Renewable Energy Highlights and Commentary

In Part I, I presented the notes on renewable energy that I took as I read through the 2008 International Energy Agency (IEA) World Energy Outlook. Here in Part II, I organize those notes, and then provide some general comments and conclusions. I am now offline for a few days. Happy holidays to those who celebrate Thanksgiving.


As I read through the 2008 International Energy Agency (IEA) World Energy Outlook, I had the distinct impression that I was reading contributions from people with completely opposite points of view. The pessimist warned that we are facing a supply crunch and much higher prices. The optimist in the report said that oil production won’t peak before 2030.

This trend held in the section on renewable energy. The optimist noted that renewable energy is expected to ramp “expand rapidly.” The pessimist noted that biofuels are predicted to only supply 5% of our road transport fuel in 2030. And so the report goes, part rampant optimism and part rampant pessimism.

I guess the good news then is that there is something in there that will appeal to everyone, regardless of your outlook. The bad news? The claims that are directly opposed to your views will have you questioning the credibility of the report. And if you are like me – and note that between last year’s report and this year’s report they dropped their 2030 oil demand forecast by 10 million bpd – you are left wondering whether there is any credibility at all in forecasts that far out.

But for what’s worth, here’s what the IEA had to say about renewable energy.

Report Highlights

World energy demand is forecast to grow from 11,730 Mtoe (million metric tons of oil equivalents) in 2006 to 17,010 Mtoe in 2030. Fossil fuels, with oil as the primary source, will account for 80% of energy used in 2030.

China and India will be responsible for over half of the increased energy demand between now and 2030. Global demand for oil (excluding biofuels) is forecast to rise from 85 million bpd in 2007 to 106 million bpd in 2030. This forecast was revised downward by 10 million bpd since last year’s forecast.

World demand for electricity forecast to rise from 15,665 TWh in 2006 to 28,141 TWh in 2030. Renewable energy will displace gas to become the second largest producer of electrical energy by 2015, but will still lag far behind coal. For OECD countries, the increase in renewable electricity is greater than the increase in electricity from fossil fuels and nuclear. The share of nuclear power in the world energy mix falls from 6% in 2008 to 5% in 2030.

Electricity generation from PV and CSP in 2030 is forecast to be 245 TWh and 107 TWh, respectively. Solar PV will continue to have the highest investment cost of all commercially deployed renewable energy sources.

Geothermal and wave technologies are forecast to produce 180 TWh and 14 TWh of electricity in 2030. Over 860 TWh of electricity from biomass is forecast to be produced in 2030. Present conversion of biomass to electricity is at 20% efficiency.

Global output of wind power is forecast to grow from 130 TWh in 2006 to more than 660 TWh in 2015 to 1,490 TWh in 2030. It will become the 2nd largest source of renewable electricity (after hydropower) by 2010. Potential for hydropower in non-OECD countries is still large. Most good sites in OECD countries have been utilized.

Energy storage is rarely the cheapest way of dealing with variability of wind and solar power, but several next generation storage technologies are under development. These include ultracapacitors, superconducting magnetic systems, and vanadium redox batteries. Electrolysis to produce hydrogen, later used in fuel cells on demand is an option, but the overall efficiency is only 40%.

Carbon dioxide emissions from coal combustion are forecast to rise from 11.7 billion metric tons in 2006 to 18.6 billion metric tons in 2030. The ability of carbon sequestration to limit carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 is limited.

The reference scenario presumes that by 2030 the U.S. will only meet 40% of the biofuel mandate set in 2007. In Brazil, biofuels are projected to account for 28% of road-transport fuel demand by 2030. The present amount supplied is equivalent to 13% of road-transport fuel demand. Demand for biodiesel is expected to grow faster than demand for ethanol.

Biofuels in 2006 provided the equivalent of 0.6 million bpd, representing around 1.5% of global road transport fuel demand. The United States is the largest user of biofuels, and most of the recent growth has been in the U.S.

The share of biofuels in road transport fuels is forecast to grow from 1.5% in 2006 to 5% (3.2 million bpd) in 2030. Second generation biofuels based on lignocellulosic biomass, converted via enzyme hydrolysis or biomass gasification (BTL) are expected to become commercially viable. However, the contribution will be minor, and not until after 2020. Capital costs for cellulosic ethanol are “significantly more” than sugarcane or grain-based facilities. As a result, full commercialization hinges on “major cost reductions.”

The United States and Brazil both export soybean biodiesel to the EU. Some countries are beginning to scale back their biofuels policies due to concerns about environmental sustainability. Shortages of water availability will be a potential constraint for further expansion of biofuels.

Most biomass will still come from agricultural and forestry residues in 2030, but a growing portion will come from biomass farmed for biofuels. A growing share of biomass is also projected to fuel combined heat and power (CHP) plants.

