Updating and synthesizing my articles on energy into an energy plan. I will update this article with more updates and synthesize past and new information that I have gathered.
Efficiency and drilling for regular and enhanced recovery, policy that discourages coal and fossil fuel and encourages nuclear and renewables. Try to reduce fuel usage 2-4% per year and try to increase oil from drilling and biofuels by 3-6% per year.
Big nuclear buildup and thermoelectric and transmission efficiency Triple nuclear power by 2020 by using new uprate technology and advanced thermoelectrics and some new plants. (25% from nuclear instead of 8.2% and 17% less fossil fuel. I would reduce coal first – 30,000 deaths from coal air pollution, 60,000 deaths from combined coal and fossil fuel air pollution in the USA. Plus moving 1.2 billion
tons of coal is 40% of freight rail traffic and 10% of diesel fuel usage.)
Can get up to six times more nuclear by 2030. Displace all coal and a lot of oil.
Very advanced nuclear fission and nuclear fusion and better renewables (geothermal, wind [kitegen, superconducting wind turbines], solar [concentrated solar in municipal or rural power configurations. My favorite is CoolEarth’s solar balloons], genetically modified organisms for biofuel)
Oil and fossil fuels are clearly critical in the near and mid-term and any shift away or reduction in usage is a very difficult task. Of the 100 quadrillion BTUs that the US uses 85% comes from fossil fuels. (It coincidently means that 1 quad BTU is about equal to 1%. World usage is a little over 4 times more with a slightly different energy mix)
(Dept of Energy figures for 2006)
40% of that is from oil (20-22 million barrels per day about 12-13 million barrels per day imported, recent high prices have dropped oil usage by 400,000 or so barrels per day, which is more than all geothermal, wind and solar combined)
23% from coal (mainly supplying 50% of electricity)
23% from natural gas
3.3% wood based mainly, waste and biofuel
0.27% wind (3 year wait for a new turbine if you order today)
0.07% solar (years to make factories, roof systems do not pay back costs to buy and install)
Energy use is currently close to evenly split between residential home (electricity and heating), industrial and transportation.
EFFICIENCY, CONSERVATION AND POLICY
Home energy and industrial plant efficiency should be improved. Policy should be adjusted so that someone can more easily capture the return on efficiency investment. the problem is that I might not be motivated to put in more insulation and a better water heater [more cost effective and provides more energy savings than installing solar power] and appliances if I am selling the place in a few years or if I am renting it out and not paying for utilities anyway).
East coast homes using heating oil should be converted to electric heating.
Only 14-16 million new cars and trucks each year out of about 300 million cars and trucks in the USA (800 million in the world) We need to get the old cars and trucks that are driven on the highway a lot retrofitted with aftermarket adjustments to make them more aerodynamic. highway mileage can be increased 25% fairly easily. Maybe
10% of fuel for cars and trucks could be saved. This would mean 5% of total US oil or 1 million barrels per day. (5-10 years for a strongly supported program)
Reduce highway speed limits back to 55 or 60 mph and other policy modifications.
Hybrids and electric cars. Using ultracapacitors and batteries or all ultracapacitors.
Mixing folding electric bikes/scooters with public transportation.
[China is making 30 million electric bikes and scooters each year. In 5-7 years most of the 500 million bike riders in China could shift to electric bikes and scooters]
There is quite a bit of oil in Alaska but it would take 5-10 years once we started to try and drill to get up to 1 million or so barrels per day. They talk about 10-40 billion barrels of oil there. I view it is a secondary and larger strategic oil reserve. If things get desperate enough for whatever reason it will be drilled.
Nearer term and not controversial is the Bakken oil field. Known for quite a while but until recently with high prices and new drilling tech not thought to be economic. Now it is the hot and profitable new play in oil. USGS (geological survey) released a new study that confirmed the current recoverable oil as 3 to 4.3 billion barrels of oil in the US portion. Past estimates 200 – 800 billion barrels of oil in place. It is under North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It is a thin layer of light oil (the good stuff sandwiched between shale).
