Google Solar, Hydrogen, and Farm Bills

I wanted to briefly comment on several issues. Some of them deserve their own essays, but I am too pressed for time.

Google Solar

If you are into solar, Google’s Solar Panel Project is incredibly cool. They provide real time data on their solar energy production. One thing that I have noticed is that the assumption of peak power times 5 hours to get the overall daily solar production appears to be too conservative. For instance, according to the link above, yesterday power peaked at 877 KW at 1 p.m., but total energy production yesterday was 7021 KWh. I have to multiply by 8 hours to get that. In fact, that’s been a pretty consistent theme this month. It may be that 5 hours is the appropriate multiplier in the winter, and that may be where it comes from. I will have to make sure I track their production this winter (as well as California demand).

Hydrogen

A number of people have written to me at various times and asked why I never debunked hydrogen. The reason is that I felt like it was already thoroughly debunked. When President Bush pushed hydrogen in his 2003 State of the Union address, I was actually working with hydrogen in a GTL application. Hydrogen does some interesting things with flame speed and auto-ignition temperatures that I was exploring. But I didn’t know all that much about the issues of hydrogen as a large scale transportation fuel. So, I thought “That sounds pretty good.” Then, I went to work the next day, dug out the DOE’s hydrogen road map, saw what the problems were, and where the technology stood, and I concluded that there would be no hydrogen economy any time soon – probably not in my lifetime. I mean, the technology has to leap huge gulfs in several areas, which is much different than only have one or two technical challenges to resolve. So, I didn’t give hydrogen much more consideration after that.

But it won’t die:

Hydrogen can replace gasoline, scientist contends

FLINT – Stanford Ovshinsky, founder and chief scientist of Energy Conversion Devices Inc. in Rochester Hills, told the Flint Rotary Club on Friday that the world has to convert to alternative forms of energy.

He said current internal-combustion engines in cars and trucks can be converted to run on hydrogen.

With hydrogen, he said, there’s no pollution, no climate-change issues.
“All you need for fuel is water,” he said “You don’t need the Mideast.”

All you need is water? Is he serious? How about an energy source to electrolyze the water? Why don’t we get our hydrogen from water right now (instead of from natural gas)? You need that as well. Free hydrogen doesn’t just hang about, waiting to be mined. Anyway, I was going to write a longer rebuttal, but my friend Chris Nelder beat me to it:

Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Are No Panacea

I’m going to make a prediction today: you will never drive a hydrogen fueled car.

Although hydrogen does indeed have some benefits in certain applications, it’s my task today to separate the reality of useful fuel cells from the hydrogen hype.

That may seem like a bold statement to you now, but by the end of this article, you’ll understand why.

I think he did demonstrate the point, so I will merely refer you to his essay for a good debunking.

Those Darn Farmers

I say that with tongue in cheek, because I grew up on a farm that my family still owns and operates. But this one struck me as funny:

House Farm Bill Includes Production Fee For ’98-99 Oil Leases

WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- The U.S. House of Representatives included a measure that would impose a fee on production from controversial 1998-99 oil and gas leases in a farm bill it passed Friday.

Lawmakers have been trying since last the Congress to force the companies to renegotiate the leases, which omit royalty price thresholds, saying the omission could end up costing tax payers $10 billion in lost royalty payments.

The Government Accountability Office estimates that around $1 billion in royalties has already been lost as a result of the price-thresholds omissions, and that they could cost taxpayers an additional $9 billion in the future.

Although six companies – including BP PLC (BP), Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSA), ConocoPhillips (COP) and Marathon Oil Corp. (MRO) – have agreed to pay royalties on the leases on production from October 2006, they only represent a fraction of the total lease owners.

Around 40 companies representing 80% of the production haven’t agreed to renegotiate the leases, including Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), Total SA (TOT), Chevron Corp. (CVX) and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC), according to Interior Department data. Democrats have been seeking royalty payments for all output from the leases.

