=energy =global warming =politics =technology =suggestion
green new deal
The phrase "Green
New Deal" currently refers to a wishlist by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
It's not a "plan" because the only action suggested was making some
committees that would be useless at best. It was widely mocked and failed
And yet, until the (lack of) details was released, it was praised. It got a lot of news coverage. Many people continue to say, "We need a Green New Deal!"
That's where the post name came from, but I'm only using the "Green New Deal" as an example of the ineptitude of government planning for reducing CO2 emissions despite the apparent demand for some actual plan.
This post isn't meant to fill that demand; people don't want a plan from me, but from a prominent politician or billionaire.
T. Boone Pickens was a billionaire, so he was widely praised on US television for the "Pickens Plan", which involved converting trucks to use CNG, and replacing natural gas power with wind turbines. That makes no sense: wind turbines are unreliable, so natural gas power is needed for when there's little wind, and CNG has a high octane number but low cetane number so it's much better for gasoline-using car engines than diesel-using heavy truck engines. But that's OK, because the plan wasn't meant to be realistic; it was meant to boost some investments.
Can we do better?
some rejected options
would be competitive if CO2 was taxed and nuclear plants were cheaper.
But the authors of that paper were delusional if they thought their theoretically possible cost reductions would happen. Instead, nuclear plants have been getting more expensive so new ones are getting cancelled.
It would be easy to just blame regulations, but those cost increases haven't tracked regulations and are consistent across countries. My view is, companies just forgot how to build lower-cost nuclear plants, like how NASA forgot how to build a Saturn V. And also like NASA, the institutional capability to redevelop that ability is gone.
Plus, there's not enough uranium to just use conventional nuclear plants. Reprocessing and then breeder reactors would be needed, and those have more problems.
As for liquid fluoride thorium reactors, they're an internet meme, basically Solar Roadways for somewhat smarter people, and I'm not writing more than I already did about them.
CO2 capture & storage
Carbon capture would be >$100/ton CO2 mitigated at best, and makes no sense for coal power.
A coal plant producing $100 of electricity makes more than 1 ton of CO2.
China is still building coal plants.
Plus, CO2 capture can only be done in certain locations where there's some place to store the CO2, and then it might leak.
I've evaluated and rejected every plausible thing being considered that could make lithium-ion batteries cheap enough for grid energy storage.
What about electric cars balancing grid demand?
The wear on lithium-ion batteries is worth more than power storage from them, people don't want to have their cars sometimes be uncharged, and most people will not be driving lithium-ion electric cars. I don't think there are big cost reductions to be had from further increases in battery manufacturing scale, and who are you going to believe - me, or Elon Musk?
But while I don't think this is viable for CO2 sequestration, I do think iron fertilization and artificial upwellings are interesting as a way to increase food availability for fish.
Hydrogen from water electrolysis is several times as expensive as hydrogen from natural gas.
Even if electricity is free, water electrolysis is too expensive to only run it for a few hours a day.
Hydrogen storage is too expensive.
Hydrogen fuel cells are (still) too expensive.
If hydrogen fuel cells can be improved, they might make sense for using hydrogen from fermentation reactors. But USA investment in hydrogen fuel was a mistake, albeit an insignificant one compared to other mistakes of George W Bush.
some existing tools
What are some things that are known to work well?
Gas turbines burning natural gas emit half the CO2 per joule that coal power does. This is why USA CO2 emissions declined recently.
Gas turbines can also be turned on quickly (unless they're combined cycle ones with large low-pressure steam turbines, which isn't actually necessary for high efficiency anyway) and are cheap enough to leave idle sometimes, which enables more solar and wind power.
Natural gas is cheap in America now, so it's hard to get lower costs than gas turbines with solar or wind power. Yes, they still make CO2, but realistically, you're not getting rid of them any time soon.
photovoltaic solar & horizontal-axis wind turbines
Solar panels are cheap enough now that the only problem is their unreliability. Energy storage is, in general, too expensive.
The current solution is to combine them with gas turbines or hydroelectric power.
Hydroelectric power is generally cheap, but most of the viable sites are already used, and there are reasons why the unused sites are unused.
Solar and wind power makes pumped hydro more worthwhile. But there are not nearly enough pumped hydro sites to just use solar power and store energy with pumped hydro.