There is considerable room for growth of solar water heating (water heating consumes 20% of all residential energy consumption). China currently has 60% of the world’s installed solar water heating capacity. Solar water and space heating projected to grow from 7.6 Mtoe in 2006 to 45 Mtoe in 2030.

Hybrid vehicles are commercially viable today; electric vehicles have yet to gain traction. Electric vehicle technology is advancing rapidly, but further improvements in storage technology are needed for efficiency and cost improvements. Long term, electric hybrids, fully electric vehicles, and fuel cell vehicles have the most potential for minimizing the need for oil-based fuels. In the very long term – projecting out to 2050 – fuel cell vehicles are forecast to make up 33% to 50% of new vehicle sales in the OECD.

Cumulative investment in renewable energy between 2007 and 2030 is projected to be $5.5 trillion, with 60% of that for electricity generation.


The report reiterates the points I have argued on numerous occasions: Biofuels will not scale up to produce more than a small fraction of our fuel demand, and even then with potentially serious consequences. While the report spreads the blame for higher food prices on a combination of competition with biofuels, higher energy prices, poor harvests, and various agricultural policies, it correctly identifies water as a (highly underrated) issue in the future scaling of biofuels. On the other hand, the report identifies Latin America and Africa as regions with the potential for boosting biomass production by modernizing farming techniques.

I think the report correctly identifies renewable electricity and renewable heating (especially solar water heating) as areas poised for growth. However, it also predicts that carbon dioxide emissions will continue to rise. This was a controversial issue I tackled earlier in the year, when I predicted “we won’t collectively do anything that will reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.”

The following figure was very interesting to me:

This figure suggests that by 2030, the cost for solar PV and CSP will still be higher than all other renewable technologies are today. And not just a little higher; solar PV is predicted to be twice as expensive in 2030 as hydro and onshore wind are today. So much for Moore’s Law applying to solar PV.

However the nagging issue for me is the credibility of the predictions. How much stock can I put into the renewable energy predictions from an agency that thinks oil production won’t peak until 2030, and that demand will exceed 100 million bpd (contrary to the opinions of two Big Oil executives)?


The renewable energy portion was a tale of two technologies: Renewable electricity and renewable biofuels. Renewable electricity is forecast to grow rapidly, and make up an increasing portion of electricity supplies. The share of nuclear power falls, but coal usage is projected to rise 60% by 2030 (with 90% of that increase in non-OECD countries). The expected increase in coal usage helps explain why greenhouse gas emissions are forecast to continue rising.

Renewable biofuels, by contrast, are forecast to still make a very small contribution to overall road transport fuel by 2030. Cellulosic ethanol will be slow to be commercialized, and the contribution to fuel supplies by 2030 is small. Concerns about negative externalities will grow, and the impact of biofuel production on water supplies will be hotly debated.

48 thoughts on “Renewable Energy Highlights and Commentary”

  1. Well, I will say it again: Palm oil is here already, can be scaled, and competes at $50-60 a barrel or more.
    Brazil has the Amazon river, enough water for anything, and 170 times the appropriate acreage for planting palm oil as Malaysia, now the world’s second-largest producer. Palm oil yields are rising, and could quadruple with new gene-stuff and hybrids.
    Once planted, palm trees are good for 25 years. Inputs are radically lower than corn, while outputs radically higher.
    If oil can stay above $60, look for palm oil production to rise continuously, both due to more acreage and higher yields.
    (BTW I share concerns about deforestation — that is why Brazil makes sense. The palm trees can be grown on land already ruined by cattle ranching).
    As RR points out, the IEA reports is schizo, and wonderfully erratic from year-to-year. Sure, 10 mbd of demand goes poof in this year’s forecast! And next year’s report?
    But most of all, the IEA report seems to think we do everything the same over decades — it just extends trendlines.
    GM has yet to introduce the GM Volt, but the IEA says electric cars won’t catch on. At $5 a gallon, the PHEV will catch on.
    Vastly underestimated is the long-term response of economies to price signals.
    It would be fun to dig up some IEA reports from the 1980 or so, when the mindset of the influential book, “Limits to Growth” was so strongly established (and subscribed to by me). Projections then were that we would run out of oil by 2000.
    Sheesh, only a few years back, people predicted natural gas shortages in USA. Now we have a glut, due to something called shale gas.
    Making predictions is hard, especially about the future.

  2. As always interesting articles;

    Vinod Khosla at a recent Harvard Speach spoke of the failure of long term predictions as they apply to game changing technology.

    Khosla noted that Gartner told AT&T in 1980 that the market for cell phones in 2000 would be less than 1 million.

    They were off by at least of factor of ten for 2000.