While I do note that my own company has agreed to pay royalties, I can’t get past the irony that a farm bill would attempt to rectify the situation. Perhaps in the next energy bill, we can get rid of those darn sugar subsidies. I mean, come on. I can argue a case for corn subsidies. I don’t want our corn farmers to be put out of business by cheap imports (even though we get subsidized high-fructose corn syrup as part of the deal). But sugar? Give me a break. Aren’t we fat enough already without subsidizing the problem?

33 thoughts on “Google Solar, Hydrogen, and Farm Bills”

  1. Yes H powered transport may be a long way off, even longer if “professionals” from within the Petrol biz have anything to say about it.However, right now someone is going 100 MPH in an Hydrogen powered BMW in Germany.Look it up its real. So, a car can run on Hydrogen even if Americans haven’t got round to it just yet(I have no doubt they will though). So there is operational H-power technology, that’s a fact.Next the assertion that all you need is water. Well obviously a power source is required, I doubt Ovishinski overlooked that. There increasingly better non polluting ways of getting the required electricity. Actually its probably hard for an American to imagine but Quebec has the potential to supply north American transport requirements with Hydrogen. Look at this
    http://www.hydroquebec.com/generation/hydroelectric/index.html and start calculating, THen get your Google earth going and look at all the untapped rivers in Quebec, then add BC, Washington and Oregon in.
    Of course if one only looks at the EROI in terms of money the scenario is grim but that’s what the horse and buggy people were telling Henry Ford

  2. I notice Google doesn’t bother to map their solar production against their total power consumption. As nice as it is to see panels on their roof, I suspect they produce a very tiny percent of a percent of their use.

    This doesn’t invalidate the effort, but perspective is important when thinking solution.

  3. Robert,

    Maybe someone pointed this out already, but you can use their 9,212 solar panels to figure out the thumbrules you were looking for a few posts back.

    It’ll be valid for at least that (sunny) location.

  4. My gosh, this one was so full of ad homs and straw men that it is hardly worth the effort. But let’s hit a few of the more egregious examples:

    Yes H powered transport may be a long way off, even longer if “professionals” from within the Petrol biz have anything to say about it.

    Two ad homs in 1 sentence. Impressive. Not only am I against hydrogen because I in the Petrol biz (remind me why I am for solar/electric transport), but I am not even a professional. I am a “professional.”

    So, a car can run on Hydrogen even if Americans haven’t got round to it just yet(I have no doubt they will though).

    You need to get out more. The issue is not whether a car can run on hydrogen. Gracious, fellow, there are 200 of them running around California alone. The question is whether it is commercially viable, or likely to be anytime soon. The answer, if you understand the issues of transport, storage, energy density, vehicle expense (particularly if you are going the fuel cell route) โ€“ is no. And no amount of ad homs and straw men will change that.

  5. Maybe someone pointed this out already, but you can use their 9,212 solar panels to figure out the thumbrules you were looking for a few posts back.

    I looked for a while for the size of the panels. Have you seen that anywhere?

  6. I ass-u-me 5 hours per day when I installed my system 200 miles due south of Google. Now I have an extra megawatt to sell. Fortunately, my ESP will write me a check for the excess electricity. Those insolation tables are a fiendish plot by the goverment-utility complex to induce you to make free electricty for them.

  7. As I mentioned in the “Solar Thought Experiment” comments, The Live Solar Network page has a bunch of graphs of residential systems, including historical charts.

    I have sporadic data collection for my own system (I live about 11 miles from google HQ)

    Each of the past 3 years my system have generated 4500 kWh, or 12.3 kWh per average day. On a good day in the summer it generates about 20 kWh, vs winter can be 5 kWh or less. This is because summer is clear and sunny every day, while winter is often cloudy and rainy.

    Fortunately California electricity demand is highly correlated with PV output, I guess due to air conditioning. We use natural gas for heat.

  8. Google says that the 1.6 megawatt system will provide 30% of their electricity. Internet server farms are very electricity intensive.

  9. Interesting post. You may be right about the hydrogen. I work in DC for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, and we’re more than open to alternative fuels — provided they work, of course.

