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Welcome …

This weekly blog (see Table of Contents below) will serve primarily as a platform for my perspectives on energy, water-energy, and related issues,  and as a platform for exchange of views with readers.  I will also use the blog as a repository for my written articles and power point presentations from the mid-1990s on, covering the period when I was managing the U.S. Department of Energy’s renewable energy electricity programs (solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, hydropower, ocean, energy storage, hydrogen, superconductivity) and the following years until retirement from DOE in 2012.
It will hopefully serve as a resource for others engaged in similar pursuits and for those yet to enter these and related fields.  I will also use the blog to occasionally discuss ‘random thoughts’ on other issues that catch my attention, including reference to post-retirement activities.

Table of contents:

Title
Long-delayed update
Updating My Blog
President Obama On Energy: State of the Union Adddress
Peter Varadi Sees a Dim Future for the Oil Industry
A Presidential Campaign Speech from 2052
Revisiting the Keystone XL Pipeline Issue
The Coal Conundrum
What Will Historians Say About Recent U.S. Congresses?
It is Time to Take the Next Step on Energy Policy
Returning to an Important Subject: the Vulnerability of the U.S. Electrical Grid
Investing In Solar Energy: If Only I Was Younger
Does It Make Sense to Add Storage to a Home Solar System?
The Yieldco and Its Impact on Solar Energy
Comments on EPA’s Recently Released Report on Fracking
One More Blog Post About Global Warming
Financing the Growth of Renewable Energy in Scotland
Addressing Climate Change – A Needed Policy
The Exciting Changes Taking Place in Scotland’s Energy System
Two New Books Worthy of Your Attention
Documenting the 1970s – Part 2 of 2
Documenting the 1970s – Part 1 of 2
Report of an Interview – Republished From the ECOreport
The Vulnerability of Our Electric Utility System to Cyber Attacks
The Climate Change Thing – Revisited
New book – ‘Energy Poverty: Global Challenges and Local Solutions’
More on the Lighting Revolution
Reflections on Short-term vs. Long-term Thinking on Energy Policy
Status Report: the Blog as of 24 November 2014
What Might the 2014 Elections Mean for U.S. Energy and Environmental Policy?
Looking Back at Energy Policy in the 1970’s
A Letter to President Obama
A Few Thoughts on Energy and the Scottish Independence Vote
A Conversation With S. David Freeman
Shale Gas and Hydraulic Fracturing – Framing the Water Issue
Looking Ahead 30-40 Years – A Risky Business
Thoughts On U.S. Energy Policy – Updated
Grids, Smart Grids and More Grids: What’s Coming
A Personal View
Illy
Energy Storage: A Critical Link In the Renewable Energy Chain
Peak Oil: A Valid or Invalid Concept?
Peter Varadi’s New Book: ‘Sun Above the Horizon’
Africa’s Energy Future: A Dynamic Part of the 21st Century
Am I Still An Environmentalist?
Methane Hydrates: The Granddaddy of Fossil Fuels
A Note to My Readers
Request to readers: please help me choose a title for an ebook of my blog posts
Human Wastes: Another Energy Resource Waiting to Be Tapped
Zero Energy Buildings: They May Be Coming Sooner Than You Think
Oil Spills and Our Inability to Clean Them Up Properly
Electrochromic Windows: We Need to Get the Cost Down
Animal Wastes: An Energy Resource That Is Win-Win
Gender Issues and Sustainable Development: We Need to Pay More Attention
Subsidies For Energy Technologies: Are They Fair?
Lighting: A Revolution In Progress
Mentoring: A Critical Need In Any Organization
Balancing Environmental Interests and Our Energy Future: Often A Difficult Call
Water Disinfection: It Is Saving Lives
Biomass Energy: An Old and Future Technology
Controlled Nuclear Fusion: The Energy Source That Is Always A Few Years Away
Desalination: An Important Part of Our Water Future
Animal Cognition – The Beginnings of Understanding
Energy Efficiency – The Necessary Cornerstone of U.S. Energy Policy
Wind Energy In Scotland – What A Wind Farm Looks Like
An update – the blog author is in Scotland
Geothermal Energy: A Resource Waiting To Be Fully Tapped (Part 2)
Geothermal Energy: A Resource Waiting To Be More Fully Tapped (Part 1)
Ocean-based Energy: What Is Its Potential? (Part 1 of 2)
Ocean-based Energy: What Is Its Potential? (Part 2 of 2)
Why Is the Affordable Care Act Having Such A Difficult Roll-out?
Wind and Hydropower: A Natural Partnership
Hydrogen and Fuel Cells: Important Parts of Our Energy Future?
Carbon Capture and Sequestration: Is It a Viable Technology?
What I Took Away From the Doha Clean Energy Forum
Off to Doha – international Herald Tribune’s Global Clean Energy Forum
Solar Power Satellite Systems: A Viable Option?
Where Should We Draw the Line on Fossil Fuels?
An Energy Grand Bargain: Something to Consider?
Anticipating the Future: It Can Be Difficult
Concentrating Solar Power: A Viable Option For Desert Regions
Solar Energy: The Unstoppable Transformative Technology
The Role of Government vs. That of the Private Sector
Flywheels: A Way To Change the Utility Business Model?
Vulnerabilities of U.S. Infrastructure: We Need To Pay More Attention
Sticking Your Neck Out
Nuclear Waste Storage: A Problem We Must Solve
We Need A Carbon Tax
Update on Global Warming And The Threat Of Sea Level Rise
Fracking: The Promise And The Problems
Update On Blocking ‘Spam’
Leaving the World in Younger Hands: It Will Be OK
The 1996 Summer Olympics: Setting A New Green Energy Standard
A Tribute to two Distinguished Colleagues And Renewable Energy Pioneers
The Promise of Renewable Energy: It Can Do The Job
More on Renewable Energy: Where Does It Come From?
A History of Renewable Energy at DOE
Status Report
Keystone XL Pipeline: A Memorandum To The President
CAFE Standards: Our Biggest Energy Conservation Measure
The Beginnings of a U.S. Energy Policy
Nuclear Power: The Faustian Bargain
Values and Energy Policy
Global Warming and Climate Change: All Too Real
Cheesecake Recipe: Something Special
Offshore Wind Energy: The Emerging Renewable Technology
Water and Energy: A Critical Nexus
Thoughts on an Energy Policy for the New Administration (2008)
Ben

