Peak Oil News: The U.S. can be energy self-sufficient within a decade

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The U.S. can be energy self-sufficient within a decade

Marshall Brain's Blog
(Click here to view original with more active links)

The U.S. can be energy self-sufficient within a decade
Two weeks ago I ran three articles here that talked about "peak oil":

* Peak oil will be a non-event (this one generated a tsunami of comments)
* Follow-up on Peak Oil
* Cheap electric cars from China

The gist of these articles is simple: As oil gets more expensive, we will replace it with less-expensive technologies in a completely natural way. Therefore, peak oil will be a non-event.

Then I started collecting a large quantity of material showing all of the different energy technologies that are currently being researched and deployed. You can find the material here:

AltEng -- The sources of energy that will replace oil

What you can see is that the United States can be completely energy self-sufficient within a decade. We simply need to make the decision to do it. We do not have to create any new technological magic. Here is one example that uses some of the simplest technology possible.

The technology is called CSP (Concentrating Solar Power). And this technology is incredibly simple -- you use mirrors to reflect lots of sunlight at a single focal point. The mirrors can be arranged in a trough configuration, a dish configuration or a tower configuration. At the focal point, you use the heat of the sunlight to create steam (and use the steam to drive a steam turbine and electrical generator), or you use a Stirling engine to drive an electrical generator. This page provides a very nice, easy-to-understand overview of the concepts:

CSP Technologies Overview

There are two great quotes in this article:

* "Enough electric power for the entire country could be generated by covering about 9 percent of Nevada—a plot of land 100 miles on a side—with parabolic trough systems." You could build a couple more plants of the same size to generate hydrogen, and the United States would be completely energy self-sufficient. This is not advanced technology -- it is a bunch of mirrors.

With two or three solar energy plants of this size, America becomes completely energy self-sufficient. And our carbon output would drop very close to zero.

* "Concentrating solar power technologies currently offer the lowest-cost solar electricity for large-scale power generation (10 megawatt-electric and above). Current technologies cost $2–$3 per watt. This results in a cost of solar power of 9���–12��� per kilowatt-hour... Future advances are expected to allow solar power to be generated for 4���–5��� per kilowatt-hour in the next few decades."

Clearly, if we make the decision to do so and put our minds to it, the United States can become energy self-sufficent in a decade or so. This problem is much, much simpler than putting a man on the moon, and we did that in about the same amount of time. The fact that we are not actively doing this already is sad.

In all liklihood we will never make that decision. What will happen instead is that normal economic forces will cause the transition to happen in a natural way. The cost of electricity and gasoline will rise as oil gets more expensive. The cost of solar electricity, nuclear power, wind energy, etc. will fall as technology advances and economies of scale kick in. There will come a point where companies find it quite profitable to build power plants using these other technologies rather than fossil fuels. So they will. Oil will come to play less and less of a role in our economy, and peak oil will be a non-event.


At 5:38 PM, June 22, 2005, Blogger Clint said...

This person has an interesting theory ... a very nice little dream.

A few questions about his example, though:

1. Producing enough mirrors to cover 9% of Nevada will take a lot of power. Where's this going to come from? Fossil fuels? Oil, perhaps?

2. Nevada (or any other place with enough sunlight to generate significant power) also has a shortage of water. In order to get enough water to produce enough steam to turn the turbines, you're going to have to pump it. Pumping requires a lot of power. Where will this power come from?

This illustrates the true problem with peak oil, in that people don't understand the extent of the problem. They keep expecting some far-fetched idea to save them. "All we have to do is build 10,000 square miles of mirrors, and the problem's solved. So easy." They never see the downside of these nutty concepts. They never look at the true cost.

At 10:17 AM, August 28, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well such a large scale project is unreasonable because of the cost, but I definitely see solar and wind power becoming much larger parts of our energy supply. This should however be done in addition to changing America's silly idea that they all should drive huge cars 50 miles a day. Although the government needs to assess off-shore drilling and nuclear power at a larger scale. The other problem is getting energy from the plants to the cars. This could be done with electric cars at home that you can charge up. The government needs to support this though and it will hurt pretty bad. Not to mention, all this should be done at a slow rate so it doesn't damage our economy too badly.

Taking these actions, as well as, letting things take there natural coarse could make the U.S. independent (not completely though) from foreign oil in 20 years, by my amature guess. peace


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