Laughing and Crying about the Future of Energy

Last weekend I filled my vehicle with gasoline three times while driving almost a thousand miles to my home town. Will driving that far for a fun social event be feasible in 10 years?

The Laugh: In 1973 Art Buchwald laid the blame on the Harvard Business School.

Almost every sheik now in charge of oil policy for his country was trained at Harvard. Everything they learned there they have put into practice to the detriment of the Free World. The Harvard Business School taught the sons of Arab potentates how to sell oil, raise prices and demand outrageous profits for the black gold they have in the ground. Had these same sons been sent to the University of Alabama, Oklahoma or Texas, they would now be involved in developing football teams instead of putting the screws to everyone. (Link: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2206&dat=19731220&id=SMwlAAAAIBAJ&sjid=tPMFAAAAIBAJ&pg=6000,3995298)

The Reality: Many more people want to live the good life. (Read on if you want to know why we need a breakthrough that provides clean, inexpensive energy – soon.)

Link: Common Sense in Energy Storage Investing

We live on a planet where six billion poor live in squalor and deprivation while 500 million of us enjoy relatively comfortable lives. As long as the poor didn't know that there was more to life than mere subsistence, they neither contributed to nor demanded from the global economy.

For better or worse, the information and communications technology revolution gave half of them cell phones so the cat's out of the bag and the existence of a better life is no longer a secret. For the first time in history, we live in a world where more than half of the population knows that a better life exists and they all want a small slice of the economic pie. Human nature being what it is, their first natural response will be to work harder and compete for a place at the global economic table. If that doesn't work, their second natural response is likely to be far less pleasant.

The challenge of our age is not changing our carbon footprint because every ton of coal we don't burn in developed countries will be burned somewhere else. The same holds true for oil and natural gas. The inconvenient truth is that global consumption of these energy resources will continue apace no matter what we do and if anthropogenic global warming is more than the latest in a long-string of frightening but profitable alarmist theories, it's already too late to change the future and humanity will have to do what it's done since the dawn of time – adapt.

In the final analysis, our only challenge is finding relevant scale solutions to critical shortages of water, food, energy and every imaginable commodity. Whether we like it or not, the days of plenty have already passed and we must turn our attention to eliminating waste now, because if we don't make room at the table for six billion new mouths, the only possible outcomes are catastrophic conflict and horrific environmental devastation.

Applications of Solar Energy

I’m a strong advocate of the benefits of solar energy — I’m waiting for the breakthroughs (like the microprocessor/PC in computing) that will revolutionize energy production. Here’s a summary of the current state of solar energy.

Link: A Solar Technology for Every Application | Alternative Energy Stocks

Tom Konrad at Alternative Energy Stocks writes:

To understand the future of any technology, you first need to understand its applications, which will lead to an understanding of the characteristics necessary to meet them. Broadly, solar power is used to produce heat for climate control and process heat, and for electricity, both on the grid and off.

Application Table

Application Category Dominant/Best Technology Other Technologies
Daylighting Lighting Windows, Skylights Light Shelves, Active systems
Space Heating Thermal Passive Solar Design Active solar thermal, especially if also used for other applications such as water heating.
Process heat/ Water heating Thermal Active Solar Thermal flat plate or evacuated tube
Distributed generation Electric Photovoltaic technologies
Off Grid Electric Non-tracking PV with battery backup
Central Power Generation Electric Concentrating Solar Power Concentrating PV, Flat plate PV
Dispatchable Power Electric CSP with thermal storage Others w/ battery backup
Intermediate Generation Electric All technologies, should be tracking or west-facing to make production align most closely to peak load.
Base load Generation Electric CSP with thermal storage Others w/ Battery backup

Electric Generation Technology Table

Technology Best uses Strengths Weaknesses
Photovoltaic
    Flat Plate Distributed, off grid Simplicity, Scalability Cost
       Crystalline Distributed Low maintenance, high durability Cost
       Thin Film Distributed, off grid Low cost; scalability Low efficiency
    Concentrating PV Sunny areas, Central installations Low cost Higher maintenance
Concentrating Solar Power (CSP)
     Solar Trough, CLFR, Solar tower Central Generation; peaking and intermediate power; base load capable. Thermal Storage, Cost Large Scale
     Dish Stirling Sunny areas, Central installations Low cost; can be hybridized with natural gas; Scalability Higher maintenance

DISCLAIMER: The information and trades provided here are for informational purposes only