This is a useful exercise in information for anyone who hasn’t studied civilizations, energy grids, chemistry, physics, and geology.
I spend lot of time in Silicon Valley reminding pissant web developers, Electrical engineers, Neuroscientists, economists, college dropouts, humanities specialists, dropouts who became programmers, and others that solar and wind are weak excuses for deep energy grid sources.
India was blockaded from viable Nuclear energy for ~40 years despite supplying ~10% of US STEM labor. The average Indian has ~11 times less electricity than the average American despite the country having a large STEM population. This post will go into why solar, wind, and renewables are a pipe dream for baseload electricity supply.
The source of my anger and frustration is India’s lack of speedy nuclear adoption at the hands of the west. It has led to rampant air pollution via a 1.4bn population embracing coal and wood burning to make up the difference from a lack of clean baseload from Nuclear energy.
Air Pollution is linked to 1 out of every 6 human deaths on planet earth today, energy is relevant.
My thoughts on all things energy, pollution, and the environment.
We have at least 100+ years required to build the infrastructure to reduce fossil fuels down to ~30% of total energy generation.
Storage will help a little with peak shaving, but renewables are too unreliable for base-load.
The amount of solar needed to achieve the energy demand is massive.
We are talking about 100s of millions (if not billions) of solar panels being installed weekly to not have fossil fuels by 2050, and we are no where near that number.
Not saying we shouldn’t do it…we should…it is just going to take a long time and fossil fuels will still play a part.
Current solar and battery manufacturing is a disaster for the environment, like really, really bad.
Purifying silicon is bad stuff.
This will probably be fixed in a decade or so with organic solar cells. Tesla Power walls are a piece of shit in terms of making a difference.
Billions would be needed to make an impact on a nation-wide energy scale…and that would only be a small start. They are on the order of 5–10 kWhr and the average person uses 1,000+/month.
The simple fact is we need nuclear energy to make solar, wind, etc. feasible. PERIOD! or fossil fuels with carbon capture. Again, this is only considering the next 50–100 yrs or so. The simple fact is that it takes a long time to construct large scale power plants and we are not building enough, which is why it will take 100 yrs or so to transition. Solar is much faster than coal or nuke by far, but until it is the lowest cost option, they can not legally build them.
The competitive power generation companies could and are, but only on a small scale for PR and piloting.
We would need about 1,000 to 1,000,000 increase in charge and power density in batteries plus have the charge and discharge rate of super-capacitors. I think solar is very important, but it will take time to build the infrastructure and humanity still needs baseload power generation.
- It takes 40–70 years for an energy transition for us to have a viable grid for all of this.
- Solar panel production is not a clean activity. We’d have to build millions or billions of solar panels on a weekly basis to offset natural gas, oil, and coal energy production.
- If you look at the system, yes the system at large, it doesn’t matter what happens in the USA, because it will mostly be offset by foreign polluted energy production.
- What the fuck do you do with all that silicon tetrachloride?
The installation of solar power today means that when the sun goes down, we burn natural gas peaking to make up for the loss of the sun at night or we import the “dirty” energy from neighboring countries.
In Germany, they have classified wood chips as biomass, despite the fact that burning woodchips is awful for the environment, as it is straight carbon pretty much. The Germans burn woodchips and call them renewables or they import dirty energy from neighboring countries.
The soil beneath your feet is scarier than global warming.
It takes 300–500 years to make about 2–4 centimeters of topsoil. You need a depth of at least 2.5cm to grow stuff..
Fertile soil is non-renewable at the rate we’re consuming it vs. generating it.
Topsoil Generation: 0.005cm every year.
Topsoil Consumption: .09cm every year.
Wind turbines are complicated structures.
They mean absolutely nothing to me with regards to the advancement of humanity as they do not supply reliable non-intermittent baseload energy.
Turbines are just giant chunks of embodied oil and natural gas.
Humanity doesn’t make turbines with non-hydrocarbon photovoltaic and renewable energy sources.
Trucks move steel.
Large earth movers navigate.
Mega cranes push up structures.
All of this requires diesel fuel.
These figures aren’t accurate, but they are precise enough and off my memory from experience designing large scale engineering systems.
Diesel cargo ships transport the cement, steel, and plastics required.
- A 5 Megawatt turbine requires 900 metric tons of steel.
