Renewables – Good for some things; not so good for others

Based on the sound of the name renewable, a person might think that using only “renewable” energy is ideal–something we should all strive to use exclusively. But there are lots of energy sources that might be called “renewable,” and lots applications for renewable energy. Clearly not all are equally good. Perhaps we should examine the “Renewables are our savior,” belief a little more closely.

Figure 1. World fuel consumption based on BP's 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy data.

Figure 1. World fuel consumption based on BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy data.

1. Renewables that we have today won’t replace the quantity of  today’s fossil fuels, in any reasonable timeframe.

Figure 1, above shows the distribution of fuels used since 1965. 

Other renewables, which includes wind, solar, geothermal and other categories of new renewables, in total amounts to 1.6% of world energy supply in 2011, according to BP. The light blue line is not very visible on Figure 1. (The blue line that is visible at the top is “Nuclear.”)

Biofuels, which would include ethanol and other types of biofuels, such as palm oil, amounts to 0.5% of world energy supply. Its orange line is not very visible on the chart either.

Hydroelectric, shown in purple, has been around a long time–since 1880 in the United States. It amounts to 6.4% of world energy supply. Its quantity is not growing very much, because most of the good locations have already been dammed.

In total, the three categories amount to 8.5% of world energy supply. If growth continues at today’s rate, it will be a very long time before renewable energy supply can be expected to amount to more than 10% or 15% of world energy supply. We very clearly cannot operate all the equipment we have today on this quantity of energy. In fact, it is doubtful that we can even cover the basics (food, water, and heat to keep from freezing) for 7 billion people, with this quantity of energy. Continue reading

The Myth that the US will Soon Become an Oil Exporter

Countries trade crude oil and oil products back and forth. When all of these transactions are netted out, is the US close to becoming a “net” oil exporter?

With the recent increase in oil production (perhaps even exceeding that of Russia on a “barrels-per-day” basis), a person might think that US oil production problems are behind us. If we look at the data, though, it is very clear that the US is still a long way from becoming a net oil exporter.

There are several reasons for confusion. One is the fact that excess refinery capacity can lead to the ability to export both gasoline and diesel, even though the United States continues to import large amounts of crude oil. Another is that tight oil (extracted through “fracking”) is growing from a small base, but can’t necessarily ramp up very far, very quickly. Another source of confusion is with respect to how different types of liquids should be combined for comparison purposes.

In this post, I would like to explain why the idea that the US is about to become a net oil exporter is simply a myth.  Continue reading

Two Energy Books of Interest

Today, I’d like to write about two fairly different books related to limited energy supply. Both are excellent, but intended for fairly different audiences, and focusing on different aspects of our dilemma.

1. “Power Plays: Energy Options in the Age of Peak Oil” by Robert Rapier.

This book is written at a fairly introductory level, giving information about the many energy options we have, and the trade-offs we make as the result of our choices of energy options. The book is not about peak oil per se, but includes a chapter on peak oil as well as a chapter on climate change. The book ends with the chapter, “The Road Ahead”. The book is inexpensive–$16.15 from Amazon.

2. “Energy and the Wealth of Nations: Understanding the Biophysical Economy” by Charles Hall and Kent Klitgaard

This book is focused on energy and economics. This book seems to be aimed as a text book, or at an audience who is already familiar with some of the issues, and wants to dig deeper. This book is in two column format with questions at the end of each chapter to facilitate classroom discussion. It covers in depth a wide range of topics, from energy’s role throughout history, to the relationship of energy to wealth production, to energy return on investment, to how to do biophysical economics, to peak oil. It ends with the chapter, “Living a Good Life in a Lower EROI Future.”

Below the fold, I will talk a little more about each. Continue reading