Burning natural gas or coal to produce power makes waste heat. That heat can be used to heat buildings and water.
District heating with coal has been used since before 1900. Early systems used steam in metal pipes, but it's much better to use hot water in plastic pipes.
- running new pipes to existing buildings is expensive
- existing power plants are mostly far away from buildings and not designed for this
But these systems do exist and work now.
It's also possible to generate electricity with small natural gas generators in homes, and use their waste heat to make hot water, thus effectively making some electricity at 100% efficiency. But the economics of such small & sporadically used generators have not worked out so far.
Instead of using electricity or natural gas to generate heat directly, it's possible to pump heat into houses. This is much more efficient.
some research projects
solar thermal power
Solar thermal power works, and some types can store energy cheaply with hot molten salt.
The problem is that past projects have been too expensive. I think I could do significantly better, but if I was an administrator and only distributing funds, I'm not sure I'd consider further pursuit of solar thermal power to be a worthwhile investment.
I shouldn't have to say this, but solar thermal power except using electricity to heat molten salt instead of sunlight is, obviously, a bad idea. I mention that as an example of the kind of thing venture capitalists are investing in.
compressed air energy storage
It's obviously possible to compress air with turbines, cool the air using heat exchangers and water, and store the compressed air and hot water.
There are just 2 problems:
- efficiency is too low for this to be economically viable (gas turbines are less efficient than water turbines)
- compressed gas tanks are too expensive for this to be economically viable
Because compressed gas tanks are expensive, projects have generally involved using underground caverns. Efforts to use underwater balloons for compressed gas storage are ongoing, but anchored underwater balloons are still too expensive.
In some cases, the low efficiency of this might be acceptable for storing solar or wind energy.
If a lot of biomass that's basically waste (like sugarcane bagasse) is produced relatively near someplace it could be stored (like an abandoned open pit mine) then it might be possible to sequester CO2 for $35/ton by storing biomass.
Decomposition would need to be prevented somehow. It might work to seal a pit with (possibly aluminized) plastic sheets, and prevent microbe growth by adding CaCl2 dihydrate or pumping in CO2 or adding surfactants or something.
even more battery research
Yes, lots of battery research is happening, but all the spending is going down dead ends. The good news is, I think the problem is just that grant agencies and corporate R&D departments and venture capitalists are all incompetent. How hard can it be to fix that?
Having a single monolithic plan would be idiotic. Modularity is good. But there's less cognitive, communication, and political overhead to a single immutable monolithic plan, so you should feel free to consider the following to be that.
1: pressure China
China is by far the main source of CO2, emitting 2x as much as the USA.
China imports coal. America could (have) imposed a CO2 tax on coal exports and "convinced" Australia to do the same.
2: stop grandfathering
Some coal plants in America are "grandfathered" into exemption from regulations that happened after the plants were built.
Natural gas got cheap enough that a lot of those plants were closed anyway, but some are still running.
Unfortunately, "coal mining jobs" are now a political prop.
USA-left journalists implied: "Ugh, coal mining jobs are beneath us, obsolete, and generally bad. The people who do stuff like that are worse people than us."
USA-right people responded: "Yeah? Well we think coal mining is great and you're useless!"
The "compromise" view is that former coal miners should get free job training. Maybe they can learn to code. But of course, government job training programs are worthless, and America only has 1 programming job for every 2 manufacturing jobs it lost, while the population has increased. It's better to just give people a pension than to waste everyone's time with "job training".
3: prepare for photovoltaic panel production
Solar panels will not magically appear for purchase if people suddenly want to buy them. Making new plants to produce all the things needed for more solar panels takes years.
Most solar panel production is done in China, but that's because of subsidies, which are now being cut. There is no fundamental reason not to do that in America instead. (Even if there was something that required a lot of low-skill labor, making it expensive in America, then that would be a jobs program!)
If the US government makes purchase agreements for monocrystalline silicon, then plant construction can begin now. (Solar panel costs are now low enough that support and installation costs are more important, so the slightly higher efficiency of monocrystalline silicon justifies its higher costs vs polycrystalline silicon.)
