The World Will Not Need Liquid Fuels in 20 years


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The old fire was dug from below. The new fire flows from above. The old fire was scarce. The new fire is bountiful. The old fire was local. The new fire is everywhere. The old fire was transient. The new fire is permanent. And except for a little biofuel, biogas and biomass, all grown in ways that sustain and endure, the new fire is flameless—providing all the convenient and dependable services of the old fire but with no combustion. – Amory Lovins

A lot of us come to this site for the latest information, but we also come for inspiration as we watch the EV industry emerge. I have to admit that I await the monthly report supplied here each month. With August sales we once again watch the continuing traction take hold as more records are broken.  So here is to awaiting a world largely powered by electricity which is further  generated by sustainable methods. This is sort of a continuation of an article posted by Jay Cole on what happens when battery costs reach $100/kWh

Find the remainder of this article by Joseph Robertson at this link

Can you imagine a world that does not use liquid fuels 20 years from now?

“Thanks to the work of Mark Jacobson, of Stanford, and Mark Delucci, of UC Davis, we know it is possible to power the entire global economy without carbon-based fuels, by 2030, using technologies already in existence in use in 2009. We also know it is possible to do this without spending more than we will have to spend to upgrade and maintain the existing energy infrastructure, designed to deliver fossil energy to consumers and industry.

Furthermore, we know that the renewable energy paradigm will mark a major, positive transition, away from the own-and-tariff model of commerce, which becomes possible with distributed generation, and a genuinely decentralized energy production infrastructure. Fossil fuels impose economy-wide externalized (hidden) costs we all have to pay, while clean energy production methods can achieve similar pricing, without any of those extra costs.

The old combustible fuel model is reaching its limits in terms of generative economic potential, while clean energy holds the promise of more jobs, higher-paying jobs, longer-term employment, and community-based control of the energy sector:”

So will we see the end of liquid fuels in 20 years or ever? I hope to live long enough to witness such a milestone.



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19 Comments on "The World Will Not Need Liquid Fuels in 20 years"

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“Thanks to the work of Mark Jacobson, of Stanford, and Mark Delucci, of UC Davis” I just looked up that link, and could not believe that Scientific American published such junk. That article just brushes aside the wholly unsolved problem of cheap energy storage needed for renewables. Connecting wind farms 100-200 miles away? Even perfectly connecting wind across all of Europe with thousands of miles between them still results in many consecutive days of lot total wind output: That’s just one month. Look over a few years and you’ll see week long anomalies with under 5% output. Wind output has periods of strong correlation across geographically huge areas. Assuming we only want to endure rolling blackouts rarely, we’ll have to buffer at least a week of energy. In the US, that means 80 TWh of storage. To put that in perspective, if we went with batteries, that’s enough for a billion Model S cars, and even at $100/kWh would cost $8 trillion. If the batteries lasted 20 years, they’d ADD 10c/kWh to the net cost of electricity generation, assuming zero interest. Yes, hydro storage is cheaper, but only if you have natural formations (high altitude lakes with steep descent… Read more »

Wrong. There is no “wholly unsolved problem of cheap energy storage needed for renewables”. Cheap energy storage will be nice but between geographic diversity, renewable source diversity (wind, geothermal, solar PV, waves, concentrated solar power, tides, etc.), demand-response, larger grid to spread load around, overbuilding, pumped-water storage, compressed air storage, biomass, synthetic fuels made from periods of excess energy, and other techniques, batteries are just NOT required.

Look at the site you cited . . . ‘dimwatt’ . . . it is from people bashing renewables and guy that wants to sell his batteries. That study looked ONLY at wind instead of a combination of wind and solar (which are quite naturally complementary) and other sources. Use some critical thinking.

dimwatt just copied and hosted the ppt from Flocard. I have no idea what’s on that site, and simply used the raw data from. I’ve seen similar data for total wind output in Ontario, Germany, Texas, etc. Energy storage is not a new problem. If you could do it for a few cents per kWh, peaker plants wouldn’t exist today. CAES has been talked about for decades but still barely anywhere to be found. Pumped hydro (the majority of storage today) is exactly what I talked about in my post, if you paid any attention. Synthetic fuels have awful round trip efficiency (e.g. H2 electrolysis/fuel-cell would be 60%*60%=0.36%, or 2.8 kWh in to release 1kWh later) and can even hit 20c/kWh today (or they’d replace gasoline). Biomass is too limited of a resource. I assumed a perfect lossless cross continental grid, which again you would’ve noticed if you paid attention. There’s no solution for cheap energy storage. We need natural gas backup, and probably 90% of the capacity that we have today. That means those plants won’t save any capital costs, maintenance, or labor; instead, only fuel costs are displaced by renewables, i.e. ~3c/kWh today. If you don’t pay them… Read more »

Nobody says we should rely on 100% wind. Solar is the other major RE source. If you add hydro, geothermal and biomass, you have a good mix that requires much less storage than you envision. See this link for a good roundup of studies: This is not pie in the sky. New wind at 6 to 7 cents/kWh is competitive with new Natural gas, without subsidies. Solar is still expensive but increasingly competitive at the retailed level where TOU tariffs prevail. Both technologies have ways to go in term of price reduction, and are on a collision course with fossil fuels. Matching supply and demand will no doubt be a challenge (wind and solar are not dispatchable), but when one thinks deeply about it, so is maintaining the infrastructure that supplies fossil fuels 24/7 to the grid and transportation networks.

