The New Global Energy Thread - U.S. Per Capita Energy Consumption Plummets

Discussion in 'Archive: The Senate Floor' started by Jabbadabbado, May 8, 2009.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Coal is in no shortage. The US has at least enough to last for 200 years at current demands. That amount is only for what reserves we know of. We can safely rely on coal for at least the next hundred years before we can expect problems.

    Nearly half those reserves are lower quality, lower energy density sub bituminous and lignite coals. Another obvious point is that global demand is not static. Even with modest demand growth, consumption doubles in just a few decades at most. But if we're trying to electrify our car fleet, then the demand will grow even faster, leading rapidly to the possibility that coal supplies could peak within a quarter century.

    It's already happened with the highest quality coal. Production of that peaked in 1917 in the U.S.
  2. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    I said 'at least.' There are stats which show the US coal reserves, both lignite and bituminous, are enormous. There are projections that they could last upwards of 500 years. The issue with coal however is that the more desirable grades are the ones most difficult to reach. Anthacite is especially deep underground and rare, but it's the best grade you can find anywhere.

    And it really may not matter whether it's bituminous or lignite coal; they are the most reliable sources of energy the US have to work with.
  3. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    I'm in no position to judge between competing statistics, but in any case, however much it turns out to be, chances are slim that we won't burn it.
  4. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    Well there is an irony in what we burned for energy. It was coal that powered the industrial revolution, but petroleum which fueled the twentieth century. Now that we are reaching the limits of our oil reserves, we now are faced with resorting to coal again. We are soon going to have to figure out the best means to use alternate forms of energy in vehicles.

    Electricity is really the best means to power transportation because it can be coal, oil, nuclear, solar, wind, or whatever we have available. Maybe now is the best time to begin the transition so that we can modify both power production and consumption.
  5. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Silicon Valley reinvents the lowly brick

    Here's an interesting example of energy conservation/improved energy efficiency as a vast untapped resource. Energy efficient industry is the key to our competitive future.
  6. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    I've been a peak oil doomer for the better part of a decade. Part of the energy story is that crude oil was going to peak this decade (it seems to have peaked, but the recession and huge drop in oil demand obscures the picture quite a bit).

    At the same time, natural gas production in the U.S. was going to collapse within a decade as well. This combined double energy kidney punch would make it virtually impossible for the U.S. to build an alternative energy infrastructure to make up the energy gap - producing enough energy to cover both declining oil imports and natural gas shortages and account for the increased demands of a growing population.

    Eventually of course, fossil fuel energy will peak and decline. Whether it's tomorrow or ten years from now or (e.g. for coal) 25 to 100 years from now.

    But there's been a lot of buzz lately about a major development in natural gas drilling that may have increased our domestic reserve base by 30 or 40%.

    Rediscovering Natural Gas By Hitting Rock Bottom


    Oil shale is a massive energy sinkhole pipedream, unlikely ever to be feasible from the point of view of economics or energy returned on energy invested. But accessing natural gas in deep shale formations is straightforward geology, waiting the right technology. The technology is here, and the natural gas boom is apparently on.

    If our domestic natural gas supply plays out the way the linked article suggests, then it may well prove one important key to short term economic recovery in the U.S. Natural gas and oil are fellow travelers in commodity pricing. A short term natural gas supply glut will push down heating costs for millions of American families, will give power producers a viable alternative to building new coal-fired power plants, and at the same time will help suppress oil prices.
  7. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Alternative Energy Projects Stumble on a Need for Water

    We can't be surprised that the looming global water crisis clashes with the need to ramp up alternative energy production. In a resource-constrained future squeezed by the growing population, every source for demand clashes with every other source for demand.

    Most of industrialized civilization rests on the back of 200 year old technology: the steam engine. Generate heat to boil water to generate steam to generate kinetic energy to power mechanized industrial processes. More than 100 years ago we added to the process - generating heat to boil water to generate kinetic energy to turn turbines to generate electricity. Electrified rail for the most part is just displacing the coal-fired steam engine to a fixed location. Your microwave oven is run by a steam engine.

  8. Ghost Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Oct 13, 2003
    star 6
    Even nuclear power is basically done to boil water to get the turbines moving, right?
  9. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Yes. A nuclear power plant is a steam engine too.

    The Clinton nuclear power plant in central Illinois has its own lake, I assume that's fairly standard for this kind of reactor. I've fished there many times.

