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The word “whence” is a Middle English term that means “from where”. Use of this word has the advantage of eliminating dangling prepositions (as in: Where does electricity come from?) and avoidance of sounding like Yoda (Comes from where, electricity?).
A great many people have the idea that it is possible to eliminate “fossil fuels” and nuclear power from our energy supplies and that “electricity” is the means by which that will be accomplished. That “Renewable Ideal” is founded upon a grand misconception and a stunning lack of common sense – as will become apparent while we contemplate this question: “Whence Electricity?”.
The Reality as it Exists (2016)
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory does a survey of US energy use every year. The results are published in a flow chart that requires considerable snaky-eyed concentration to understand. But, I eyed the 2016 Livermore data for you to make this simple pie-chart of electricity in percentage by source:
All graphs are generated by the author and the numbers are from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories
Note: For purposes of this report, commercial sources of energy are capitalized – as in the graph above.
The most obvious lesson here is that Coal, Natural Gas and Nuclear power (with a tiny bit of Petroleum) provide the vast majority – some eighty five percent – of electric generation in the US. The remaining 15% that might be considered to be “environmentally correct” – we will refer to them as “Renewables”.
If you did not know this before, you will be further surprised that the amount of “Fossil Fuel” (and Nuclear) to be replaced in the electric grid is just the beginning of the task.
There are some limitations that characterize the sources called “Renewables” that must be considered.
Hydro-Electric Generation (Hydro)
Hydro is a simple, inexpensive and reliable source of electricity that – unfortunately – has lost its “Green Credentials”. Environmental “wisdom” doesn’t like those dams on rivers and they are now “all-in” on tearing them down. Hydro is dwindling slowly and can be expected to die a slow, lingering death by Green politics. You may think of Hydro as “Renewable” and that’s fine. If you want to claim it is reliable, this reporter will disagree. Your Humble Narrator once visited his in-laws in Bogota, Columbia (he’s a diplomat). They had rolling black-outs because their Hydro projects were suffering from an extended drought (and funds for electrical development that somehow were mis-directed to politicians’ pockets). Blind luck that the Bogota (La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora, Santa Fe De Bogota) has a climate mild enough to do without power at home for 8 hours. Kerosene lamps, candles and propane stoves were enough to get by. Business is another matter and the streets of the Capital were filled with gasoline generators running furiously outside the buildings and snaky extension cords going inside. Hydro requires back-up – even if ad-hoc.
The source of Biomass in electricity generation is mostly industrial and agricultural waste that is burned to generate electricity. Those sources exist because engineers are making efficient use of what would otherwise be an expense nuisance. Most of those opportunities have already been realized, but you may count on that increasing as industry itself expands. Ethanol and biodiesel are generally not used to generate electricity but do make up a small percentage of transportation fuel (which we have not addressed in this electric discussion).
The U.S. has the most Geothermal generation of any country and it is still quite small when compared to the total. It could be expanded, but since it typically involves drilling holes in the Earth, fracturing and using groundwater for a working fluid (unlike petroleum operations), it is also in danger of losing its “Green Credentials”.
Wind is currently subsidized by tax credits and production mandates which make them quite profitable to build. There are major windfarms now under construction. This author has seen fields of hundreds of turbines now being erected in Texas and Kansas – as well as a vast staging yard with parts for hundreds more. Wind provides the dominant part of growth in Renewable generation.
Photoelectric and solar-furnace generation is small but growing, though not as quickly as Wind.
Wind and Solar provide pretty much the only significant growth in Renewables. And that growth amounts to: 0.29 Quadrillion BTUs per year. You see that growth rate graphed as a vertical green bar (i.e., flat green square) next to the orange bar representing 2016 total Conventional electricity capability that the Renewable Ideal would have us replace.
To examine what this “replacement” will require, we will assume that
The graph below shows the timeline for replacement of the Conventional Electric Generation (orange line) and for replacement of both that and the Gasoline and Natural Gas transportation.
