June 13, 2010
Chris Nelder: Replace Offshore Oil With Wind?

Chris Nelder looks at what it would take to replace US offshore Gulf of Mexico oil with a comparable amount of energy from wind power.

Federal offshore Gulf of Mexico has been our last great hope for domestic oil production against a four-decade declining trend. Offshore oil now accounts for 1.7 million barrels per day (mbpd), or over 30%, of our domestic production of 5.5 mbpd.What would it take to substitute wind for offshore oil? At 5.8 MBtu heat value in a barrel of oil and 3412 BTU in a kWh, 1.7 mbpd is equivalent to 2.9 billion kWh per day, or 1,059 billion kWh a year. By comparison, total 2008 wind generation was 14.23 billion kWh in Texas, and 5.42 billion kWh in California.

Therefore, to replace our offshore oil with wind, you’d need 195 Californias, or 74 Texases of wind, and probably 20 years to build it.

The comparison here between oil and wind electric power isn't exact for a number of reasons. On the one hand oil loses energy getting burned in engines and at other stages. On the other hand, wind doesn't always blow when you need it and electric power is hard to use for transportation. But these rough calculations at least start an analysis of oil substitutes. I'll go further with it below. But a full analysis of substitutes would require a write-up far bigger than a blog post.

Texas happens to have the most wind turbines of any US state. Multiply the number of existing Texas wind turbines (at least in 2008) by a factor of 74 to get a comparable amount of energy from wind power. Texas amounted of about a quarter of total US wind electric power in 2008.

In 2009 in the United States wind provided 70,761 thousand megawatt hours of electric power (70.8 billion kWh). Wind grew by 15,398 thousand megawatt-hours of actual output in 2009 or 28%. Compare that 15.4 billion kWh increase to the 1 trillion kWh per year of energy we currently get from the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) oil. If we built and installed wind turbines at a rate 10 times faster than the current rate we could produce as much energy from wind in about 7 years. Of course, you can't pour liquid electric power into your gas tank. A migration to wind power involves more than building wind farms. More on that below.

A rapid build-out of wind sites assumes these sites exist. Of course the transportation infrastructure in the United States is built to run on oil and conversion of that infrastructure to run on something other than oil couldn't happen in 7 years without a huge reduction in living standards to free up the industrial output to build the wind turbines, long distance electric power lines, batteries, electric cars, and other pieces needed to electrify transportation. A ramp-up of lithium mining to support such a large build of lithium batteries would take years to accomplish.

What about total cost? The first part of the cost equation is the wind turbines. Does anyone know of a good source for total sales of wind turbines (including installation) in the United States in 2009? Take that figure and multiply by about 65 to get a wind farm cost answer. But that might be low due to a need to use more lower quality wind farms. Also, there'd be some big cost (anyone have a good idea on how to estimate it?) for a big build-out of HDVC electric grid long range lines to deliver the electric power from the central plains states (where the wind is) to the coasts. I'll update the post with more cost info as any commenters find more or I find more.

The real problem (and the real reason we continue to so heavily rely on oil) comes when we try to use all that wind electric power. Most oil gets used in cars and trucks. Here's the problem in a picture: (data for 2008)

U.S. Primary Energy Consumption by Source and Sector diagram image

Aside: In 2004 only 67% of oil went for transportation as compared to 71% in 2008.Gradually many non-transportation uses of oil are getting squeezed out. This speaks to the difficult of substituting electric power for oil in transportation. Only oil's essential uses remain as prices rise. Transportation continues to make the cut.

Electric vehicles are not widely used mainly because batteries big enough to give them substantial range cost too much. With electric cars the batteries end up costing 2-4 times more than the electric power. Cars are the prime candidates for conversion to electric power because transportation is the biggest user of oil (about 71% of all oil in the US is for transportation). Since the question Nelder posed is only about how to replace GOM oil production (rather than all oil production) with electric power we do not have to figure out how to shift all transportation and chemical industry uses of oil to electric power. But we even then the going gets hard.

Suppose we do not include the 1.625 million barrels per day used by heavy trucks (and I'd really like to know what fraction of that oil is for long distance trucking). Trying to electrify trucking is much harder than electrifying cars because long haul trucks travel many more miles per day than the average car. Range is the big problem with batteries. Long haul trucks would need huge batteries and/or lots of stops for battery swapping. If we just aim for commuter and other local car usage we can focus on pluggable hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) like the Chevy Volt (range 40 miles on battery) and pure electric vehicles (EVs) such as the Nissan Leaf (range 100 miles on battery). If we make PHEVs and EVs as the main tools for electrification then we'd probably need to replace tens of million cars with PHEVs and EVs. That'd take years since not all vehicles could practically be PHEVs or EVs. Plus, the added cost of PHEVs and EVs would slow the adoption rate. Figure $5000 added cost per car we are up in trillions of dollars to make the transition. Possible if we are willing to pay the price.

We could electrify trains much more easily (relatively speaking, still with a big price tag) than we could electrify trucks. But trains only use about 220,000 barrels of oil per day. So train electrification would not do much to eliminate our dependence on oil unless we shifted a lot more shipping onto trains (and probably build more train tracks or moved closer to train tracks).