    Today's numbers to put this in perspective:

    by the end of 2007 the number of wireless subscribers was an estimated 255 million, wireless service revenues were over $138 billion, the total number of minutes exceeded two trillion.

    Renewable energy projections can be thrown out the window if we are able to improve things by a factor of ten in ways that we are not predicting today.

    such possible things could be

    1)improvements in battery technology: Manufacturing Costs,Life,Efficentcy

    2)Geothermal improvements

    3)Stirling Engine improvements and adaptation which may mean a different mix of renewable energy

    4)improvements in PV Solar-production cost efficently

    5)less energy intensive production discoveries of Cement and Building Materials

    6) improvements in Pumps,Motors, Refrigeration

    7) even improvements in IC engines could be meaningful

    8) other things I haven't thought of

    Yes, I know the future is a wonderful place where your poop smells like peppermint. 8)

    It is unlikely all of these or any specific one will happen but I have faith that one or some wiil hit. We can't figure out which one but the portfolio of possible options for game changing technology is rather broad.

    I do believe some of these things will happen.

    take a look at the improvement of CfL light bulbs vs traditional lightbulbs not quite a factor of ten but significant.

  3. Yeah, and what if the public embraces (or the government mandates) mini-nukes and PHEVs? Then, it is game over for oil thug states, and their financial quislings.
    One more price scare, and this could happen….

  4. A better factor of ten technology examples might be in IT. An unsung hero is in the Data Center where I am seeing 100 of servers retired and replaced with 10 Servers running Virtualization Software such as VMWare.

    This is not done by government mandates or an altrustic desire to be green. It’s been done to save $:
    Hardware, Energy, Management cost.

    Hopefully, there will be some green technology coming whose value proposition will be so strong that you would be stupid not to adapt it.

  5. A better factor of ten technology examples might be in IT

    Technology provides a very misleading example. Advances in IT come because information processing can be miniaturized. This is not true in general of energy capture, manufacturing and transport. Cars, houses and chairs are that size because of the size of people.

    There will undoubtedly be tech advances in many areas, but the IT trick of miniaturization is pretty specific to IT.

  6. MIT did a report last year on geothermal potential in the US. It estimated total US geothermal potential of 14,000 zettajoules,or about 140,000X more primary energy than we currently use. What I found most interesting was the claim that EGS(enhanced geothermal systems),or the exploitation of existing fissures deep underground,can provide the worlds energy needs at an extremely low cost. If costs do turn out to be that low,we can convert all the carbon we like to liquid fuels,and do away with fossil oil altogether.

  7. Maury-Geothermal is yet another good-looking option. We have options coming out of our ears, when it comes to producing electricity, and cleanly. Geothermal, wind, solar, mini-nukes, and conservation.
    Migrate to PHEVs, and we get cheaper transportation, and cleaner air. Use biofuels for remianing liquid fuel demands.
    Really, it looks like a great future to me.

  8. “We have options coming out of our ears”

    That is only a mild exaggeration. The key is economics — coming up with some new energy supply technology that people will adopt because it is cheaper & better, not because some dim-witted bureaucrat or politician on the take mandates it.

    So how do we stimulate technological progress? We know that the IEA can't do it. We know that the DOE hasn't done it. Can we get real technological advance in the over-lawyered west?

  9. After reading the MIT report,I’m convinced there’s more energy than we’ll ever need right under our feet,just waiting to be tapped. I think we should look at these hot spots like we do oil deposits. And “Big Oil” should think about exploiting them. They have the drilling expertise and the funding. It’s a 14MB PDF file.

  10. @takchess

    An unsung hero is in the Data Center

    Surely someone in the Data Center employ should have data compiled regarding before and after quantifications.

    Is it possible to free that info to better inform this dialog ?


    Would you consider turning on ‘Anonymous’ posting on your ‘things of interest’ blog ?

  11. “After reading the MIT report,I’m convinced there’s more energy than we’ll ever need right under our feet,just waiting to be tapped.”

    Maury, sorry, I don’t have time to read MIT’s 14 MB file. But from past efforts looking into geothermal, it is great where Mother Nature permits, and fairly useless elsewhere. here are some of the challenges which have limited the scale of geothermal:

    – There are few places where geothermal sources are close to the surface, e.g Yellowstone Park.

    – To get power from a hot source, thermodynamics demands a temperature difference — a cold reservoir as well as a hot reservoir. This usually means bringing heat from the geothermal source to the surface, e.g. the Geysers power plants in Northern California.

    – Heat losses in bringing geothermal fluid from depth to the surface are a tremendous technical challenge. Think of a well as a linear heat exchanger with heat being lost to the much cooler temperatures of rocks closer to the surface. Going the other way (injecting heat into the earth for Enhanced Oil Recovery), the oil industry has difficulties going deeper than 2,000 – 4,000 feet.

