interested in this topic at all you should spend some time at JUICE: Alternative Fuels World at http://www.alternatefuelsworld.com/.  Of particular interest is JUICE's series on Alternative Fuel Vehicles and how quickly alternatively-fueled vehicles and other "disruptive technologies" have been adopted and then shunned in the past.  Vehly in-theresting!

(Added 5-Aug-2007)

Amazing!  The US House actually passed a renewable energy bill.  For details, see the Washington Post article, House Passes Bill to Support Renewable Energy .   We'll see what happens in the House - Senate conference, but at least there's some tentative progress. 

Now we'll see if Democrats can do basic arithmetic to size and time the potential new energy supplies and whether Republicans can relax their head-up-and-locked position long enough to work for the mid- and long-term benefit of citizens, including themselves.  (Is there some other group I could align with?  Neither of the aforementioned seems particularly competent or trustworthy.)

While I'm at it, let me mention that the long-term energy delivery system for vehicles that's being proposed, namely hydrogen, needs some careful thought.  The technical and infrastructure problems with hydrogen are quite formidable, but can probably be overcome, eventually. 

The item that seems to escape many of the people talking about this technology is that it has one characteristic fundamentally different from the fossil fuels we're used to.  Like gasoline, liquid hydrogen is a fairly decent, if quite dangerous, energy storage medium.  We've been using it to launch space shuttles and provide electric power in space-borne fuel cells for decades. 

What's different is that Mom Nature has seen fit to supply us with abundant hydrogen in the form of good old water, H2O.  Unfortunately, the water molecule's two hydrogen atoms are quite tightly bound to their oxygen atom, and getting them apart to make hydrogen gas takes as much energy--usually more--than can be extracted from the resulting hydrogen fuel.

This isn't the case with petroleum or coal.  It does take some energy to get these fuels out of the ground and to transform them into a usable form, but they yield vastly more energy than it takes to mine and refine them.  There's a very large net energy gain.  We benefit by retrieving the solar energy and hydrocarbon chemical energy that was stored in these fuels eons ago.

Hydrogen, on the other hand, requires at least as much energy to make as it yields when it's burned and turned back into water. Where's the energy to "mine" hydrogen from water going to come from?  There's the rub. 

If we're already getting short on fossil fuels, it won't come from  those unless, of course, we're willing to burn unbelievable amounts of coal, of which the US does have plenty. The resulting release of even greater amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere boggles the mind.  (Then again, why should we worry about that, since global warming is, after all, "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," according to that most climatologically knowledgeable of Earth's inhabitants, Oklahoma's Senator Jim Inhofe. See Inhof's Website for more disinformation.  Are you willing to bet your future and my grandkids future on it?  Ah, thanks, I think I'll pass.)

The obvious source for the energy to get the hydrogen out of water is--yes, you guessed it--solar and wind energy.  Making hydrogen is made-to-order for these sources, since they vary considerably in intensity over days and weeks, but are, nonetheless, pretty predictable over time.  (Yes, Kim, you have to use statistics for the predictions.  Sorry. :)  Since the sun is the only net energy income we have (everything else is already here and there's no more coming), it makes sense to use energy sources that are as close as possible to direct conversion of solar energy to more useful forms.

There's way more than enough energy coming in from the sun to do the job.  The problem is that both sun and wind sources are low-intensity and require fairly large areas and concentration of energy to do their work.  This is the exact opposite of high-intensity sources such as fossil fuels and nuclear fission that can be used in their concentrated forms to produce huge amounts of energy in a relatively small space for distribution over a wide area.  Our present energy system is set up to accommodate high-intensity energy sources, and our political system is heavily influenced by those whose thinking and whose incomes are derived from the present energy system.

We have our choices.  We can keep on doing what were doing until we run very short on fossil fuels and until we heat the planet up enough that God alone knows what will happen, or we can face facts and start the difficult economic, political, and social process of changing the fuel sources upon which our very existence, not to mention our economy and  life-styles, depend.* 

Let's get goin'!

