July 11, 2004
Nanotech Start-Ups Pursuing Cheaper Photovoltaic Solar Power

MIT's Technology Review has a good survey of some of the venture capital start-ups pursuing development of cheaper methods for producing photovoltaic solar cells.

At least one startup may beat Siemens to that goal. Konarka is now gearing up to manufacture its novel photovoltaic film, which it expects to start selling next year. Unlike Siemens’s, Konarka’s films don’t use buckyballs, instead relying on tiny semiconducting particles of titanium dioxide coated with light-absorbing dyes, bathed in an electrolyte, and embedded in plastic film. But like Siemens’s solar cells, Konarka’s can be easily and cheaply made.

The article also covers an interesting approach by a company called Nanosolar.

Down the road, researchers hope to boost nano solar cells’ power output and make them even easier to deploy, eventually spraying them directly onto almost any surface. Palo Alto, CA-based startup Nanosolar, which has raised $5 million in venture capital, is working on making this idea practical. The company is exploiting the latest techniques for automatically assembling nanomaterials into precisely ordered architectures—all with a higher degree of control than ever before possible.

Nanosolar’s approach is disarmingly simple. Researchers spray a cocktail of alcohol, surfactants (substances like those used in detergents), and titanium compounds on a metal foil. As the alcohol evaporates, the surfactant molecules bunch together into elongated tubes, erecting a molecular scaffold around which the titanium compounds gather and fuse. In just 30 seconds a block of titanium oxide bored through with holes just a few nanometers wide rises from the foil. Fill the holes with a conductive polymer, add electrodes, cover the whole block with a transparent plastic, and you have a highly efficient solar cell.

The ability to spray paint a surface with photovoltaics would allow sides and roofs of buildings, signs, billboards, water towers, bridges, and numerous other structures to be turned into solar collectors. In the United States human structures already cover an area equal to the size of Ohio and that is more than enough area to provide enough power for current level of usage if photovoltaics could be made that could cover all the human-built structures.

An article on Konarka Technologies explains how Konarka's approach allows photovoltaics to be made at lower temperates than current processes require.

The problem? Until now, PVCs have been made by heating the titanium crystals to 450 degrees Celsius and then coating them with a light-sensitive dye – a process known as “sintering.” That process was too expensive to make them a practical source of power. Tripathy and his researchers perfected a “cold-sintering” method that achieves the same result at temperatures of 150 degrees or lower.

Those cooler temperatures are critical to new uses for PVCs. When forged at higher temperatures, PVC material can only be coated onto glass, which makes for expensive, delicate product applications. Cold-sintering allows the PVC material to be coated onto plastics; in essence, a product’s outer shell becomes its power source.

And at those cooler temperatures, they can churn out large numbers of photovoltaic cells quickly and cheaply. The Konarka cell does not generate any more electricity than other power cells, or do so more efficiently. Its appeal is that the cell can be manufactured far more cheaply, so Konarka can churn out a large supply and, the company hopes, put them into all sorts of devices.

The ideal process would not require the use of any elevation of temperatures when the photovoltaics are applied. So if Nanosolar's process can be perfected it would open up a greater potential by allowing easier conversion of existing surfaces into photovoltaic collectors. Though the approach being pursued by Nanosys to incorporate photovoltaics into plastics to make roofing tiles would certainly work for new structures and when installing the inevitable new roofs when old roofs wear out.

Update: Nobel Prize winner Richard Smalley has an opinion piece on Small Times arguing for a big research effort to develop new cleaner and cheaper energy technologies to end our reliance on oil.

Imagine by 2050 that every house, business and building has its own local electrical energy storage device, an uninterruptible power supply capable of handling the needs of the owner for 24 hours.

Today using lead-acid storage batteries, such a unit for a house to store 100-kilowatt hours of electrical energy would take up a small room and cost more than $10,000.

Through advances in nanotechnology, it may be possible to shrink an equivalent unit to the size of a washer and drop the cost to $1,000. Among the approaches being developed today are nanotubes, nanowires and nanocomposites for batteries.

...

America should take the lead. We should launch a bold New Energy Research Program. Just a nickel from every gallon of gasoline, diesel, fuel oil, and jet fuel would generate $10 billion a year. That would be enough to transform the physical sciences and engineering in this country.

You can read some Congressional testimony by Smalley advocating a big energy research effort at the bottom of this previous post on energy policy. I think that Smalley is right that solar photovoltaics, batteries, fuel cells, and all sorts of other energy technologies are all solvable problems. With enough research and development the problems holding back the development of these approaches can all be solved. This is not a question of if but rather one of when. The technologies can be made to work and to be much cheaper than oil, natural gas, and coal. If we tried harder we could make those technologies become cost effective much sooner.

Update II: A Stanford prof thinks organic photovoltaic nanoparticles can eventually be made an order of magnitude cheaper than current solar cells.

Right now, the efficiency rate--the amount of sunlight that gets turned into electricity--ranges from 3 percent to nearly 12 percent for various nanoparticles in different lab experiments. That could grow to 20 percent, said Michael McGehee, an assistant professor at Stanford in materials science and engineering. McGehee currently is conducting research on organic photovoltaic nanoparticles.

...

"It costs $300 per square meter now for crystalline solar cells. We think we can get this down to $30 a square meter," he said. Michael McGehee, an assistant professor at Stanford in materials science and engineering

That article has some good quotes by venture capitalists who see energy tech as a generally hot area for investment. The growth of venture capital involvement is reason for much more optimism about photovoltaics and other promising energy technologies. If various claims that the Saudis are exaggerating the size of their oil reserves turn out to be correct then we are going to be in need of these new energy technologies sooner that most think.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 July 11 07:21 PM  Energy Solar


Comments
gmoke said at July 11, 2004 8:25 PM:

"The ability to spray paint a surface with photovoltaics would allow sides and roofs of buildings, signs, billboards, water towers, bridges, and numerous other structures to be turned into solar collectors. In the United States human structures already cover an area equal to the size of Ohio and that is more than enough area to provide enough power for current level of usage if photovoltaics could be made that could cover all the human-built structures."

If our buildings were spraypainted PV producing power, there would be the additional efficiencies resulting from having power in place rather with little or no distribution losses, up to a third of present electricity use last I heard.