  10. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    Virtually every kind of fuel is used in the same way for every kind of powerplant. The internal combustion engine is not as efficient at generating electricity as burning and boiling water. The other kind of powerplants use kinetic energy directly (wind, hydro electricity) Even solar voltaic cells are not as efficient as a large-scale solar thermal plant.
  11. Ghost Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Oct 13, 2003
    star 6
  12. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    How many people here think that 'the global energy solution' is going to be something like more renewable energy or more efficient cars? I assume people here recognize that it's not going to be a single innovations which saves us, but a number of changes that will have to be made. Of the three 'R's in saving resources, the most effective one is the one we least consider: reduction.

    Yeah it's good that we recycle garbage rather than throw it away, but melting down aluminum and reprocessing pulp require additional energy as well. Yet most people probably think they do their share by recycling alone. In reality, the most effective method to solving an energy crisis is to look for ways to reduce the amount of waste in the first place.

    Why is this not emphasized so much? Because it interferes with our lifestyle? That's about the only reason you need, but it seems to me that if nothing is done, people's lifestyles will be disrupted anyway. Do people just choose to remain ignorant, or do they know that energy will only become more critical if the future?
  13. Ghost Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Oct 13, 2003
    star 6
    I've read reports that over the last year or two people really have been reducing their energy consumption, which is very surprising in a good way.
  14. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    How many people here think that 'the global energy solution' is going to be something like more renewable energy or more efficient cars? I assume people here recognize that it's not going to be a single innovations which saves us, but a number of changes that will have to be made. Of the three 'R's in saving resources, the most effective one is the one we least consider: reduction.

    Absolutely. Conservation and serious lifestyle changes will be critical. Personal motorized transportation may eventually be a relic of the past. I can see a future where most people get around day to day on electric motor-assisted bicycles when they absolutely cannot walk or can't take public transportation.
  15. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    I remember when I suggested something like this on Lucasforums... the majority of people there just said it would never happen. 'They have the right to their own car, if they can afford it. No one wants to take public transportation.' Not to sound arrogant, but I'm glad there are more rational people here.

    How much does the average car weigh? One and a half tons? So that would be about 3000 IBS in a vehicle that often only carry someone weighing about 200 IBS. Probably less. Clearly the most significant element here is the car, so why can't they be smaller? Certainly a car half the size would need only half the energy to get around.

    It's for this reason that I favor public transportation more. You may only get 5 MPG of diesel, but if you can get just 10 people to ride, you can use much less energy than if those people used cars. More vehicles also mean more traffic congestion. The biggest issue with this is that it only makes sense in locations with high population density.
  16. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    I would have started a new thread for this very subject, but it falls within this particular topic. I would like to hear other people's perspectives on the 'hydrogen economy.' There have been a wide assortment of arguments by experts for both sides and I would like to know what people here have to say on that.

    Personally, I'm strongly against the whole concept, as hydrogen is a secondary source of energy. That means hydrogen is just coal, natural gas, nuclear, ext. converted into another form. If we have an energy crisis as it is, then using hydrogen would actually demand more energy than we currently are using.

    On the other hand, hydrogen energy can be stored, whereas electricity must be used as it's produced. This means that, even if you only get 50% of the invested energy returned from the hydrogen, you would have a net positive return if you were to use electricity that otherwise would go to waste. Car lovers would also say that electricity is no substitute for gasoline, but hydrogen would allow them to drive wherever they want without having to spend hours recharging their vehicle.
  17. SithLordDarthRichie London CR

    Chapter Rep
    Member Since:
    Oct 3, 2003
    star 8
    I think Nuclear Fusion is the next step, problem is it's been so hard to create a constant stream of energy long enough to effectively power anything major for a dcent period of time.

    But when it is solved, it could be a great solution as it will not produce the waste levels current Nuclear Fission power plants do.
  18. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    Problem is that you can't initiate a fusion reaction without investing a huge sum of energy to smash hydrogen atoms to form helium. You can produce a reaction, but you'll get less back than you invest. Physicists are experimenting with deuterium and tritium, but even those have yet to yield practical results.

    And even if they could, those hydrogen isotopes are rare in nature. Fusion is considered the holy grail of energy, but it really is too far away to consider.

    It may be, but we really should be emphasizing more heavily on fission. Rather than using the heavy-water reactors of the last few decades, we should be focusing on fast-breeder reactors for tomorrow. They will not sustain us indefinitely, but it would extend our supply of uranium fuel by hundreds of years.
  19. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    Okay I've been doing a term paper for one of my classes and was hoping to get a few ideas, suggestions, comments, or criticisms about the topic.

    As of now, the US really isn't hurting for energy. There are enough reserves of coal to last for centuries. We have about a hundred nuclear reactors generating roughly 20% of our electricity, but they're reaching the end of their lifespans and will have to be replaced. We've got a variety of renewable sources that are becoming more viable day by day. All in all, we're in a fairly decent situation in regards to energy. We have enough within our boarders that we can sustain ourselves for at least the next century.