The orange line represents total “Conventional” electric generation for 2016 and we have assumed that will not increase. The yellow line is the total of Conventional electric and Gasoline energy expended in the Transportation sector. We have assumed that neither of these will increase. The green line represents Renewable generation increasing at the same rate as the last two years – when it has been quite actively increasing at unsustainable rates. It is assumed that Renewable installations last forever.
In that case, full replacement of Conventional generation can be had by 2109 and replacement of that plus Gasoline and Natural Gas by 2169.
If – on the other hand – it is assumed that such installations last 50 years (a bit more reasonable, but again, overly generous) the years of both “replacement” points can be changed to “never” – as indicated by the blue curve.
There is More
Wind and Solar – which make up the Lion’s share of Renewable growth – are intermittent by their very nature. Solar interruptions are mostly as predictable as the sunset and cause about a 60% full-blown outage every single day. Wind on the other hand, can fail you at any moment – either by calm or storm. Your Humble Narrator has seen whole wind farms in Wyoming standing idle in the fierce winds that frequent that state. They would have been torn apart in the shifting, gusting conditions if they weren’t locked down.
Intermittent energy sources are dependent on other sources of generation. The most clearly relevant of those others are Coal and Gas. Nuclear has so long been long demonized and over-regulated that it will, at best stay constant, and will be of little help in backing up Wind and Solar.
One might come up with the idea of more Renewables as backup. It does not require much thought to see the flaw in that reasoning.
What that means is that Conventional sources of electricity simply cannot be replaced unless you can convince every electric customer to live with intermittent service. That did not happen in the aforementioned Bogota example and will not happen here. However, the attempt would make for Gargantuan sales of home generators – make mine a diesel, please.
So, the “All renewable” points in that graph are nothing less that Absolute Fantasy. Wind and Solar must be backed up completely (that is to say 100%) with Fossil Fuels or Nukes!
Even if we imagine that windmills and solar panels last forever – after 90 to 150 years of hideous expense, there will be just as much “non-renewable” electric capacity as before. The difference will be that the non-renewable plants will mostly be wastefully idling, waiting for the Sun to go down or the winds to calm.
P.S. Some of you are saying, “What about batteries, then?”
First off, you sound like Brits.
Second, I will address this in “Around Robin Hood’s Barn in an Electric Car – Part Two”
For Saturday June 9: One, Two, Three, Etc. is an arts and craft company that offers Peruvian jewelry, ornaments and accessories at local Craft Shows and Farmers’ Markets.
Proprietor Maria is also a Dream Vacations travel agent. Saturday, June 9 find the company at the Energy Corridor Farmers’ Market (E.C.F.M.) at 14710 Grisby Rd.
Houston, TX 77079 near Highway 6 and the Katy (I-10) Freeway. Please see the map below. Drop by and have a look, after Nine AM.
(It may enhance attendance to know that there will be a beer festival nearby). 😉
Not long ago, one of my Road Trip Interest Group members (you know who you are) asked this question:
“When was the last Ice Age?”
The term “Ice Age” is somewhat ambiguous. Fluctuations in the Earth’s climate are extreme and take place over many periods of time. There have been eras when the Earth was completely devoid of ice. There have been other times when all the Earth’s oceans had completely turned to ice. So, when was the last “Ice Age”?
The most recent time that has been referred to that name was the “Little Ice Age”(LIA). When exactly that was depends on who you ask. The chart below defines the LIA as being between the years 1400 and 1800 AD. This was a time that saw mountain villages in Europe consumed by glaciers. The “Frost Fairs” on the frozen River Thames in London happened at these times and the story of Hans Brinker, likewise. There is ample evidence of the LIA in art, literature and history. Below is a graph of results for last two millenia of proxy derived temperature differences. You see the Little Ice Age as well as what came before.