Philip Shropshire said at July 11, 2004 10:34 PM:

Yeah, that whole slew of stories and startups was excellent. By the way, congrats for taking Den Beste on in terms of his completely anti-american view on alt energy. He has a can't do attitude. Is he French? What's his problem? Why oh why does he hate American innovation? And why isn't willing to spend at least 100 billion, or what we've spent on our splendid little war in Iraq, on research so that we can wean ourselves away from our oil fix...

What's also mentioned in those articles is the viewpoint of Smalley, who, unlike Frenchified Hate American innovation firsters like Steven Den Beste, thinks the United States should invest in alt energy. You can find his full take over there at Small Times...

Randall Parker said at July 11, 2004 11:44 PM:

Phil, Thanks for the heads-up on Smalley's latest. It is good that he's still advocating the big research project. I added a link to it. Note that I've been pushing Smalley's point of view for some time. Smalley is so obviously correct in my opinion.

As for the neocons who seem blinded to the national security value of a big energy research push: It sure is weird. My theory is that they so want to solve our national security problems by invading other countries that they ignore other approaches. Never mind that their attempt to turn Iraq into a liberal democracy is looking hopelessly naive. They soldier on oblivious to the fact that their strategy is intellectually bankrupt.

They also do not seem to notice that the Bush Administration is being extremely selective in terms of which countries we push to make into democracies. Musharraf, King Abdullah, Hosni Mubarak, and Islam Karimov (to take just a few from a really long list) want to rule as dictators? Sure, no problem. Gotta tip toe around those Saudis? Well, the Roman Liberal Democracy wasn't built in a day. They aren't even pursuing their own strategy. Yet they oppose strategies that we could pursue for a small fraction of the cost of the Iraq occupation.

Mind you, Clinton was just as willing to go along with dictatorships while mouthing the democratic pieties. Bush's policy is not much of a departure except for the Iraq invasion.

Brock said at July 12, 2004 11:29 AM:

Good round-up at TechReport. It's nice to see what progress has been made, all in one neat little package.

Solar is useful, but it can't solve all our problems. The transmission loss will still occur because sunny weather doesn't always perfectly coincide with power needs. For example, San Diego is going to have to send some of their solar collection up to Seattle. Also, houses that get more sunlight than they need will either have to (1) shunt the power to someone who needs it (with transmission loss); (2) store the energy (in some kind of fuel cell?), with those additional costs; or (3) bleed it off as waste heat (with loss in efficiency).

Den Beste isn't anti-American or anti-innovation, he's just pessimistic about the SOURCE or the power. If you had 100% efficient solar cells that grew on trees, the sun could still go behind the clouds for days on end. In Northern latitudes the problem of short days in the winter would make it even worse. The same goes for the wind - sometimes the wind just stops, and your need for power doesn't.

That's why solar and wind will always be niche sources compared to other sources. We need 99.9% steady power, and solar can't give us that. We need to turn the power on and off as demand requires, and the sun will not oblige. If we wholesale convert solar to storable using advanced processes, and then converted it back energy as demand required, we'd be losing HUGE amounts of energy to transmission and conversion inefficiencies.

Den Beste never said that solar won't be useful - he just said it won't replace oil, and I think that's right.

Re:Roman Liberal Democracy

Randall, your complaing loudly now about the cost of trying to turn Iraq into a liberal democracy. I can't imagine how loudly you'd complain if we tried to take on the whole Middle East at the same time. Don't complain that we haven't gone after more people, when you also want us to go after less.

Wouldn't you agree that Saddam was about as un-Liberal-Democratic as you can get? He was at least as bloody as the Iranians, and more vulnerable. He was as good as target as any, and a better one than most. Do you think Pakistan or Saudi Arabia would be better targets? I bet you do; but guess what, they weren't options. Iraq was well positioned to fall. Compared to what the other nations would have been, it was a cakewalk. Still is, but any historical comparison.

Iraq has a sovereign government now. The national elections are still scheduled for this January. Local electios have already been going on for some time, and not only continue, but increase in frequency. Newspapers and uncensored TV & radio broadcasting are springing up like weeds. Local counsels have open debate about how to solve their local problems. Taxes are low and trade flows into and out of the country. Both the Iraqi government and even many Iraqi-insurgents denounce the foreign jihadits as enemies of Iraq and the Iraqi people.

Just how much progress do you need to see in 14 months before you'll admit that SOMETIHNG is going right over there? Perfect? No; but when the Iraqi Kurds are telling the Turkish Kurds to settle down and make peace with the Turkish gov't, it can't all be going to hell in a handbasket. When Sistani denouces Iranian agents as political enemies, rather then embracing them as fellow Shia, there is hope.

Fly said at July 12, 2004 12:48 PM:

“By the way, congrats for taking Den Beste on in terms of his completely anti-american view on alt energy.”

As a long time reader of both Stephen den Beste and FuturePundit and as a person who has followed energy research for over twenty-five years, I’ll throw in my 2 cents.

SdB is focused on the WoT. He doesn’t believe research will lead to significant energy independence in the next decade. Thus the present strategic importance of the ME won’t be affected by energy research. Nor will energy research stop the flow of petro dollars from the ME to terrorists.

The energy industry is extremely complex and capital intensive. Even if a new technology were available and proven safe and economical today, it could take twenty years to significantly change US energy usage. Surely SdB is wrong in some areas of his energy analysis (I doubt he’d claim otherwise.) but I believe that he is correct in his overall conclusion that energy research has little impact on the WoT.

From the Smalley article:
“We will need revolutionary breakthroughs to find the clean, low-cost energy necessary for advanced civilization of the 10 billion souls we expect to be living on this planet before this century is out.
The system most likely to meet that goal is an electrical-based grid that draws from numerous sources – solar, wind, nuclear, geothermal, biomass and fossil fuels – for reliable energy. Nanotechnology will be a contributor, as well as other technologies, if we provide sufficient support.”

Smalley is not suggesting near term independence from ME oil. Nor is he suggesting a quick replacement for nuclear power. He is talking about the long-term economic and environmental health of Western civilization. Nanotechnology and biotechnology are very promising. On this I strongly agree with FuturePundit.

In the 70’s the US made energy independence a strategic goal. Lots of money was spent on synthetic fuels and gasohol. Money was spent on fusion research. On power satellites research. On solar cells. On the power tower. On solar water heaters. On windmills. On tidal generators. On thermal power. Lots of money with little to show for it. (Hopefully, nanotech and biotech will be more successful.)