    However, there is one pressing issue that threatens the US economy almost more than anything else... the dependence on oil for transportation. Not surprisingly, over 90% of the US transportation infrastructure is fueled by petrochemicals and nothing else can substitute. Ethanol may work in an internal combustion engine, but the US can't possibly expect to generate more than 20% of its oil demands with this fuel. And this is a scenario where all farmland is used to grow corn for the sole purpose of ethanol. That means the US transportation infrastructure is vulnerable to the price of oil. If peak oil is reached, the economic impact would be devastating to the US.

    Which brings up the question of what can be done about it...

    I seriously believe that the most significant way(s) to prepare ourselves for peak oil is to implement mass transit as much as possible. Because trains and light rail can be powered by electricity, you can use a variety of sources instead of just one. Nuclear, coal, solar, and wind all are unviable for transportation purposes unless you were to use electric vehicles. So it would make light rail the most viable means of transit over the next century.

    That then leads to the question of population density...

    In order to provide a public mass transit system, there must be enough ridership to pay for itself. That requires a complete redesign of all American cities to allow for this. There is simply no way around this. Population density and mass transit are mutually dependent.

    What about electric hybrids? What about hydrogen?

    Although I would complement hydrogen for its ability to free the US of having to depend on foreign oil, it is still a secondary source of energy. That means hydrogen must be backed by primary source, which is coal, nuclear, solar, or wind. And the problem with a secondary source of energy is that you get a lower return from the hydrogen than what it took to produce the fuel. Some estimates show hydrogen returns only 25% of the energy that was invested into producing it.

    Plug-in hybrids are a great solution for now, as they allow for electricity to be used during off-peak hours that otherwise would go unused. It reduces the need for oil, but its range is not restricted by batteries. It still has the problem with being more expensive than conventional vehicles.
  20. SithLordDarthRichie London CR

    Chapter Rep
    Member Since:
    Oct 3, 2003
    star 8
    Hybrids still pollute for the most part, it's just a lazy person's eco-car.
    The only good hybrids are kind that use an angine simply to charge batteries and so allow an electric car to run longer with low levels of emission.

    I personally wouldn't want to drive a Hydrogen car. After all, isn't the world's most powerful weapon known as the Hydrogen Bomb?
    Hydrogen does not strike me as a very safe material to power a car with.

    Electricity is viable if the stations generating power for them are also using green energy. Currently most are not, so electric is not viable.
  21. Jediflyer Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 5, 2001
    star 5
    Right. Osama bin Laden didn't need to bother hijacking 4 planes to bring down the WTC. All he needed was a car powered by a hydrogen battery... :oops:
  22. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    You're talking about the same thing. An electric hybrid is more efficient than a standard car. However, not all electric hybrids are the plug-in versions you speak of. There still is the issue with the price for batteries making plug-in hybrids far more expensive.

    Yeah, assuming that you're driving with some weapon-grade plutonium right next to the hydrogen tank.

    Although there is the issue of pressurized hydrogen in a vehicle in an accident. However, it's not safety that I care about; it's the fact that hydrogen is a secondary source of energy. You can't provide for a hydrogen economy without coal, nuclear, wind, or solar energy.
  23. SithLordDarthRichie London CR

    Chapter Rep
    Member Since:
    Oct 3, 2003
    star 8
    So you'd rather people drive around in a car that might explode when they crash just because it's environmentally safer?
    I don't think many people are willing to take that risk. In which case, Hydrogen is not a viable alternative.


    There are hybrids that use electricity when driving at low speed e.g. in a slow moving traffic jam in order to minimise emmissions from constant breaking. These cars revert to petrol power once they get to cruising speed, which is making them as polluting as any other car.
    The other hybrids only uses a small petrol engine/generator to charge the electric batteries while the car is driving, it doesn't even need to be on all the time for the car to work. Those are different, not the same.
  24. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    No, they don't.

    Electric motors are more efficient than a gasoline engine operating at different RPM's. Even at high speeds, an electric hybrid still generate lower emissions than if the gasoline engine were directly driving the wheels.

    Now for the sake of criticizing the plug-in... once the batteries of the vehicle reach about 30%, the gasoline engine will also generate as much pollution as a standard electric hybrid. So although it gets ~40 miles on batteries alone, it actually will only get 30 before the gasoline engine is engaged. This is to preserve the life of the batteries by not completely discharging them. So anything beyond 30 miles and the car will be like any other.
  25. 137 Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Dec 2, 2009
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.