That 2013 study is something I haven’t seen before, and its “prior studies” section notes the same thing I was mentioning about nobody looking at meeting hourly demand, and instead just glossing over storage and looking at averages. But its findings are not at odds with what I said. They overbuilt a LOT, with >200GW of renewables to meet 31.5GW average demand. That means they often waste the surplus when all are firing together, which increases cost per usable kWh. They still needed 72h of storage. When that wasn’t enough (0.1% of the time), they used up to 28.3 GW of fossil fuel backup. So what is the cost they got for the case of 99.9% renewable power? 36c/kWh with 2008 prices, 17c/kWh with 2030 estimated prices (all in 2010 dollars). Only if we keep fossil fuels capacity around on standby, mostly idling and providing 10% of power when renewables (90%) fail us, do optimized 2030 projected costs come down to 10c/kWh. And how do you think generators are going to price that 10% when we force them to run at 4% capacity factor (2.18GWa from 56.9GW capacity) instead of >40% (31.5 GWa from 72GW) today? Those plants still… Read more »

Who cares about overbuilding? What matters is reliability and cost per kWh. If at times the grid produces too much electricity, making it available basically for free, some people will find ways to create economically valuable activity around it (e.g., producing liquid fuels for aviation). We’re used to on-demand electricity, but a lot of flexibility on the demand side can be achieved too. IMO, there is no such thing as overbuilding as long as renewable capacity never gets to be curtailed. As for your second point, the cost of backup generation designed for 90% use running at 10% (or 4%), I don’t think it’s going to be a problem in the long run either. I would imagine that the transition to renewables would be progressive, over the next 36 years or so (by 2050). As long as we don’t keep building new fossil fuel plants, their capital cost should be absorbed by then. Most older plants should be retired and better technology should also help address efficiency issues in the remaining ones. Lots of hypotheticals in this scenario, but also exciting promises

“could not believe that Scientific American published such junk” ….

Come on, SA has been tacking far left for some time now. I have been reading them since I was able to read, and they went from seeing themselves and spreading education on science to trying to “fix” stupid Americans who are ignorant on green, happy leftist science. They got so bad I had to drop my subscription, which is pretty bad.

Of course. space travel doesn’t work with chemical fuels anyway.

In 20 years the gas is ether going to run out or we are going to have plug in cars in ether way it’s going to happen if we want it to or not.

Ocean Railroader, gas will not run out in 20 years. It might become too valuable to burn as an automotive fuel, but it will not run out.

Two words. Yeah, right.

Again, I would have to comment that EVs (and if you like, a host of other technologies such as solar) aren’t inherently tied to the left, global warming, or anything else. In fact, EVs and solar are having success precisely because they are making market sense.

I would argue that leftist fantasies about energy use and production are actually hurting, rather than helping in this area. The global warming theorists are never going to be satisfied. Even if we completely get rid of oil use in the USA, it is going to continue around the world. So then what? We go with UN sanctions for countries that refuse to ban oil use?

I think the extreme eco people are wreaking EV’s in that they spook a lot of the mainstream buyers away from it. Such as they always talk about global warming which in a lot of cases as much as they talk big words we don’t really have a lot of control over as individuals in that if you buy solar panels your neighbor could make up for your cut by burning twice as much cool much in the same way we shut down a coal fired power plant and china opens six of them at the same time.

If they instead launched marketing campaigns about them cutting oil use and never having to go to a gas station along with it being patriotic as a American to own a EV by showing you as the citizen are improving natural security and your own energy security it would work out a lot better. As with solar power you could have a marketing campaign to show how you are saving people money from the never ending rising power bills from the power company.

Actually, solar’s success is about a flawed pricing system and subsidies. Think about an isolated community with access to a fossil fuel, e.g. a natural gas well. It can’t all its power from solar, so it builds a 100MW natural gas plant to handle peak load when the sun is blocked. It builds a grid to route power to everyone. Maybe average cost of everything is 12c/kWh. Now, at what point would solar save the city costs? The plant can’t be downsized, and the grid can’t be downsized, so it’s only fuel you save by adding solar to the mix, i.e. ~4c/kWh for natural gas nowadays. At what point would an end user save costs? Any point below 12c/kWh. There’s a clear mismatch there. But with EVs, you’re right. As long as you can get enough cycle life out of them, they make economical sense. You’re right about the rest of the world regarding fossil fuels, too, particularly third world countries. I’ve done some math with IPCC warming numbers and the social cost of carbon, and it basically says 0.02 deg C warming has a social cost of $1T. So if the developed world somehow musters the generosity of giving… Read more »

Its a lot like what is happening in my city, where solar cell use is very popular right now. So you get folks who install solar panels with that “lease” option. So you have enough power to run your whole house right? But the power is there during the daytime, when you are at work, and not at night, when your power use peaks (at home). So you sell the power to the power company, at a discount, then buy it back from them at full price later. Now you have subsidized the power company, and allowed them (in California) to claim compliance with the “green power” requirements as well. All out of your own pocket.

From what I read, the USA actually has a declining carbon emission. But it is primarily due to increased use of natural gas in power stations vs. oil or coal. This is one of the reasons I don’t understand the left’s going after fracking. Fracking is driving that lower carbon emission right now.