We already had a fairly safe and relatively cheap, non-CO2 producing energy source in nuclear power. Killed by the “no growth” environmentalists and the public fear of radiation. (Hydroelectric power has killed far more people due to dams failing. Coal burning causes far more deaths from pollution than radiation ever has. Natural gas is clean and cheap but does release CO2 and will run out.)

We could have put a “security” tax on imported oil but that hasn’t politically acceptable. We could have drilled on more US public land. Or off the coast of California. Not politically acceptable.

What seems obvious to me isn’t obvious to the public. In a democracy the people have to know and understand and agree with major policy. That is tough when issues are complicated and there is major disagreement on the best path and when all solutions require sacrifice and pain.

PS

Being a Rice alumni I have a certain affection for Smalley, however don’t overlook that he is an academic looking for funding. Smalley has played political hardball in the nanotech area. I didn’t care for his attack on the non-chemistry nanotech researchers.

PPS

Brock, I wrote my reply before reading yours. Sorry for covering some of the same territory.

Invisible Scientist said at July 12, 2004 1:07 PM:

Do not discount improved nuclear reactor designs.
Please do a google search for "Fast Integral Reactor"
as well as Westinghouse latest generation nuclear reactors.

Recent improvements in nuclear reactors make it possible to
burn all the long term artificial nuclear waste as fuel, increasing
the fuel efficiency 100 times, while leaving behind only low level
waste with half life less than 300 years. This makes a dramatic difference.

Randall Parker said at July 12, 2004 1:23 PM:

Brock says:

Randall, your complaing loudly now about the cost of trying to turn Iraq into a liberal democracy. I can't imagine how loudly you'd complain if we tried to take on the whole Middle East at the same time. Don't complain that we haven't gone after more people, when you also want us to go after less.

If conversion of the Middle East into democracies is what is needed to solve our problem with terrorism then our military needs to be about 20 times bigger to do the job. We would have needed a half million soldiers to properly occupy Iraq. Instead the neocons pursued a strategy that helped local insurgencies to get established. The Pentagon's own estimates show no decrease in the number of insurgents over a year since overthrowing Saddam. Extend the neocon plan to more countries and we'd need millions to occupy other countries that are far more the sources of terrorism.

Look, I'm following the logic of the "war for democracy to fight terrorism" camp. How can their approach work if we do not have a military with millions of soldiers to go overthrow more of the governments to establish democracy? How else are we going to create democracies in those places? Waving a magic wand?

Of course, I do not think liberal democracy is the solution for the simple reason that I think the Middle Easterns can not be turned into liberal democrats for many decades. We could obsolesce oil far more quickly than "democracy" could put an end to Islamic terrorism. The problem with the neocons is that they do not recognize that the lack of democracy is just a symptom of polygamy, consanguineous marriage, the status of women, and a half dozen other factors that I've posted about repeatedly. Changes to deal with those factors would take generations and the neocons seem oblivious to this fact.

The neoconservative strategy is not liberalizing the Middle East. Therefore it is not solving the underlying problems that cause Islamic terrorism.

Another factor that seems lost on the neocon mind: Lots of Muslims living in liberal democracies are joining the jihadis. Well, why is that happening? After all, those Muslims living in free societies.

Brock also says:

That's why solar and wind will always be niche sources compared to other sources. We need 99.9% steady power, and solar can't give us that. We need to turn the power on and off as demand requires, and the sun will not oblige. If we wholesale convert solar to storable using advanced processes, and then converted it back energy as demand required, we'd be losing HUGE amounts of energy to transmission and conversion inefficiencies.

What do you mean by "HUGE"? Say we lose 30% storing into and retrieving from batteries. Once photovoltaics and batteries are cheap enough that will be acceptable.

Consider as well the poor conversion efficiencies of internal combustion engines. Conversion losses are always a problem. But if the tech is cheap enough then it doesn't matter.

Plant life is fairly inefficient at converting sunlight to stored sugar. Is that unacceptable? Buidling on the work I've reported here from LANL and LBNL I expect that photovoltaics will eventually convert 60%-70% of sunlight to electricity. That will be way better than what plants do.

Fly says,

SdB is focused on the WoT. He doesn’t believe research will lead to significant energy independence in the next decade.

We are coming up on the 3rd year anniversary of 9/11. If we'd started working hard on energy research then we'd already have 3 years of research progress toward the day when oil demand will start to decline. But instead 3 years on I keep hearing this argument that energy research will take too long to make a difference and so that we should not make a big energy research push. This is a dumb argument. We could progress much more rapidly if we tried much harder. The sooner we start trying harder the sooner we will reach the day when it will make a difference.

But we do not know how long energy research would take to bear fruit. It is the sort of area where discoveries in a single lab could change energy demand in a few years. Imagine a breakthrough that made batteries lighter for cars. A massive shift toward the use of hybrids could happen in 3-5 years once the batteries became light enough. Then oil demand would start declining pretty quickly.

If the neocons had a workable strategy I could understand their focus. But they do not. Events in Iraq went far worse than they predicted. Muslim attitudes toward the US have not improved as the Iraq occupation has progressed. In fact, it has gotten worse. The Middle East does not have liberal democracy breaking out all over. Al Qaeda recruitment is up according to a variety of experts.

Fly also says,

We already had a fairly safe and relatively cheap, non-CO2 producing energy source in nuclear power.

Nuclear power is not a solution because it is not cheap enough and also because it makes nuclear proliferation too easy. We need a solution that will displace oil on the world markets because it is cheaper than oil. We need to drive down the market price of energy to reduce the flow of money to the Middle East.

I agree we have lost opportunities to open up ANWR and off-coast drilling as a way to decrease the demand for Middle Eastern oil in the short-to-medium term. I'm all for developing non-Middle Eastern fossil fuel sources as a stop gap measure until research can provide other solutions.

Engineer-Poet said at July 12, 2004 6:56 PM:

There IS a renewable replacement for gasoline, and that is zinc.

According to energizer.com, zinc-air cells have an open-circuit voltage of about 1.4.  If you can get 1.3 volts under load and the electron efficiency is 90%, you'll get about 48 amp-hours per mole of zinc or about 840 WH/kg of metal.  If the metal is dispensed as filings in water and the spent metal is recovered as zinc hydroxide, it ought to be recyclable indefinitely; just dissolve in HCl and electroplate the metal out of solution.  It might be feasible to handle refuelling with hoses rather than moving buckets and filters.

