4. Scaling up renewables to replace fossil fuels in current quantities does not look like it has much of a chance of succeeding, even in the long term.
One issue is the point made previously--it takes fossil fuels to produce renewables like wind and solar PV. Also, Figure 1 shows our success in scaling up so far has been quite limited. Scaling up ethanol further would require taking a huge share of our corn crop. Cellulosic ethanol isn't working out to date, and may never work out. Wood and other biomass is limited in supply, limiting production if it could be perfected.
There may be some particular applications of renewables which may turn out to work out well--for example, natural gas from waste, or biofuel from waste grease. But these tend to be limited in quantity.
Even if we were to, say, discover a way of producing biofuel from algae economically, it would years to work out the details of scaling production up, and a huge amount of investment (and fossil fuels to make tanks and other apparatus) to actually produce the biofuel in quantity. One would probably be looking at more than 30 years before the process could be scaled up sufficiently to start replacing a significant share of our our production....
6. If increased drilling is done in the US and offshore, is likely to have modest beneficial impact on oil supply, but it is highly unlikely that it will solve our problems.
Gary Luquette, President of Chevron North America Exploration and Production recently wrote:The good news: the OCS [Outer Continental Shelf] has significant potential. Over time, it could add 1 million more barrels of oil and natural gas equivalent a day--potentially representing a fifth of the current total U.S. oil production. Advances in technology could increase that amount dramatically.One million barrels of oil and natural gas equivalent is great--certainly more than what we are getting from biofuels or from wind or solar. If one adds additional onshore production, it could be more than this, perhaps another 1 or even 2 million barrels of oil and natural gas equivalent a day.
... Compared to world oil supply, an additional one million barrels of oil a day about 1% of world oil production. Compared to US oil usage, and additional one million barrels of oil a day is about 5% of US oil usage. So the additional oil supply would be helpful, (as would the additional jobs, and reduction in needed imports), but it wouldn't solve all of our problems. ...
7. Renewables tend to be high priced. If our big problem with oil is high price, renewables will not solve our problems.
Subsidies only hide high price--the cost to the economy is high, with or without a subsidy.
If we can find cheap renewables, it would be in our interested to expand them as much as possible. But expanding expensive renewables should be done with great caution, in my opinion. We have no guarantee regarding how long the renewables will last--wind is likely only to last as long as fossil fuels supplies are available. Just because an analysis is done assuming that wind (or another energy source) will have a 40 year lifetime doesn't mean it will actually last that long."
Friday, March 12, 2010
Gail the Actuary at The Oil Drum offers a tour d'horizon of our energy situation and it ain't pretty link: 'If a person were to listen to Energy Secretary Steven Chu or National Geographic's Aftermath: World Without Oil," she says, "one might think that our energy problems are fairly minor and distant. We can easily add sufficiently renewable energy to substitute for fossil fuels in a fairly short time frame. All we need to do is put our minds (and pocketbooks) to it." Sadly, no. The whole thing bears reading, but here are some excerpts: