Thursday, July 7, 2011

Alternative energy by the numbers

It is far too easy for us alternative energy types to wiggle out of providing real numbers to the problem of replacing the energy infrastructure that exists.  I find myself doing it all the time.  Of course, when I am talking with someone who clearly doesn't understand the difference between a million, a billion, and a trillion, it becomes almost mandatory to revert to phrases like "imagine what could be accomplished if we paved over 10% of the Sahara with solar panels," or numbers like "this country uses 10,000 gallons of petroleum fuels every second."  At least I haven't succumbed to the temptation to use the word "ginormous".

But recently I have found some good numbers so it's time to post them.

How much alternative energy would we need to build?
Saul Griffith performed a number of calculations to answer this question in his talk Climate Change Recalculated. To produce enough energy to replace the fossil fuels we use today, within two decades, we need to build (the sustained rate for 20 years):
  1. 100 m2 of solar panels / sec = 2 TW of solar photovoltaic
  2. 50 m2 of solar mirrors / sec = 2 TW of solar thermal
  3. 12 x 100m wind turbines / hour = 2 TW of wind
  4. 3 x 1GW plants / week = 3 TW of nuclear
  5. 3 x 100MW turbines / day = 2 TW of geothermal
  6. 1250 m2 oil algae / sec = 0.5 TW of biofuel
The scale is daunting, and brings us to our next question.
What are we likely to be able to build?
It's hard to get good data to answer this question, so I looked at industry press releases (which are generally optimistic) where available, and then overestimated to determine what, in a best-case scenario, we might be able to build and install:
  1. 20 m2 of solar panels / sec (vs. 100 m2 /sec required)
  2. > 50 m2 of solar mirrors (vs. 50 m2 / sec required)
  3. 6 x 100m turbines / hour (vs. 12 turbines / hour required)
  4. 0.5 x 1GW plants / week (vs. 3 plants / week required)
  5. 1.5 x 100MW turbines / day (vs. 3 turbines / day required)
  6. negligible (vs. 1250 m2 oil algae / sec required)
Summed up, this will yield, after 20 years, about 7 of the 15 TW we use today, so it would be a replacement for at most about half of current energy demand. The rates of production I've listed here require all-out manufacturing (i.e. making the production of alternative energy a priority in the way making bombers was a priority during World War II). more
So where do we stand?
Solar Photovoltaic Generating Capacity Averaging 65% Compound Annual Growth Rate for Last 5 Years+
TUE JUL 05, 2011 AT 08:03 PM CDT 
GTM Research predicts we’ll have 50 GW of module global production capacity by the end of the year reports Stephen Lacey of Think Progress in Solar is Ready Now: ‘Ferocious Cost Reductions’ Make Solar PV Competitive.
Notice that this 50 GW of total global photovoltaic generation capacity, is literally "off the chart" here which only goes up to 20 by 2010. And, accelerates the 65% compound annual growth rate, to almost 200% in this last year. (Just for the year, not the average for the five years.) more
I have had the pleasure to meet the Danny Parker of this article.  He works for the Florida Solar Energy Center.  A very clever man, he designed the ceiling fan that is helping me keep cool as I write--it is roughly three times as efficient as the rest of the fans in the house.  This story demonstrates some of the difficulties even an energy expert must overcome to get to net zero energy.
The Bumpy Road to Net Zero Energy
by Alan Meier   July 2011
It’s easy to lose the longer perspective when we are involved in day-to-day efforts to save energy. That’s why I want to focus on a single home—Danny Parker’s house in Florida—to illustrate the bumpy road to zero energy use. The figure on the right shows 21 years of electricity use, along with many of the major events in Danny’s household. (Follow the green line.)
When the Parkers moved into the house in 1989, Danny and his wife used roughly 10,000 kWh per year. (By coincidence, that’s also the national average residential electricity use.) Over the next 20 years, Danny installed many conservation measures and improvements. He added insulation, sealed ducts, installed a whole-house fan, replaced the refrigerator and air conditioner, and installed a PV-powered pump for the swimming pool. He also replaced all the incandescent lights with CFLs.
There were other events affecting energy use. The babies arrived— first Sarah, then Wade. In 1998, the Parkers added 500 square feet of floor area. In 2005, the children—no longer babies—convinced their parents to buy a digital video recorder (DVR) and a flat-screen TV. In 2006, Danny bought an energy feedback device, though it wasn’t clear if anybody besides him understood it. Finally, in 2009, the Parkers installed a 5kW PV system. Meanwhile, appliances were being replaced again. In 2010, the Parkers replaced the “new” refrigerator. The “new” air conditioner was replaced in 2010.
Over those 21 years, the Parkers’ energy use fell about 50% through efficiency improvements. They then eliminated the remaining 50% of grid-supplied power by installing a PV array. Now, in 2011, the Parkers’ house is exporting electricity. more
But it must be kept in mind how utterly unserious we are about solving the great energy problems that are bearing down on us like a runaway truck.  Keep in mind that it is impossible to fix our economy without addressing the increasingly unaffordable costs of energy.
How America just lost 1 million green(ish) jobs to Europe
29 JUN 2011 1:14 PM
Most underplayed economic story of the week: European aircraft manufacturer Airbus "trounced" the traditional U.S. behemoth Boeing at the Paris Air Show, booking a record $50 billion more in orders for new planes. The reason: commercial plane buyers' demands for high fuel efficiency and low emissions. Here's the Associated Press report on how Airbus racked up a whopping 730 new plane orders compared to a measly 142 for Boeing:
Airbus has cashed in on airlines' desire to reduce sky-high fuel costs and cut their carbon dioxide emissions. Airbus says the A320neo is 15 percent more fuel efficient than rival aircraft like Boeing's 737 ... Airbus' success cast a long shadow over Chicago-based Boeing, which recorded only $22 billion in orders and commitments, and raised questions over the U.S. planemaker's ability to compete in a market dominated by concerns over high fuel prices. 
That giant sucking sound you hear is approximately half a million well-paying American jobs leaving Boeing factories in Seattle and other parts of America and heading to Airbus facilities in Toulouse, Seville, and Hamburg (job numbers include both direct, indirect, and induced and are estimates based on numbers from University of Massachusetts, the Center for American Progress, Boeing, and other sources).
This is Europe's green dividend: the cash and jobs the continent is reaping from its strong climate law and a culture that's committed to planet-friendly innovation. It's a lonely economic bright spot in an economy still dealing with the aftershocks of recession, real estate bubbles, and overly cautiousfiscal policy.
The extent to which green innovation has permeated European business was on display in an exclusive Grist interview with Airbus' Martin Fendt after the Paris Air Show. When I asked why his company had decided to invest so much time, money, and energy in focusing on fuel efficiency and low carbon, he didn't know how to respond at first, because low carbon and fuel efficiency are so integrated into Airbus' culture. But he went on:
"It's quite self-explanatory -- at Airbus, we want to reduce CO2 emissions, increase performance of the aircraft, and help reduce the amount airlines need to spend on fuel. In every one of those "boxes," there's a benefit to having less fuel consumption: We get 15 percent better fuel efficiency, that means you can fly 15 percent further, emit 15 percent less CO2 per passenger mile, and you don't have to carry as much fuel for a given mission. It's a win-win-win-win." more

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