Low Energy

The glorious future is always just over the next mountain. The older you get, the taller that next mountain becomes and the further away it seems. It’s this realization, this understanding, that young people often mistake for cynicism. They think their elders, poo-pooing their excitement for some new innovation, are just cranky old people unable to appreciate the dawning of the new age and unwilling to adapt to it. In reality those grumpy geezers are just tired of sitting through the same film, never getting to the end.

I often feel that way about energy policy. Every decade we have a re-run of the same film, but never get to the end. Instead, everyone gets bored and walks out before the final scene where the utopian dreamer is fed into the wood chipper by a couple snaggletoothed rednecks from coal country. Instead the movie is cut short so it can be retooled for a new audience a decade later with the promise that this time, there is a new and improved ending. That’s the catchphrase of every new plan to replace fossil fuels. “This time, things will be different.”

Here is a quote from Jerry Ford’s 1975 State of the Union speech, in which he laid out his energy plan: “I have a very deep belief in America’s capabilities. Within the next 10 years, my program envisions: 200 major nuclear power plants; 250 major new coal mines; 150 major coal-fired power plants; 30 major new [oil] refineries; 20 major new synthetic fuel plants; the drilling of many thousands of new oil wells; the insulation of 18 million homes; and the manufacturing and the sale of millions of new automobiles, trucks and buses that use much less fuel…”

The only thing he got right was that cars use less fuel per mile, but that had nothing to do with the big dreams of the energy futurists. Fuel economy has steadily improved since the mass marketing of cars back in the stone age. That’s due to better engineering. The cars not only get better fuel economy today, they ride better, they are of better quality, they use better components. A new car off the lot in the 1950’s suffered from rattles, wind noise, poor fitting components and it needed constant maintenance. In other words, fuel efficiency is mostly just a byproduct of better engineering of cars in general.

The rest of Ford’s agenda never happened. Later, Carter got on the solar bandwagon. In the late 70’s, everyone new that in the future, cars would be electric and be charged by solar panels. Every house would have a rooftop solar generator. Fossil fuels would go away entirely. The fact that none of this happened did not stop the dreamers from dusting off the solar fantasy again in the 2000’s. I’m not sure, but I think the last big solar panel plant in the US shut down last year. If I eat right and exercise, I’ll live to see it re-opened again under another government free energy scheme.

What brought this on is this story in Scientific American last month. You would think that a publication with “science” in its name would be less inclined to fights of fancy, but that’s not how it works. It’s not how anything works these days.

The United States, Mexico and Canada will make a joint pledge tomorrow to draw half the continent’s power from non-emitting sources by 2025.

President Obama, President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada will announce the ambitious target at the North American Leaders’ Summit in Ottawa, Ontario, which will also address security issues and other concerns to the continent’s three governments.

White House climate adviser Brian Deese described the pact as a sign of the growing bonds between the nations on climate and energy policies. He told reporters yesterday that the trio are cooperating more on those issues now than at any time in recent history.

“We find ourselves now at a moment where the alignment in terms of policy goals and focus on clean energy between our three countries is stronger than it has been in decades,” he said.

None of this will happen. The big non-carbon power generation facilities are nuclear and hydro. We’re not building those anymore. The people who swear Gaia is vexed with us because of our cars are the people that killed off nuclear and hyrdo decades ago. Then as now, the problem is Gaia. She did not like nuclear energy and she did not like us blocking fish from swimming downstream. According to the Gaia worshipers, she is not happy with solar or wind either so the odds of those technologies getting anywhere are close to zero, even before you get to the science problems of both.

That’s the irony of the green energy movement. Even if the significant scientific hurdles can be overcome for things like solar and wind, the greens will scuttle the projects anyway. The same people banging their tom-toms over coal and oil are out blocking the so-called green alternatives. Nuclear, which has the most promise in terms of “clean” energy, has been stalled for generations now. Gen-IV reactors are extremely safe and productive. If not for the greens, we could have all our electric from nuclear, but that will never happen.

No one reading this will live to see the day when America is getting the bulk of its electric from nuclear. Your children and grandchildren will not live to see it. The most optimistic estimate puts the window for the change to nuclear well past mid-century. The most optimistic window for wind and solar is somewhere around the time we discover the warp drive. Instead, every decade or so we will have another round of nonsense about how some new green energy will finally ween us off of oil and coal. Billions will be squandered on it, the dogs will bark and the caravan will move on.

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SgtBob
Guest

Reading between the words. “We find ourselves now at a moment where the alignment (redacted) between our three countries is stronger than it has been in decades.” And Jupiter aligned with Mars. That dog was barking 40-plus years ago when I was in college.

jay dee
Guest

Ditto. I was an Econ major at a UC school. Took “Economics of Energy” in the latter years of the Carter Administration. Energy was a big deal at the time, and while I don’t recall much, I DO recall learning that we would be plum out of oil by …….