At 840 WH/kg, a vehicle using 250 WH/mile would get 3.36 miles/kg.  100 kg of metal would yield a range of 300+ miles and take up only about 14 liters of volume (storage for hydroxide sludge would take more).  Reclamation of metal from hydroxide can be done in aqueous solution, unlike aluminum; this could be done at central facilities, at home, or wherever.  The same system which refuels the car could provide energy buffers for the home.

I don't know what the efficiency is (I just began researching this), but it looks to have potential.  The downside that I would worry about is lack of cold-weather capability due to the aqueous electrolyte.  Regardless, this is one way to get renewable energy into a tank and thence to the wheels of a vehicle.

Fly said at July 12, 2004 8:25 PM:

Wow. So many points for discussion. Too many to answer more than a couple. Sigh. I’ll focus on energy research.

I believe Randall has offered a massive government energy research program as an alternative to the Iraqi War. (Please excuse me if I state your position poorly.)

The US and other Western nations depend heavily on ME oil. That gives the ME way too much influence over world affairs. The ME countries use petro dollars to fund terrorism. If the US could lower the market value of oil, the ability of those countries to fund terror would significantly diminish. (I agree with this analysis.)

After the oil shock in the 1970’s the US should have seen the strategic necessity of energy independence and funded energy research to accomplish that goal. (In fact the government did see the necessity and enacted such a program but reaped little benefit. Energy is a tough nut to crack.)

In today’s world political climate and with the advent of promising new technologies, the US should make a renewed intensive effort in the energy area. (I strongly agree.)

(Now the points of disagreement.)

The energy research would have a significant effect on the WoT.

I disagree. The energy industry is complex and massive. The overall energy usage patterns will only change gradually. New technology won’t significantly lower world dependence on oil in the next decade. Nor will new technology significantly lower the price of ME oil in the next decade. (Over decades new technology will replace fossil fuels and it is very important that we invest in research now.)

If the US hadn’t invaded Iraq, the money would have been spent on energy research.

I disagree. The two issues are separate. If energy research is a priority it could be funded today. If it is not a priority then it wouldn’t have been funded even if the US hadn’t gone to War. (We need to make it a priority, independent of the WoT.)

Why does this topic come up with regard to the Iraqi War?

The US needed to take steps to reduce the influence of ME oil on world events and on the funding of terror with ME petro dollars. If a massive research program could quickly lower the value of oil, then the US might be able to contain the ME terrorism threat and let the ME nations sink into obscurity without war. Otherwise the US would have to take more direct steps to stop ME countries from nurturing and funding terrorism. (The “drain the swamp” strategy.)

I’ve never argued against the value of energy research. I have argued that energy research is not a replacement for direct action in the ME.

I’ll leave for another time our ongoing discussion as to the likely success of our “draining the swamp”.


“Nuclear power is not a solution because it is not cheap enough and also because it makes nuclear proliferation too easy.”

This would be an interesting topic for debate. I haven’t seen a serious analysis in over five years. It’s a pretty complicated topic since it mixes finance, regulatory actions, legal delays, politics, and engineering.


“Imagine a breakthrough that made batteries lighter for cars. A massive shift toward the use of hybrids could happen in 3-5 years once the batteries became light enough.”

I’ve read an analysis of this scenario by an automotive expert. He looked at the whole process from tooling up the battery factories and redesigning the cars to the infrastructure needed to support electric power. It is not simply putting out a new model car.

I do believe the effort should be made. The government could offer incentives for fleet use and slowly grow an electric car industry.


“Lots of Muslims living in liberal democracies are joining the jihadis. Well, why is that happening? After all, those Muslims living in free societies.”

This would be an interesting topic for discussion. The answer is much too long for this comment. (It won’t fit in the margin.)


“Muslim attitudes toward the US have not improved as the Iraq occupation has progressed. In fact, it has gotten worse. The Middle East does not have liberal democracy breaking out all over. Al Qaeda recruitment is up according to a variety of experts.”

The US is at war with radical Islam. A basic Islamic tenet is that if an unbeliever attacks one Muslim then all Muslims are required by their faith to unite in “defense”. Muslims are fighting non-Muslims all over the world. If you fight back Muslims get upset. (I’m over simplifying but in a nutshell that is what is going on with Muslim countries.)

Considering that Saddam was hated by his neighbors and his people, his removal caused less resentment than if the US had attacked Saudi Arabia, Syria, or Iran. For many reason Iraq was the right place to start. With Saddam gone, the ME situation is far more promising for the US.

I believe we do need a metric for measuring success in the WoT. I don’t believe US popularity in Islamic countries or in Europe is a good factor by which to measure success. The recruitment rate for terrorists might be a good factor but we have to consider the time frame. The Iraq War might cause an early bump with a significant diminishment downstream. (I believe the key is stopping the teaching of terrorism in the Madrasas and the incitement of terrorism in the mosques.)

Engineer-Poet said at July 12, 2004 9:44 PM:

Fly wrote:

I’ve read an analysis of this scenario by an automotive expert. He looked at the whole process from tooling up the battery factories and redesigning the cars to the infrastructure needed to support electric power. It is not simply putting out a new model car.
Either you are misremembering the analysis, or said "expert" is no such thing.  Straight hybrids such as the Insight, Prius and Escape need no new infrastructure; they derive all their energy from gasoline and cannot use externally supplied electricity.  Mild plug-in hybrids would be able to recharge fully in ~6 hours using a conventional extension cord into a 15 A socket.  It's not until you get to battery capacities of 10 KWH or more that you need dedicated charging circuits.

Hybrids appear to be able to reduce petroleum consumption by about 1/3, which is a serious dent.  Plug-in hybrids could shoot for 2/3 in normal use.  Insofar as the charging load was at night, there would be little or no additional infrastructure required to meet the electric needs of the cars.

Patri Friedman said at July 12, 2004 11:41 PM:

On energy storage devices: Vanadium redox batteries show great potential for making energy storage cheaper. They still have a bad energy : weight ratio, so aren't suitable for transportation, but they sound very promising for fixed locations. Their advantage is that unlike electrochemical batteries which last a very small number of cycles, redox batteries can be charged and recharged forever. I wrote up some more info here, and the inventors webpage is here.

Garson Poole said at July 13, 2004 1:31 AM:

The January issue of IEEE Spectrum has an article entitled "The Smart Hybrid"
http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/WEBONLY/publicfeature/jan04/0104epow1.html.
The article discusses a DaimlerChrysler project to build a hybrid gasoline-electric propulsion system that can be recharged by plugging it in.