- 150 Tons — concrete foundations
- 250 Tons — rotor hubs and nacelles
- 500 Tons — towers
Let’s play with some scenarios w/ conservative back of the napkin calculations:
- If wind was 25% of global demand by 2030 *(w/ capacity factor of ~40%)
- 2.5 Terawatt hours of wind turbines require 500M tonnes of steel. (w/o towers, wires, transformers. etc…)
- 30–40 gigajoules/ton are required for Turbine steel.
- 500M tonnes of coal to make this much steel.
- 60 meter foils. (theat each weigh ~20 tons) make up the 4 MW turbines.
- Glass fiber reinforced resins are made of hydrocarbons.
- Glass is made with natural gas furances.
- The rotor’s mass of such a turbine is ~20 metric tonnes. (About 75 million metric tonnes of oil)
- Coal makes iron.
- Coal + petro makes kilns.
- Naphtha and Liquefied natural gas make synthetic plastics for fiberglass
- Diesel makes ship fuel.
This game isn’t chess, it’s freaking go. There are more sub-optimal
PS: In 2016, the global volumetric production of steel was ~1500 Million tonnes. (+/- 10%)
Why Oil Can’t Be Disrupted:
It’s actually close to damn impossible to disrupt oil.
The sheer number of materials that rely on oil is absurd.
There’s a ton of reasons you can’t just disrupt the oil and gas industry. It’s freaking massive.
- It is built on on $200T worth of infrastructure over a century and the strata underneath the earths crust is even older.
- Oil and gas pipelines could go to the moon and back 5–8 times.
- 40% of all seaborn cargo is oil and seaborne cargo outweigh all fish in the ocean.
- There are no viable replacements for Oil & natural gas in our lifetime.
- People who think renewables can replace the oil and natural gas industry with <2 decades worth of heavy research are ignorant of just how extremely massive the oil industry actually is.
- The use of renewables as a percentage of total world energy consumption only increased by <0.10% from the 1970’s to 2010.
- If solar power generation doubled every decade for a century, it would stall lag extremely far behind oil.
- For solar to even consider dethroning oil, natural gas, or coal, it’ll need to outperform them on the characteristics of being cleaner, cheaper, and more concentrated for 50–100 years not to mention you’d need about 75–125 years to reconfigure all the tooling and infrastructure.
- Jevon’s paradox explains the difficulties of adopting new energy sources for developing countries vs. developed countries.
I don’t believe Fusion will change the world.
When I voice this view, it’s always met with a sea of opposition from web developers and coders.
Here’s why Fusion isn’t world changing:
- It’s a marginal fission improvement.
- Little to no impact on natural gas/oil consumption.
- The $/MWh does not go down.
Literally, it’s first-world luxury and has little to do with any sort of viable impact on the rest of the globe.
Let’s look at the fuel source for running Fission and Fusion reactions.
- Fission — $9/gram for low enriched uranium. That’s cheap.
- Fusion — $35,000/gram for tritium.
- “225 kg (496 lb) of tritium has been produced in the United States since 1955. Since it continually decays into helium-3, the total amount remaining was about 75 kg (165 lb) at the time of the report.”
PS: Tritium is a byproduct of fission.
Clean coal isn’t necessarily something we can do at scale that will solve problems on any reasonable time-scale.
Humanity can’t grow a several trillion dollar carbon sequestration industry over night, a few years, or even a single decade.
Clean coal is unreasonable on any relevant time scale with current technologies.
Here’s some back of the napkin calculations
- 5 Billion Cubic Meters of Oil produced Annually by humanity.
- 30Bn Tons of CO2 generated.
- 60% is un-sequesterable because it is small and/or mobile.
- 40% is sequestrable and large scale/stationary.
- 12 Billion Cubic Meters of CO2 are thus sequestrable.
You must liquefy CO2 before putting it into the ground.
- 50% -70% efficiency in converting it to a liquid that we can shove into the ground.
- 6 to 8.4 Billion Cubic Meters of Liquefied CO2 are thus Sequestrable.
- Shoving 6 to 8.4 billion cubic meters of liquefied CO2 into ground is no small matter.
Think about it this way, humanity built an entire industry focused on an annual extraction of 5Bn Cubic Meters of Oil over a time span of 100+ years with refineries and complex processes spanning multiple countries, geographies, and regulations.
Also, who’s going to buy sequestered carbon? (that requires spinning up an entire market….)
Air pollution creates chemical disaster as big as largest-ever oil spill every single week
Less than half of the 5,000 new chemicals widely dispersed throughout the environment since 1950 having been tested for safety or toxicity.
Over 150K+ chemicals have been released into the environment by industrial processes.