You can listen to an interview of Chris Nelder on the Financial Sense News Hour. He sees peak oil as imminent and therefore a migration away from oil as necessary but very difficult.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 June 13 01:54 PM  Energy Transportation

Scorpion said at June 13, 2010 4:08 PM:

This guy is so full of it. Oh, I see, the BTUs in a barrel of oil will convert to 100% electricity!!??
Ummm....noo, fossil fuel is at best 20% efficient. So, at best only 20% of the BTUs in a barrel of oil
will end up as electricity. So, divide by 5 right there.
Also, lets focus on the external costs of oil: asthma in kids, lung cancer, water pollution, smog, global warming, need I go on? Oh, and then after charging these costs up front rather than sleight of hand on the back end, lets compare apples to apples. A truly wise society would quickly convert
all that oil-platform building tech into offshore wind turbines. Sadly, we are not a 'wise society', not with people who think like this author.

Randall Parker said at June 13, 2010 4:42 PM:


This is far from a detailed analysis. But it at least gets us within an order of magnitude.

Electric power has energy needs that lower its real efficiency too:

- Energy to harvest and process lithium and other minerals into batteries. This has got to be big given the cost of the batteries.
- Energy loss in transmission.
- Energy loss when the wind blows so hard that the electric power from the turbines goes unused. This already happens now. It would happen with a larger percentage of generated wind electric power if we scaled up wind by a couple of orders of magnitude.
- Energy loss when charging batteries.

Also, fossil fuel vehicle efficiency is rising. Hybrids, dual turbos, direct injection into each cylinder, and dual clutch transmissions are all boosting efficiency and will do more in the next few years. Ford's EcoBoost drive train is an example of where the industry is going with internal combustion engines. So 20% efficiency seems low if we want to compare electric cars against best practices of ICE cars.

Wolf-Dog said at June 13, 2010 7:39 PM:

Since September 2001, the US government wasted more than $1 trillion on useless military adventures. Putting charging pods in every street and addint battery swapping robots to every gas station would cost only 1 year of imported oil. And if the US government decides a New New Deal project to expand the electric grid just by 10 % to charge electric vehicles, we will be able to make the transition. But the government should start allocating the money to start a standardization program, for battery sizes, so that a few sizes of battery would be enough to take care of all kinds of cars, even as the batteries become obsolete and get better in a few years.

But if the government wasted $1 trillion since 2001, it can waste another $1 trillion during this decade to build the electric car infrastructure. By 2020 Denmark and Israel will have closed most of their gas stations.

Roving Packs of Dingos said at June 14, 2010 4:24 AM:

Wind turbines break down frequently and expensively. You will have to re-build the wind infrastructure over and over and over, it never ends.
It is a great deal for Chinese wind turbine manufacturers. Go whole hog and put lipstick on that pig, by all means.

Nick G said at June 14, 2010 11:39 AM:


It doesn't really make sense to compare wind power to off-shore drilling. That's because the loss of oil production doesn't affect our electricity supplies. We'll have plenty of electricity whatever happens, because we have enormous supplies of coal. Really, wind power is only important in the context of reducing pollution from coal and other sources. If we want to know how difficult it will be to replace this oil, it's really a question of how quickly we can ramp up EVs and other substitutes for liquid fuels.

I don't think the original analysis really got within an order of magnitude: the energy losses that you mention really aren't that large: manufacturing energy costs are a small % of vehicle embedded energy as well as of lifetime vehicle energy consumption; transmission losses are only about 7%; peak-shaving for wind power is likely to only be a few percentage points of wind kWh output (especially if wind power is used to power EVs, which can schedule or defer their charging to match wind generation). Battery charging losses are the largest item, and they're only about 20% for the whole wall-to-wheel process.

I'm not sure it makes sense to use the most efficient ICE cars when comparing wind to oil in this scenario, because the author is comparing an alternative (wind) to the status quo, and the status quo is oil powering 22MPG cars.

Finally, it won't be difficult to build as much wind as we need: we built about 8GW nameplate last year, and we could ramp up to 50GW per year relatively easily. That would only be about $100B per year (including transmission to the grid), which is much less than the industrial capacity we currently have underutilized: car sales alone have dropped by about 5M, and that's about $140B per year. The US economy would only be helped by the increased industrial investment and production. Also, keep in mind that we spend quite a bit on generation investment now: I susptect we've spend $100B per year at times in the past.

We'd need 600GW in wind nameplate capacity to replace coal: we could do that in 12 years.

OTOH, we'd need about 200GW to power all 220M US vehicles with wind power: that would only take about 4 years.

Finally, an additional $5K per car to eliminate oil consumption would pay off nicely: the average US car costs about $1,800 per year to fuel, so that would be about 36% ROI. If we replaced imports with domestic production, that would support the economy very well.

Chad said at June 14, 2010 11:57 AM:

Of course, Wolf Dog is happy with the strip-mining of deserts for Lithium and the wholesale destruction of sensitive habitat for wind farms just to get a few oil fields offline. Pick your destruction, there is no energy source that doesn't mar the environment and while fossil fuels have their drawbacks they have the second smallest footprint on the environment.

A 1 GW natural gas power plant needs about 100 acres of land whereas a similar output wind farm needs 30,000 acres. I for one prefer the energy rich petroleum and undeveloped wilderness instead of plowing under habitat.

But, then again, most urban greenies care more about controlling people than actually protecting nature.

