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Monday, February 6, 2012

IS THERE HOPE FOR SUSTAINABLE ENERGY?

Well, yes, for windpower (above, Maui Electric's Kaheawa Pastures Wind Farm) appears to be doing okay, and both geothermal and hydropower are reasonably cost effective.  Those government incentives, especially in Germany (although they are seriously declining), have served to support a growing solar market.

You would think, though, that all these options would be going wild in Hawaii where our electricity price is three times (33 cents/kWh) that of the Nation (11 cents/kWh).  But, no, windpower is being protested and geothermal (left from Puna Geothermal Ventures), after more than a third of a century of languishment, is finally beginning to get some public support.  Conversely, plug-in electric cars make no sense here, for they are having problems on the mainland at one-third the cost our electricity.

This is a gloomy (it's actually raining in Honolulu) day, so let me further share with you some discouraging news from the latest issue of WIRED:

1.  Solar:  One hour of sunlight on Earth can power the world for a year.  Yet, in 2010 the solar industry predicted solar employment of 500,000 in 2016.  Not sure what I'm reading, but I see 100,000 as now probable.  Part of the reason is that solar cells from China have destroyed American production.  I ask, how attractive will it be when all government incentives expire?  Germany is beginning to do this.  I further find this hard to believe, but I just learned that if your utility company goes down, say, from a hurricane, your photovoltaic roof system stops functioning, even at noon.  I'll have to look into this.

2.  Wind:  We have enough winds to produce twelve times our usage.  Apparently, though, the low natural gas prices and NIMBY are slowing growth.  There is then that added wheeling requirement, that is, as wind farms get larger, they are farther and farther away from the population base, and who pays for the lines?  This could double the price of wind electricity.  In the UK, offshore wind power costs twice as much as from fossil fuels.  Also, too, both our Sun and winds are intermittent, and storage costs are outrageously high.

3.  Algae:  These microorganisms can be 30 times more efficient than terrestrial biofuel crops.  There are 33 challenges, ranging from environmental to technological to political, that will take some time for this concept to become affordable and scalable.  My blog postings have also tended to be hopeful but, maybe too realistic.

4.  Fuel cells:  Hydrogen fuel cells have zero emission, and hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe.  However, fuel cell companies have all lost money and hydrogen is too expensive, with any  infrastructure decades away.  I have been advocating the direct methanol fuel cell and can't seem to convince anyone important.

5.  Batteries:  The promise is zero emission vehicles.  The reality is that most of the electricity will continue to come from coal for many more decades.  Batteries will remain expensive, and the lithium battery is the last battery.  Hawaii is worse off, for our electricity costs three times that of the Nation and ours comes mostly from oil (nationally, only around 1% of electricity is generated from oil, with about 50% from coal).  To the left is the Toyota Prius Hybrid.

6.  Cellulosic biofuels:  Biofuels from the fiber not from food (such as ethanol from corn).  The problem is that a cellulosic ethanol plant costs four times more than from corn.  Worse, ethanol is not the ideal fuel from terrestrial biomass.  Methanol is more cost effective.  But there is no direct methanol fuel cell because the Farm Lobby prevented the Department of Energy from pursuing this development.

7.  Smart meters:  Replacing analog with digital meters would be more effective and efficient.  There is slow progress, and smarter grids are being developed.

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The Dow Jones Industrials slipped 17 to 12,845, with Europe down and rest of the world mixed.  Gold fell $5/toz to $1721, with the WTI Cushing at $97/barrel and the Brent Spot at $116/battery, almost a $20 differential.

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Here it is early February, and there is already a minor disturbance in the general vicinity of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean:


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Hold on.  The Sun is now peeking out.  Maybe there is hope for Planet Earth and Humanity:


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