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Thursday, April 16, 2015

CAN WE GET TO 100% RENEWABLES?

That was the title of a recent Renewable Energy World issue.  The answer, of course, is yes, but....  Can we ultimately attain permanent world peace?  Will Mankind control fusion, as have our Sun and all the stars?  All of these goals might ultimately be attained, but a full court press edicted by government for reaching 100% renewables as soon as possible to prevent the potential calamity from global warming?  I don't think this would be particularly wise nor necessary.

From that article by Barry Cinnamon, a well respected solar industrial leader:

It depends on whom you ask. Our society has made these transitions before, with new energy technologies disrupting the incumbents. 200 years ago 95 percent of our energy came from wood; by 1900 it was 50 percent coal; and by 2000 it was a mix of coal, nuclear, oil and gas. The Union of Concerned Scientists have published a plan for renewable energy to provide 80 percent of our electricity by 2050. Why stop there? Solar enthusiasts like me want to go for 100 percent.


Note that it took a century to transition from wood to coal, and another century to get us to where we are today.  So if we are talking a century from now, sure, 100% renewables would be a reasonable goal.  Further:

This goal is possible: there is a recent Stanford paper entitled “100 percent Wind, Water, Sunlight (WWS) All Sector Energy Plan for the 50 U.S. States.” This plan is surprisingly realistic when one considers the rapid rate of solar deployment coupled with storage and new energy control technologies such as demand response and dynamic energy pricing. Costs are not the problem because these these technologies are being deployed now. The real issue is political will — and incumbent energy supplier resistance.

However, "recent Stanford energy papers" over the years have tended to be maybe too hopeful and polyannaish, many co-authored by Mark Z. Jacobson.  But, then again, I'm also an optimist, so better than too doomsdayish an attitude.  Sure, if a severe carbon tax is invoked because of the Greenhouse Effect and a couple more Chernobyls and Fuskushimas occur, renewables, including fusion (which I'll report on later this week), will be our ONLY options.  For those reasons alone, it behooves society to assume the early financial risks to insure that many of these sustainable pathways can be quickly commercialized.

There are other points of view.  Kathryn Mykleseth of the Star Advertiser interviewed Joseph Israel, president and CEO of Par Petroleum Corporation, who said, Hawaii's policymakers should stop trying to force the market's hand by pushing for the use of more renewable energy when it is not the most economical solution.

Also:

Economy sets pricing and the right mix for every market around the world. Governments stay out of the way when it comes to the right solution.  What governments all over the world don't do is what is happening here. The business solution will find its way eventually.  Let the economy do its magic,  We have enough crude that can support relatively low prices for a long time.

What is a long time?  Said Israel:

Policy is a dream. Right now it is a very expensive dream. Dreams come true. Sometimes they don't come true. But if it comes true, maybe it will be 15 years from now, and who knows what the cost will be. So, let's be realistic.

So Israel's long time is 15 years.  He's probably right, from his point of view.  And Israel must go home at night feeling the world just does not understand the reality.  But energy resources take time to gain a foothold.  It's at least a generation, and maybe a few of them, for competitive success.  This is why states and countries have something called the public utilities commission to smooth the way into the future.  Energy, especially electricity, is not a free market commodity

There were a few responses from locals:
  • Do you agree with a petroleum CEO's belief that Hawaii's renewable energy goals are unrealistic:
    • No, attainable/important:   59%
    • Yes, they're a pipe dream:  41%
  • According to Brian Ahakuelo (here, shaking hands with Governor David Ige), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, 100% renewable energy is better for local jobs.  Of course, as you expect the CEO of an oil company to diminish the competition from renewables, you would imagine that a union executive would push for jobs.

The problem with energy today is that we just don't know what will be the price of oil tomorrow.  Petroleum sold for around $100/barrel for years, until recently, when it now sells for around half that.  The Chicago Mercantile Exchange suggests a futures price at $67/barrel at the end of 2023.  With uncertainty about the Middle East, especially Israel feared to soon be bombing Iran, and other reasons that will surprise you, I'd be willing to bet a lot of money that the price of oil will be much higher than $67/barrel almost a decade from now:


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