Beth Donovan said at June 14, 2010 12:04 PM:

Hi. I'm a farmer. There is no electrical substitute for oil on the farm. As it is, we pay a lot more for electricity than city people do. They don't make a battery that will run a tractor with enough torque to do what it needs to do for 8 or more hours a day.
I'd love to use wind power for household electricity, which currently comes mostly from coal - but there is just no way anyone who understands how farming works can believe that wind energy can replace diesel fuel and gasoline.

Ken Royall said at June 14, 2010 12:23 PM:

Wind and oil are not equivalent in any way whatsoever. This is ridiculous on its face. We do not use electricity (in the main) for transportation and we can produce electricity far more effectively with coal, NG, hydro and nuclear in any case. We need oil for industry and transportation, a bunch of wind turbines that only produce 30% of the time max will accomplish nothing in reducing our need for oil.

RSweeney said at June 14, 2010 12:24 PM:

Let's look at one case: Virginia.

The ENTIRE 100% wind potential of the state, including offshore, would have to run at 100% for 880 years to create the amount of energy estimated to be the LOW end of the off-shore oil/gas potential for the state.

Wind figures from The Sierra Club, oil/gas from the USGS.

And that wind won't power tractors, trucks, cars or aircraft.

Darrell said at June 14, 2010 12:52 PM:

The answer: slot cars. Seriously. Electrify the roads and have pickups on all vehicles.

Beth Donovan said at June 14, 2010 1:12 PM:

Ha, ha, Darrell - have you any idea how many miles of roads there are in this country? And how would those electrified roads do in rain and snow?

geokstr said at June 14, 2010 1:25 PM:

I have the answer.

The Obama administration should pass a $100,000 per vehicle refundable tax credit to put a personal 20ft mini-windmill on the roof of each vehicle, and re-paint it with spray-on solar cells. Then rebuild all the roads in the US to go downhill in all directions. This, by my calculations (lessee, here, divide by 7, carry the 4, multiply by several hundred trillion), would result in every vehicle generating more energy than it uses, making each one a self-contained perpetual motion machine. In order to do this, it will merely require us to re-prioritize 100% of our current efforts away from other petty economic stuff, like food production, for a while, which has perfectly acceptable and desirable fully intended consequences (see paragraph 3 below).

Of course, the technology isn't quite available yet, so I didn't mean it to happen in this Obama administration, but if we get started right away, it should be a snap to do in Malia's fourth term as Supreme-Leader-in-Chief.

That's about as practical and realistic as all this fantasmagorical dreaming of the left on how we can do this transition to blowhard and tanning power without a major reduction in living standards, killing off a hefty majority of the world's population, and transferring all political power to the International Collective. Of course, to them, those are all features, not bugs, in their 5 Year Plans.

The only thing Orwell got wrong was the year.

neuromancer said at June 14, 2010 1:29 PM:

I like the slot car idea! ;^)

Seriously though, the scale of efficiency is against kinetic energy sources like wind from the get go. The amount of matter consumed when gasoline is burned is so small that we cannot even measure it. In five years, a nuclear plant big enough to run San Francisco consumes only a few ounces of matter. It's E=MC^2 vs. E=MV. Mass times velocity can never compete with chemical or nuclear energy, which can be made very very clean.

Furthermore, wind and solar are only economically viable when public subsidies (i.e. our money) are paying producers to put them in and run them. European countries are getting wise and have quit falling for the green energy con. Over 80% of all wind turbines in the US are abandoned since their public subsidies have run out, but sadly, they continue to chew up birds in places like Altamont, CA. Solar cells use more energy to make then they produce in their usable lifetime. It is illegal to make them in the US due to toxicity concerns with the silicon process.

"Renewable Energy" is a fairy tale, and the energy companies cashing in on the subsudues are lauging all the way to the bank.

Dave G said at June 14, 2010 1:53 PM:

"If we make PHEVs and EVs as the main tools for electrification then we'd probably need to replace tens of million cars with PHEVs and EVs. That'd take years since not all vehicles could practically be PHEVs or EVs. Plus, the added cost of PHEVs and EVs would slow the adoption rate. Figure $5000 added cost per car we are up in trillions of dollars to make the transition. Possible if we are willing to pay the price."

Hahahaha. Good one. You're joking, right? You CAN'T be serious, can you? Do you even BEGIN to realize the audacity of this statement?

You just got done making a whole bunch of reasonable arguments why the premise is unworkable, and then you throw out a sliver of greenie hope "possible if we are willing to pay the price". Please. YOU are NOT WE.

Come up with a game-changing battery technology, with high energy density AND low cost. Then WE can talk. Until then, this is all just so much smoke.

Governor Lambchop said at June 14, 2010 2:02 PM:

People who believe in that they can replace fossil fuels with wind and solar occupy a special subdivision of la-la land. They are so disconnected from real world issues that the only careers open to them are college professor, political activist, and journalist. Alright, top bureaucrats in the Obama administration. Most other professions require at least some competence.

Dowlan Smith said at June 14, 2010 2:08 PM:

I like Darrell's slot car idea too. Except with induction not direct contact charging/energy transfer. You would not need to do all the roads, just the highways at first. Once on the highway electric lane, a signal would be sent to your vehicle to lower the induction charging unit close to the charging strip in the road. During a long road trip the small (probably less than 50 mile range) battery would be charged for when you exited the highway. Start with the interstates.

Tex the Pontificator said at June 14, 2010 2:14 PM:

Wolf Dog says, "By 2020 Denmark and Israel will have closed most of their gas stations."