Timespan: 2000 Years
These are differences in temperatures derived from examination of cylinders of ice drilled out of an ice sheet. Where that zero axis falls depends on how much time is included in the graph. So, these data do not tell us what a thermometer would have said then. But, the historical record tells us that during the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) Greenland was occupied by an agricultural civilization where none at that level of technology would be possible in today’s climate. In Alaska there are glaciers that have retreated from the Little Ice Age and uncovered immense tree-stumps still rooted in the ground. There are no such climax forests there today.
They date to about one thousand years ago. So, we know for a fact that the temperatures were warmer then than now. There are some who imagine that this was only the case for the North Atlantic. But, Alaska is not on the Atlantic, is it? And ice cores from Antarctica tell pretty much the same story.
The time before the LIA was much warmer than the climate today. The MWP was, itself just another in a series of warm periods, starting with the Minoan Warm Period and occurring roughly every 1000 years. Below is a graph of oxygen-Isotope proxy temperature anomalies.
Timespan: 11,000 years.
The last “Ice Age” (without the “Little” modifier) is to be seen at the extreme left of the Holocene graph in figure 2. It is more accurately referred to as a “Glaciation” and is a part of a (roughly) one-hundred thousand-year oscillation of extreme cold followed by short periods (10,000 years or less) of warm weather. This cycle is revealed, among other places – in the Vostok and EPICA Ice Core Projects in Antarctica.
Timespan 450,000 years
You see that our current situation is an “Interglacial” age called the Holocene Climate Optimum that comes after the “Ice Age” (Glaciation). The Eemian which came before that Glaciation is another Interglacial in a long series of same, stretching back half a million years – at least. The Holocene appears to be significantly cooler than the previous Interglacials – all of them. (Put that in your “Global Warming” pipe and smoke it! 😉 )
While the future is not yet determined, it looks very much like the Holocene is about over and the next Glaciation is soon to be expected.
But, in all of this, there is still ice at the poles and on mountaintops. The Glaciations seem to be the rule and the “Interglacials”, the exceptions. Could we not say that the entire timespan above was a part of a larger “Grand Ice Age” with only the interglacial times interrupting?
What happens if we widen the time span? Below is a graph of ocean sediment-derived temperatures.
Timespan: Five Million Years.
The fact that those hundred-thousand-year cycles of the previous graph are seen lends credibility to this “proxy” of temperature. Notice those thousand-century cycles are a recent phenomenon (relatively speaking) and followed a period of 41,000 year cycles. Before that was a much warmer time. There is fossil evidence that those were times when there was little or no ice on Earth at all.
Be warned that they will bring up “Global Warming” even though they can’t point to five-million-year-old Ford Explorers or make any reasonable defense of “Man-made Global Warming”. -Steve
Quote from Antarctica:
“She recalled: “We were high up on glaciated peaks when we found a sedimentary layer packed full of fragile leaves and twigs.”
“These fossils proved to be remains of stunted bushes of beech. At only three to five million years old, they were some of the last plants to have lived on the continent before the deep freeze set in.”
The “deep freeze” referred to is when we live now!
WELCOME TO THE GRAND ICE AGE!
It may surprise you to learn that you have been here all along.
I have driven this route a couple of times, but I wish I had seen this video before, just so I could have appreciated the Geology I was passing through.
Your Humble Narrator is not on his normal literary “turf” and hastens to get back to more light-hearted prose. He hopes his loyal readers will excuse this short tour past the “dark side”. The story may be found at AmericanThinker.com. Click the link below the next paragraph.
