March 31, 2009

How quickly is wind growing?

Wind power in the US in 2008 added 21.2 Terawatt hours (8.4GW nameplate @29% capacity factor).

That was 32% of our 10-year growth of 66 Twhrs per year, and about 60% higher than the installations in 2007. At that growth rate wind could provide 100% of new power in less than 4 years, and after that start replacing coal.

There's no reason we couldn't resume that growth curve, should we decide to. Obviously, wind isn't growing as fast right now due to our current financial problems, but I imagine nuclear isn't helped by the financial mess, either (also, 2009 may well show zero or very small electricity demand growth, so there's a nice match there of supply and demand side stagnation).

March 14, 2009

How expensive is the wind power needed to eliminate coal??

In my previous post, I said we could build enough wind capacity to replace coal for $400 billion. Coal supplies half our electricity - can we really do that?

Sure. Here's how I came up with that number:

The US generates about 50% of our electricity from coal, which amounts to an average of 220 gigawatts. Wind, on average, produces power at 30% of it's nameplate rating, so we'd need about 733GW of wind. Wind costs about $2/W, so that would cost about $1,466 billion. Transmission might raise that about 10%, to about $1,613 billion.

Now, roughly 50% of coal plants need to be replaced in the next 20 years, so about 50% of the $1.6T coal replacement investment is needed anyway; new coal plants are just as expensive per KWH as wind, so that half, or $800B of the investment can be eliminated from our considerations.

Coal plants cost about $.035/KWH to fuel and operate, which is about 50% of the cost of wind. That's an expense that we'll have either way, so we can eliminate 50% of the remainder, which is about $400B: all told, we can discount the wind investment by 75%!

Wind's intermittency is often raised as another source of cost: I address that here.


So, that gives us a cost of roughly $400B, or $40B per year for 10 years. That's about 5% of US manufacturing (less than the currently idle manufacturing capacity!), and .3% of GDP.

A bargain.

Would dramatically reducing CO2 emissions be expensive?

No, surprisingly enough.

The British Stern report projected a cost of 1% of GDP per year, and later Stern revised that to 2%. I think that's too high. Fortunately, we don't have to rely on some kind of authority to figure this out - at least for the US, I think we can do the calculations ourselves.

Most CO2 emissions in the US come from coal - a solution that eliminates coal and a large % of oil consumption will get us most of the way.

Well, replacing coal with wind in the US would only have a net cost of about $400 billion*. Light vehicle transportation accounts for 45% of US oil consumption - replacing it wouldn't cost anything at all, if you include all costs and savings over the vehicle lifecycle**.

$400B divided into a $14T economy is 3%. Over 20 years, that's only .15% per year. Not much, really.

*, ** I'll show the calculations for this on following days.

March 12, 2009

Does Peak Oil mitigation hurt Climate Change?

No, probably not. Here's a conversation I had recently:

Randall Parker said :

Nick G,

Peak Oil versus AGW: Peak Oil has the advantage of causing a shorter term necessity with personal direct feedbacks. When the oil production starts the big decline people will have to come up with solutions. Their choices will be so stark and immediate that they'll act, invest, move, research, insulate, cut back. Each person will see immediate costs and benefits for their own decisions.

I am thinking that, however, Peak Oil helps with AGW in two ways:

1) Peak Oil will accelerate the shift to electric cars. Electricity has many ways to get generated, some much cleaner than others. That shift makes it easier because the cost differences btw the dirtier and cleaner ways to generate electricity aren't huge and they are narrowing.

2) We will do more insulating and have more incentives to develop more efficient ways to use energy.

My guess is that domestic opposition to coal plants will stop coal's growth in the US and then we will use less oil. So the US CO2 production trend will start going downward (if it isn't already trending downward). It is Asia that will keep producing more and more CO2 emissions.

I replied:

I agree with your thoughts on Peak Oil versus AGW.

A few more:

"the cost differences btw the dirtier and cleaner ways to generate electricity aren't huge and they are narrowing"

1) There's some indication that new coal has overall costs similar to or higher than wind! Some proposed coal plants in the US (not sequestering carbon, but cleaning up all other index pollutants, like mercury) have capital costs around $2.5/W, which gives overall costs of $.08-.09/KWH, which is higher than wind: . On the one hand, some of this may have been a temporary capex cost problem, due to a construction bubble, but on the other, this is an "overnight" cost, which doesn't include the cost of the construction period, which is much longer for coal than for wind (or nuclear). In any case, it kind've looks like coal is no longer the cheap option.

2) There is a plausible argument that the swing night-time electricity producer for the near-term will be coal (which has spare night-time capacity, and lower fuel costs than gas), and that therefore new demand, like electric vehicle (EREV/PHEV/EVs), will be mostly supplied by coal. Coal, as we all know, produces twice as much CO2 per BTU as oil. Conversely, electric vehicles are 6x as efficient as your average light vehicle, and 3x as efficient as a Prius. Therefore, it looks like EV's will still produce less CO2 than ICE's.