  12. Kinuachdrach, those concerns and others were discussed in detail in the report. There aren’t any technical challenges to overcome. The resource is there,and we have the ability to exploit it. It’s only a matter of who and when.

  13. Let me provide an alternate positive view. Well actually, my views are mainstream outside of the blog-o-sphere doom and gloom world. Supplying an adequate supply of energy both safely and with insignificant environmental impact is not an engineering problem. This is based on how we do it in the US. All that is needed us a few engineers and government free of corruption.

    There is nothing magic about the US. If we can do it anyone can. Many of the engineers I work were born and educated elsewhere. What the US offers is a work place relatively free of corruption where talent is more important your birth rank in society.

    Starting with electricity, we can produce as much as you need and as much as you want to waste. The mix of generation is determined by practical factors not politics. Tell be how much nuclear an OECD country has and I will tell you how much coal they do not have. France would like the rest of the world to believe coal is dirty. This is not true. Coal is king and will remain so for centuries.

    The next fuel of choice for making electricity is natural gas. NG is the fuel of poor planning. NG is the easiest and cheapest plants to build and most expensive to run.

    “Now we have a glut, due to something called shale gas.”

    Not true the US is importing LNG. Sad to say but the electricity generating industry can suck it out of the ground faster than drillers can replace it. The real issue is that NG is a valuable feedstock for trivial things like making ammonia.

    What is difficult to predict is nuclear. OECD countries are ramping up. Western countries can now sell to India and China. India and China are going to build coal and nukes plants as fast as they can. The race is not between coal and nuclear but a population hungry for air conditioners and hot showers. Can you blame them? Solar hot water beats no hot water.

    Then there is renewable energy electricity. Hydroelectric, biomass, and geothermal are practical ways to make electricity. The best way to store renewable energy is with elevation of water, steam in the ground, and a pile of wood chips (until it catches fire). The share renewable energy will be based on local resources.

    The there is the category of renewable energy called other. Wind and solar is not a very good way to make electricity. The inherent nature of the resource and the equipment to convert ‘free’ renewable energy to electricity precludes it from being being sustainable.

    The bottom line is that there will an adequate supply of electricity in the long term. There may be short term issues with supply but angry customers fire the wing nuts who caused it. Then NG plants get built.

  14. “The bottom line is that there will an adequate supply of electricity in the long term.”

    All well and good,if we want to drive electric cars in the future. But,an abundant source of cheap electricity would give us the means to convert CO2 to liquid fuels and plastics in a closed loop process. I think seep hydrothermal will do that.

  15. The EIA released its revised number for September oil products consumption:

    17.8 million barrels per day.

    You have to go back to 1996 to find a comparable number for that month.

  16. @Maury

    “if we want to drive electric cars in the future”

    No ‘we’ do want to EVs. There are a only few loons who do. For this reason PHEV are DOA. BEV are MIA for technical reasons. Since I work in the electricity generating industry, I would love to capture that market but it will not happen before 2030 except maybe in France.

    What is ‘seep geothermal’? Maury you are making up stuff. You may want to lay off the MIT reports. They are not the worth the paper they are printed on.

    The expansion of the US biofuels industry has been impressive. It would appear that biofuels production facilities can be built faster than we can use ethanol. Clearly a 10% share is doable. The ramification of this are enormous. First, American farmers have a new market. The productivity of US farmers was limited to demand. Second it demonstrates that there is an alternative to leaders who would use oil as a weapon. Between domestic oil production and biofuels, we can ration to meet our needs. China and Russia are dependent on the US Navy and our allies to keep the sea lanes open. Third, the best way to learn is by doing.

  17. Maury said re geothermal:
    “The resource is there,and we have the ability to exploit it. It’s only a matter of who and when.”

    Well, maybe I will have to take the time to read MIT’s report. But I seriously doubt your assessment.

    There are lots of venture capitalists around wanting to be the “who” in a potential major profitable industry, and the “when” has rarely been better than now.

    We all know there is not enough shallow geothermal to be any more than locally-significant. If MIT has solved the major technological challenges for exploiting deep geothermal, then there would be a boom in deep geothermal exploitation. MIT spin-offs. Start-ups everywhere. Stock brokers calling with excited “get in now” claims. And none of that is happening.

    Geothermal is great where natural conditions permit. That’s it.

