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This is part two of the series where I try to get some perspective on the huge task of significantly altering energy use in the U.S. - and try to get some guidelines for policy and measures on success. Also I get to play with numbers in the quadrillions, and talk about Megatons of things. Where else can you have such fun?
Part One is here.

This dives into the numbers available at the EIA, Specifically the  Annual Energy Forecast.


  • Doing anything to really move energy use needs a big, wartime like, commitment.
  • Efficiency and Conservation measures are key.
  • If you believe the science then Greenhouse Gas emissions are going to drive policy.
  • One big thing won't make these goals. It will take several big things and a thousand little ones, and the government will have to act as an incubator.

Nothing new and exciting but worked through from seeing some actual numbers.

First a few words about the EIA and their wonderful resources. There are dozens and dozens of spreadsheets  that contain a lot of the data needed to look at energy use. Their projections are sometimes funny in a sad way. For example their Table 20 Macroeconomic indicators  has real disposable income growing 3% this year and with no growth next year about 3% from then on out. I hope so... Their projections also have a built in bias that there will be no major attempt to decrease CO2 emissions. It is odd that while there is a lot of good carbon  data in here,  projections of energy mix show no real major changes. Still overall I would like to thank the people working at EIA (republican or not!) for the work done on this stuff.

In the future I am just going to say things like Table 8 of the Forecast or just Table. What I mean is Table 8 from the 2009 Preliminary Forecast spreadsheet. I am being specific because already looking at these high level numbers I see striking things and I want to be specific since I could be wrong and this lets the wrongness be pinpointed better.

Some terms

Ok, some boring terminology. We are now hitting the water in the dive. Energy use is described in several ways using  BTU's and Watt-hours, or rather Quadrillion BTU's  (Quads) and kilowatt-hours (kWh). The main unit used in these tables is the British Thermal Unit, BTU or in fact the Quadrillion BTU which I will call the Quad. This is used for two reasons, first it is a measure of energy that comes historically from measuring heating from burning things and this has been and still is the biggest source of energy we use today. Second, using a BTU as a base will let us calculate efficiencies. It will become more unsuitable as the years go by in the sense that Wind and Solar and such aren't naturally measured as BTU's but more in kWh. Kilowatt-hours is the standard electrical energy unit. See below (1) for conversion values.

Total Consumption and its lessons.
In 2007 the U.S. Consumed 101.92 Quads of energy or about 30 million million kWh  so lets do a standard physics trick and just call that 1 standard year of energy use. The breakdown then is as follows

Total 2007 Energy use by Type (2)

Type of Energy SourceQuads% Standard
Liquid Fuel (Oil+)40.7540%
Natural gas23.723%

All the sexy stuff, Wind, Solar, and such is in that little renewable line.

CO2 emissions 2007 in Megatons of CO2 (3)

Type of Energy SourceMegatons CO2% Total
Natural Gas123721%
Everything Else 120%

Yow. Megatons. Another fun word that makes you think. Incidentally I checked this using total usage numbers and Canadian Government CO2 figures and my own calculation agreed to within a couple percent. Just doing some verification. Coal has a varying amount of carbon in it and that affects the numbers depending on the type you use.

Electric Power 2007 by Source (4)

Type of Energy Sourcebillion kWh% Total
Natural Gas89221.5%

The renewable line here is mostly hydro really with the other, Wind, etc in with it.

Just looking at these numbers alone we can come to some powerful conclusions. Using the goals I mentioned in the first diary (which I expect to do over and over.)

Adequate Supply

This goal is  a constraint on other goals. The size of these numbers is huge. Usually stories I've seen covering this make some personalized example, so who am I to differ? Lets say every able bodied adult in the US, 200 million people, rode a bike an hour a day that was connected to a generator that put out 100 Watts (more than many people could do for an hour, but anyway). So we've got 200 million times 100 Watt-hours times 365 days a year (no breaks!) that gives 7.3 Billion kWh. That is 0.0017 of the annual electricity output. We just need to get over 500 times the U.S. Population to do this!

Let 's look at the story of a study of turning coffee grounds into biodiesel. This was a story that got a lot of press (5). The study showed that globally 340 million gallons of biodiesel could be produced from coffee grounds annually. Assume 100 million gallons are possible for the U.S. At 140,000 BTU per gallon we get  about 0.014 Quad or 0.035% of oil use. This is peanuts, no wait, peanuts are actually a bigger source of biodiesel, this is minute. Does this mean we should ignore things like this? Absolutely NOT! It just means we need 1000 more sources of this size to make a dent in Petroleum use.  That sounds like a lot but is certainly possible. It means that top down driven development won't cut it alone in this area. We need to encourage entrepreneurial action. Private sector innovation in other words. Wow. Where were the Republicans on this?