3) Demand Side Management of electric vehicle charging (and, later, V2G) provides, in effect, almost free storage to wind power. Wind and EV's are synergistic. More electric vehicles supports a higher grid market share for wind power.

"It is Asia that will keep producing more and more CO2 emissions."

The faster we deploy new, cheaper renewable power and electric vehicles, and the sooner we achieve economies of scale, the sooner those things can move to Asia and displace coal. We've said that before...but it's worth saying again.

I think we agree that there isn't a significant conflict between solving PO and solving climate change, and that in fact solutions for one are generally helpful for the other.

The one exception may be a move from oil-fired electrical generation to coal: the US has phased out oil-fired generation (for all but 3% of the market - the remainder is in odd places like Hawaii), but very roughly 25% of world oil consumption is for electrical generation. I kind've think that move won't happen very much, however, as 1) coal isn't really cheap, as we saw above; 2) much of the world's coal is in the US, which probably won't be excited about large coal exports; 3) many countries will put at least a small implicit price on the emissions (both index and CO2); and 4) wind and solar tend to have lower incremental costs and shorter lead times, which helps off-set their higher capital costs.

March 10, 2009

How pessimistic should we be?

I was recently asked that question, more or less. Below I duplicate the dialogue:

Nick, our disagreement about Peak Oil boils down to a question of capital replacement. While I do not foresee the collapse of civilization I do think that the costs and lead times on capital replacement and lead times in organizing new industries around new ways of doing things will cause a long deep recession as Peak Oil's decline hits full force.

I've become more pessimistic about Peak Oil due to the financial crisis. Imagine how bad the next financial crisis will get when the amount of oil available is declining 3%-10% per year.

I answered:

"Our disagreement about Peak Oil"

I don't think we differ that much - I think we have a real challenge ahead, that certainly could hurt us economically. That said, I'm somewhat more optimistic. Below I'll comment on each of your points in detail.

"a question of capital replacement"

Peak Oil (PO) is mainly a liquid fuel problem, and cars turn over fairly quickly, even now (9M per year is still not bad). We have substantial idle production currently, and putting it to use making extended range EV's (EREVs) is a social problem which I am reasonably hopeful we'll solve. EREVs are currently ready for production - I recently saw a fully finished production-ready prototype of the Chevy Volt. It's just a matter of ramping them up.

Hybrids are a transition to plug-in's (PHEVs) and EREVs, and Honda Insight and Prius production could be ramped up fairly quickly (Toyota has a second plant waiting in Texas for expansion of Prius production).

"While I do not foresee the collapse of civilization "

For a significant % of those in the world of PO, that makes you a "cornucopian". Have you looked at

"costs and lead times on capital replacement"

The Volt R&D is pretty much done. Production will start in 18 months - that's not bad.

"organizing new industries around new ways of doing things will cause a long deep recession as Peak Oil's decline hits full force"

Well, GDP measures activity, and PO could keep us mighty busy. GDP gets a bump up after natural disasters.

High oil prices hurts the US's GDP mainly because of the income transfer to oil exporting countries. If OEC's can be persuaded to take T-bills, then GDP will be ok (at the cost of a large long-term wealth transfer). After their current reminder that oil prices can also go down, leaving them to live off investments, I think OEC's will be more receptive to that.

The current crisis is largely a failure of petrodollar (and Asian exporter dollar) recycling: low income households were borrowing directly from oil-exporting (and Asian) countries through CDO's, but it turned out they didn't have good collateral, and we're returning to financing our trade deficit with national debt, rather than personal debt. That's much more workable for the long-term.

I'm a bit more pessimistic about Climate Change, and a bit more optimistic about PO, because of their differing dynamics. Take Y2K: it was a problem with a purely man-made system, and so it's cure was relatively straightforward. PO has a geological element, but ultimately it's mostly a problem with human systems - heck, with the right national consensus we could reduce oil consumption by 10% overnight, 25% in 3 months, and 50% in 5 years. CC, on the other hand, has enormous natural lag times, and dynamics which we understand only poorly.

March 5, 2009

Is street parking a barrier for PHEV(plug-ins) or EV's?

Not really: more than 90% of vehicles have garage parking or a driveway, parking lot or other off-street space.

"PARKING: Slightly more than nine in ten American households (91 percent) have at least one car, van, or light truck at home for personal use.
Because 71 percent of homeowners and 35 percent of renters have more than one vehicle, parking space can be a real concern. Garages or carports are common for households living in single-detached units—just over three in four of these homes (76 percent) have a covered shelter for vehicles. Townhouses or row houses, on the other hand, include a garage or carport less than half the time (46 percent). In both mobile homes and units in multiunit buildings, the proportion is 26 percent.
At homes without a garage or carport available, vehicles may be left either on the street or in a driveway, parking lot or other off-street space. For homes without a garage or carport, some kind of off-street space is available at 87 percent of the detached units, at about 75 percent of both the single-attached units and units in multiunit structures, and at 90 percent of the mobile homes.
All this leaves about 7.8 million households who must rely on street parking. Of course, not all of those households have vehicles. Four in ten households who report no offstreet or garage parking also have no vehicles."