    In the meantime, again here in the US, there’s a big energy bill coming through and if you don’t mind a small plug, we’re advocating in favor of HR 2927, which is a bipartisan compromise on CAFE standards — raising the standards, but keeping them realistic. Here’s a link to a post on this at our Drive Congress blog.

    The vote’s coming along soon, and we’re hopeful — we have 100+ members of the House signed up already. Fingers crossed…

  10. chris,

    I am opposed to HR 2927. We could hit 35 MPG (or the equivalent in km/MJ) with today’s electric drivetrains, so it should be no problem 15 years from now.

    So help save the US auto industry from itself, support higher CAFE. Unless you want to see Toyota take all their market share.

  11. (oh my, it leaves a mark when I delete something. I guess I won’t delete posts in the future to fix minor typos.)

    Google says that the 1.6 megawatt system will provide 30% of their electricity

    I thought they said that too, but I looked more closely and it says “30% of Google’s peak electricity demand”. Why do they say “peak” and not “annual”? Is it a problem of a PR person not understanding, or is it a way to make things sound better? Does it mean that on a work day afternoon during a heat wave they use 5.3MW of power? It gets back to this whole California Solar Dilemma issue.

  12. Here’s some nice graphs and production stats from the solar mecca of Massachusetts:

    Watson Solar House

    It looks like their annual energy production works out to roughly 3 hours per day at rated capacity, if I’m doing the math right.

  13. (oh my, it leaves a mark when I delete something. I guess I won’t delete posts in the future to fix minor typos.)

    I can make it disappear. In the future, if you need to delete something, feel free because I can take care of it.

  14. About that hydrogen hype page that was linked, there is a major flaw in the argument. It says that he is calculating EROI when in reality he calculates efficiency. Like he said “[I]t doesn’t pay to have an energy regime with an EROI of less than one (…)”, however you can’t have efficiency above one. Thus while the calculation shows problems that hydrogen has his conclusions are plain wrong. This is especially baffling since he first emphasises that hydrogen is energy carrier for which you even can’t calculate EROI, just efficiency. To calculate actual EROI you would have to make assumptions on how the electricity used was actually created and the energy inputs used for that. In fact his calculations show that hydrogen isn’t so bad energy carrier. The 20% efficiency he gets is not good but it is not horrible when compared to current cars – whether electric or gasoline using.

    I do agree with the rest of the article in the conclusion that infrastructure costs probably will prevent hydrogen from replacing oil as the fuel for cars. However I expect fuel cell locomotives to replace diesel locomotives. The direct electricity generation and easy scalability are both huge advantages in locomotives and the weight and size of fuel tanks are much lesser disadvantage than in cars. The refuelling infrastructure in railroads is also much more suited to hydrogen. And finally there is no egg-and-chicken problem as the same company owns both the vehicles and the infrastructure.

  15. They have done the math for us. Google gets 2.6 billion watt hours per year from 200,000 square feet of panels or 13 kWh/year/square foot. These are polycrystalline panels.

    Google considers their electricity use to be propietary information they do’t want their competitors to have. That stilted language is all they will disclose. I don’t know if it’s just a small proportion of their electic bill as anonymous said or not. It’s still 2.6 gigawatts hours per year.

    You are probably referring to another Robert, but the sabatier reaction is exothermic. The hydrogen stores more energy then the methane does. NASA likes it because they can carry very light hydrogen to Mars or the Space station and by using solar or nuclear power either create more rocket fuel then they started with or scrub CO2 from the ISS. NASA is more interested in transportation costs than energy efficiency.

  16. Hydrogen is the #1 element listed on the atomic chart of elements because it is the smallest atom. It takes more energy to isolate it than it is intrinsically worth. Whether combusting H2 in an engine or using it for proton exchange over a fuel cell membrane – H2 needs to be pumped up to 10,000 or 15,000 psi in order to carry enough “mileage potential” to go anywhere.