Here is a quote from the article:
If you had a plug-in hybrid with a battery big enough to cover your daily commute, you would have, in effect, a pure-electric vehicle five days a week, but one that could burn gasoline whenever you wanted to go on a ski trip, visit your cousin, or drop off the kids at summer camp. You'd go to a gas station maybe six times a year instead of six times a month.

Here is another quote:
You can travel in air-conditioned comfort, smug as a Prius-driving film star in the knowledge that over the long haul, you are cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and smog by at least 50 percent, according to EPRI's figures. Best of all, dependence on petroleum comes down by a whopping 75 percent, on average, in the United States.

This type of vehicle could function as a natural bridge from an oil based transportation sector to an electricity based transportation sector. The electricity could be generated in part by advanced solar cells if the research project that you are proposing succeeds in creating cost-effective devices. This could put downward pressure on the price of oil.

Brock said at July 13, 2004 10:46 AM:

I'm glad the discussion is back on energy. That should be the real focus of this thread.

One quick link though: Iraqis turning against Insurgents.
http://www.strategypage.com//fyeo/qndguide/default.asp?target=urbang.htm&base=urbang&Prev=0&BeginCnt=31

It seems when Muslims attack other Muslims, it's Ok to call them terrorists and report their location to the local JDAM squad. Many foreign insurgents leaving Iraq. Too much heat.

Ok, energy.

Solar: Won't happen fast enough to fix the War on Terror. Take the solar roof tiles for instance. Even if they worked today they would take years and years to filter into the physical plant. My Mom just got her roof replaced about 5 years ago. Do you think she's going to even think about replacing it any time soon? Nope. Not for decades. The solar panels will be seen first in the McMansion developments as they go up, but the 150 Million odd homes structures which already exist in the US aren't going to be re-roofed overnight. Just too expensive.

That's not saying that solar roof-tiles aren't a great idea, they just aren't going to fix our problems with al Quaeda.

Nuclear: A nuclear fuel cycle which consumed all of the dangerous isotopes would go a long way towards making this viable. Invisible Sci keeps saying they exist, but even if they do, people don't want it. As Fly said, invading Iraq was politically viable - a mass building program of nuclear plants was not.

My problem wasn't with the spirit of the original post - I take exception with Philip Shropshire's comments. I'm also disappointed that Randall felt the need to defend them. Den Beste never is certainly not in the "Frenchified Hate America" camp, and he never said to not invest in alternative energy. Philip's digs were neither necessary nor on topic. They were, in fact, insulting and rude.

As for Iraq, maybe we'll continue that on Parapundit.

Randall Parker said at July 13, 2004 11:24 AM:

Fly,

You say:

I believe Randall has offered a massive government energy research program as an alternative to the Iraqi War. (Please excuse me if I state your position poorly.)

No, I do not see energy research as an alternative to the invasion of Iraq as a way to fight the WoT because I think the invasion of Iraq in no way helps our side on the WoT. I mean, you might as well as state that I think energy research is an alternative to fixing potholes or getting your teeth cleaned. The Iraq invasion is a distraction and a drain on resources that could be used in many different ways (e.g. special forces were taken out of Afghanistan to send to Iraq even though Bin Laden, Al Zawahiri, and other leading Al Qaeda people are near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border).

As for the idea that energy research will not help on the War on Terror: Energy research will produce results faster than efforts at democratization. Yet the neocons are resting the justification for what they are doing in Iraq on democratization. The neocon strategy is flawed in conception because their officially stated goal is not achievable in the medium to short term and may not even be achievable in 40 to 50 years. I've provided plenty of posts on various reasons why I think this is the case. I can't state it any more clearly than that.

Brock,

As for solar not being fast enough: The technology that would most rapidly reduce oil consumption is a high capacity, light weight, long life, and cheap rechargeable battery. The reason is simple: Cars have relatively short half-lives as compared to roofs of houses. The North American market buys about 17 million cars per year. The impact would be felt even more rapidly than the sheer sales of cars would lead one to expect because people who drive the most miles per year would rush to get lower cost hybrids.

I've posted here in the past on MIT chemist Donald Sadoway's view that lithium polymer batteries could enable even pure electric cars. If he is correct then a breakthrough in lithium polymer batteries could first cause a shift to hybrids with a big reduction in oil consumption and a reduction in world oil prices. This would not require a large change in the capital infrastructure to do.

BTW, Toyota's Prius does not take current hybrid design based on current battery tech to the limit on efficiency because the engine Toyota is using is still pretty conventional. In Toyota's next gen hybrid they are going to use an engine that is designed to run at a constant RPM and therefore it can be optimized for efficiency without being limited by the need to generate a lot of torque across a large RPM range. I think I once linked to a Toyota page about this but don't know where.

However, I do not see solar as necessarily requiring a long time to scale up. The approaches being pursued to develop spray-on photovoltaics would allow a much more rapid conversion to the use of solar. Granted, solar without cheap battery storage technology is limited in its uses. But picture solar being used on hot sunny days when the air conditioning is running. It would chop off the electrical demand peaks of summer afternoons and would reduce electric power demand on most days even in the winter.

Also, the problem with solar being available at certain times of the day can be adapted to in all sorts of ways. Industrial processes can be reorganized to do more heavy duty work when the sun is shining. Look at the California aqueduct for example. It uses a lot of electricity to run massive pumps. It could do most of its water pumping during daylight hours.

Also, some industrial freezers could be driven to lower temperatures during the day rather than kept at a constant level of freezing all day long.

Market pricing of electricity per time of day would provide lots of incentives for companies to adjust their energy usage to work when the sun is shining. They'd have to trade off between energy cost and capital cost. If the energy cost is greater than the capital cost for, say, grinding grain then the constuction of more grain grinding machines would allow them all to run heavily during bright daylight hours and running little if at all during the night.

Engineer-Poet said at July 13, 2004 1:21 PM:

Brock wrote:

Take the solar roof tiles for instance. Even if they worked today they would take years and years to filter into the physical plant. My Mom just got her roof replaced about 5 years ago. Do you think she's going to even think about replacing it any time soon? Nope. Not for decades. The solar panels will be seen first in the McMansion developments as they go up, but the 150 Million odd homes structures which already exist in the US aren't going to be re-roofed overnight.
That's short-term thinking.