Maybe so, but you can drive across either of those countries with a rubber band-powered car. That's not going to work here.

Ken Royall said at June 14, 2010 2:40 PM:

"By 2020 Denmark and Israel will have closed most of their gas stations."

That is funny because Denmark exports most of their wind energy to countries that have available hydro. You can ramp hydro up and down to compensate for the intermittent nature of wind power. Unfortunately most places don't have hydro near enough to wind so it is an extremely limited solution. Even if Denmark and Israel converted to an all electric vehicle fleet, which they won't, they will still need ample supplies of petroleum products for industrial uses. The electricity to power the electric fleets will still be coming from fossil fuels as well. Wind and solar simply don't produce enough energy and most of the time they are producing none. They fail at all load demand elements.

Last year in the US the total contribution of electricity from wind was 1.78%, solar was .023% of total demand. This after decades of subsidies and mandates from government. We need to be working on real solutions, not taxpayer subsidized boondoggles foisted on us be leftist politicians, Vestas and GE. If wind and solar had any commercial viability at all the private sector would be funding it by the billions. It would have happened long ago as neither is a new technology. A true energy alternative is the next killer app, it would be a license to print money. There is no conspiracy holding it back, only the laws of physics and economics.

jpintx said at June 14, 2010 3:54 PM:

He is a fact for you. Using 2009 data for electricity generated in the USA from all sources, the total electricity generated when converted to BTUs as a common measure, is equal to 55%+/- of the BTUs contained in the petroleum fuels used for transportation in the USA. Go to the eia.doe.gov, look for their data on electricity and petroleum. Here is the electricity link http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/table1_1.html and here is the petroleum data link http://www.eia.doe.gov/dnav/pet/pet_cons_psup_dc_nus_mbbl_a.htm. Now on the petroleum data add together the "Finished Motor Gasoline, Finished Aviation Gasoline, Kerosene Type Jet Fuel, 15 ppm and under distillate and 15 to 500 ppm distillate" (these are diesel fuels). This comes to 4,954,638,000 barrels of fuels used for transportation derived from petroleum, no ethanol or biodiesel included (not that they are material). For the sake of simplicity multiply times 5,000,000 BTU per barrel (gasoline is 4,830,000 the kerosene and diesel 5,500,000) and you get 24,773,190,000,000,000 BTUs. The TOTAL electricity generated for 2009 was 3,953,111,000 megawatts, that times 3,412,000 BTUs per megawatt equals 13,488,014,732,000,000 BTUs. It is the scale, the sheer magnitude of the energy needed, that those who glibly talk of replacing oil with "green" fuels fail to recognize. And it is in the transportation area that the greatest difficulty is found.

By the way, there is a data file which will break down the generated by "renewables" and I suspect you will find that wood still contributes 30 or 40 times as much as solar.

Ari Tai said at June 14, 2010 5:46 PM:

What's amazing is BP was in a big hurry to cap this well and NOT exploit it (and that rush itself skipped processes that would have prevented the blowout – as would have moving the well into production).

Seems to me these resources are licensed (in the citizens' interest) not to hold prices UP but to move prices DOWN towards their marginal cost ($2 or less a barrel for light sweet Saudi crude). BP must not have any competition in the gulf willing to pump that field (or others closeby), or there's no refining capacity, or they are in league with the regulators to hold prices up (or ??). Remember that not long ago there was a time when it was more profitable to store oil while speculators bid up the price then sell it.

Seems less regulation and more competition should (always) be the answer. Except if you're really convinced that CO2 is a poison, or that Margaret Thatcher's late-in-life conversion to opposing AGW as policy - v. a warmer planet's actual benefits - was a mistake. Perhaps we should regulate the regulators (to no more than 1% of 1% of the headcount of the largest company in the industry they are regulating.. that way they'd have to focus on the most significant issues that only a regulator can manage.. v. the appearance we have today of centralized planning with a regulators' hand in everything, and the soft corruption that results (same as in big pharma, farming, autos, etc.).

Why didn't BP's competitors flood to the site to provide equipment, capture and clean-up? (like they always did in the old days of oil exploration on land). Answer: there's no real competition given how the political dynamic of the energy business drives out those not in bed with their regulators and politicians. It's interesting to note that oil companies have never been more profitable, including B(eyond) P(retoleum) – BP’s own words.

re: wind, etc. alternatives.

Remember that the new competitor has to beat the old at the marginal cost. Oil (coal, hydro, nuclear, etc.) will never be cheaper than when they have a competitor threatening to displace them. And if it's not competitive, it won't, can't replace them (save thru the thumb of government on the scales, and that's always been a mistake - hurting the least-of-us the most).

Choey said at June 14, 2010 6:00 PM:

If wind energy is so wonderful and practical, why does it need 10X the taxpayer subsidy of coal or nukes?

Engineer-Poet said at June 14, 2010 8:05 PM:

It's particularly interesting to look at this piece when Nelder has pulled a Michael Dittmar.

I don't mention Dittmar lightly; Nelder has been grossly dishonest.  He not only compares crude oil to finished electricity, he implies that current capacity is the limit.

The truth is quite different.  Per the US government, Texas potential alone is over 6.5 million GWh per year.  That is over 22 quads of raw energy per year, more than twice the total BTU yield of all US oil production.  Adjusting for quality, it's more like 10 times as much.  Kansas and Nebraska add more than another Texas; adding S. Dakota and Montana to them sums to more than 2 Texases (in addition to Texas).  (To see my figures, unprotect the sheet and sort by column I from rows 16-63 in descending order, then use column J as a running total.)