Welcome to cyberspace, Lapsed Physicist! Glad to see you kick off this blog. Energy issues are past, present and future. Too important to take for granted. Why would you say it’s been so hard to develop a comprehensive energy policy for the nation?

ecosse4@comcast.net

Thank you for the welcome.

Your question does not have a simple answer, as you undoubtedly know, but here are a few personal thoughts:
– failure of the Clinton Administration to put us on a clean energy path in the 1990s when we had a President and Vice President who understood energy issues (time devoted to scandal around Monica Lewinsky, e.g.). I’m still angry about this.
– the influence of too many vested interests on the Bush43 Administration and too many in Congress, and a lack of long-term vision when energy costs were relatively low.
– political partisanship (it wasn’t always this way) that has limited Congress’ ability to act, especially GOP resistance to anything that could benefit the Obama Administration. I believe that the President ‘gets it’ on energy issues but he’s up against strong political resistance. Nevertheless, he has started us on the path that Clinton/Gore should have put us on 20 years ago.

Jerome Weingart

Given all of the research that you have done on water issues, I request that you add a major section to this blog that deals with water and, inter alia, water and energy. As for nothing seeming very new in terms of energy policy, you and I went through the various rounds of cries for ENERGY INDEPENDENCE (a dumb notion). I have most of the documents from 70s forward. Science and engineering have made major developments possible with energy systems and their management, but until the Holdren / Chu / Obama team hit Washington we seem to have been stuck in 1970 when it comes to energy policy. I have a copy of the original (mechanical typewriter) of the first Presidential energy speech — given by Richard Nixon. Anyone want to see it?

ecosse4@comcast.net

Jerry, you make an excellent suggestion and I will change the tagline on my blog to include water issues. I had intended to spend some blog time on water and water-energy issues and should have included this ‘cornerstone’ reference at its initiation. If I do too much on water-energy issues please let me know!

ecosse4@comcast.net

My dear Persian friend: I will let you decide if anybody ‘listened’ after you read some of the blogs over the next few months. Of course I wish more ‘listening’ had taken place, and that is not always easy in government service, but I believe a few things did get done.

Kenell Touryan

“Energy is like health. You only think about it after you lose it.”
This would fit nicely in your first bullet.

Peter Varadi

I am maybe a pessimist, but this country has lots of oil and gas and a powerful oil/gas industry and as a result there will not be a balanced energy policy. Oil and gas is entwined with the political world here. Not even a few billion dollar subsidy can be eliminated what it is hard to understand why the oil industry needs it?
In contrary Germany has no oil, no gas and nothing of that is in its vicinity. No powerful oil/gas lobby existed. Therefore the grass root was able to establish a balanced program. PV was started with the Aachen Model and the four large utility was not strong enough to stop it, the people prevailed. It is now too late for them, as more people are working in the PV industry than in the utilities.
The first phase was that PV finally was mass produced and prices became low. Now they are entering in the second phase that with storage and electronic distribution, electricity customers are becoming independent from the utilities.
Coming back to the USA, I do not think that we need an energy policy. PV is unstoppable. In peak power it is cheaper than the utilities. Walmart has more PV on store roofs than PV deployed in the entire state of Florida. And Walmart or the others don’t do it because suddenly they became green.

ecosse4@comcast.net

Points well taken about the vested fossil fuel interests and their ability to influence the political world. Ditto for resistance by traditional utilities. Germany’s experience is encouraging. Re the need for a U.S. energy policy: I believe it can speed up the inevitable transition to greater use of renewables, PV and otherwise.

