Sunday, November 23, 2014

I've Believed This For Awhile...

I just didn't have any evidence until now:
Two highly qualified Google engineers who have spent years studying and trying to improve renewable energy technology have stated quite bluntly that renewables will never permit the human race to cut CO2 emissions to the levels demanded by climate activists. Whatever the future holds, it is not a renewables-powered civilisation: such a thing is impossible.

Both men are Stanford PhDs, Ross Koningstein having trained in aerospace engineering and David Fork in applied physics. These aren't guys who fiddle about with websites or data analytics or "technology" of that sort: they are real engineers who understand difficult maths and physics, and top-bracket even among that distinguished company. The duo were employed at Google on the (Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal) project, which sought to enhance renewable technology to the point where it could produce energy more cheaply than coal.
For solar, there just aren't enough watts per square meter falling in the earth to make it viable.  I've never believed wind or other such technologies would be able to power our society.  Cheap, reliable, relatively-non-polluting nuclear energy, on the other hand....


muckdog said...

Cue an angry Joe Romm response at ThinkProgress calling these PhDs all kinds of names and insulting their existence in 3... 2... 1...

maxutils said...

I believe you're right, but that doesn't mean other sources can help. Solar is very viable … in some places. Like Sacramento. I wish I could do solar, but I don't own my own house. Nuclear will eventually be the answer, but anything cost effective would help.

allen (in Michigan) said...

It would seem that an increasingly large part of the electorate is with you. How much of a part did anthropogenic global warming/alternative energy play in the last mid-term? Pretty much zero.

Now all we need to worry about is undoing all the subsidies and mandates the greenies managed to get passed while they had the public's attention and regard. That won't be easy.

Anonymous said...

Just a technical point. The earth's surface receives 84 terrawatts of sun energy per day. Our world wide use of energy is 12 terrawatts. Harvesting it is the problem of course. Solar is dropping like a stone though. A household can go totally off grid for around fifteen grand. Not a bad long term investment.

A nuke plant isn't all that cheap. Those puppies run about ten billion a copy. Natural gas electricity is cheaper, followed by coal, then nuke.

Of course natural gas only has sixty percent of the energy density of petroleum at 140,000 BTU's per gallon. Every year we have to go out a little farther out and a little deeper for a little poorer quality. This will not end well.

Sigh, I'm sure I will regret chiming in but the sicience teacher in me requires it.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Heard it all before Richard and it's not true.

That fifteen grand is a figure that typically includes significant subsidies and doesn't include significant costs.

Since you used the term "off the grid" you've got to have enough battery capacity to supply your needs for some time. How much time is dependent in part on where your live as is the size of the solar array.

Also a significant part of the price drop of solar cells is due to outrageous Chinese subsidization. Poor schmucks, laboring under the pitiful assumption that what westerners think is a good idea is a good idea, so they went whole hog into the solar cell manufacturing business. Now the business is drying up as public interest wanes so the Chinese, throwing good money after bad, have upped their subsidies. That can't end well but end it will.

A good part of the cost of a nuclear plant results from all the delays and political maneuvering that attends their building. Put the skids on that and the price comes down. Those political considerations are also why we have to "go out a little farther out and a little deeper for a little poorer quality" in the search for hydrocarbon fuels.

If your anticipated regret springs from the assumption of anticipated disagreement then teaching science seems like a poor fit. The universe won't even do you the service of disagreeing with you if you're wrong. I, by contrast, will do you the service of assuming that you'd rather be right which is the inherent pursuit of every scientist and hopefully, every science teacher.

Anonymous said...

"The earth's surface receives 84 terrawatts of sun energy per day. Our world wide use of energy is 12 terrawatts."

Hey, thanks!

I knew that the Earth received a *lot* of solar energy (turning it into something useful being the problem), but did not realize how close our energy usage was to total energy received (not sarcasm ... I thought we were much further away from the crossover point).

-Mark Roulo

Ellen K said...

Economically solar is a bust. We had a solar water heater in our previous house which we could only afford because my husband got it from Sieman's at cost since they were a distributor and he and a friend installed it. A neighbor of ours had several solar cells installed to the tune of over $50K. His entire roof is covered. But they only have a lifespan of about 18 to 20 years and there's no way barring disruption of the energy generation cycle that he would ever recoup that. Likewise, because of the cost of replacement, realtors have told him to remove them should he seek to sell the house. Wind generators have similar downsides in that they must be huge to be effective and current placement is along migratory flyways which endangers already dwindling species. There's a reason gas and oil work. They are cheap, they are comparatively safe, they are easy to use. The EPA and environmental groups seem intent on driving us into the Dark Ages.

Anonymous said...

Ellen, your neighbor doubled the lifespan of his roof since the solar array blocks the uv rays. Anyway, today's home solar cells are usually composed of monocrystalline silicon. Their degradation rate is 0.4 percent per year. So after 20 years it will still produce over 90 percent of its original power.

Typical payback time is 12 years, 15 at the outside. Your neighbor needs a new realtor.

Look, it all has a downside. Solar, nuke, wind, gas, hamsters in a wheel. There is no free lunch. Sure wind turbines kill birds. But for every bird they kill a thousand are killed flying into our lighted buildings at night. It is an imperfect world, best we can do is try to make informed decisions.

Jerry Doctor said...

84 terrawatts of solar energy falls on the earth's surface. But 71% of the earth is covered by the seas so only 24 terrawatts falls on the land. We need half of that. Of course that assumes 100% efficiency, something that those pesky Laws of Thermodynamics might have an issue with. So if we cover over half the land surface on earth with solar collectors we can go pure solar!

By the way, what happens to the earth if it loses 14% of the solar energy falling on it?

allen (in Michigan) said...

And the existence of lush subsidies is supposed to encourage the formation of informed decisions?

No, lush subsidies are supposed to tip the decision toward the solution favored by those who've managed to accede to political power. Subsidies are the implicit admission that the preferred solution won't be chosen when informed choices are made. Since that won't do we have subsidies, and regulation which is indifferent to all choices, to ensure the right decision is made.

The other clue that your solution, Richard, is unworkable is implicit in your reference to total, terrestrial insolation.

It's a worthless figure, as Jerry Doctor's already pointed out, but it does highlight that both solar and wind are solutions that are mostly based on the amount of surface area they cover. When you figure out how much surface area is necessary to replace a conventional generating plant the silliness of the idea become evident.

Mike Thiac said...

Jerry Doctor,

1. One question, show me how 12 TW of electricity will fly a plane from America to Europe?

2. Ax example of clean, useful alternative energy that is accessible is water power. What's happening to hydroelectricity. Well in California Jerry Brown Jr is busy closing the dams his dad built when he was governor so they can spend multiple times per kilowatt for electricity. Also, a few years ago I read an article on how some companies have developed what can best be described as a windmill for underwater. It is a turbine on a rotating base so it will turn into the tide and always be running, no "no wind" days for it. The turbine will be placed at 200' below the water so there is no issue about shipping, no ugly windmills seen from the coast. The torque will generate a massive amount of electricity, no pollution, etc. Guess who is stopping a field test? The US Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. So much for DoE wanting electricity and the EPA wanting is generated cleanly.

Jerry Doctor said...


I think we can fly that plane with solar. Just cover the upper wing surface with aerodynamically designed solar cells. Granted, the wing will need a surface area about the size of Vermont so building it could be a challenging, but hey. Do I have to work out every detail for you?

Mike Thiac said...

Jerry Doctor, gotta admire a man willing to go for it, think out the box! :<)