Of course, it makes no sense to develop only the resources in 5 states.  Taking 20% of the capacity of the top 12 states (TX, KS, NE, SD, MT, ND, IA, WY, OK, MN, NM and CO) would yield about 6600 TWh a year, enough to replace all US electric generation from all sources plus electrify all US ground transport.  The variability means the timing wouldn't always be right, but shifting fuel around for things like space heat and DHW would get the job done.

This isn't to say that wind is the best way to get the job done.  Any of several nuclear technologies might well be cheaper.  But when Nelder claims that there's simply not enough wind energy he's either too ignorant to be worthy of attention, or he's lying.

Good Lt said at June 15, 2010 5:41 AM:

Aw, that sounds nice. Windmills "replacing" offshore oil.

I hope the advocates of this 'plan' don't plan on transporting windmill parts by truck or plane or train, because each of those archaic technologies requires oil (fuel) or oil byproducts (lubrication, etc) to function properly. Sorry, greenies. You hate oil? Then stop driving, flying, boating, using bikes (chain grease has oil in it), using plastic (in nearly everything), heating your homes, etc. I also hope they don't plan on having the windmill parts manufactured at facilities that use oil byproducts or oil in their machinery or in their transportation, either. Oil being used along the supply chain of a windmill part is still using oil, and that's EEEEEVIL.

Because, like, oil just isn't that important or ubiquitous, so it should be NO PROBLEM to live without it in the modern world. So, like, eliminating and choking the supply of it off will usher in like a new energy utopia or something with no adverse consequences to the economy or people's lives. It's the CHANGE you've all been waiting for or something.

Who's up for $12 per gallon gas? You know you are.

dude said at June 15, 2010 6:23 AM:

Goodness it's tiring hearing from people who have such religious fervor with respect to renewables. It is like trying to argue with a zealot, they get extremely hostile and irrational, see the "engineer-poet" above. He points to an excel chart that comes from who knows where which provides this as the intro..

"These estimates show, for each of the 48 contiguous states and the entire United States, the windy land area with a gross capacity factor (without losses) of 30% and greater at 80-m height above ground and the wind energy potential from development of the “available” windy land area after exclusions. The “Installed Capacity” shows the potential megawatts (MW) of rated capacity that could be installed on the available windy land area, and the “Annual Generation” shows annual wind energy generation in gigawatt-hours (GWh) that could be produced from the installed capacity. AWS Truewind, LLC developed the wind resource data for windNavigator® (http://navigator.awstruewind.com) with a spatial resolution of 200 m. NREL produced the estimates of windy land area and windy energy potential, including filtering the estimates to exclude areas unlikely to be developed such as wilderness areas, parks, urban areas, and water features (see Wind Resource Exclusion Table for more detail). "

AWS Truewind LLC eh...."without losses" eh...Just make your points and rebuttals without resorting to typical leftie tactics.

Among the cows in Iowa said at June 15, 2010 8:00 AM:

From "who knows where"? This is the URL:


It's the US government.

Hong said at June 15, 2010 11:50 AM:

Lets not look to government to solve a crisis they helped create. Apparently the head of MMS spent most of her time promoting offshore wind while neglecting her primary duty of regulating drilling. Not an endorsement for treating government as God.

Engineer-Poet said at June 15, 2010 7:04 PM:

So, Hong, you trust the government to publish resource maps of coal, gas, oil, metals and such, but you don't trust the government to publish a resource map of wind?  Oh, wait, that's exactly what you do.  Give the trolling a rest.

The misfeasance of Obama's MMS head notwithstanding, the pursuit of wind power is a good idea (though probably not off-shore in the GoM; the Atlantic coast is better territory closer to major consumers).  The depletion rate of deepwater Gulf of Mexico wells is very high (I hear they have hit the predicted 50%/year depletion rate of a few years ago), so the resource is going to be exhausted very soon regardless.  On the other hand, wind isn't going away as long as the sun shines.  Plug-in hybrid transport with highly efficient sustainer engines are the way to deal with depleting oil supplies.

Hong said at June 15, 2010 8:17 PM:

Honestly, E-P, I'm confused on what you're babbling about this time since at no point did I ever say I treated any government source as the absolute word so now you're just making things up. Obviously, as Deepwater is evidence of, trusting govt to reliably regulate the oil industry is probably a mistake yet for some strange reason, you assume it's wise to treat their wind power predictions as gospel. I would say give it a rest, but I'm talking to the troll who posts on Friday and Saturday nights.

the pursuit of wind power is a good idea

Yet for a variety of reasons, demand for new installations are on the decline so I suspect the actual versus advertised claims by the administration will be drastically different.

Greg said at June 21, 2010 1:21 PM:

I don't think electric vehicles will be practical for most uses until someone can devise a battery technology that (a) can be recharged very quickly, (b) holds a large enough charge to allow the vehicle to travel several hundred miles without stopping, and (c) is built using only natural resources that are abundant enough to support large-scale production. I think we have a long wait.