John Gasper

One thing that has changed with implications to many of the facts and recommendations is industry’s ability to extract shale gas. The perceived abundance and lower cost of that fuel is accelerating the shift from coal for power generation and threatening renewable energy development and grid upgrades.

ecosse4@comcast.net

Agree that the large amount of fracking gas now available is changing the energy scene (along with fracking oil), with significant implications for investment in renewables. See no alternative to continued exploitation of fracking gas – too much down there and too much money to be made by its sale (sort of like the difficulty of stopping illegal drug sales when the profits are so high), but need strong regulation to protect against possible environmental impacts.

Natural gas has always had a ‘mixed’ relationship with renewables – desirable substitute for coal in power generation and seen as transition fuel to a renewable energy future, but when its price is low it inhibits the needed investments to get to large scale renewable energy deployment. Given the carbon emission benefits of burning natural gas vs. coal I support a new natural gas ‘era’ for the coming decades but see a critical need for a progressive and predictably rising tax on carbon emissions to stimulate private sector planning and innovation for the future. I know this is politically difficult to do, but have hopes that such a tax can generate sufficient revenues to allow other tax rates to be reduced and allow both political parties to support it as part of a larger tax reform effort.

BTW, I also see fracking growing in many other countries, with attendant impacts on renewables deployment.

DON SWIFT-HOOK

This looks really interesting, Allan! You will probably get loads of responses but in case you don’t – and even if you do – it will be fun to respond. Margot is already a devoted follower, she says, and sends her love to you both.

Thoughts on an Energy Policy for the New Administration

(Allan R. Hoffman, October 2008)

While there are many divergent views on an appropriate U.S. energy policy, it is perhaps helpful to start by identifying “facts” on which most can agree:

In view of what follows, perhaps you should delete all after “start”! [You did put “facts” in quotes and you weren’t really hoping for agreement, were you Allan?]

People do not value energy, they value the services it makes possible – heating, cooling, transportation, etc. It is in society’s interest to provide these services with the least energy possible, to minimize adverse economic, environmental and national security impacts.
How do people value anything? One way might be by being prepared to – or actually to – pay for it. Then your first assertion looks very doubtful, because people do pay for energy.

This sounds like a theory that doesn’t work out very well in practice, as is perhaps appropriate on this particular blog. Your second assertion then looks rather strange but it is still true, I think!

§ Energy has always been critical to human activities, but what differentiates modern societies is the energy required to provide increasingly high levels of services.

Knowing that UK peak electricity demand today is less than it was 10 years ago, I assume you mean that, whereas in the past, more activities needed more energy, modern societies [at least in the UK recently] manage with less. Perhaps the world is becoming more of a virtual place, for better or for worse, and virtual activities certainly use less energy.

§ Population and per capita consumption increases will drive increasing global energy demand in the 21st century. While not preordained, this increase will be large even if others do not achieve U.S. per capita levels of consumption.

§ Electrification increased dramatically in the 20th century and will increase in the 21st century as well. The substitution of electricity for liquid transportation fuels will be a major driver of this continued electrification.

Greater electrification does not necessarily need more electricity, particularly if electronics is involved. UK peak electricity demand today is less than it was 10 years ago,

§ Transportation is the fastest growing global energy consumer, and today more than 90% of transportation is powered by petroleum-derived fuels.

Globally energy is not in short supply – e.g., the sun pours 6 million quads of radiation annually into our atmosphere (global energy use: 460 quads). There is considerable energy under our feet, in the form of hot water and rock heated by radioactive decay in the earth’s core. What is in short supply is inexpensive energy that people are willing to pay for.

What is in short supply, in fact, is cheap energy conversion techniques. That means jobs for physicists [not to mention failed physicists].

§ Today’s world is powered largely by fossil fuels and this will continue well into the 21st century, given large reserves and devoted infrastructure.

§ Fossil fuel resources are finite and their use will eventually have to be restricted. Cost increases and volatility, already occurring, are likely to limit their use before resource restrictions become dominant.

With enough coal for 500 years and enough fracked gas for 300 years, “finite” is so close to “infinite” that I see no reason for cost increases to arise due to shortages in our life-times – or those of any of your readers, perhaps I should add.

Volatility is endemic in almost all aspects of all economies without blaming whatever you were blaming. What were you?

