Reports Highlight Role of Basic Energy Science, Not 'Buying Green', As Key Enabler of Change

March 07 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Education   Year: General   Rating: 1

Basic Energy Science

All over the web, new 'green-themed' eco blogs are sprouting up like mushrooms with low impact solutions for affluent consumers.

So many new sites and products, yet there is no way to 'buy' ourselves into a 'green economy'.

Organic yoga mats, reusable water bottles, 'green weddings', telecommuting, hybrids and EVs, carbon neutral rock concerts, (et al) are all perfectly legitimate steps forward. But they do little to solve long-term problems, and they fall helplessly short of really educating people about the tremendous challenges ahead with energy.

Our strategy should not be to make consumers more 'green', but to make sure people know that we cannot 'buy' our way into sustainability.

The message that should really be pushed on the web, is that the energy systems that could actually change the world do not currently exist today.   And that they will only emerge from advances in basic energy sciences that destroy all our current notions of what is technically possible today with regards to how we produce, store, transmit and deliver energy.

So please, no more new 'eco' blogs! Let's focus on people's minds, not wallets.

We need to learn, not buy, our way into a sustainable economy.  And the learning starts with asking questions that are beyond our current energy knowledge base.  Let's empower scientists, not marketing agencies to ask the right questions about 'going green'.

The good news is that researchers now know, what we don't know!

Basic Energy Science Reports
The Office of US Basic Energy Science has spent the past five years engaging scientist around the world in a conversation about 'what we do not know about energy systems'.  What new knowledge about molecules and electrons could enable new solutions? 

Rather than seek quick fixes that fail, the program attempted to outline the Grand Challenges of energy systems that are beyond our current notions of what is technically possible. 

Their conclusion?  What we currently 'have' and 'know' about energy is not enough.  [PDF]

"The magnitude of the challenge is so immense that existing energy approaches—even with improvements from advanced engineering and improved technology based on known concepts—will not be enough to secure our energy future.  Instead, meeting the challenge will require new technologies for producing, storing and using energy with performance levels far beyond what is now possible."

The Summary findings and Full reports can be found here.

Inspired by Nanowerk post

Comment Thread (4 Responses)

  1. Balderdash! Pseudo-intellectual bs. They are bringing nothing new to the table. The bulk of what they describe as their five basic challenges are already being worked, and are already, in some cases, bearing fruit. Even worse, their basic claim that the tehnology for sustainable energy, transportation, etc. to solve the basic problems they outline is not here, is flat out false. So is this the product of big oil influence or is this just a group of educated idiots? Yes, actually, since the technolgy is available we can absolutely buy our way out. We can purchase EV, E-REVs, insulate our homes better, purchase solar, wind, nuclear, tidal, wave, and geothermal power. Industry is already responding to customer preferences in every one of these categories. The bigger the volume of sales, the more money the private sector will put into improving their product, and the greater the economies of scale. Even GM executives are defending Li Ion battery technology as being ready and there have been hundreds of other break throughs in almost every energy sub-field. Maybe this group could do some work to help out instead of having a group think about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I’m all for continued funding for environmental and energy science, but saying we don’t have the technology at this point in time is counter productive and way out of line. THE DAYS OF WHINING ABOUT NOT HAVING THE MEANS TO SOLVE THESE PROBLEMS ARE OVER.

    Posted by: mds   March 08, 2009
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  2. Re: MDS

    Not sure how to respond. Appreciate your comments, but am not sure I agree with your assumptions- or see where your sources are coming from.

    These reports (25) look at basic science. We need to know the things that we do not know -like the fundamentals of photosynthesis, chemical bonds, electron transfer and climate change.

    This isn’t some industry sponsored study- or conspiracy theory. And ‘pseudo intellectualism’? Let’s try to keep the Comments section elevated with supported statements.

    Do you really believe that what we have today is adequate to meet a doubling in energy by 2030? If so, how quickly do you expect it to change?

    Can you really make the case that we have the tools to move beyond an extraction economy with low cost renewables and energy storage?

    Has solar has really arrived? Has energy storage arrived? Have electric propulsion vehicles arrived?

    Not sure I see it.