Here's the source.

I live in SoCal - most people I know have too much stuff in their garages to use them. On the street where I live almost all the cars are parked on the street or in the driveway in front of the garage. What about us?

I see this occasionally, but in the midwest this is fairly rare. I would guess that it's a symptom of very temperate weather combined with home prices much higher than average for the country that put space at a premium. I would guess that the availability of PHEV/EV's will encourage more people to actually use their garages.

Apartment dwellers face similar obstacles for charging up cars as they have for getting efficient appliances and good insulation: They get the benefits of the investments in charging facilities or insulation. But the landlords spend to provide the equipment. What about them?

Well, many don't have cars, and many others use mass transit. I would think that this will encourage the use of carsharing (like ). The remaining will need public infrastructure: outlets in parking meters, parking garages, or gas stations. Fortunately, that's a small %.

March 3, 2009

Is the Volt's battery too large/expensive?

A recent study Carnegie Mellon University argued that "plug-in" hybrid-electric vehicles, like the Chevy Volt, are too expensive. Are they right?

No. They assumed that the battery would cost $16,000 (or 1,000/KWH). As GM says, that's way too high. (Oddly, they also conclude that a plug-in with a 10 mile range would be better, because drivers would stop and charge every 10 miles!)

Similarly, $10,000 for the Volt's battery has been widely reported in the media, but we shouldn't rely on mass media! Really, no one knows how much the batteries cost. The $10K figure is purely speculation. Here's an example, in the CS Monitor. We see that it doesn't say $10K. Here's what the article says: "the race isn't over making a Chevy Volt battery designed to run 40 miles on a single charge that could (emphasis added) cost as much as $10,000." We can see that the reporter doesn't have a firm source for this cost figure.

Elsewhere, the article says: "Still others say that the cost of new battery power for PHEVs may drop faster and already be lower than what has been widely reported at perhaps $500 per kilowatt-hour or even less, says Suba Arunkumar, analyst for market researcher Frost & Sullivan.

"I do expect the price will come down to perhaps as low as $200 per kilowatt-hour when mass production begins in 2010 and 2011," she says."

Tesla's cost is $400/KWH - it's very likely that GM will pay $200-$300 in volume. The batteries won't be produced in large volumes for several years. They'll use less expensive materials than 1st Gen batteries; the larger format is much less expensive; and they'll have very, very large production volumes relative to most 1st-gen li-ion. Large production volumes reduce costs very quickly.

GM is pricing the Volt high purely to capture the early-adopter premium and the federal rebate - their official justification is that they're pricing in 100% replacement of the battery under warranty, which really isn't credible. We can expect the Volt to cost less than $30K with large volume production.

Is the battery too large?

Yes, they're only using 50% of the battery - a 50% depth of discharge (DOD) is very conservative. That means they have to use a 16 KWH battery to get an effective 8 KWH's. They could be more aggressive (and probably will be in the future), but they're very sensitive to the bad publicity that early battery failures would create.

Could they use a battery that allowed a deeper DOD?

No, there aren't any batteries on the market that are more durable as measured in charge cycles. Tesla's batteries aren't expected to last more than 400 cycles, and the Volt will do 5-10x as many. In theory, the Volt could have a smaller battery. That would mean a shorter range, which would still accomodate many drivers. That might more perfectly optimize costs, but then it wouldn't feel like a big step forward. It wouldn't feel like a real EV, with generator backup - instead, it would feel like an incremental hybrid. Both GM (for PR) and buyers want a large, step forward, I think.

March 2, 2009

Why does the US have difficulty paying for oil imports?

This is really asking: why isn't the US competitive in it's exports, so that it can pay for imports?

The US has several major problems: a persistent negative balance of trade with oil exporting countries; another persistent negative balance of trade with Asia; loss of manufacturing jobs; bubbles in the financial and real estate sectors; and slowing economic growth.

Economic growth slowed in the 70's and 80's; sped up in 90's; and crashed recently.

The US doesn't have enough engineers (civil, manufacturing, software, etc) - we have to import students from other countries, something which has gotten a bit harder lately, as reverse brain drains send talented engineeers and scientists back to India and China.

What's the common thread?

Military spending: half of all US engineers work directly (West Point is an engineering school) or indirectly (Boeing, etc) for the military. Sometimes we get indirect benefits, spinoffs like the Internet (developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration to make military communications more resilient), but a lot is classified, and at best ends up in domestic products that can't be exported.

In the 90's the US reduced the military, and growth took off (and we had our first budget surpluses in decades). In the 00's we took the military option: innovative energy strategies like the PNGV program (the US hybrid program which sparked Japan's Prius) were ended, and we chose a military invasion of the M.E to guarantee oil supplies.

Now this administration is pushing investment into innovative energy strategies, and (slowly)winding down the Iraq war. Are we on the right track at last? Can we sustain it?