Had we continued the energy programs begun in the 1970's, we might already be 10 years into the installation of solar roofing on most roofing jobs.  We could have been up to 10 MW wind turbines yielding energy for $.03/KWH.  We could have been putting electricity rather than gasoline into our cars for 3/4 of our driving; not necessarily for energy conservation but for pollution control in all our major metropolitan areas.  Had we not interrupted our programs during the Reagan administration, we could be within a few years of kissing OPEC goodbye and leaving the oil-consuming world in fear of a war between the US and the Wahhabist State.  That fear would drive the world to emulate us, and probably buy the technology from us.

Even if roofs are only replaced every 25 years, that's 6 million roofs a year.  Suppose that all candidate roofs are replaced with solar when they are redone.  That's a damn sight better than the few hundred or thousand we're seeing now, and ten years from now it would be 60 million out of 150 million roofs.  But if we succumb to the idea that measures which fail to solve the problem immediately are not worth pursuing, we'll still be in the same pickle ten years from now.  And twenty.  And fifty.

Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Randall Parker said at July 13, 2004 1:48 PM:

BTW, E-P has his own post about Den Beste and energy policy from about a month ago. Worth a read.

There's another point about the rate of replacement of roofs that needs to be kept in mind: If the savings from installing a new photovoltaic roof will pay for the cost over a short enough period of years then there will be no point in waiting till the current roof wears out before replacing it with a photovoltaic roof. We will eventually get to the point where it becomes cheap enough to install a photovoltaic roof that people will pop for the $5000 or $8000 to put the roof on.

Essentially, the benefits of photovoltaics will bring forward the date at which roofs get replaced. Plus, we have the nearly 2 million new housing units that will be built each year that will get photovoltaic roofs. Also, some people will just opt for some sort of photovoltaic covering of the existing roof and therefore will not have to pay the cost of a totally new roof.

Brock said at July 13, 2004 1:56 PM:

Apparently at some point I must have inferred that I thought solar was a crap idea. I never said that. Let me repeat: I am NOT attacking the progress being made in these developments. I think they're great.

My disagreement is with the central premise that these developments will be able to obsolesce oil in a decade or two; or that it might somehow be effective in fighting terrorism.

A couple points:

(1) Reengineering cars to go without/ less oil will reduce demand for oil.

True. However, oil is a fungible good which enjoys a global market. Any reduction in oil prices will put the high-cost producers out of business long before it touches the low-cost producers. That means that if we cut oil prices in half, Russia, Houston, Canada, Mexico, etc. are out of business – and the Middle East is still raking it in. As long as they are the lowest cost producer, we will be ‘dependant’ on oil. That goes for all the other things oil is used for too – like plastic.

Revolutionary technology can reduce demand (and prices) for oil. It cannot stop petrodollars from seeking the lowest cost provider.

(2) Real-time pricing of energy will create incentives for efficient use.

Absolutely right. Our currently over-regulated system does not encourage efficient use of power. However, many users cannot (or will not) control when they need power. As more economic activity becomes dependant on computers, those computers always need to be on. General Motors can tune their production to power cycles, but Google cannot. Google needs to respond in 0.0378 seconds and cannot wait for the sun.

There are more Googles in the world than General Motors. Just something to keep in mind when you’re feeling over-enthusiastic. There are more barriers than engineering barriers.

(3) [This is an assumption that seems to exist] Large, government funded projects are the answer.

This is a real argument. I’m pretty sure I can see your point – but I don’t agree. Private equity has produced all of the companies in that Technology Report article. Would the US Govt. have done as well? History and experience says that it would not. The Government has had some wonderful successes, but the fact that we still use Velcro as an example is an indicator of how often it happens: not very.

Reducing regulation to allow for real-time pricing is an example of Government getting out of the way. That’s what gov’t is good at: balancing incentives. Politics created the current regulatory scheme, and some combination of special interests and inertia keep it in place. Creating institutions that spend lots of gov’t money may be a good idea today, but its likely to last must longer than we like. We need to provide the proper incentives, and then let the market figure it out. That’s the way to get the best answers.

I’d suggest that we tax oil imports to spur alternative energy development and use, while encouraging conservation – but tariffs like that have been struck down left & right recently as contrary to our trade treaties.

Randall Parker said at July 13, 2004 3:03 PM:

Brock,

There are a lot of companies founded with the help of venture capital to commercialize technologies first developed in research labs. Check out the post I just made on CDs used for medical research. See in that article the beginnings of the transition from NSF and Ohio state government funding to the creation of a private firm.

Do you think these photovoltaic nanotech start-ups are not using nanotech research results from university labs as necessary starting points?

As for the price of oil and obsolescence of oil: If solar reduces the demand for oil that will reduce the amount of oil pumped and the profit per barrel. The net effect will be to reduce the profit available to fund governments, Wahhabi missionary work, and the number of idle hands sitting around looking for work in the devil's workshop ("idle hands are the devil's workshop" according to my late grandmother).

There is no single solution to the problem of Islamic terrorism. There is no short-term approach that will put an end to it. The problem has to be attacked on many levels: better covert ops, better intelligence gathering, tougher immigration policies aimed at keeping out Muslims, much better border control, energy policy to cut money flowing to the Middle East, better law enforcement capabilities domestically, and many other areas of policy improvement.

Steve said at July 13, 2004 4:16 PM:

I've always wondered why you don't see parabolic solar collectors. I would assume that a system that used mirrors and required a much smaller solar cell would be cheaper(something like a sattelite dish, only pointing at the sun). I think that a unit like this could also use a small amount of the power it collected to keep itself pointed at the sun.

Anyone know if this idea has been tried? And since it isn't around, why it didn't work?

Fly said at July 13, 2004 5:05 PM:

Engineer-Poet: “Either you are misremembering the analysis, or said "expert" is no such thing.”

Yeah, I wondered if I should have distinguished between hybrids and pure electric cars. The analysis I read was on pure electrics. Hybrids are interesting. I could see hybrids evolving into a total electric car over a decade or two. That would allow the required support infra structure to grow with demand.

I’ve read that the present hybrids aren’t delivering their promised gas savings. I also believe the current generation of hybrids are basically modified standard cars. I suspect an electric car with a generator powered by a small gas powered motor for extra power and range will yield better mileage at lower cost. I agree the future looks promising.

The main point I wanted to make was that the discovery of a new light battery would not lead to significant changes in US energy usage in 3-5 years.

The same point occurs again and again in the energy field. Equipment is expensive and takes a long time to build. The power plants we have now will still be generating most of our energy twenty years from now. That is one reason why it is important to fund the energy research now. (I see Brock makes this same point in his post.)