Increasing geographic concentration of traditional fossil fuel supplies in other countries raises national security concerns.
Absolutely. America’s self-sufficiency [actual or approaching] in fracked gas is very worrying for us Brits.

§ The world’s energy infrastructure is highly vulnerable to natural disasters, terrorist attacks and other breakdowns.

Which makes it just like the food infra-structure, building construction and almost any other commodity you care to name. I’m not sure what you are getting at – or to.

§ Energy imports, a major drain on U.S. financial resources, allow other countries to exert undue influence on U.S. foreign policy and freedom of action.

“Undue” should read “perfectly normal” in the global economy we live in. Certainly America is under no more “influence” than the EU, Japan, China, Russia or any other major trading blocs are. What is worrying to us all is how soon America will become a net exporter of first gas and then total energy.

§ Fossil fuel combustion releases CO2 into the atmosphere (unless captured and sequestered) which mixes globally with a long atmospheric lifetime. Most climate scientists believe increasing CO2 concentrations alter earth’s energy balance with the sun, contributing to global warming.

§ Nuclear power, a non-CO2 emitting energy source, has significant future potential but its widespread deployment faces several critical issues: cost, plant safety, waste storage, and weapons non-proliferation.

§ Renewable energy (solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, ocean) has significant potential for replacing our current fossil fuel based energy system. The transition will take time but we must quickly get on this path.

I agree that renewable energy is to save fuel but not entirely to replace it, when fuel is so abundant.

………………………………………………………………………………………..

Recommendations:

Using the bully pulpit, educate the public about energy realities and implications for energy, economic and environmental security.
But make sure you get the realities right, not what are served up by the media – or even failed physicists, see below!.

Work with Congress to establish energy efficiency as the cornerstone of national energy policy.
Anything with only one corner is very strange to contemplate – a bit pear [or tear-drop] shaped? – and I would like to include renewables as another corner-stone at the very least.

Work with Congress to provide an economic environment that supports investments in energy efficiency, including appropriate performance standards and incentives, and setting a long-term, steadily increasing, predictable price on carbon emissions (in coordination with other countries). This will unleash innovation and create new jobs.
Not, please not on carbon emissions. In Europe, the traded values of carbon credits are down to all-time low levels [of 3 Euro per tonne as of April 2013 compared to the 30 euro level where it is believed that companies would start to take interest or action] and Brussels Bureaucrats wanted to provide financial support. The Euro-Parliament, elected by European voters, refused to agree. This defeat was seen by many as the death knell to the carbon credit trading system in the EU.

80% of all countries regard global warming as of secondary importance, as declared in COP15, and they refuse to limit their emissions but all countries support renewable energy to save fuel imports, which happens to limit emissions as it does so. So Feed In Tariffs or other support for renewables but no carbon taxes or credits, please. Don’t try to fight or support the whole world on this.

Consider setting a floor under oil prices, to insure that energy investments are not undermined by falling prices, and using resulting revenues to address equity and other needs.
Very doubtful, inviting the Law of Unintended Consequences to apply. Whatever happened to free markets, America?

Work with Congress to find an acceptable answer to domestic radioactive waste storage, and with other nations to address nuclear power plant safety issues and establish an international regime for ensuring nonproliferation.

Establish a national policy for net metering, to remove barriers to widespread deployment of renewable energy systems.
I’m doubtful of the need. Let utilities do their own things.

Provide incentives to encourage manufacture and deployment of renewable energy systems that are sufficiently long for markets to develop adequately but are time limited with a non-disruptive phase-out.
Agreed absolutely – but no carbon credits or taxes.

Aggressively support establishment of a smart national electrical grid, to facilitate use of renewable electricity anywhere in the country and mitigate, with energy storage, the effects of intermittency.
I agree about the grid [which will automatically be smart without you telling it to be!] but energy storage can have almost nothing to do with renewables.

For a start, it’s obvious you can’t store solar economically. A commercial store must buy power when it’s cheap, which means at night, and sell when it’s dear, which means during the day, and there is no solar at night.

Also, wind, being the cheapest power on the system [with no fuel cost], is the last to be stored. [A well run power system calls on its cheapest power first and always stores its dearest power, the power you would shut down if storing stopped.]

Wind intermittency has a typical period of up to 10 days [according to van der Hoven], which means it is blowing or not blowing for up to 10 days at a time; that is how long a typical weather pattern takes to pass. Unless you can store for up to 10 days you are not dealing with the problem of wind intermittency and a 10 day store will cost 20 times as much as any current power system store [12 hour or so], making it wildly uneconomic.