That date has come and gone, many times.

Uncola
Guest

It is hard not to become cynical. The gaia worshipping greens are knights-errant on fools errands. Hell, you can’t blame them. Even Don Quixote tilted at windmills. Clean energy is an acquired taste.

LetsPlay
Member

At least the Don had a real steed, lance and windmill to tilt at. Green energy is mostly a mist of promises and dreams. The one area I see tremendous strides in is battery technology. Some really good stuff coming from that area.

Saml Adams
Guest
Problem with most of the green types and their Progressive hangers on is that none are “system” thinkers. They develop a fetish for solar, or wind or ________ and then everything is about promoting their particular fetish. Ask a solar fetishist how you manage base and surge loads and you either get a blank stare or a chipper “battery storage!”. If the latter, ask a follow up on energy density and cost of current storage options, the economic chain of lithium supply and they usually go blank again. That’s how Germany ended up re-opening lignite pits to feed coal/steam plants… Read more »
LetsPlay
Member
Ha, Scientific American, I call it Scientific-lite. Heavy on progressivism. Progressive ideas have infiltrated even the technical fields. IEEE Spectrum used to be hard core science but now is filled with a bunch of alternative energy crap and going to Mars dreams. Like we have the money to do that. IF the Elites want to escape the problems of Earth to go to Mars, I say let them use their own money, not public funding. If you want hard core engineering info you have to dig other sources to get away from all the politically correct crap. Yes, yes, I… Read more »
Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest
@ LetsPlay – Your comments are spot on, but allow me to elaborate. 🙂 Humans have understood how to create energy for thousands of years. Obviously we’ve become more efficient at it in the last 200-years or so, but the real problem isn’t creating energy, its how to store it. That is the real challenge. Predicting power needs and power generation technology is always a tricky even by the most optimistic engineering teams and futurists. It is one of the great crystal balls of our day that remains cloudy and unseeable due to the limits of current engineering and material… Read more »
Old Codger
Guest
Karl, your routine keeps getting funnier all the time! (And I know, for a German, that’s really hard!) This time, its : “Oil is going away. Period.” That’s such a hoot, I cannot contain my mirth. People have been saying that for almost a century now and the world’s awash in more petro products than ever before. Oklahoma’s latest discovery, the Woolford Shale beneath that state’s historic heavy oil producers, appears to be as prolific as the Bakken field in No Dakota. And oddly, what were once considered as depleted Saudi fields, are now apparently re-filling from an unknown source.… Read more »
James LePore
Guest
Forever is a long time. I’ve read estimates of enough oil for 500 years. It’s inexpensive, it’s incredibly abundant and will therefore be produced by capitalists and consumed by ordinary people until either it runs out or something less expensive and just as abundant comes along. If if does start to run out, we’ll figure out how to produce energy. We’re humans. We do foolish things, but we’re not stupid. It’s amazing what we can do when we have to. Peak oil and alternative energy are cons, like global warming, run by the Cult to control our lives and take… Read more »
Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest

True – it could be 5, 50 or 500-years. But the fact is it’s all a big guess and no ones knows for sure. And as it becomes more difficult to obtain, it will get more expensive. Basic supply and demand cost model. But alternative energy is really about contingency planning and creating a sustainable future – and not just for energy, but for all sectors. Science and engineering working to solve problems we will have in the future – and there will be problems.

Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest

Are you saying a finite resource can last indefinitely? Now that’s funny.

Lorenzo
Guest

If you are near a library with a big magazine collection, compare an issue of Scientific American from 1965 with one from this year. The dumbing down is almost scary.

CaptDMO
Guest

Sorry little missy, I got my fill of Pokemon O, back when it was miniaturized.
We called it Pac Man. It didn’t involve trespassing, driving while distracted, and depending where you were,
it DID involve a larger crowd of actual human interaction, and beer.

Kyle
Guest

:crickets:

CaptDMO
Guest
*sigh* SEE: First paragraph. Consider, chasing around a map to collect “dots”. Also consider how grumpy a geezer I must be if I recall actually meeting women (andgetting laid), from a place that served beer, AND had a Pac Man console. (They had cigarette pack vending machines too-are you ready? US$ 1.50, I think, but maybe that was the “Pong” era) You DO know what a standing Pac Man console was….right, RIGHT? You Do know “Pong”….RIGHT? Oddly, ” The glorious future (that) is always just over the next mountain” was the same. Different portmanteaus of course, but we all generally… Read more »
Kyle
Guest

Ah. At the time I thought maybe you’d commented in the wrong browser tab (me being ignorant of the Pokemon thing didn’t help) but I see how it’s germane now.

And yes, I remember both of those things fondly. In fact Ms Pacman is my second stop after Qbert when I find myself at the beercade.