“special forces were taken out of Afghanistan to send to Iraq even though Bin Laden, Al Zawahiri, and other leading Al Qaeda people are near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border”

The US has done a good job of taking out the Al Qaeda leadership and disrupting the organization. The problem that remains is Al Qaeda cells that aren’t centrally controlled and other terrorist organizations. How do you stop Saudi money from supporting terrorism and Saudi clerics from preaching terrorism? How do you stop Pakistan madrasas from training terrorists?


“No, I do not see energy research as an alternative to the invasion of Iraq as a way to fight the WoT because I think the invasion of Iraq in no way helps our side on the WoT.”

Randall, assume for the sake of argument that the attempt to democratize Iraq fails and in five years another tyrant is in charge.

In the meantime the US has demonstrated to governments that support terrorism that the US will act. Second the US has massive military force on the borders of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan. The US is well positioned for surveillance. The US is well positioned to insert covert teams into those countries and support local insurgents. If invasion is necessary, the US can do so quickly and without requiring any basing or overfly rights. As the military position is clear to the rulers of those countries, using direct military power shouldn’t even be necessary. (Note that I’m not saying the US will occupy those countries so massive armies of occupation aren’t necessary.)

Here is what the war in Iraq gained the US: If the democracy effort works, then the funding and preaching of Islamic terror in the ME will cease. If the democracy effort fails, then the funding and preaching of Islamic terror in the ME will cease under threat of direct military action. (In the latter case if further invasions are required, the cleanup process will be a lengthy, ugly mess.)

The nurturing and funding of terrorism needs to end as soon as possible. That required direct military action. Energy research is too slow. (I suspect that even with the military action in Iraq that it is already too late to save a US city from a massive attack.)

(Wow. I see I’m way behind in responding to posts. I’ll skip to Randall’s last post.)

“There is no single solution to the problem of Islamic terrorism. There is no short-term approach that will put an end to it. The problem has to be attacked on many levels: better covert ops, better intelligence gathering, tougher immigration policies aimed at keeping out Muslims, much better border control, energy policy to cut money flowing to the Middle East, better law enforcement capabilities domestically, and many other areas of policy improvement.”

Very true Randall. I add to your list the direct use of US military power to stop governments from nurturing terrorists.


Fly said at July 13, 2004 5:15 PM:

Steve: “I've always wondered why you don't see parabolic solar collectors. I would assume that a system that used mirrors and required a much smaller solar cell would be cheaper(something like a sattelite dish, only pointing at the sun). I think that a unit like this could also use a small amount of the power it collected to keep itself pointed at the sun.
Anyone know if this idea has been tried? And since it isn't around, why it didn't work?”

Yes, several systems were designed based on focusing solar collecters.

The Power Tower was based on focusing the sun’s light to heat a boiler. (Suffered from high maintenance costs.)
Other systems focused light on a solar cell. One even used water to cool the solar cell and then used the heated water for other purposes.

One drawback to focused systems is that they have to track the sun. Another drawback is that cloud coverage severely disrupts energy production. (Non-focused systems can better use diffuse light.)

AKH said at July 13, 2004 6:26 PM:

Here are some websites with some interesting information on parabolic solar collectors.

http://www.egr.unlv.edu/solar/main.html

http://www.stirlingenergy.com/default.asp

Engineer-Poet said at July 13, 2004 7:46 PM:

Brock wrote:

... oil is a fungible good which enjoys a global market. Any reduction in oil prices will put the high-cost producers out of business long before it touches the low-cost producers.
That cuts both ways.  If we could somehow create a Saudi Arabia-sized gap between world oil demand and production, the world could tolerate Iraq-style disruptions of Saudi oil fields without throwing the world economy into chaos.  The Wahhabi oppression of the Shi'a majority in the oil-producing regions of the peninsula might make this easier than it sounds, and Al Qaeda is already targeting foreign oil personnel.

Shutting down Saudi Arabia does not appear to be difficult, and it would destroy the money supply of Wahhabism regardless of how or why it occurred.  The problem is to prevent this from having large deleterous effects elsewhere, and a large and sudden shift to hybrid vehicles might supply the necessary cushion.

Garson Poole said at July 14, 2004 1:04 AM:

Randall Parker advocates research in photovoltaics and batteries, in part, because success will lower oil revenue in the Middle East. It is intriguing to look at what has happened in recent history. In Saudi Arabia, the per capita oil revenue has already declined enormously.

Consider the excerpts below from the Energy Information Administration, a statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Energy.


Saudi Arabia's per capita oil export revenues (in inflation adjusted dollars) remain far below high levels reached during the 1970s and early 1980s (around $3,371 per person in 2003, versus $22,174 in 1980, for instance).

This is in large part due to the fact that Saudi Arabia's young population has more than doubled since 1980, while oil export revenues in real terms have fallen sharply (also, in recent years the value of the dollar -- the currency in which oil is traded -- has fallen, hurting Saudi Arabia's terms of trade).

The EIA also notes that the Saudi Arabian economy is largely dependent on oil revenue:

With oil export revenues making up around 90-95% of total Saudi export earnings, 70%-80% of state revenues, and around 40% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), Saudi Arabia's economy remains, despite attempts at diversification, heavily dependent on oil (although investments in petrochemicals have increased the relative importance of the downstream petroleum sector in recent years).

Garson Poole said at July 14, 2004 2:05 AM:

Steve asked:
I've always wondered why you don't see parabolic solar collectors. I would assume that a system that used mirrors and required a much smaller solar cell would be cheaper (something like a satellite dish, only pointing at the sun). I think that a unit like this could also use a small amount of the power it collected to keep itself pointed at the sun.

There is a well-publicized startup company that claims it will release a product in 2005 that will use mirrors calibrated to focus the sun on high-concentration photovoltaic cells. The company is called "Energy Innovations" and a profile entitled "Catch the Fire!" appeared in Discover magazine in August 2003.

Early product prototypes used an elegant "sunflower" shape in which the sun-tracking mirrors looked like flower petals, and the light was focused on a stirling engine. This fascinating design was abandoned because group head Bill Gross said he was trying to achieve what he calls the "Holy Grail" - power that costs only a dollar a watt.

The current prototype is quite different and uses a rectangular array of tracking mirrors and a photovoltaic cell. Good luck to the company!