On the other hand the way these big numbers stack up shows that conservation is the big win in two separate ways. First it directly reduces use, which means less cost, pollution and such, but it also enables these small projects to make a bigger dent. If we were 20% more efficient in petroleum use then we only need 800 coffee-like projects to make the same percentage dent. It means that clean substitutions are powerful. So if we can replace 10% of electricity with a non-CO2 source and get rid of inefficient power plants that means we would reduce coal use by 20%. The thing is, here is where big time intrusive government regulations and programs would make the dent. Much higher gas rating mandates are called for, very much higher. Programs to buy out the worst gas milage cars will likely be needed. So we've got a call for the business person encouraged by targeted spending and tax cuts and the government doing prudent large scale action. How odd...

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

If we take the goal of the head of the IPCC seriously and look for 25 to 40% reduction in emissions by 2020 and then look at the numbers for the big emitters this goal will drive all changes. What a daunting challenge but with yet anotherAntarctic ice sheet ready to break there should be some urgency here.

[Edited based on Jerome a Pais comment below]
Let us say we look at a total reduction of 30% and have 15% be from coal and 15% be from oil. That means we need to reduce oil use 34% and coal use 42%. Yikes! In 12 years? Well, it will have to be a two pronged attack. Efficiency gains (i.e. conservation) and transfer to new power sources. For example if we want Wind Power to take up half of the coal conversion we are talking 400 billion kWh a year of generation. 2008 estimate of US output from wind generation  is 53 Billion kWh. We would  want to increase capacity about 8 times the 2008 levels. That is a city (literally) of turbines, but the natural capacity is there, this could be done. The new Manhattan (KS) project. These numbers are gigantic. For wind it means building 10's of thousands of large structures in rural areas, mainly. It implies big time capital availability, and huge contracts that let GE and such ramp up turbine production. Otherwise we just wouldn't be able to make enough in time. More on this later.

This goal will be the driver of scale, and also argues for efficiency. If we can increase the average efficiency of coal plants by 10% we just reduced ongoing cost and made the  replacement job easier. If we do some kind of CO2 capture even a few percent will make a big difference. The overall efficiency of coal plants in these figures is surprisingly bad to me, and must be investigated. It could be the old plants need to be shut rather than improved, but I almost can't believe these numbers. I guess coal cost is too low to drive power plant upgrades vs just depreciating out the bad plants. I want to look into this in relation to electric vehicles later, but those efficiency number are so different from what I read that this changes my view of things.

Reduce Imports of Petroleum
Increase Toughness of the Production and Distribution Systems
Minimizing Ecological damage

Well the numbers show we are living on oil and as later info shows most of this is now imported. I'll discuss that later. Also,  the toughness of the distribution network and ecological effects will be dealt with by source. One thing though. Efficiency of use helps all three of these also. The less waste in process  the better all of these become. These are all areas to consider over time. I'm doing this mainly so I can get my own head around what I see as really the defining issue for the next 50 years, so I want to look at these in detail.

I thought I'd be swimming over to look at energy production topics but the numbers for current electric production efficiency are so interesting to me that I'm going to make a little model and look at what these numbers say about how shifting sources from oil to electricity really effects greenhouse gas production today.
I have already succeeded - I am discovering things. So next lets see if an electric car really is that efficient today given ancient power plants, and quantify how much more efficient power plants will help the case for electric cars.


(1) Conversions:
1 kWh = 3412.1416 BTU,  or reversing and using the big units of Quadrillion BTU.
1 Quad = 293,072 Million kWh. Globally, often you will find the Joule (peta-Joule) used.
1 Quad = 1055 PJ
(2) Forecast Table 1 2007 column
(3) Forecast Table 18 2007 column
(4) Forecast Table 8 2007 column
(5) e.g. Tucson Paper article found by web search

Originally posted to MarkRK on Thu Jan 22, 2009 at 05:57 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Great diary! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar, Clio2, Rick Winrod

    Creating real incentives for microgeneration seems to be key to creating an innovative climate in this area. That and making sure the cost of goods reflect their emissions costs. Our trade deals shouldn't allow polluters to evade regulations by shipping emissions and jobs abroad.