  18. Datamunger–That is a remarkable figure you post, and even more remarkable, when you conider that reaction to higher oil prices has just begun. People and businesses had finally just started to charge consumption patterns, and whoommp, you get decrease in demand. Of course, there is a recession going on too.
    On producing electricty, I have a friendly disagreement with Kinu. The cost of a new power plant is in the low billions, but not tens of billions. We just spent $1 trillion in Iraq, and who knows how many trillions to bail out banks.
    Sheesh, that’s 500-1,000 power plants in America. We would have electricity coming out of our ears.
    I have to say, there is no doom future, as we can produce electricity, and we have the money to do it. Maybe electric bills will go up. Okay.
    If we can make electricity, then we just have to make PHEVs. We are damned close to that. Next year. PHEVs start hitting the market.
    The real question is what kind of future does fossil oil have? If it sustains a price above $60-$80, demands starts going down, and if it sustains a price above $100, demand could dry up almost entirely within 40 years.
    That’s how wrong the doomers are. What if all new cars are PHEVs? When does oil demand fall to 25 mbd, globally? When does biofuel, GTL, and CTL hit 25 mbd?

  19. “What is ‘seep geothermal’? Maury you are making up stuff.”

    Deep geothermal. I was typing fast Kit.

    “If MIT has solved the major technological challenges for exploiting deep geothermal, then there would be a boom in deep geothermal exploitation.”

    MIT didn’t solve anything Kinuachdrach. They just brought together the people who have. This isn’t for the venture capitalist or start-up. It’s going to mean sinking a number of wells 10 mi. deep. It’ll take several large,successful projects to become profitable. Once deep geothermal scales up though,it promises to be a very cheap and reliable source of energy. It’s going to take deep pockets though. That means government backing or someone with deep enough pockets. That’s why I like big oil for this. They’ve got the money and the experience.

  20. “The cost of a new power plant is in the low billions, but not tens of billions. … Sheesh, that’s 500-1,000 power plants in America. We would have electricity coming out of our ears.”

    I don’t disagree. But what fuel would we use in those power plants? Choices are fossil, nuclear, or wishful thinking.

    The logical choice would be nuclear fission, coupled with a wholsale re-industrialization of the US so that the power plants could actually be built in the US instead of imported. But as long as Democrats are more concerned with snail darters than with working people, it is not going to happen.

    There is no inconsistency between believing that fossil fuels are finite and believing that we can provided expanded energy for the whole human race indefinitely. We already have the technology, and our options will improve as technology advances further. The problem is that western political elites simply do not have the will.

  21. kinu:
    Why not nukes, both mini-nukes and the big ones? (Also geothermal, and some wind and solar).
    There are two positives in the picture; 1) We hardly need any new power plants anyway. Even with the switch to PHEVs, the existing grid is up to it, with perhaps a 20 percent expansion. PHEVs tend to charge-up on off-hours. Meanwhile, the buildings of America are using less energy. The new LEDs, the wonderful improvements (the green architecture movement) in passive solar design mean we can use less power and have higher living standards. Glass is on the market now that lets in light but not heat. It is amazing. New buildings can use half the power of old days, or less. It is a testament to hard-working engineers and inventors and builders they work that is being done.
    2) The second bright spot is I see is Obama. He can say nukes are great and the libs will murmur and go away. Just like when Bush increased medicare preesecription costs by a huge dollar amount, and that’s every year for as long as the republic stands. The conservatives just rolled over.
    A leader can go against the grain and get away with it.

    I agree with you that our political system produces a lot of pandering.
    And you are right, there is too, too much NIMBYism in America. We can’t build anything anymore. Some libs have made productive enterprises, the oil companies and the auto makers, into the bad guys. This is insanity. Productive people are never the bad guys. I hope this sickness in the liberal wing of the D-party is exhausting itself, and I think it is.

  22. I just wanted to say thanks to Datamunger for posting here. Your post are always insightful. It sucks we can read your takes on positions at TOD anymore. 🙁

  23. I was wrong about there being no room for start-ups in the geothermal effort. Some of the start-ups include Altrock,Potter Drilling,Western Geopower,Vulcan Power,Thermasource,and Geopower Basel. Google recently sunk $10M into Altrock and Potter Drilling. Vulcan Power got a $145M injection from Denham Capital in July.

  24. This sounds like the major part of the solution. Efficentcy.

    How much energy do we waste in America? A little over half of it, says Arun Majumdar, the Almy and Agnes Maynard professor of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley.

    The U.S. consumes about 100 quads of energy a year, he said. A quad is a quadrillion BTUs. A BTU is equivalent to the energy produced by a match.

    “Of the 100 quads, about 55 to 60 go into waste heat,” he said. “Fifty or 60 percent of the energy is wasted as heat.”

  25. @takchess

    Sorry to break the news but Agnes is an idiot. Sorry to be blunt and release negativity.

    When takchess talks about ‘efficiency’ I understand that he does not have a clue. However, Agnes Maynard is a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley. Obviously Agnes is not stupid Agnes. However, the statements Agnes are making are just plain old idiotic.