Randall Parker said at July 14, 2004 10:45 AM:

Garson,

I'd like to see a time series on Saudi government spending on Wahhabi missionary work as a function of time. As Saudi Arabian per capita GDP has fallen have the clerics received less money to spread their religion abroad? I do not have a citation for this but the last figure I came across was that the Saudis are spending $3 billion a year to spread Wahhabism.

Fly said at July 14, 2004 2:22 PM:

“I do not have a citation for this but the last figure I came across was that the Saudis are spending $3 billion a year to spread Wahhabism.”

That matches my recollection. The $70 billion over thirty years represented a consistent pattern of donations. (Part of a continuing historical pact between the Saudi family and the Wahabi sect.) The number of “princes” has dramatically increased over the decades so the yearly stipend that trickles down the “royal” heirarchy to the lower levels has significantly diminished. Combine the economic slide with large numbers of non-working, sexually repressed men who are taught that they are innately superior to other races and cultures and you have fertile ground for religious fanaticism.

The money going to Wahabi clerics worldwide each year might be a good metric for measuring success in the WoT. Another might be the number of students enrolled in madrasas that teach nothing but Islamic studies.

The incitement to violence in the Arab media and in Islamic mosques is also an indicator. This one could be harder to interpret. Now that political control of Iraq has been handed over to Iraqi’s I hope to see a mood change in some Islamic countries. As the US continues to press for change, I expect the heated rhetoric to continue in those countries most threatened. Hopefully there will be signs that moderate Islamic countries are calming down.

Garson Poole said at July 20, 2004 10:27 AM:

Randall Parker said:
I'd like to see a time series on Saudi government spending on Wahhabi missionary work as a function of time.

That would be interesting. I googled to try and find some official pronouncements about Saudi Arabian foreign aid. In my search, I could not find an easy category breakdown for the aid, so I do not know how much was oriented towards spreading religious memes. From 1973 to 1993 the Kingdom claims to have provided foreign aid at a rate of 5.5% of its GNP "even when oil revenues have plummeted".

A 2004 article claims that foreign aid was given at a rate of 4% of its GNP. So there has been some decrease in percentage if these numbers are accurate. But the drop in per capita oil revenue was much steeper.

I am fully in favor of substantial funding for research advances in solar power, batteries and renewable domestic energy. It is also great to see private venture funding for these technologies. It is important to build a large and diverse base of support for innovative energy research.

Saudi Embassy 2004 Foreign Aid News
http://www.saudiembassy.net/2004News/News/ForDetail.asp?cIndex=3984

Saudi Arabia will continue its foreign aid 06/30/2004

Addressing a conference at the United Nations in New York yesterday, Executive Director for Saudi Arabia at the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) Dr. Yahya Al-Yahya gave assurances that the Kingdom will continue to do its part in offering assistance to developing countries, with four percent of its annual Gross National Product exported as foreign aid.

Scale of Saudi foreign aid - Website of King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz
http://www.kingfahdbinabdulaziz.com/main/n010.htm

In the twenty years from 1973 to 1993, despite considerable variations in national revenues and many competing demands, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia provided 5.5% of its Gross National Product in overseas aid. Given that the United Nations has suggested 0.7% as the lower limit for donor countries, the Kingdom’s contribution has been outstanding.

King Fahd’s approach to foreign aid has always been to provide as much as possible whenever it is needed. Even when oil revenues have plummeted and subjected the Kingdom to economic difficulties which would have entirely disrupted a less coherent society, King Fahd has overseen a continuous program of substantial overseas aid.

PS: Thanks for converting my URLs into links. I tried to use HTML to specify the links but when I did a preview it did not seem to work.

PPS: I could not post anything for several days because an error message was generated when I tried to post.

Orion said at March 25, 2005 5:01 PM:

"That's why solar and wind will always be niche sources compared to other sources. We need 99.9% steady power, and solar can't give us that. We need to turn the power on and off as demand requires, and the sun will not oblige. "

Actually, the Sun *does* oblige: You just aren't thinking big enough. Couple solar collection stations around the world with the new high-temperature superconductors just coming online now and you could have steady power all the time, from solar energy, anywhere along the grid network. Go high: put the stations in geosynchronous orbit and beam down to ground stations, and again with a superconducting grid network you could eliminate our oil dependency forever.

The problem of course is getting from *here* to *there*. We still don't have the manufacturing base to run out superconductor cables en masse and even if we did it will physically take time and a sh*t load of money to build the grid. It's in the "to do" list at DoE, however.

Simillus said at October 20, 2005 6:41 AM:

What needs to be understood and should be obvious from the history on the '70s oil crunch is that government does not and cannot solve problems. They are however, quite adept at creating them. There are too many competing agendas to accomplish anything but talking and politics. In the end Big Oil with its political connections won and we the consumer lost. Now we need to support private small companies with good ideas that are doable now, not 10 or 20 years in the future. We need hybrid cars. We need affordable solar cells. We need bio-diesel. We need more oil refineries. We need smaller and cheaper nuclear power plants(think of the nuclear subs that were scuttled a few years ago - the power plants could have been used to power small towns) I have a delivery van it gets 18-20 mpg. What I want is a diesel-hybrid that can handle up to a 50/50 petro-bio-diesel mix. I figure I could at least doulble my current mpg. Is it available. NO! Why not? The technolgy is available. There are currently city buses running in my area right now with this set-up and doing very well. There has even been a motorcycle set up as a diesel-hybrid. It tested out at 180 mpg. and had a top speed of 80 mph. Not competition for most current production bikes but it was only a prototype. Will it get built and sold- probably not. We are our own worst enemy. We don't like change. When a car maker shows us a new sleek 300 hp V8 that gets 15 mpg we buy it instead of saying "thats nice but I want a diesel-hybrid". I don't know how we are going to change that. Maybe $5 or $6 dollars per gallon will be enough to push the public over the edge I just don't know. I don't think there is any one solution to this problem right now and I don't see one in the near future. There is however, a whole lot of good useable technology availalbe right now that can begin to lower our consumption of oil and bring us a measure of independence again. For every hybrid vehical and every solar cell, wind tubine and all of the rest that is one less barrel of oil that is consumed. Is it a band - aid yes it is - But what is better continuing what we've been doing (nothing) or to move forward and make an attempt at solving the problem? I personaly would like to see a day when we could tell the people of the middle east - You are now free to kill each other as you wish without interference from us- we don't really need you anymore. I think they would wise up when the flow of dollars slows to a trickle. Or they may just fight until they're worn out. Either way - Problem solved!

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