Greg said at June 21, 2010 1:29 PM:

I'm no chemist but I've often wondered if maybe the answer to sustainable fuel production is to take an entirely different approach. Instead of trying to invent an entirely new infrastructure for fueling our vehicles, why not accept that we have a petroleum-based economy and start doing research into finding an affordable way to manufacture synthetic petroleum? It probably wouldn't be any worse for the environment than biofuels, with the added benefit of not having to replace all the infrastructure we already have in place for handling, distributing, and using fuel.

Nick G said at June 22, 2010 2:48 PM:


You're right that pure EVs have a real range problem. OTOH, extended range EVs like the Volt only use 10% as much fuel as the average US car - that's good enough.

Synthetic fuels are already being produced, but they're very expensive. The conversions necessary are very hard to make more efficient. It's like hydrogen fuel cells in that way.

Engineer-Poet said at June 22, 2010 5:59 PM:
I've often wondered if maybe the answer to sustainable fuel production is to take an entirely different approach.... why not ... start doing research into finding an affordable way to manufacture synthetic petroleum?
The simple fact is that "sustainable" means using renewable (plant-derived) carbon, and converting plant matter to hydrocarbons is both expensive and quite lossy.  The limited Net Primary Productivity of higher plants (~5 tons of carbon per acre per year, give or take) just won't sustain our consumption on the land we've got if you insist on making petroleum substitutes.  (Surprisingly, it does work if you forget hydrocarbons and use the best stationary fuel cell technology we have developed.)

We are much better off electrifying most of our mileage.  If range is a concern, you can either go for the first X miles per trip and use liquids for the rest (Chevy Volt), or swap batteries every so often (Project Better Place).

anonyq said at June 23, 2010 2:35 PM:

Another solution for range problems is electrifying the highway

Nick G said at June 23, 2010 3:56 PM:


What about synthesis from electricity, water and atmospheric CO2? Have you seen any good info?

Engineer-Poet said at June 23, 2010 9:01 PM:

I've seen things about that, the most clever of which uses archaebacteria plus electricity to make methane at about 80% efficiency.  The problem is that you still have to capture the carbon and/or store it from some other process.  I haven't run numbers but I expect that it would make economical plastics but not economical fuels.

Nick G said at June 24, 2010 4:01 PM:


I wonder which would make more sense for aviation: electrolyis to produce liquid hydrogen, or hydrogen to methanol?

Engineer-Poet said at June 24, 2010 10:06 PM:

Maglev trains.

Nick G said at June 25, 2010 12:17 PM:

That's a great idea, but the infrastructure costs and timeframes are very large. Perhaps more importantly, they don't go over water.

So...aviation solutions?

Engineer-Poet said at June 25, 2010 3:29 PM:

I don't see any.  Non-business aviation may go back to a preserve of the wealthy.

Randall Parker said at June 26, 2010 11:12 AM:

Nick G,

I see the future of aviation a function of either:

- Cheaper electricity to drive production of a more efficient method generate synthetic hydrocarbons.

- Nukes to generate hydrogen to use to generate synthetic hydrocarbons.

- Genetic engineering to make algae or other microorganisms to generate hydrocarbons.

The question is which of these will be cheaper in 10, 20, 30 years? At what price point for oil will one of them become competitive?

Engineer-Poet said at June 26, 2010 8:57 PM:

The problem is that, AFAIK, the energy price point where synthetic aviation fuel becomes reasonable is so far below the level for other purposes that I see no reason for the market to invest to make it happen.  Once rising oil prices kill the commercial airlines, we're far more likely to see something else in that niche if it opens up again.

Randall Parker said at June 27, 2010 9:50 AM:


Not sure I understand what you mean. Are you saying aviation won't provide the demand volume needed to fund synthetic liquid fuels production?

Do you think that the percentage decline in airline use of liquid hydrocarbons will be as large as the percentage decline in transportation use of oil? I'm wondering what uses of liquid hydrocarbons are left standing 25 years from now.

Engineer-Poet said at June 28, 2010 6:41 AM:

I'm saying that aviation isn't viable at the prices we're likely to see for renewable synthetic fuels.  Taking the Green Freedom paper's figure of $4.50/gallon as a lower bound, aviation will collapse.  Most ground-transport demand will move to electricity, leaving liquids only for PHEV sustainers and chemical feedstock.  This is a much smaller market.  Who is going to invest huge amounts to drop the price of synthetic kerosene to $2.00/gallon when the main consumer isn't there any more?

Randall Parker said at June 28, 2010 7:41 PM:


Define "collapse".

Would $5 per gallon fuel even double the cost of an airplane flight? I do not expect a collapse in aviation at double the prices for tickets. I can imagine a halving of flights taken. But collapse? I do not see it.

Already the 787 Dreamliner from Boeing is going to boost fuel efficiency 20%. There are other ways to boost fuel efficiency such as continuous ascent and descent on approaches and shorter hops so that airplanes do not have to carry as much fuel. Hop across the country with 2 stops for refueling. Still way faster than a train.

I expect lots of airlines to enter bankruptcy at $4, $5, $6 per gallon. But that doesn't shut down the whole industry.

Randall Parker said at June 28, 2010 7:53 PM:


Lufthansa expects a 2010 jet fuel bill of EUR5.3 billion. To put that into perspective those fuel costs are about a quarter of total costs.

In a difficult financial year 2009 the Lufthansa Group generated revenue of EUR 22.3bn according to preliminary figures, around 10 per cent less than the previous year (EUR 24.8bn).

Okay, so if the cost of fuel triples Lufthansa's total costs would only increase 50%.