    A tough road ahead. If you need any coffee grounds the UK's teeming with them, I'll happily set up an export firm!

  •  you need a tip jar...outstanding diary! (0+ / 0-)

    I think one of your key points is that this will need to be a war-like effort.  We need that type of urgency and committment.

  •  Thanks for compliment (8+ / 0-)

    I got sick of reading good, but disconnected articles in magazines and such, and want to try to make a coherent case. No question that really changing things will take a war-like effort. How much better to spend it on this than something like another Iraq? We could have been doing it too!

    On shipping pollution abroad, yeah, that is an issue and I'll be looking at that at some point in this series.

  •  Interesting... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bronte17, Dragon5616

    ...I see that coal's share of electric power production is actually falling. (I can notice this because I had to write it into stuff regularly as part of a job I held for a while.)  

    Not too many years ago, maybe 10 to 15, coal was holding at 57% of the nation's electric power. More recently for several years, it was "more than 50%." Last year, according to your numbers, 48%.

    Absolute coal production may still be up though....

  •  Be careful when covering electric cars (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It's not a simple issue of multiplying average power plant efficiency by the various losses in the system.  A raw calculation is generally something along the lines of: Gasoline=35% peak engine efficiency -> 20% drivetrain efficiency * 80% well to tank efficiency = 16% efficiency; EV charging from coal = 32% mine to AC efficiency * 92.8% transmission efficiency * 93% charger efficiency * 98% li-ion efficiency * 90% drivetrain efficiency = 24% efficiency.  

    However!  EVs are more likely to charge on spinning standby and to even out daily generation loads than your average grid power consumption, so they contribute to less additional plant loads than you would otherwise expect from a raw calculation.  The only way to properly analyze them is a full, detailed study.  Here's one for you from the DOE and PNL.

    •  Thanks, Yes this is true! (0+ / 0-)

      It factors into my next diary. The big problem with the power plant efficiency numbers I am finding is the crap efficiency when operating off their max point on the efficiency curve. That is the majority of difference between the NG numbers for sure. Damn peaking... It means though that Solar and such might actually have a bigger effect than just its own numbers if it can help keep the other generators in a better efficiency point.

      We'll see by Monday, I think for my numbers. I am actually working backward trying to get a balancing equation such that we have a
      gallon of gas at pump turned into x kWh at plug

      Then we can model efficiencies. Preliminary numbers though seem to show me that coal bad / NG good in comparison and the real mix is still positive for electric transfer. Then we can add in biofuels and get messy. But thats too much.
      Thanks for the link!

      •  Good to hear! :) (0+ / 0-)

        BTW, if you could, bring up combined NG/solar plants like California's SEGS plants.  It seems a great combination to me -- part solar plant, part NG plant, high capacity factor, low carbon, and peaking-capable, with minimal extra cost over a basic solar thermal plant.

  •  A correction (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    400 billion kWh of generation, at 2,000 hours per year (a bit more than the 20% number you quote, which is a bit on the low side) means 200 GW of wind capacity, or 8 times total installed capacity - or 25 times what was built last year (which was itself up 60% or so from the year before). It would be VERY easy to triple yearly installations in a few years and reach that number in less than a decade.

    The above can be discussed, but please keep MW and MWh distinct.

    •  Thanks for correction (0+ / 0-)

      Yes 20% is low for current installation, but easy to remember. Actually understanding Wind was why I started this whole thing, but I got interested in other things. Just to  further this example, GE announced last year that they installed their 10,000th 1.5MW turbine. They give on the GE Wind site that these 10000 turbines produce more than 50 Million Megawatt hours annually, thus about 50 Billion kWh. Comparing to Coal Electric production of 2021 Billion kWh in 2007 to get a 20% replacement we need those 400 BkWh and that is about 80,000 of this standard GE turbine.

      This looks eminently doable to me, especially with the bigger 2.5 and 3+ megawatt designs also in the mix. Maybe we should go to Boeing and say hey we need a quarter of a million 40 meter wings over the next decade. But anyway I think Wind is the key new generating capacity for a whole bunch of reasons that I will try to summarize sometime.

  •  Thanks! (0+ / 0-)

    Great overview - thanks for compiling and summarizing. This is one to bookmark!

    Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it - Thomas Paine

    by Bikemom on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 04:43:11 AM PST

  •  I Had Some Problems Interpreting The Presentation (0+ / 0-)

    This is a little different picture of things from the Energy Information Agency:


    That 53% for biomass is not comforting considering most of that is corn ethanol.  Still there are many cellulosic ethanol projects that are "shovel ready," in the ugly current terminology and there is this:

    The largest share of the renewable-generated electricity comes from hydroelectric energy (71%), followed by biomass (16%), wind (9%), geothermal (4%), and solar (0.2%).

    PTL the folk here who prefer global warming and forest fires to forest management and electric generation are not in charge.

    Best,  Terry

    •  However, the high EROI cellulose ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... ethanol projects are in pilot plant stage or earlier ... the current techniques available for industrial scale application are heat-intensive and therefore have a much lower ceiling on feasible Energy Return on Investment. If they are using excess wind power to generate that heat, that would be one thing, but if its fossil fuels to generate the heat, they are still primarily greenwashing fossil fuels.

      •  Cellulosic Ethanol (0+ / 0-)

        ethanol projects are in pilot plant stage or earlier ... the current techniques available for industrial scale application are heat-intensive and therefore have a much lower ceiling on feasible Energy Return on Investment.

        Should we really be worried that too much landfill methane will be burned to produce cellulosic ethanol from trash that otherwise could fill landfills and produce more trash?

        I have written before about one company that has been producing ethanol for years - in a pilot operation for sure - from municipal trash utilizing landfill gas for heat.

        I was told by some genyus that ethanol could not be made from methane.

        One project is stalled as the company tries to find funding.  A second project has been awarded a grant by the DOE but will need additional funding.

        There are many different technologies available but not one will proceed to a full production plant without funding.

        The worst using only waste or perhaps prairie grass grown on marginal land or land destroyed by agriculture, mining or industry are better than fossil fuels.

        Best,  Terry

        •  Why precisely turn it into ethanol ... (0+ / 0-)

          ... when we get more energy from the same inputs by turning the ethanol feedstock into bio-coal and the landfill methane directly into electricity?

          Presently, the rationale is "for the tax benefits", but if the tax benefits for the renewable sustainable production were equal for a range of technologies, we would not pick the techniques with a lower Energy Return on (Energy) Investment.

          Until the EROI is something substantially over 100% net yield, the case for using it as a primary basis for our energy economy remains very weak.

          •  Bad Math (0+ / 0-)

            When you do neither, it doesn't matter in the slightest what your EROI is.

            You rail against those actually doing something about global warming and tell us that it would be better to do something different.

            It doesn't matter at all if you do neither.

            In plain fact, there is no shortage of feedstock.

            Only a small percentage of landfill methane is collected or will be collected.

            It would be far better if there were no landfill methane or other methane created.

            Landfill methane is dirty.  Burning it creates additional greenhouse gases, not to mention deposits on and in the neighbors.

            That is good you think?

            It would be better to clean it first but burning it is better than not burning it.  

            There is way too much landfill methane.  Any amount is too much.

            And you want to talk about what would be better as it warms the planet?

            Just great.

            To answer your question directly, it is far better to fuel vehicles with ethanol, and probably better yet with an alternative form such as butanol, than burn gasoline.

            That is happening today.  How much biochar is being created and utilized?

            Best,  Terry

            •  Rhetoric does not replace math. (0+ / 0-)

              Rhetoric may be necessary, but its not sufficient ... its also necessary to do the math.

              You rail against those actually doing something about global warming and tell us that it would be better to do something different.

              I have never done any such thing. I have never once railed against somebody doing something about global warming.

              In plain fact, there is no shortage of feedstock.

              Only a small percentage of landfill methane is collected or will be collected.

              However much is collected, what precisely is the benefit in performing less work with the methane than performing more work with the methane?

              Molecule for molecule, methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2, during its atmospheric life, and then degrades to CO2, so combustion of methane gas that would escape to the atmosphere is reduction in harm.

              It would be far better if there were no landfill methane or other methane created.

              Landfill methane is dirty.  Burning it creates additional greenhouse gases, not to mention deposits on and in the neighbors.

              So the question is, since burning methane that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere is necessary, how much fossil fuel is displaced when the methane gas is burned.

              If you are arguing for the continuation of ethanol-specific tax subsidies, independent of the EROI of the ethanol production, you are arguing against the policy of maximizing the amount of fossil fuel displaced.

              And you want to talk about what would be better as it warms the planet?