Support an aggressive effort on carbon capture and sequestration, to ascertain its feasibility to allow continued use of our extensive coal resources.
Very unwise and uneconomic. China and India and 80% of all countries will continue to burn coal [or oil or gas] so it would be foolish for America not to but, if you must save coal, install wind generation, which is cheaper than the fuel costs alone of CCS, without paying for the necessary and unproven costly plant.

Remove incentives for fossil fuels that are historical tax code legacies that slow the transition to a new, renewables-based, energy system.
Don’t even think of trying it! These subsidies are so engrained in the coal, oil, gas and nuclear industries, just as they are in food, water and many other commodity markets and indeed in the whole financial infrastructure of the country, that you will never succeed and would be wildly disruptive if you tried. If you can’t beat it, join it and recognize that this the normal and traditional situation to justify similar but larger benefits for the renewables to speed the transition.

Cheers!

Don

Prof Donald T Swift-Hook, Visiting Professor, Kingston University,
Director & Secretary to the Board of the World Renewable Energy Network,
MA, MSc, PhD, EurIng, CEng, FIET, CSci, FEI, CPhys, FInstP, CMath, FIMA, MInstD, FRSA,
Bourne Place, Horsell Common Road, WOKING, Surrey GU21 4XX, UK
Tel: 0(044)1483 769 960; Mob: 0(044) 7921 153 902; Fax: 0(044)8448 123 903

ecosse4@comcast.net

Well Don, it took no time to get you stirred up. Here are my responses after each of your interspersed comments on my Post. and I do apologize to readers for the length and complexity of this reply.

Thoughts on an Energy Policy for the New Administration
(Allan R. Hoffman, October 2008)

While there are many divergent views on an appropriate U.S. energy policy, it is perhaps helpful to start by identifying “facts” on which most can agree:
In view of what follows, perhaps you should delete all after “start”! [You did put “facts” in quotes and you weren’t really hoping for agreement, were you Allan?] No, but one has to start somewhere.

 People do not value energy, they value the services it makes possible – heating, cooling, transportation, etc. It is in society’s interest to provide these services with the least energy possible, to minimize adverse economic, environmental and national security impacts.
How do people value anything? One way might be by being prepared to – or actually to – pay for it. Then your first assertion looks very doubtful, because people do pay for energy.
My point is that people pay for the services that energy makes possible and, except for those who are in the business of selling fuel and electricity most people don’t focus on how the energy is provide
This sounds like a theory that doesn’t work out very well in practice, as is perhaps appropriate on this particular blog. Your second assertion then looks rather strange but it is still true, I think!
The ‘theory’ of energy services is well accepted and may eventually be the basis for selling ‘energy’ – e.g., lighting services. I see nothing strange about it.

 Energy has always been critical to human activities, but what differentiates modern societies is the energy required to provide increasingly high levels of services.
Knowing that UK peak electricity demand today is less than it was 10 years ago, I assume you mean that, whereas in the past, more activities needed more energy, modern societies [at least in the UK recently] manage with less. Perhaps the world is becoming more of a virtual place, for better or for worse, and virtual activities certainly use less energy. Efficiency of energy use certainly has an important role to play, but as many counties provide more services to their citizens in the 21st century the overall demand for energy will increase in the coming decades. Hopefully, efficiency improvements will eventually limit and even reverse this trend.

 Population and per capita consumption increases will drive increasing global energy demand in the 21st century. While not preordained, this increase will be large even if others do not achieve U.S. per capita levels of consumption.

 Electrification increased dramatically in the 20th century and will increase in the 21st century as well. The substitution of electricity for liquid transportation fuels will be a major driver of this continued electrification.
Greater electrification does not necessarily need more electricity, particularly if electronics is involved. UK peak electricity demand today is less than it was 10 years ago. Agree, but see response above. What about all the countries other than the UK, especially in the developing world.

 Transportation is the fastest growing global energy consumer, and today more than 90% of transportation is powered by petroleum-derived fuels.

Globally energy is not in short supply – e.g., the sun pours 6 million quads of radiation annually into our atmosphere (global energy use: 460 quads). There is considerable energy under our feet, in the form of hot water and rock heated by radioactive decay in the earth’s core. What is in short supply is inexpensive energy that people are willing to pay for.
What is in short supply, in fact, is cheap energy conversion techniques. That means jobs for physicists [not to mention failed physicists]. Cheap energy conversion (e.g., lower cost PV systems and wind turbines) usually translates into lower energy costs for consumers, unless of course there is a monopoly situation. Many people in today’s world live without access to affordable energy and therefore do without vital services, like clean water. We can do better.

 Today’s world is powered largely by fossil fuels and this will continue well into the 21st century, given large reserves and devoted infrastructure.