    Those who can, do. Those who can’t teach at UC Berkeley.

    “Fifty or 60 percent of the energy is wasted as heat.”

    This is a common misconception for those who have not taken thermodynamics. Waste is a resource not properly used. Electricity is very useful for turning motors to pump water. The chemical energy in gasoline is very useful for turning an ICE to drive the wheels of POV.

    Combined heat and power (CHP) uses the heat rejected from ICE or steam turbine for process heat. However, there are practical limitations.

    Think of it this way. There may be lots of left overs this week that will go to ‘waste’ if takchess does not eat them. Will you eat them takchess?

    Agnes Maynard is a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley who has done a calculation and the waste is enough to feed China and India while saving the planet from AGW.

    Of course most of us know that it takes energy to refrigerate food to slow the growth of bacteria and it takes energy to transport food. Anyway people in India and China grow their own food and have different tastes.

    There are practical reason why engineers follow stand practices. College professors at UC Berkeley and MIT produce reports about the potential of the impractical. Other engineers like me produce electricity. If you need a to read a useless report, MIT are your guys.

    It is only a waste if there is a practical use.

  26. @kit p

    Sorry to break the news but Agnes is an idiot. Sorry to be blunt and release negativity.

    Your personal garbage is —-
    Waste is a resource not properly used.

    RE (non-kit p)waste heat – I had this in the form of an epiphany … 40 years ago.

    Why was it an epiphany ? Cause to not use the resource was standard operating procedure (SOP).

    It is still the predominant SOP and is what part of the dialog is about.

    AND you still can’t deal with it at that level.

    It is only a waste if there is a practical use.

    ummmm, as in what engineering does maybe ?


    So which formula do you prefer ?? input/output X 100% OR COP= absolute value(delta Q)/delta W OR some derivation ???

    My (redundant)point being most of the world’s technology uses the first equation and those who understand the importance of thermodynamics use the second.

    Or is this (same as it ever was) more about your personal strokes than science and technology ????

  27. Maury–
    It sounds so promising. If it is, after this credit crisis eases, there will be financing for deep geothermal. If oil prices go back up, which I am wondering about. It could be years and years.
    I do think there is a logic in some sort of subsidies for geothermal, or, if not that, then taxes on imported oil. Obviously, when we source power from geothermal, we reduce exposure to foreign threats, and get power cleanly. Both positives are not captured by the price signal.
    I am fan of private and free markets. But, if ever there were an argument for government mandates, it would be to produce PHEVs, powered by clean domestic energy, being nukes, wind, solar, and geothermal.
    Imagine the cleaner air in our cities, imagine the hundreds of billions of dollars flowing into US jobs and not into a thug-state dictator’s pockets.
    The radically reduced demand for liquid fuels could be met domestically, or by GTLs and CTLs, or imported biofuels from Brazil.
    We can make a better country and a better world. The doomster-snivelers are wrong, and serve no good by their doomsterism.

  28. I’m not sure what Kip’s point is except that he doesn’t think too highly of Research scientists and must think that current electric generation and industrial processes have minimal room for improvement.

    Regardless of whether you agree with Agnes numbers. If you can turn waste into energy therefore $ your should do it where it financially makes sense.

    GE and others think this is a viable market.

    What’s need is contracts where existing utilities are compensated for improving efficentcy (allowing to keep a percentage of improvements instead of cost plus where inefficency improves profit), freer markets where CHP plants can sell power back to the grid and proper planning to combine business together,research and improvements in waste heat recovery technologies.

    Engineers with vision that have organizations/governments that incentive them or stay out of their way can accomplish big things.

    This should be as important a part of the picture as windpower, solar and biofuels.

  29. “Fifty or 60 percent of the energy is wasted as heat.”

    Have to agree with Kit P — that is a really dumb statement, a complete red-faced embarrassment to anyone who claims to teach others about thermodynamics.

    Thermodynamics is greatly misunderstood (and apparently poorly taught at UC Berkeley) — quite philosophical in its implications. "Warmth disperses & time passes", as an interesting book notes — but why?

    Those who know something about Thermodynamics are usually careful to distinguish between rejected heat and waste heat.

  30. “Maury–
    It sounds so promising.”

    France has a working demo Benny. It’s producing 1.5 MW. Australia is going full steam ahead,with dozens of projects underway. Ironically,the groundwork was laid by research done at Los Alamos 30 years ago,but we’re mostly watching from the sidelines at this point.

    “I do think there is a logic in some sort of subsidies for geothermal”

    Washington put aside $50M for geothermal over the next three years. 190M acres of federal land are now available for geothermal leases. I’m expecting oil majors to jump in with both feet once these early projects have some success. Maybe they can write off the windfall profits tax by investing in alternative energy. Also,Obama’s promise to tax the hell out of coal is a form of subsidy for renewables. A price support anyway.

    “The radically reduced demand for liquid fuels could be met domestically, or by GTLs and CTLs, or imported biofuels from Brazil.”

    It’s easy to forget the US is still the world’s 3rd largest producer of oil. Only Russia and Saudi Arabia produce more. We’re blessed with so many resources. There’s really no excuse for the US not being energy independent. Largest reserves of coal in the world. Largest reserves of shale oil. Largest supply of fresh water. And it seems,enough stored heat under our feet to run the world for 30,000 years.

  31. “France has a working demo … but we’re mostly watching from the sidelines at this point.”

    One of the reasons that many of us appreciate RR’s blog is his emphasis on looking at the data. Something that others might like to emulate.

    Currently, the US has about 2.85 GW installed geothermal capacity — about a third of the global total. Projects in progress will add another 2.5 GW, close to doubling installed US capacity. US currently generates about 16 GWh/year geothermal electricity — a lot in absolute terms (but still only about 0.4% of the electricity generated in the US).

    “watching from the sidelines” indeed!

    Meanwhile, there are reports that France has suspended its deep drilling project because it was apparently triggering small earthquakes. Trusting MIT’s assessment of the current doability of deep geothermal would be like trusting thermodynamics pronouncements from UC Berkeley.

  32. @takchess

    I do not have an issue with research scientist per se. I do have a problem with them making silly statement outside of their field of expertise. Especially when it my field of expertise.

    I do have a problem with people takchess who misrepresent my statements. I made no statements about the current state of the art power plants or industrial processes.

    For what every reason takchess thinks power plant operators reject practical cost effective solutions.

    Last time I needed a new truck one dealer tried to sell me a jacked up tricked out 4wd. The dealer told me that it got the same millage and had the same maintenance cost as the 2wd drive I wanted.

    “GE and others think this is a viable market.”

    Certainly takchess does not have a clue what GE thinks. I used to work for GE and the division that I worked for had the highest ethical standards. It is prudent to be skeptical of the claims manufacturers make. For example, “takchessElectraTherm’s technology: Lowest heat requirement in the industry: 200º F.”

    The first issue with this technology is that steam generating stations have reject heat temperatures in the turbine exhaust much lower. It is possible to maybe recover ICE heat from a landfill gas fired plant. Anyhow this would be a very small potential for electricity generating

    The second issue is that it is not the nextbigfuture. This is well establish technology. It has been used at a small geothermal plant in Alaska.

  33. Oh, I forgot to add, some palm plantations are using excess biomass (palm fronds etc) to produce electricity, to help run the plantations.
    I’m telling you, people are inventive, and will whip any energy challenge. Usually, government just has to get out of the way. Kinu is right.

  34. “watching from the sidelines” indeed!”

    When it comes to hot rocks,yes. The geothermal you’re referring to is the top of the ground,hot springs stuff Kinuachdrach.

    “Meanwhile, there are reports that France has suspended its deep drilling project because it was apparently triggering small earthquakes.”

    I think you’re talking about Switzerland. Yes,these projects cause small tremors. No,they aren’t serious. But,Basel Switzerland sits on a fault line,and that made locals nervous.

    “Trusting MIT’s assessment of the current doability of deep geothermal would be like trusting thermodynamics pronouncements from UC Berkeley.”

    World of difference between MIT and UC Berkely Kinuach. I’m 47 yrs. old,and you’re the first person I’ve ever hear sneer at MIT. Did they turn you down for admission,or what?

  35. Kip my intent is not to imply that you are making electricity inefficenly and leaving profit on the table.

    Not being an engineer, I’m sure I am expressing myself inaccurately.

    I am trying to make a point as Casten makes:

    The US could by generating electricity locally near thermal users profitably recycle one-half of the the presently wasted waste heat from power generation and and save 13 quads of fossil fuels.

    The us econonomy could profitably drive 64K nw of new generation by recycling present waste heat industrial waste heat.

    source is here:

    Ge thinks recycling waste is a reasonable market source here:

    My overall point is with planning we can effectively use this heat and energy and it is not a trivial amount.

  36. “with planning we can effectively use this heat”

    I worked for a while in a Former Soviet Republic, where the Central Planners had built a power station in the middle of town(!)and hot water from the rejected heat was circulated around the neighboring apartment buildings, including mine.

    Great system — until the power plant went down one snowy December. Electricity was routed in from another plant, but all of us in the apartments were stuck with no hot water (also used for building heating) for 10 days.

    If you ever wonder why Central Planning has failed every time it has been tried, think of those poor freezing apartment dwellers.