Many more agile oil firms are going after it (including what used to be called Enron.)
Many of the wells are paying back in 3-12 months. Costs double to drill the horizontal wells with stacked fracturing versus a traditional well.
About 140,000 barrels per day now from Sask and USA. Maybe 250,000 barrels per day by the end of 2008, Maybe double the year after. Saskatchewan in Canada is a bit ahead in drilling this play. North Dakota, Montana need to build refineries and pipelines to get the oil out in order to scale this up in say five years to million barrels per day plus.
New Gulf of Mexico oil find by Chevron will also have significant oil in 5 years. Mega oil projects worldwide will be the primary determiner of how much oil is available. The US has the Thunder Horse deep oil rig which should add 250,000 barrels of oil per day. The USA uses about 21 million barrels of oil per day and imports 10 to 11 million barrels of oil per day.
Enhanced oil recovery could tap more of the previously used wells. 300 billion barrels could be extracted from old wells in the USA. Enhanced recovery can help recover more oil in Canada’s oilsands and the US oil shale in colorado (but those are longer term projects)
In spite of almost no new reactors being built in the USA for 2-3 decades, nuclear power has been increasing because of higher operating efficiency and power uprates (different kinds of traditional uprates +2%, +5% and +10-20%). Most gains from better operations.
There is technology (from MIT and other places will take about ten years to fully deploy, could be faster but regulatory issues) that would enable increasing the power from current reactors by 30-50% by changing the coating and configuration (shape of the nuclear fuel). The fuel also makes the reactors safer.
In 2015-2020 we should have built 10-20 of the 30-32 reactors that will have applied for licenses. New uprating technology could add the equivalent of 30-50 new reactors by making better fuel.
McCain and Lieberman had a climate change bill that the EIA (DOE’s energy information agency analysed). It could increase nuclear power by 20% by 2020 and triple it by 2030. Because any legislation that increases the cost of coal and natural gas means the next best option is nuclear for utilities. Coal plants are about as big and take several years to build similar to nuclear plants. China builds coal plants at 1 per week. 1984 there were 28 nuclear plants completed worldwide. 1974 there were 12 nuclear plants completed in the USA.
Coal and nuclear reactors only use about 33% of the heat energy that they generate. Steam generator efficiency. Some plants are located where the low grade steam heat can be used for biofuel power input or new desalination.
New thermoelectric technology (electronics to convert heat to electricity) could increase efficiency from 33% up to 45-60%. Again a huge boost. Some of this work is funded as part of the Freedomcar project (GE, Catipillar and others working on it). The other way to boost thermo efficiency would be to switch to new high temperature nuclear reactor designs [Modular Helium reactor 47% thermal efficiency]. Higher temperatures allow for higher conversion.
Current nuclear reactors as good as they are basically reactors designed for submarines during the 1950s. There were and are nuclear reactor designs that could use 98% of the nuclear fuel instead of 5%. Thus 93% of the “nuclear waste” which is unburned fuel could be used for energy generation. It would mean completing new reactor designs and building out new reactors (7-10 to new reactors another 10-15
years to get significant build out.)
Possible breakthroughs with privately funded nuclear fusion projects.
5-20 year timeframes if they work out. I believe the Bussard and Tri-Alpha Energy project and the General Fusion project should work out. Even a ten fission reactor to one expensive nuclear fusion reactor would be important.
Past standard uprates and operating efficiency gains, France is uprating about half of their reactors by 7%
Idaho national labs strategic plan for light water reactors would work out issues of preping the supply chain for 10+ reactors per year by the USA.
Staffing up nuclear power (other energy also has staffing and supply chain issues, 3 year wait for a wind turbine, grid buildout for serious shift to wind, new factories and supply chain for solar). Idaho national labs strategic plan for light water reactors also addresses staffing.
The EIA analysis of the effect of a climate change bill passing Two to three times more nuclear power from increased nuclear plant build. It does not consider the MIT work or the thermoelectrics.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
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