 Fossil fuel resources are finite and their use will eventually have to be restricted. Cost increases and volatility, already occurring, are likely to limit their use before resource restrictions become dominant.
With enough coal for 500 years and enough fracked gas for 300 years, “finite” is so close to “infinite” that I see no reason for cost increases to arise due to shortages in our life-times – or those of any of your readers, perhaps I should add. I agree that fossil reserves are large, probably larger than most people realize. I also believe we will find major new reserves in areas where the ice is melting due to global warming. Coal use will be limited if we get more serious about carbon emissions, as finally seems to be happening in the US. The fracking gas situation has evolved rapidly since I wrote the piece in 2008 and is changing the energy scene significantly, with obvious implications for renewable energy deployment. How natural gas prices go in the future is difficult to predict, but with low cost natural gas now readily available the demand and price will undoubtedly increase.
Volatility is endemic in almost all aspects of all economies without blaming whatever you were blaming. What were you? I’m not blaming – I’m just recognizing that uncertainty about future energy costs is a serious problem in planning for the private sector and governments.

 Increasing geographic concentration of traditional fossil fuel supplies in other countries raises national security concerns.
Absolutely. America’s self-sufficiency [actual or approaching] in fracked gas is very worrying for us Brits. A new reality since the piece was first written. Understand the concern.

 The world’s energy infrastructure is highly vulnerable to natural disasters, terrorist attacks and other breakdowns.
Which makes it just like the food infra-structure, building construction and almost any other commodity you care to name. I’m not sure what you are getting at – or to. What I’m getting at is that our ‘traditional’ energy supply systems can be easily disrupted, with often dire consequences – e.g., lack of clean water, even in developed countries. We need a more decentralized system less vulnerable to sabotage and storms and falling trees. I agree that other sectors provide critical commodities as well, but energy (and food) are pretty central!
0
 Energy imports, a major drain on U.S. financial resources, allow other countries to exert undue influence on U.S. foreign policy and freedom of action.
“Undue” should read “perfectly normal” in the global economy we live in. Certainly America is under no more “influence” than the EU, Japan, China, Russia or any other major trading blocs are. What is worrying to us all is how soon America will become a net exporter of first gas and then total energy.
America’s very large energy demand and dependence on imported energy has been a major financial and national security concern for many decades. Hopefully, with the increasing amounts of indigenous fracking gas and oil this situation is turning around rapidly and the influence by others on US policies is decreasing. Other countries have the same concerns, even if not the same resources to exploit, and you have reason to worry about the US becoming a net energy exporter in several decades.

 Fossil fuel combustion releases CO2 into the atmosphere (unless captured and sequestered) which mixes globally with a long atmospheric lifetime. Most climate scientists believe increasing CO2 concentrations alter earth’s energy balance with the sun, contributing to global warming.

 Nuclear power, a non-CO2 emitting energy source, has significant future potential but its widespread deployment faces several critical issues: cost, plant safety, waste storage, and weapons non-proliferation.

 Renewable energy (solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, ocean) has significant potential for replacing our current fossil fuel based energy system. The transition will take time but we must quickly get on this path.
I agree that renewable energy is to save fuel but not entirely to replace it, when fuel is so abundant. It will take time, as any change in energy systems requires, but we do need to look down the road and take initial steps to provide the energy systems our children and grandchildren will use.
………………………………………………………………………………………..
Recommendations:

 Using the bully pulpit, educate the public about energy realities and implications for energy, economic and environmental security.
But make sure you get the realities right, not what are served up by the media – or even failed physicists, see below!. Agree – hard not to!

 Work with Congress to establish energy efficiency as the cornerstone of national energy policy.
Anything with only one corner is very strange to contemplate – a bit pear [or tear-drop] shaped? – and I would like to include renewables as another corner-stone at the very least. I’m a renewables guy as you know, and have devoted my career to developing renewable technologies, but see the wise use of energy (‘efficiency’) as the right starting point (Art Rosenfeld, the ‘father’of energy efficiency, would be proud of me). Nevertheless, I will add another ‘cornerstone’ as you suggest.

 Work with Congress to provide an economic environment that supports investments in energy efficiency, including appropriate performance standards and incentives, and setting a long-term, steadily increasing, predictable price on carbon emissions (in coordination with other countries). This will unleash innovation and create new jobs.
Not, please not on carbon emissions. In Europe, the traded values of carbon credits are down to all-time low levels [of 3 Euro per tonne as of April 2013 compared to the 30 euro level where it is believed that companies would start to take interest or action] and Brussels Bureaucrats wanted to provide financial support. The Euro-Parliament, elected by European voters, refused to agree. This defeat was seen by many as the death knell to the carbon credit trading system in the EU. I agree, the EU has screwed it up! I’ve never favored a carbon trading system, which is the initial approach put forth by the Obama Administration, because it can be manipulated. I see a predictable and increasing carbon tax providing the long-term certainty that industry requires to plan their investments and producing desired carbon emission reductions The revenues from such a tax can be used to lower other taxes and even allow Democrats and Republicans in the US to agree on large-scale tax reform. Here’s hoping.