4: more pumped hydro
Conversion of some existing hydroelectric power sites (eg Glen Canyon) to do pumped hydro is worthwhile. Some sites would be too expensive to do pumped hydro with.
Work on the most viable sites for this should start immediately. This will only make a relatively small overall difference, but it's still worthwhile.
5: prepare for new HVDC power lines
Long-distance power transmission can balance out solar and wind power variation from weather, and can move solar power from sunny southwestern America to power demand in the northeast.
Making power lines requires aluminum and land to go through.
Gas insulated bus lines are more expensive than overhead power lines, but they have lower losses and require less land, so in many cases they're better! They should not use pure SF6; using CO2 at moderate pressure with 1% SF6 is much cheaper. (Without corrosion from water, calcium metal could be used instead of aluminum for these, and calcium metal production could theoretically require less energy, but because calcium metal dissolves in CaCl2, a multistep process is needed, so that's probably not actually better than making aluminum.)
Land acquisition would probably take a long time, so it should start immediately.
Long distance power transmission requires high-voltage transformers and inverters.
Large conventional transformers work well, but it's worth considering gas insulation (instead of oil) and/or superconducting low-voltage windings. The main problem is that high voltage transformers need to be big: their power rating should be proportional to voltage^3, and transformers for +-600kV HVDC should be at least ~1GW. This limits power grid design, and such large transformers are hard to transport from factories.
New inverters should be modular multilevel converters. Reducing the cost of those should be possible, so that should be researched more, but they're cheap enough.
Yeah, yeah, laugh all you want. But I'm serious...ish.
Compared to steel wheels of trains, pneumatic rubber tires have:
- somewhat worse rolling resistance (not important unless moving heavy stuff slowly)
- much better traction and turning ability
- a smoother ride, all else being equal
Roads are cheaper than train tracks. A lot of people find this unintuitive, so I'll try to explain.
Roads distribute the weight of vehicles across the ground. Train weight is more concentrated, so distributing it is harder, requiring metal tracks and wood ties on top of something like a road.
Tires can handle steeper slopes and more curved paths than train wheels. This makes pathing easier. Tires also mean it's easier to slow down for sharp turns.
OK, so why does everyone want trains instead of buses? I think it's because it's harder to cut corners with trains.
For example, when a bus project is designed with dedicated bus lanes or roads, costs can be cut by eliminating those and making buses share existing roads.
A train obviously can't do that, so what happens with train projects instead is cost overruns and eventual cancellation.
In both cases, the fundamental problems are the same.
Now, when I say "buses" I don't mean regular city buses. I mean things that:
- only use dedicated roads
- are 120 feet long, 12 feet wide, and double-decker (about the size of a 737 fuselage)
- travel at 165 mph on straight sections of road
- have 30 wheels
- are powered by 40kV DC overhead wire, with a small battery for intersections and stops
If you make buses that won't work on regular roads, then people will be forced to have dedicated roads or cancel projects, thus making them as good as trains!
7: try to reduce commuting
Many americans sometimes drive to an office despite not needing or wanting to be there. My proposal is:
Every 5 days (normally 1 week) of work, workers get 2 points. Those points accumulate, and can be used as follows:
1) If their work doesn't inherently (and provably) require physical presence, workers can spend 1 point to work remotely 1 day. This must be allowed at least 2 days of every 5 work days.
2) Workers can spend 2 points for 1 day of unpaid vacation.
These would be legal minimums, and discrimination against employees for usage of those points would be illegal.
8: CO2 tax
A tax of $20-$30 per ton of CO2 emission is reasonable, but it's not clear that a CO2 tax is politically viable at all. Remember that most people are unwilling to pay $10/month to stop global warming. If you're going to push for this at all, it's probably best to make it a small section near the end of a long document, so fewer people read it.
9: heat pumps
Replacing electric heating (and sometimes natural gas heating) with heat pumps makes sense for many American homes despite low natural gas prices. So, more development and manufacturing of heat pumps is worthwhile. (I think there's still room for design improvement, and for cost reduction from increased manufacturing scale!)
Also, more awareness about the economics of heat pumps is needed among development planners and builders who see natural gas heating as a universal default.
Airships could be used for...moving methane from small oil wells? Moving big transformers and stuff?
This is a red herring to distract people from CO2 taxes.
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