    Even if hydrogen were free – at these pressures it can auto-ignite when it comes into contact with atmospheric oxygen. Ever hear of a hydrogen bomb?

    All the hydrogen hoopla is no more than a diversionary ruse to distract attention of why the US military invaded Iraq.

  17. I assume you are talking about the hydrogen “fusion” bomb. Good luck in making one of those yourself.

  18. “It takes more energy to isolate it than it is intrinsically worth.”

    Yeah, thats why there is already a huge hydrogen industry.

  19. Yeah, thats why there is already a huge hydrogen industry.

    That is irrelevant to whether hydrogen can be a viable fuel. We make lots of things that take more energy to produce than are contained the final product. It just doesn’t make sense to use too many of them as fuels. Hydrogen is produced predominantly from natural gas, and it would be incredibly inefficient to use that hydrogen as fuel, as opposed to just using the natural gas. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a big demand for hydrogen for other reasons.

  20. the assumption of peak power times 5 hours to get the overall daily solar production appears to be too conservative. For instance, according to the link above, yesterday power peaked at 877 KW at 1 p.m., but total energy production yesterday was 7021 KWh. I have to multiply by 8 hours to get that.

    Don’t forget that in this case you are comparing peak power to daily production. What you need is a comparison between rated capacity and daily production.

    In this example the rated capacity is ~1440kW (according to the link 90% of the final capacity of 1600kW has been installed)

    7021KWh/1440kW = 4.9 hours

    alan

  21. Mike, do you mean to say you think cars and trucks should be required to meet the same fuel economy? I would argue that what is reasonable for a compact is not reasonable for an SUV.

  22. In the meantime, again here in the US, there’s a big energy bill coming through and if you don’t mind a small plug, we’re advocating in favor of HR 2927, which is a bipartisan compromise on CAFE standards — raising the standards, but keeping them realistic.
    Well, I for one, hope your effort fails miserably. You seem to take the point of view that American car companies cannot compete with foreign companies on a level playing field. Where is your pride? What happened to facing a challenge head-on?

    For reasons of pride, patriotism and security, America needs to aim for the highest possible fuel efficiency. Detroit may not realize it, but this is their best chance to win back marketshare from the imports.

    So quit whining, and get to work!

  23. I thought they said that too, but I looked more closely and it says “30% of Google’s peak electricity demand”. Why do they say “peak” and not “annual”? Is it a problem of a PR person not understanding, or is it a way to make things sound better? Does it mean that on a work day afternoon during a heat wave they use 5.3MW of power?

    I actually had a chance to speak to one of their folks and, no, it’s not a clueless PR person. 1.6MW really is 1/3 of their campuses peak demand. Scary, eh?

  24. I love solar power I think over the next few years it’s going to be exploding even more… as performance of solar panels goes up people are going to be adopting it everywhere they can… after all it’s free energy ๐Ÿ™‚ BTW here is more solar power information -> Solar Power

  25. Mike, do you mean to say you think cars and trucks should be required to meet the same fuel economy?

    I meant we could meet 35 MPG corporate average.

    However the Tesla Roadster gets 135 MPG equivalent, with a curb weight about half of an F-150. So it seems to me an F-150 with an electric drivetrain could get over 35 MPG.

    15 years from now we should easily be able to achieve 35 MPG CAFE at a reasonable price.

    People ought to factor in the fuel cost of driving 250,000 miles into their purchase decisions, but they don’t. It is in our national interest to push them in the right direction by raising CAFE.

  26. 1.6MW really is 1/3 of their campuses peak

    Okay, so now we have something to work with. If 1.6MW is 1/3 of the Googleplex’s peak, then peak is 4.8MW. If the campus ran at peak 24 hours a day 365 days a week (extremely unlikely, but the worst case), that would be 42,048,000 KWH/year. Once all their panels are up and running, they expect to generate 2,611,719 kWH per year. That would be 6% of their annual energy usage. That is a whole lot more than the fraction of one percent that anonymous was talking about, and that’s the worst case, so the real number could be a bit higher.

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