              You are posting on a political community blog, on the most important issue of our age. In reporting various anecdotes, you are making a case for a policy. Yet, you do not want to talk about how to make that policy better?

              You would refuse to talk about what would be better as it warms the planet?

              To answer your question directly, it is far better to fuel vehicles with ethanol, and probably better yet with an alternative form such as butanol, than burn gasoline.

              If the ethanol is created with a net 33% Energy Return on Investment, then, no, it is quite clearly not "far better" to fuel vehicles with ethanol. In that case, it is 25% better to fuel vehicles with ethanol.

              By contrast, cycling commuting instead of driving saves 100% of the gasoline of the trip.

              By contrast, electrification of STRACNET saves 93% to 95% of the energy contained in diesel for each ton of freight displaced from diesel road freight to electric rail freight.

              By contrast, if effective low heat cellulosic ethanol is developed, and the cellulose feedstock is raised sustainably, it has the prospect for a net EROI on the order of 300%, which is 75% better than fueling vehicles with gasoline.

              By contrast, transit oriented developed that reduces VMT reduces the impact of each gasoline fueled vehicle at the same time that begins to reverse the policy of requiring automobiles for daily life.

              To the extent that you support those, I agree with you, to the extent that you oppose those as being absurd utopian goals which we should abandon in favor of "real world successes on the ground" that on their own, without achievement of some of those absurd utopian goals, will only modify the speed we are going as we careen off the climate crisis cliff, I disagree with you.

              •  Worser Math (0+ / 0-)

                what precisely is the benefit in performing less work with the methane than performing more work with the methane?

                Performing no work with the methane but rather letting it escape into the atmosphere is a bummer.

                That is the option.

                Railing against those who would utilize the methane for any purpose is not exactly helpful.

                I sure needed another lecture on the harm done by methane to the atmosphere.  Can't get my fill.  Maybe we can lecture each other endlessly - and then do what we can  to increase it as you suggest.

                Doesn't seem like a great plan to me.

                Best,  Terry

      •  Round-up Of Cellulosic Ethanol Technologies (0+ / 0-)

        From USA Today.

        There are skeptics. David Pimentel, an agricultural science professor at Cornell University, calls the DOE estimate "imaginary." Removing too much plant waste from fields will erode soil, he says, while growing energy crops will jeopardize the food supply.

        Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures, the top backer of cellulosic start-ups, remains upbeat. By 2050, he says, "You should be able to replace most (gasoline)" with cellulosic ethanol.

        Growing food crops for energy is a terrible idea but it is hardly all there is.

        There are studies that indicate how much agricultural surplus can be utilized without harm to the soil.  All agriculture removes nutrients.

        Best,  Terry

        •  'By 2050, he says'. (0+ / 0-)

          By 2030, we can eliminate more than 50% of the current need for gasoline and diesel fuel.

          •  The Future Is Known Only To Fools and Prophets (0+ / 0-)

            There seem to be many more fools than prophets.

            The problem has always been that Big Agriculture is served first.

            Still is.

            Imagine how Obama would have done if he spoke truth to Iowa corn farmers before the primary.

            Very oddly John McCain did.

            I doubt McCain did very well in Iowa.

            Mighty fine you are going to eliminate half the need for fossil fuels for cars and trucks.  Is that just in the U.S. or everywhere?

            I would prefer none myself.

            But we have to get serious and stop dreaming of what might be.

            Best,  Terry

            •  I didn't say I was going to personally do it ... (0+ / 0-)

              ... myself, so no need to indulge in the sarcasm ... I simply observed that it is feasible to do so, with current technology, so a promise to develop new technology to provide a plug and play replacement for gasoline by 2050 is a less than impressive promise.

              Electrification of STRACNET and establishing a Rapid Freight Rail network can be done in six years, at a cost of around $80b per year, and can replace 10% our current petroleum imports ... more, of course, in a high oil price environment.

              As you know, I strongly favor investing in research and development of high EROI cellulosic ethanol production, and I will continue to oppose arguments that imply that further research needs to be funded because low EROI cellulosic ethanol production techniques already exist.

              •  "As you know, I strongly favor investing (0+ / 0-)

                in research and development of high EROI cellulosic ethanol production"

                Don't know nothing I'm not told.

                Might be helpful to invest a buck or two in production. Proof of principle seems widely available.

                More interesting than ethanol may be butanol.  BP has invested some hefty bucks in development.  Hefty to us anyway.  I suppose peanuts to BP.

                Best,  Terry

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