This story has haunted me since I was a student at UT Austin. The “incident” happened some years before I arrived, but it still hung over the campus like the shadow of a certain Clock Tower. It was brought to the forefront of my conscience in 2006 in a Texas Monthly article on the 40th anniversary. From that and what I already knew, there seemed to be some lessons that we had not taken to heart. The idea incubated in my scatter-brain mind for the next 12 years…
Over The Road
[In 2002, I was back working in Houston, but I was still sent to South America, occasionally. But, this particular post has to do with a private trip we made first to Peru where my wife’s family lives. It was a convenient place to let the the two young sons visit their aunt, uncle and grandmother while the wife and I sneaked off to Argentina for a week. the prices I quote seem ridiculously cheap and not all of that is inflation from then to now – as explained in the text. I was writing “Ten Things You Should Know When Visiting (Blank)” articles, in those days and I just hit a big vein of them in a long-untouched directory copied faithfully from computer to computer over the years.
I can’t find any pictures of this particular trip and I think we were in a video camera phase at that time. We still have the videotapes somewhere, but we never look at them. Someday we will transfer those to digital media and look at the young strangers who took that trip so long ago. Meanwhile I have scarfed a couple of “file photos” just to break up the text. I have put in a few modern remarks which are set off from the 16-year-ago prose with brackets [like this].
Ten Thing You Should Know When Visiting Buenos Aires
*[That’s it in the picture above. If you see 10 pictures of Buenos Aires at random, five of those have this street in them]
[I remember this fountain, which we saw on a bus tour. That must be the Capitol Dome behind it. Another bus tour took us to a Dude Ranch where Gauchos did horse-riding tricks and there was a period house with clothes and furniture of the Early 20th Century. It was there I met the only black man in Argentina (a tourist from Nigeria, it turns out). He asked me to take a picture of him with one of the hats in the exhibit. When he put it on, the “spittin’ image” of Nat King Cole looked back at me. It was quite a vivid impression, like having seen a ghost. You can tell, because I remember it to this day in 2018. The picture below is the real Nat, of course. That man could sing circles around most vocalists of today. He was also an accomplished piano and banjo player. If you can find it on Netflix or at the Redbox, watch the movie “Cat Ballou”]
Buenos Aires is in the midst of a short window of opportunity for affordable travel. Argentina was well-known as an expensive place before and I expect it will return to that status when the economy recovers. I reckon I’ll check the news for the latest country to declare bankruptcy before I plan my next vacation.
Steven B. Campbell Return to Cover Letter
Some time ago, I took an assignment in Venezuela. The position involved on-site data processing at the field location – a leading-edge innovation at the time. From the start, I was involved in marketing, promoting and convincing clients that they wanted data processing in the field. This had the side effect of a higher level of quality control which promoted our position in acquisition contracts. The software was called MicroMAX. I demonstrated and promoted its use in the field on the several crew in Venezuela and trained client personnel (Maraven) along with Western operators who went on to successful contracts for field processing on many crews in South America.
Much of the training and marketing was carried out in Spanish, as one might expect. The projects were on the northern slope of the Andean mountain range as it passes to the South of Lake Maracaibo. After a year there, we were transferred to Eastern Venezuela near Maturin. There, we participated in one of the first 3D Projects in South America. We developed 3D quality control procedures that positioned us for more and better 3D contracts. Later, we continued with the same sort of marketing and promotion in Bolivia.
At Grant Geophysical, we promoted the use of MicroMAX and other QC and field processing software. Myself and my colleagues there were instrumental in the development of MESA and OMNI survey design packages. We also promoted and marketed products like ProMAX, EDS Verify and Census, in the US, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.
At Petroleum Geo Services, as a part of the Geophysical Support Group, I marketed their seismic source modeling package MASOMO which is unparalleled in accurate modeling and backed up by exhaustive field testing. In later years, I was the “go-to” expert on MASMO and marketed the package and instructed operators of other contractors (CGG for example) and major oil companies (ExxonMobil,e.g.). I was also frequently called upon to demonstrate data to clients (Anadarko, for example) using the PGS 3D visualization package called holoSeis. We also marketed and executed feasibility and design studies to major clients (PEMEX, Woodside, e.g.).
While others might have ”closed the deals”, my work in promotion, marketing and instruction was crucial in making the sales of software and services, for well over twenty years.
Steve Campbell Return to Cover Letter