80% of all countries regard global warming as of secondary importance, as declared in COP15, and they refuse to limit their emissions but all countries support renewable energy to save fuel imports, which happens to limit emissions as it does so. So Feed In Tariffs or other support for renewables but no carbon taxes or credits, please. Don’t try to fight or support the whole world on this. Feed-in tariffs are attractive, as demonstrated in Germany and other countries, but not ‘guaranteed’ (see Spain and even Germany, e.g.). I guess carbon taxes are not guaranteed either, but do not draw on government tax resources that has led to recent changes in FIT policies. Interested to see other comments on this.

 Consider setting a floor under oil prices, to insure that energy investments are not undermined by falling prices, and using resulting revenues to address equity and other needs.
Very doubtful, inviting the Law of Unintended Consequences to apply. Whatever happened to free markets, America?
When you find that ‘free market’ let me know. I do believe in the utility of markets, but ‘free’ is not a term I would wish to defend. Markets with appropriate (not excessive) regulation is what I support, given the ‘realities’ of human nature.

 Work with Congress to find an acceptable answer to domestic radioactive waste storage, and with other nations to address nuclear power plant safety issues and establish an international regime for ensuring nonproliferation.

 Establish a national policy for net metering, to remove barriers to widespread deployment of renewable energy systems.
I’m doubtful of the need. Let utilities do their own things.
Unfortunately, utilities have often been the barrier to increased deployment of renewables, certainly in the US, but that may be changing now that they realize their ‘business model’ may be in trouble – see Germany as one example. The utilities can do much to move us more rapidly to a renewables future, and hopefully they will.

 Provide incentives to encourage manufacture and deployment of renewable energy systems that are sufficiently long for markets to develop adequately but are time limited with a non-disruptive phase-out.
Agreed absolutely – but no carbon credits or taxes. See above!

 Aggressively support establishment of a smart national electrical grid, to facilitate use of renewable electricity anywhere in the country and mitigate, with energy storage, the effects of intermittency.
I agree about the grid [which will automatically be smart without you telling it to be!] but energy storage can have almost nothing to do with renewables.
For a start, it’s obvious you can’t store solar economically. A commercial store must buy power when it’s cheap, which means at night, and sell when it’s dear, which means during the day, and there is no solar at night.
Also, wind, being the cheapest power on the system [with no fuel cost], is the last to be stored. [A well run power system calls on its cheapest power first and always stores its dearest power, the power you would shut down if storing stopped.]
Wind intermittency has a typical period of up to 10 days [according to van der Hoven], which means it is blowing or not blowing for up to 10 days at a time; that is how long a typical weather pattern takes to pass. Unless you can store for up to 10 days you are not dealing with the problem of wind intermittency and a 10 day store will cost 20 times as much as any current power system store [12 hour or so], making it wildly uneconomic.
I accept that the economics of storage is a barrier today to its widespread use, but this is beginning to change (albeit slowly). Your analysis also seems to make assumptions about how energy is stored and distributed (a national grid, such as the super grid being proposed for Europe, alleviates this intermittency problem) and about the relative cost of wind vs. other renewable electricity. You’re absolutely right that storage converts ‘cheap’ energy into ‘expensive’ energy, but that energy has other ancillary benefits as well.
Hope others will enter into this discussion – complicated issue.

 Support an aggressive effort on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), to ascertain its feasibility to allow continued use of our extensive coal resources.
Very unwise and uneconomic. China and India and 80% of all countries will continue to burn coal [or oil or gas] so it would be foolish for America not to but, if you must save coal, install wind generation, which is cheaper than the fuel costs alone of CCS, without paying for the necessary and unproven costly plant.
My statement recognizes that countries with low-cost coal resources or relatively low cost access to them (including the UK) will continue to use those resources. Given that ‘reality’ it is incumbent on us to learn how to use that coal as cleanly as possible, and CCS is one way to do that. May be too costly to implement widely, but I believe we do have to find out.

 Remove incentives for fossil fuels that are historical tax code legacies that slow the transition to a new, renewables-based, energy system.
Don’t even think of trying it! These subsidies are so engrained in the coal, oil, gas and nuclear industries, just as they are in food, water and many other commodity markets and indeed in the whole financial infrastructure of the country, that you will never succeed and would be wildly disruptive if you tried. If you can’t beat it, join it and recognize that this the normal and traditional situation to justify similar but larger benefits for the renewables to speed the transition.
I recognize the political barriers (severe) but I’m not as pessimistic as you seem to be. That discussion has begun in the US but will admittedly be a hard and long discussion. Public education is an important key, and so are elections. Again, I hope many others will share their views on this issue.