  37. “I’m 47 yrs. old,and you’re the first person I’ve ever hear sneer at MIT.”

    Interesting, Maury. Based on your comments, you sounded much younger.

    If you are 47 years old, there is something you should recognize — Universities have changed in the quarter century since you were college-aged; and unfortunately, not for the better. The (now old) 60's radicals have imposed stultifying, brain-dead, zero-intellectual-diversity political correctness on institutions of higher education, and it has affected even science & engineering departments.

    The result is that we can no longer assume that anything written at MIT has proceeded directly from the lips of God. Every piece of work has to be judged on its own merits.

  38. @Maury

    If you go back and look I was the first person to sneer at MIT. The navy selected me to go back to college and my first choice in 1972 was MIT. When I took my SAT in the navy, we were port and starboard, and I had just finished 6 hour in the engine room watching a steam driven feed pump. If the SAT only had thermodynamic questions or had given be time to study.

    A good friend who finished number 2 behind me at our last school got time from his command to study. His first choice was in our home state. I did not join the navy to watch corn grow. My friend got my friends. Purdue does a first rate job of training undergarment engineers. Judging from my friend, MIT sucks at educating kids out of high school.

    MIT sucks and Cal both suck at writing reports on energy and the environment. They just get it wrong most of the time. And Yes, I am qualified to make that statement. Would it hurt any of thsee organizations to hire a working stiff to explain the word practical to college professors.

    I like geothermal for making electricity except for a few locations but I do not think it will ever be a significant source until we run out of coal, natural gas, and uranium.

  39. @takchess

    When you are analyzing energy issues you must be careful to not compare apples to oranges and double count savings. Casten markets CHP. I have marketed CHP using biomass by looking for processing plants that were not close to a natural gas pipeline and were using fuel oil to run boilers. CHP is a good way to make electricity but it has limitations.

    However, CHP has nothing to do with central generating stations. It is somewhat like me saying that the railroad could save energy by filling up PU with coal when I drive to work. Certainly my truck has potential to haul coal but it is not practical. It is practical to throw scrape wood in my PU on the way home from work to provide 1/3 of my winter heating. It is practical because I already have a PU and a place to burn it. CHP is matching needs and assets.

    “I am trying to make a point as Casten makes:

    The US could by generating electricity locally near thermal users profitably recycle one-half of the the presently wasted waste heat from power generation and and save 13 quads of fossil fuels. “

    This simply so much marketing BS. Fuel is used efficiently at electricity generating stations and heat is not being wasted. Can fuel be used more efficiently for industrial processes by making electricity? Yes, but this is nothing new.

    One way to save energy would be to put the industrial process next to the large generating station.

    “Ge thinks recycling waste is a reasonable market source here:”

    What do you mean by ‘waste’ heat and ‘recycling’ and how do you know what GE is thinking?

    “Now GE, while reluctant to discuss technical details, is confident it can soon deliver commercially viable heat capture systems for use in a wide range of different industrial applications and settings.”

    My basic issue with takchess is he is mixing three separate concepts of electricity generation without understanding the implication. There is the standard efficient central generating facilities. There the small but important of segment of heat capture which will only supply a trivial amount of energy.

    Buzz world like ‘waste’ and ‘recycling’ suggest that there are simple if we would just be more innovative. The bad news it is not true. The good news there is no problem meeting the demand for electricity.

    I would encourage takchess to take part in the public process of making energy choices. Please come and explain why we do not need new power power plants to replace older less efficient power plants because we can just be more efficient.

  40. I was surprised to learn the biggest generator of geothermal energy in the world is Chevron. They claim to produce more than half of the private geothermal market. They’re currently “studying” hot rock prospects. I think they’ll jump in with both feet if projects in Australia are half as successful as Aussies think they’ll be.

  41. 12/1/08 And oil collapsing, on reports that manufacturing worldwise is in recession. The Economist magazine is predicting an “L-shaped” recession. If true, short oil, short oil, short oil some more.
    $10 oil here we come. And if the global economy sputters for a few years, the glut will last for years and years, maybe even a decade.
    What an amazing and laregly unforeseen turn of events. The usual suspects were talking up $200 oil only yesterday.
    Now, $20 seems possible by yearend, and $10 in the future.

  42. Hi All,

    Still a bit covered up, and I have a staff meeting this week. I will try to throw something new out as quickly as I can, mostly to spawn some new discussion.

    I appreciate everyone keeping it pretty civil while I was away. Makes my life much easier.

    Cheers, Robert

  43. Great system — until the power plant went down one snowy December

    Kinuachdrach, obviously it wasn’t great !

    You elevate it so you can support your bias about central planning.

    How can it be great if it can be brought down at a single point of failure ?

    Walking the tightrope between complexity and simplicity is … work ?!


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