The World Will Not Need Liquid Fuels in 20 years

4 years ago by Mark Hovis 19

BMW i3

BMW i3

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 responses to "The World Will Not Need Liquid Fuels in 20 years"

  1. Mint says:

    “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 of terrain that you can drain and fill) to help you out, and if we did, they’d be built already and there would be no such thing as peaker plants. New Zealand has 5 TWh of storage for <5M people, but most of the world is not so fortunate.

    The reality is that the more renewable we build, the more we get hooked on natural gas to fill in the gaps. Liquid fuels cost around 30c/kWh and has predictable daily usage to amortize the cost of batteries. Electricity is much cheaper, so natural gas will not be so easily replaced by renewables.

    Can we be free from liquid fuels in 20 years? Not entirely, because existing cars stick around for 15 years, but in developed nations I hope to see near 50% of usage eliminated through EVs and natural gas for trains/trucks.

    1. Spec says:

      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.

      1. Mint says:

        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 a lot for being on standby as opposed to producing electricity, they will shut down from lack of revenue.

    2. Dan Hue says:

      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.

      1. Mint says:

        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 have the same capital cost, maintenance cost (ramping up and down is actually worse for equipment than steady state generation), labor, etc. They only save on fuel. You cut the number of kWhs they sell by >90%, then they will charge at least 4 times as much, if not more.

        Storage/backup and their implications are a hugely overlooked factor in almost every study. LCOE and “grid parity” are false measures of cost for intermittent sources.

        1. Dan Hue says:

          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

    3. scott moore says:

      “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.

  2. Dan Frederiksen says:

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

  3. Ocean Railroader says:

    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.

    1. Rick says:

      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.

      1. Mark H says:

        I agree Rick. If we use it correctly it could last 400 years. With large new economies like China and India adding to the consumption + the transition of electricity from coal to natural gas we do shorten a 150 year supply to possibly under 50. And it’s not just that it becomes too expensive as you note but electricity becomes so cheap. Many EV drivers like myself have already bit the bullet to go solar. The factory MPGe of 98 on my Volt effectively becomes 170 MPGe and that is fixed for the 25 year life of my solar array. So that price is set for my next EV and the next… It’s just good fiscal conservative values and the next generation will suffer a lot less asthma issues as well.

        1. Ocean Railroader says:

          What worries me about natural gas is that right now in my state the power company is going on a building spree building several 1200 megawatt natural gas plants and converting several others to natural gas. Right now natural gas use is not really a big deal in my state but once they get these giant gas burning monsters on line they will drain whatever gas suplus we have and if the gas supply doesn’t turn out to be as big as we thought these new mega plants along with several across the county will quickly drain any surplus that we have and quickly drive up costs if their is a storage.

          1. Mark H says:

            I don’t worry as much about “as big as we thought” as I do “as safe as we thought”. We are fracking with reckless abandon. In many cases we are not following set procedures and the idea of pumping millions of gallons of an undisclosed cocktail underground is gonna catch up to us at some point. I hope we do not lose a major water aquifer because of our greed and impatience.

  4. Rick says:

    Two words. Yeah, right.

  5. scott moore says:

    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?

    1. Ocean Railroader says:

      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.

    2. Mint says:

      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 $5T to the less fortunate (about 40 years worth of current total G20 foreign aid), we should expect them to use it for 0.1 deg C of AGW abatement instead of addressing disease, hunger, infrastructure, education, etc? Really?

      I’m very much a “lefty” myself, and have environmental concerns, but the lack of perspective and sense of scale among the environmental movement sickens me.

      1. scott moore says:

        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.

        1. Mark H says:

          The most popular option nation wide is net metering. Not all utilities offer it but it is the best of all worlds. You sell at the same price that you buy therefore you produce the “equivalent” of what you would have used. This is the same model Elon Musk plans with his quick chargers. And for the utilities like yours that buy at a discount it is offset in other areas like mine in North Carolina that offer credits thus getting double. I buy for 11cents/kWh and sell for 20cents/kWh. This is all emerging so a standard does not exist. Again net metering is the option that I would like to see in the future. I would like an arrangement where those possessing both solar and EVs will not get a discount for charging their EV in off hours NOR will they be penalized like your area for the power put back on the grid which will in return most likely be used more efficiently. The power company suffers with the solar loss but benefits with the EV gain.
          Now their are some important issues with economies of scale down the road. This statement of twenty years forces that conversation to begin now.

          As for fracking, there is one thing more precious than our energy and that is our water. I want to know the toxic sauce that is being pumped under ground. It may or may not be safe to our aquifers but it only takes one major mistake to put us in a world of hurt. If we are going to frack, we have got to pay closer attention to this exploding industry.