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*We could have started the change thirty years ago when Jimmy Carter saw the need to change, but failed to make it happen, partly through his political ineptitude as President and mostly through the fossil fuels connections of his successor.  We don't have another thirty years to procrastinate!  It's more like thirty months, unfortunately. --CLO

By the way, the oilies are right about one thing.  We consume SO MUCH energy in the form of fossil fuels that we're going to have to do everything, including solar, wind, ethanol-from-cellulose (switchgrass, sugar cane, etc., as well as just corn), hydrogen, hopefully-not nuclear fission, big-time conservation, and you-name-it-what-else to replace all the fossil fuel energy we're now consuming.  We're consuming about 9 million barrels of gasoline a day, as well as 6 million barrels of diesel.  That's a BUNCH!  Again, it's time to get busy and do something about it, instead of sitting fat-dumb-and-happy on our posteriors until the economic and/or ecological bottom falls out.  --Vox Clamantis in Deserto (a voice crying in the wilderness)

 

(Added 4-Aug-2007)

Here's the scoop, folks.  Production of fossil fuel-based energy sources is peaking.  It's not likely to increase over current levels, no matter what we do.  The production of that most currently-essential fossil fuel, oil, has remained essentially flat over the last two or three years while the per-barrel price of oil has almost doubled.  (See this article for more details.)  The time to get renewable, non-CO2 emitting, sources going is NOW.

That's going to be difficult, because those who benefit from the existing energy sources (and that includes this writer) are so well-connected and well-entrenched in the US Congress and Executive Branch that they're able to cry "renewable resources are insignificant; they're only 2% of the existing supply" and then do everything in their considerable power to keep it that way, to their short-term benefit, but our collective medium- and long-term peril.  See this article for more information on this issue.

I'm likely to be dead and gone by the time increasing energy demand completely outstrips the peaking (peaked?) fossil fuel supply, but many of you reading this are likely to be around for quite a while after that economic/financial/social calamity occurs.  It's time to let your political representatives know that those who are financing their political campaigns and influencing their votes are leading us down a path to disaster in the name of filling their already well-lined pockets even fuller.  It's not that the oil interests are "evil," to use a George Bush phrase, but they are apparently blinded to their own medium-term and long-term interests by their desire to get all the wealth they can possibly amass in the short term--a condition likely induced by the tendency of Wall Street to slaughter the stock of any company that doesn't make more money this quarter(-year) than last.

The only hope I can see is that the one thing that politicians fear more than abandonment by their financiers is a ground swell of voting, letter-writing citizens who organize.  What's displayed below is part of my attempt to become just that.  Don't worry too much if you don't agree with a particular organization's views on other issues.  Stewardship of Earth's resources is producing some very odd political bedfellows, including very conservative fundamentalist Christians who have actually read the Book and picked up on the stewardship requirements, as well as tree-hugging environmentalists like me who don't particularly fancy the thought of their kids and grandkids living with the likely consequences of what we're doing to this ol' world at the moment, not to mention what we've done for the last 150 years or so.

The fact that news sources, including those on the Internet, don't seem to be carrying the results of the vote, or the lack thereof, in the US House yesterday (Friday, 3 August 2007) is a sad comment on the lack of concern that this issue seems to have generated. 

We have but one home, folks.  It's called Earth by the locals.  Let's do our best to keep it habitable!

_____________________________

You can begin a self-education campaign and obtain a fairly good representation of the many sides of this issue by giving Google's News search engine a set of search items similar to  "solar wind energy oil interests bill House" (without the quotation marks).  Good luck.  Your future will be shaped by the effort.

_____________________________

From a MoveOn.org e-mail:

"Subject: A Nation Powered by Solar and Wind Energy

"We have the best opportunity we've ever had to get this country off of polluting energy like oil and coal and onto real clean alternatives. This will not only help curb the climate crisis, but save consumers money and create new jobs. Seems like a slam dunk, right?

"But some in Congress are still willing to do the bidding of the oil and coal industry and vote down bills that would undercut their stranglehold on our economy. We need to tell Congress now to do what's right for the American people, not continue business-as-usual.

"I signed a petition urging Congress to vote for to give solar and wind the support they need to assure a clean energy future. Can you join me at the link below?"

http://pol.moveon.org/cleanenergyfuture/

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Hurry!  They're voting Friday, 3 August, and as you might imagine,
Oklahoma's political representation needs a little help (to say the least) to vote for what's best and not for what's politically expedient on this one.


Thanks!

Prof. Oates

Your Friendly Local Raving-"Liburl," Tree-Hugging, Earth-Loving, Stewardship-Believing, Posterity-Worried Engrrr-neer