    Posted by: Garry Golden   March 09, 2009
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  3. Garry, “Let’s try to keep the Comments section elevated with supported statements.” I can’t apologize. Edit my post out if you want. I don’t really think you have a conspiracy here, but this is the kind of science-abused-to-justify-inaction that I feel deserves to be met with indignant outrage. It is the kind of thing I would expect to see from big oil. The answer to all of your questions is an unequivacol “yes”. ...except for: “If so, how quickly do you expect it to change?” ...which is not a yes/no question and is more complicated anyway. We could make 2030, maybe, if we had an Apollo style energy action plan as suggested by Jay Inslee and others. I don’t see that happening because we can’t afford it. Bush foolishly spent too much on Iraq. The conversion will happen though. It is happening. I’m surprised you don’t see it. Read “the Solar Revolution”. Look what happened to our use of oil to generate electricity after the 1970s. Another reason we might not change over that quickly is because “money talks and bs walks”. We could change to clean power by 2030, but it would cost us to do this. Everybody talk about clean energy, but they want to buy the cheapest energy. Clean energy is right at the point of becoming cheaper, but it is not significantly cheaper yet. It is a little more expensive still. Not a lot like it was.

    Both First Solar and Nanosolar are producing PV for less than $1/Wp. In the USA sunbelt this is about 4 cents per kilowatt hour at 7% amortized over 20 years. (Something like that.) I’m ignoring installation and balance of system costs which you can’t do, but these low PV prices acheived 7.5 cents/kWh at the recent Arizona PV plant. Not outrageously great for a utility scale plant compared to coal, but… As inverters and BIPV continue to evolve this cost will drop rapidly, amazingly rapidly, till we can generate solar on business and home buildings for 8 cents/kWh. You don’t add the transmission costs to power generated at the point of use. Storage? Doesn’t matter. It’s cheaper and will displace fossil fuels because of simple economics. Maybe other sources will still be needed at night. The greatest load in the USA sun-belt is for air conditioning. Making ICE or cooling down rocks is all you need to store solar power for night time AC use. “Has solar finally arrived?” No, it arrived for Hawaii, Japan, Carribean Islands, some 3rd world areas with no grid, far enough off grid in the USA, SEVERAL YEARS AGO. It is now arriving in the continental USA Sun-Belt. Clearly! All PV manufactures must be competitive with First Solar and Nanosolar or lose the game. What you’re seeing right now in the PV industry is the first shake-out of a classic disruptive growth pattern. It really has little to do with the current recession. Thermal Solar should be built with hot salt storage in mind for night power, because their day-time power may not be worth much in 20 years.

    There are many other storage options: CAVE, pumped hydro, flow batteries, sulfur batteries, carbon plate lead-acid batteries, hydrogen,and probably others. Several are fairly cheap in $/kWh terms.

    There are other renewable energy options: wind, tidal (VIVACE 5.5cents/kWh projected), wave, nuclear, geothermal (Raser is pursuing Henry Ford style production of it’s generators.). Solar is the big one though. It happens every day and enough energy hits the earth in an hour to power the whole world for a year. Is it as cheap as coal? No. Is it getting close? Yes. Actually, any one of: solar, VIVACE/tidal, nuclear, or geothermal could power the entire world on there own and, if developed to that scale, probably at a similar price to coal. ...much cheaper if you consider what the price increase for coal, if world use of coal continues in the future, if our course does not change. Will it change? Ah, now you’re dealing with the will of the people and short term economics. My money says 20% of USA power will come from wind by 2030 and 20% from solar by 2020. Half our power will come from solar by 2040. Lets keeping growing on geothermal and nuclear! Let’s fast track VIVACE in the PNW. New electric generators, new blade technology (humpback whale fin styled blades), economies of scale, are making wind ever cheaper.