DON SWIFT-HOOK

Many thanks, Allan, for your [as always] insightful responses. Not surprisingly, perhaps, we actually agree a lot more than we disagree but I think we have real differences of opinion on :
1] Whether or not energy storage can mitigate the effects of intermittency. [It does not and cannot.]
2] Carbon credits/taxes vs renewables credits/taxes [with CCS vs wind power as a specific example].

ecosse4@comcast.net

It’s those differences that make life (and blogs) so interesting. At this point I invite others to weigh in. Not easy subjects.

Luciano Gomes

Hello LP, greetings from the jungle!

Thought it would be valuable to hear your reaction and that of your readers to this…

I am just beginning to read the recently launched (March 2013) Shell Energy Scenarios to 2050 (link below). But I am already struck by the fact that Shell too chose to approach energy from a water-energy nexus perspective, with the quite reasonable addition of “food” to form what`s being called the “Stress Nexus”. Interesting (but long) reading.

http://www.shell.com/global/future-energy/scenarios/new-lens-scenarios.html

Luciano
(Full disclosure: I am a Shell (downstream) employee, but am participating on this blog on a personal basis)

ecosse4@comcast.net

Dear ‘jungle’ dweller,

So OK, we won’t hold you responsible for reflecting the views of the Brazilian government or Shell (duly noted).

Thank you for the hot-link to the Shell Energy Scenarios report – always an interesting document. Will comment after reading.

Virginia USA dweller
…………………………………………………………

June 7th: Have now read the Shell ‘New Lens Scenarios’ report hot-linked in your comment and had the following thoughts:

– an ambitious and useful document. Arthur Clarke said it best in his book “Profiles of the Future’ – it is difficult for most people to see into the future, even people at the top of their fields (many examples can be cited). Nevertheless, Shell has performed a useful service to itself and others by describing, in detail, two reasonable possibilities.

– no disagreement with the report’s ‘main points’ but it is sometimes hard to discern these points in the midst of a long text. A summary of these ‘points’ would have been useful.

– agree with emphasis on the ‘Stress Nexus’ which acknowledges the strong linkages among water, energy and food issues. One can go a step further by adding health and environmental issues to the nexus.

– the report seems to make strong assumptions about the future viability of CCS (carbon capture and sequestration). Would be nice so that those with large coal resources could use them with less impact on climate. However, we’re not there yet and we have to see if CCS can be widely deployed at reasonable cost.

– like the discussion of ‘regional economic competitions’ which may be the 21st century’s ‘substitute’ for armed warfare.

– like the discussion of hydrogen as a long-term energy storage medium. Have always been a bit of a ‘hydrogen fanatic’ – as a physicist (even a lapsed one) I accept as an article of faith that mankind will eventually use large amounts of hydrogen in its energy systems, the most abundant element in the universe. One question: why wasn’t the use of hydrogen in fuel cells mentioned – the clean electricity produced can then be shipped to wherever power lines exist.

Look forward to reading other comments on the Post and the Shell report.

Gustaf Olsson

Thank you! I do appreciate your effort to share your thoughts and ideas. I hope to be able to contribute to the discussions. Your first report is certainly so interesting and will be true for quite a long time. So much needs to be done. Maybe the most difficult problem is to change our attitudes and our traditions.

Looking forward to the continued communication.

ecosse4@comcast.net

Me too! Thank you for our collaboration so far, and I look forward to your future contributions to this blog and many other activities.

ecosse4@comcast.net

Please amplify/clarify your comment so I can respond more fully. Would be pleased to discuss what needs ‘convincing’ Pleased that you found the blog ‘informative’.

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ecosse4@comcast.net

Thanks for your very kind words. Blog is only one month old, but suggestions for how to increase readership are always welcome.

DON SWIFT-HOOK

You will probably know that the location of the world’s biggest wind farm moved to London, England just over 11 weeks ago, when the 630 MW London Array was completed. You may be interested to know that we just passed another UK milestone: there is now more wind power operational in the UK [9.6 GW] than nuclear power [9.3 GW out of 10.5 installed].
Can anyone tell me where to find information on how much of nuclear power’s installed capacity is actually operational worldwide? [Operational means not permanently shut down; temporary breakdowns or maintenance shut downs don’t count but permanent de-ratings and partial shut-downs e.g. 1 out of 2 reactors do.] I can only seem get reliable figures on original installed capacities of nuclear power stations still operating [364 GW in July 2012 and drifting downwards with closures] and I think it is possible that wind power [282 GW at the end of 2012 and 40+ GW more every year] has already surpassed nuclear power that is actually operational on a global basis.

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ecosse4@comcast.net

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