Guest
Guest
It’s important to recognize that every single item on Ford’s list was readily achievable in 1975, but then America began electing Democrats, or more accurately Progressives. Reagan tried to revive the Nuclear industry but Democrats blocked it in Congress, at the state level, and in the NRC. Bush II actually made an admirable effort to revive the Nuclear industry but was stymied by the NRC. Progressives have been waging war on the coal industry for 40 years, with the Obama administration dealing the death blow. They will destroy the fracking industry if Republicans in Congress don’t hold the line. America… Read more »
Member

It’s not about Green Energy, it’s about Democrat slush funds.

SgtBob
Guest

My wife, who doubts much ‘non-renewable energy’ propaganda, asked a petroleum engineer, “How long does it take an abandoned gas well to replenish?” The engineer talked around the question, never giving an absolute answer, but did say wells renew over time.

JohnTyler
Guest
Well, the fact is that many “depleted” oil and gas wells are still producing many many years after they should have hit empty. True, they produce at reduced outputs relative to their prime years, but they nevertheless still produce and no one really knows why this is. The generally accepted view of oil/gas formation – the biotic theory of oil formation – is that they are the byproducts of decomposed vegetation, which after millions and millions of years now “reside” thousands of feet under the present day surface, and merely await its discovery and extraction. This theory clearly implies that… Read more »
james wilson
Guest

I don’t know how few is very few, but the Russian got it right. When a thing becomes valuable we assume it is rare, but the universe is littered with nothing so much as hydrocarbons such as great columns of gas clouds. Coal is a fossil fuel. Some gas is, oil never. Scientist are cunts like everybody else depending on government for funding.

notsothoreau
Guest
We like to use this graph in arguments like this. It’s from the Bonneville Power Administration, and it breaks down power generated by source. Usually solar and wind power are minimal: http://transmission.bpa.gov/business/operations/wind/baltwg.aspx I read an article by Steven Den Beste back around 2000, where he explained why alternates like wind and solar can’t be scaled up to replace conventional power sources. It was the first time I’d seen it explained so clearly and it made a lot of sense to me. I like to tell those that think solar is a good option to start using solar to replace the… Read more »
LetsPlay
Member
When the Greens attack Air Conditioning, then I really know they have lost it. Rather than question the current design methodology and look for better alternatives, no, they want to do away with it completely because it is bad for the environment. Never mind what a boon it has been for human kind quality of life and general productivity. The loons are one-trick ponies who want to go back to the stone age. Whatever happened to freedom of choice? If they want to live without A/C, by all means, enjoy! But don’t tell me how to live and force your… Read more »
james wilson
Guest

We are happily and swiftly led to believe that the civil rights movement changed the South. Well, I passed through the South way back in the day, and what changed the South was refrigeration, and nothing but refrigeration.

Wayne Parker
Guest
If you don’t already follow the business news on the energy sector already, you should know that there have been a wave of bankruptcies by the biggest of the solar power manufacturers this year and going back three years at least. In addition, Germany’s plans to shut down all of its nuclear power plants has resulted in large ripple effects through the nation’s nergy sector with the serious prospect of the largest ever bankruptcy in Germany’s history (http://dailycaller.com/2016/07/06/green-energy-could-cause-the-largest-bankruptcy-in-german-history/). About the only sector seeing growth (and that growth almost solely due to large government direct subsidies) is the offshore wind sector,… Read more »
A.T. Tapman
Member
Solar and wind power, in my opinion, qualify as the mythical “FREE lUNCH”. I was made aware of the free lunch as a very young lad, I was watching the Three Stooges. The Stooges operated a restaurant which was losing money, Moe directed Curly to increase the price of the Free Lunch from 5 cents to 10 cents. Problem solved. A few years back I was project manager of the construction of a wildlife center, the project was a multi-million dollar affair of which the federal taxpayer funded half. Nearing the end of the project my client realized a sizable… Read more »
Member

On average a 42 gallon barrel of crude oil yields about 22 gallons of gasoline. So, what happens to the remaining 20 gallons? The other distillates are either used directly (airplane fuel, diesel, lubricants, heating oil, kerosene, etc.) or as constituents in more than 10,000 other products such as plastics, asphalt, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, etc.

If gasoline consumption is reduced then there will either be critical shortages in all of the other products or the prices of these other products will increase. Then we would have to dispose of the excess gasoline35YT

UKer
Guest

Yes, but… these repeat messages are like that old pop song you once liked on the radio (though admittedly hearing it a lot got to make it irritating) so these ‘new’ initiatives and statements are like a breath of fresh air. You can enjoy them all over again. Recycling never goes away.

Sure, they still are inherently irritating but its fun seeing how they demonstrate that human beings never change. Same old, new old, you could say.

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sth_txs
Guest

Ah, the electric car. I still remember reading the science magazines in the 80’s as teenager. It’s right around the corner if we could just get these darn battery things to last. The only thing that become better about electric vehicles is the comfort level, but the battery charging and range still stinks. Yet, we are forced to subsidize a billionaire’s fantasy science project.

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