I'd be more curious to see the cost structures of bargain airlines with lower labor costs though. My guess is fuel is a higher percentage of the costs of Southwest Airlines.

Nick G said at June 29, 2010 3:48 PM:


How practical is Green Freedom? Do we have any idea what such a concept would cost with off-the-shelf tech?

Randall, E-P,

The industry seems to expect very large efficiency gains over time:

Long term, design changes can reduce fuel consumption by 70%: "CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — In what could set the stage for a fundamental shift in commercial aviation, an MIT-led team has designed a green airplane that is estimated to use 70 percent less fuel than current planes while also reducing noise and emission of nitrogen oxides (NOx). http://web.mit.edu/press/2010/green-airplanes.html

If they can get anywhere near 70% reduction, and Green Freedom is anywhere near practical, we could see synthetic fueled jets with operating costs equal to those of today's airlines.

Randall Parker said at June 29, 2010 5:30 PM:


When I first read that article a few weeks back I was excited until I realized:

- 2035 for first flight. Though perhaps some incremental gains in the mean time?

- 70%: I read it as 70% further per gallon of fuel, not a 70% reduction in fuel per mile. So more like a 41% reduction in fuel consumption. Well, the Dreamliner is already providing a 20% reduction if I understand correctly. Though maybe they too are saying percent further. In that case Dreamliner cuts fuel consumption only 17% per mile.

Randall Parker said at June 29, 2010 6:05 PM:

E-P, here's another example from which we can extrapolate the effect of future fuel costs on aviation:

The Boeing 737-800s provide significant savings on operating costs over the aging McDonnell Douglas MD-80 fleet. A typical Dallas/Fort Worth-New York flight in a 737-800 uses about 36 percent less fuel than an MD-80, or nearly 900 fewer gallons. At current fuel prices, that's a savings of nearly $2,000 on every flight.

The first jets that arrived in 1999 had 146 seats. But American's "More Room Throughout Coach" program reduced the seating to 134 seats.

In 2003, the airline abandoned the "More Room" concept and increased the 737 seating to 142 seats. In 2006, the seating was further increased to 148 seats.

Okay, so they cut fuel consumption from 2500 to 1600 gallons per flight by switching to a 737-800. At 1600 gallons for 148 passengers that's about 12 gallons per passenger. Even at $20 per gallon that would be only $240 per passenger for fuel costs to fly from DFW to NYC or $480 round trip, plus other costs that would be well less than half the fuel costs. Currently one can book a round-trip flight for about $300 or less on that route. So why would, say, $800 round trip tickets bring an end to air flights for all but the rich?

I'm also figuring that at $10 per gallon Boeing and the airlines can come up with lots of ways to save fuel:

- Fly slower.
- Use more props rather than jets.
- Take more hops to carry less fuel.
- Use more composites.
- Other.

Even at $20 per gallon I foresee less than a tripling of airplane ticket prices.

Chris Nelder said at June 30, 2010 12:12 PM:

Once again, I am left to wonder how an energy-literate audience could misunderstand such a simple point so badly.

First, what I did NOT say in my piece. I did not suggest that GOM oil production should be replaced with wind, and I certainly didn't try to explain how that might be done. I did not imply that current wind capacity is the limit, nor claim that there's simply not enough wind energy to replace offshore oil--in fact, I did not speak to *potential* at all; I merely used the historical production data. Further, I explicitly explained that merely substituting wind kWh for oil BTUs was not possible--because of the associated infrastructure and differences in efficiency, losses, etc.

I can only assume that the nasty comments here came from people who either read the title of this blog post and went off on their own tangents without actually having read what I wrote, or who simply missed my point.

And that point was to communicate the SCALE and TIME-TO-MARKET issues that bedevil a transition from oil to renewables. That was the only point of that article, and I wrote it because so many green energy advocates (and I am one) seem to be completely unaware that their preferred substitutes are nowhere near up to the task of replacing offshore oil in the short- or medium terms. In short, it was an attempt to improve public energy literacy. It was not a "plan," nor even a suggestion that wind is a substitute for oil. I chose wind simply because it's the largest and most developed of the renewables (I exclude nuclear and large hydro from that category) as compared with solar and geothermal, and I thought the average reader might have a sense of the wind output of Texas and California. But of course the scale and time-to-market issues could be explained in terms of any other renewable energy source.

We are a long, long way from having an actual plan for energy transition, and this is a theme I have written about for years. I think we urgently need one, and I support every effort to formulate one...provided it is energy literate and cognizant of the inherent scale and time-to-market challenges.

I have been writing about energy issues for nearly a decade. Those who want to explore my work may find it here: http://www.getreallist.com

Nick G said at June 30, 2010 11:09 PM:


I think we're trying to say that we feel you exaggerated the size of the problem. The US has all of the electricity it needs, and will for the foreseeable future; replacing coal with wind, nuclear, solar, etc would be a large project, but is entirely doable and not all that expensive, in the large picture; replacing transportation oil with EREV/PHEV/EVs is eminently doable and not all that expensive either.

The elements of a workable plan are clear, we just have to decide to do these things, that's all. At the moment, the resistance of legacy industries is too fierce for it to happen. Unfortunately, an article like this one doesn't help communicate this reality to people.

Hong said at July 4, 2010 6:22 AM:

'We' Nick? I sensed quite a few who agreed with Nelder. I wonder if you just mean youself, the serial man troll/liar E-P, and a couple of others.