    “Have electric propulsion vehicles arrived?” – March 2009 “GM: Volt Pack Now “Hundreds” Less than $1,000/kWh; Headed to $250/kWh” “In a response to a recent study by researchers at CMU on the cost-effectiveness of different sizes of battery packs for plug-in hybrids (earlier post), Jon Lauckner, GM Vice President Global Program Management, wrote on the GM Fastlane Blog that the current cost of the Volt Li-ion packs is ‘many hundreds of dollars per kWh’ lower than the $1,000 kWh figure used in the study.” “ ‘Moreover, our battery team is already starting work on new concepts that will further decrease the cost of the Volt battery pack quite substantially in a second-generation Volt pack.’ “ “ ‘In fact, the more vehicles powered by the Voltec system we can put on the road, the faster we’ll see the costs for batteries, power electronics and electric drive motors come down due to economies of scale and innovation. This will lead to even greater adoption of plug-ins and a new way forward for our industry.’ “ Comments from “clett”: “Yup, BYD are already below $300 per kWh for their LiFePO4.” “Incidentally, the major breakthrough in cost reductions for PHEV battery packs will actually come from using cells that permit 90%+ SOC utilisation, rather than the 50% SOC utilisation that GM is going with right now (understandably erring on the side of longevity for this 1st gen offering). That would cut PHEV battery pack costs almost in half at a stroke.” YES, IT’S HERE. – December 2008 “BYD F3DM Plug-in Hybrid Goes On Sale in China” “BYD Auto’s plug-in hybrid version of its F3 (F3DM for dual mode) went on sale in China today for about 150,000 yuan (about US$21,900). BYD plans to bring the F3DM to the US in 2010, and will show the car at the upcoming Detroit Auto Show in January.” YES, IT’S HERE. – January 2009 “Wall Street Journal confirms our Case for Electric Cars: A Lower Barrier to Manufacturing” “Technology Levels Playing Field in Race to Market Electric Car” – January 2009 “Indeed, BYD’s all-electric e6, has just two motors (45 parts each), one powering the front axle and the other the rear, and two gearboxes (60 parts each) to go with each of the motors. That means the whole system has 210 primary parts, excluding nuts and bolts. In comparison, BYD’s F6, a gasoline-fueled vehicle, has a total of 1,400 powertrain parts: a V6 engine composed of 840 parts and a transmission with 560 parts.” – September 2008 “Warren Buffet invests in Chinese battery & electric car maker” “The Oracle of Omaha has invested $230 million for a 10% stake in China’s car and battery maker BYD. BYD could soon become a global leader in electric propulsion auto systems and a mainstream vehicle brand.” YES, IT’S HERE. Auto companies must be competitive with BYD in China to survive. Electric transport is here. Long haul trucking will best be served bu biodiesel. The technology for this is rapidly improving, but we can start building the infrastructure for this now too. Plant jatropha and crambe now. Continue algae biodeisel development. Convert our ethanol infrastructure to cellulosic butanol. Let’s get on with this.

    There is much, much more to write on this. I don’t have time. In sum: Yes, the tools are there. I’m all for more science to do this better, but let this not detract from getting started now, from pushing ahead hard and fast right now. What is lacking is the industrial infrastructure and this will take time to build. Still, it only took a few months for the auto industry to switch over to production of tanks and personel carriers during WW2. It can be done again now. (Garry, Go see the move “Fuel”.)

    I don’t think we understand GW well enough yet and support additional study of the problem, but this beside the renewable energy point for the USA. We are being killed by expenditures for foreign oil. Coal will run out. The world will fall to fighting over access to fossil fuels if we and others do not lead the way to a solar electric future.

    McCain sealed the deal for my vote against him when he suggested a new battery competition because battery technology is not here yet. Hello! Industry is scalling up Li Ion battery production to the tune of billions. If they think this investment will pay off, then: YES IT IS HERE! them to do better? AOK with me, but get those batteries in production!

    Posted by: mds   March 09, 2009
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  4. MDS :-) Well, now that’s supported!!

    Look, I’m not trying to censor or edit your Comments, or make you apologize. I just want us all to be civil here and have substance, which you’ve provided. I appreciate your follow up—and obvious knowledge here. I’m not sure I agree with the ability to scale up and current cost/performance points and systems integration, but your sense of urgency is something I commend and can definitely agree with! Thank you…!!! Really, thank you!

    And I should also just note that my point on this whole post – was that we need to stop with this consumer oriented ‘buying’ green strategy—and focus on science.

    I wrote the piece b/c I was sick of these blog articles comparing carbon footprints of consumable goods, when there will be 3 billion more people added and we’re trying to evolve energy forward! So, maybe we need to do a post on ‘are we ready’! Which you outlined!!

    Posted by: Garry Golden   March 09, 2009
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