Engineer-Poet said at July 4, 2010 1:35 PM:

Always amusing to see Hong's ironies.  If Gail Tverberg is da Queen of Denial, Hong is da King of Projection.  Randall has already shown that he's not happy with Hong, and I suppose it's only a matter of time until Hong posts here no more.  Maybe if I challenge him with a bet, he'll go the way of Greg F and th?

As for Chris Nelder...

Once again, I am left to wonder how an energy-literate audience could misunderstand such a simple point so badly.
Maybe because you:
  1. Understated the actual ability of wind to do useful work by about a factor of 5 (equating wind BTUs to crude oil BTUs)?
  2. Used the 2008 figures, when the 2009 data was available when you wrote your piece and shows wind totals about 28% higher?
  3. Didn't note that after "74 Texases" are trimmed down to about 12, a 40% annual rate of increase would get us there in about 7 years, and even a 28% annual rate would only take about 10 years?
In other words, we're wondering how YOU can misunderstand such a simple point so badly that you made multiple large errors along the way.

But wait, there's more!

Building that new infrastructure will take decades of concerted effort and cost trillions of dollars…
I could have sworn I had some HVDC info here... ah, here it is.  At $500,000/mile, even a trillion dollars of infrastructure would mean around 2 million miles of new HVDC lines (we'd need maybe a few percent of that).  So that's greatly exaggerated too.
No one has shown how hybrids can scale to offset millions of barrels of crude per day in under 20 years.
Of course, the sales figures in the article are for a country where fuel has been artificially cheap for decades.  Add a few dollars a gallon to gasoline taxes, and the market will do the rest.

This goes to the real problem, getting the public on board.  We're still in the complacent phase of the complacency/panic cycle.  When things switch, they'll change really fast.

Hong said at July 4, 2010 3:26 PM:
If Gail Tverberg is da Queen of Denial, Hong is da King of Projection.

This from the Emperor of Stalking and Fabrication. Where o where did I ever link a resource map to anything E-P? Really, your lies are getting transparent. lol

Randall has already shown that he's not happy with Hong, and I suppose it's only a matter of time until Hong posts here no more.

Really E-P, my little troll man, it's sad how you repeat that plea again and again for Randall to drop me. The stench of your fear of being criticized carries all the way through the screen. I may not be Randall's favorite but he's made it clear he doesn't always appreciate your behavior either.

Maybe if I challenge him with a bet, he'll go the way of Greg F and th?

I believe Greg and F feel too restrained to continue making a fool of someone who needs so little help as yourself. But for me, please fabricate some more. I enjoy annoying trolls like yourself. Proving the irrationality of my opponents through their own words is often too much fun to stop. And the only bet I would need to make is how quickly I can make you reply with your usual hatred and insanity on a July 4th weekend and, as expected, you don't disappoint. lol

Randall Parker said at July 4, 2010 4:15 PM:


I think it is unfair to Greg F to compare him with Hong. Greg F brought useful citations with links to the discussion. Hong just brings his attitude.


I'm unhappy with you more often than I'm unhappy with E-P. While he dishes out a lot more insults than I'd prefer at least he brings real facts with links to the discussion as he did just above.


At $500,000/mile for HVDC we really could move all the wind electric power all over the United States and Canada. Interesting. I didn't know HVDC was so cheap. How big of an HVDC build-out is needed to enable about 10 times as much wind power as we currently use?

At $500k/mile we are talking about $500 million per 1000 miles. We'd need HVDC down thru the plains, at least 1400 miles. Probably 2000 miles with twists into Iowa and Montana. So $1 billion for the main trunk. Then assorted lines moving out to the coasts. Thousands more miles. But even $10 billion seems like enough.

Alas, our number one problem isn't how to generate enough cheap clean electricity. Our number one problem is how to move transportation off of electric power.

Hong said at July 4, 2010 4:38 PM:
Greg F brought useful citations with links to the discussion. Hong just brings his attitude.

Now, cmon, Randall, that's a little unfair. I bring more than attitude. I've offered citations to govt sources, industry sources, news articles, and scientific journals. I'm certainly not citing a certain climate blog E-P has been known to do. Is it possible you're just not paying too close attention?

I'm unhappy with you more often than I'm unhappy with E-P. While he dishes out a lot more insults than I'd prefer at least he brings real facts with links to the discussion as he did just above.

Again, I wonder if you're just not paying attention to my citations since, except for George Will, you never make comments. Are you allowing your personal feelings to discard them with prejudice?

Now lets await your little puppies response. lol

Among the cows in Iowa said at July 4, 2010 5:21 PM:

You "offer citations", so you posted a comment unrelated to the subject just to troll for responses?

Everyone knows what you are. Except you.

BTW, plenty of wind and hydro in Iowa the past few weeks. Floods anyone?

Hong said at July 4, 2010 5:35 PM:
so you posted a comment unrelated to the subject just to troll for responses?

If you mean on this thread, than no, but elsewhere you've retreated from my citations that contradicted your wind religion while Randall just seemed to ignore them. I'm here to make a point that Nick doesn't speak for all of us. Does that really require a source from the likes of you?

Everyone knows what you are. Except you.

What everyone can see is that the troll twins are here. Meaning you and E-P of course. And what we know is how little you two debate the issue and often resort to trashing people who disagree with you. Typical of trolls.

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