August 24, 2010
Nobelist: Wind, Solar As Biggest Future Energy Sources

Chemistry Nobel Prize winner Walter Kohn expects wind and solar power to become the biggest sources of energy after oil and natural gas production peak.

BOSTON, Aug. 24, 2010 — Continuous research and development of alternative energy could soon lead to a new era in human history in which two renewable sources — solar and wind — will become Earth's dominant contributor of energy, a Nobel laureate said here today at a special symposium at the American Chemical Society's 240th National Meeting.

Walter Kohn, Ph.D., who shared the 1998 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, noted that total oil and natural gas production, which today provides about 60 percent of global energy consumption, is expected to peak about 10 to 30 years from now, followed by a rapid decline. He is with the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Peak Oil is going to cause a lot of problems in the short to medium term. Why are oil companies drilling in deepwater tens of thousands of feet down? Because that's where substantial quantities of oil are still to be found. That's a sign, and not a good one.

A new energy era beckons.

The global photovoltaic energy production increased by a factor of about 90 and wind energy by a factor of about 10 over the last decade. He expects vigorous growth of these two effectively inexhaustible energies to continue during the next decade and beyond, thereby leading to a new era, the SOL/WIND era, in human history, in which solar and wind energy have become the earth's dominant energy sources.

Note that he doesn't put nuclear energy up there as the next big energy source. Whenever will fusion energy become viable?

Wind still isn't providing one whole percentage point of US energy usage. Solar's at .11 quads as compared to wind at .70 quads. So wind is much bigger than solar. Not surprising because it is substantially cheaper.

The estimated U.S. energy use in 2009 equaled 94.6 quadrillion BTUs (“quads”), down from 99.2 quadrillion BTUs in 2008. (A BTU or British Thermal Unit is a unit of measurement for energy, and is equivalent to about 1.055 kilojoules). The average American household uses about 95 million BTU per year.

Energy use in the residential, commercial, industrial and transportation arenas all declined by .22, .09, 2.16 and .88 quads, respectively.

Wind power increased dramatically in 2009 to.70 quads of primary energy compared to .51 in 2008. Most of that energy is tied directly to electricity generation and thus helps decrease the use of coal for electricity production.

Solar's cost is falling more rapidly than wind's and looks to be on path to continue to do so for years to come. So expect solar to gradually close the gap with wind.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 August 24 11:25 PM  Energy Solar


Comments
bbartlog said at August 25, 2010 8:53 AM:

No love for coal? Anyway, a country like the US or Australia (big, not densely populated) has plenty of real estate to build out clean wind and solar. Places like Japan, France, China or India might have to (continue to) use nuclear just because of the population density.

Chris T said at August 25, 2010 9:48 AM:

Where did the natural gas peak prediction come from? It can't be recent; all of the estimates I've heard from the past couple of years have been considerably longer. 10-30 years has been out of date since 2008!

Sione said at August 25, 2010 12:56 PM:

"Why are oil companies drilling in deepwater tens of thousands of feet down?"

In the US government regulation and legislation prevent oil companies from drilling in most (shallow) coastal areas. Drilling within plain sight of the coast is not politically popular, whereas drilling out of sight is considered politically acceptible (out of sight, out of mind). Drilling in deep water is encouraged by arbitrary govt royalty, tax and other govt artifices.

"That's a sign and not a good one."
Indeed, as interferences and distortions created by government lead to failure.

Sione

Dog of Justice said at August 25, 2010 2:24 PM:

I don't understand how any serious scientist can trumpet wind as more than an opportunistic energy source. The total wind power available on Earth, if we somehow harnessed all of it efficiently, is only ~5x our current energy usage. So, in the big picture, there just isn't much to gain from large-scale focus on wind. It has its place, and that place is similar to where hydro power is now (which is important), but there's no way it deserves the same kind of research effort as solar (which has a theoretical limit far past 1000x current energy usage).

Chris T said at August 25, 2010 2:38 PM:

At what point does solar and wind power start seriously impacting the global energy budget? Every joule we collect is a joule that would have done something else in the climate system as thermal or kinetic energy.

LAG said at August 25, 2010 3:02 PM:

Sorry, I can't anyone, even a Nobel laureate, seriously who overlooks nukes or coal. What? No space-based microwave, tidal, secret alien energy cubes, etc, etc, as the next great thing?

Among the cows in Iowa said at August 25, 2010 4:16 PM:

Wind made 1.8% of US electric power last year. That is barely a start. Texas can make more than the country uses.

The next step is to make iron from electricity without coal.
http://nextbigfuture.com/2010/08/solar-thermal-electrochemical-photo-for.html

PacRim Jim said at August 25, 2010 4:36 PM:

I'm looking forward to the day I can throw away the single zero point energy module that runs my house and put up three or four hideous, rhythmically whooshing, neighbor-annoying, bird-filleting wind power towers.

JAY said at August 25, 2010 8:19 PM:

Wind energy peaked in Holland in 1631.

Sione said at August 25, 2010 11:43 PM:

OK. No-one likes wind and solar. What about tidal power or wave power?

Sione

LarryD said at August 26, 2010 10:24 AM:

Tidal and wave suffer from the same fundamental defects as wind and solar, they are fluctuating and diffuse.

And a marine environment is far more corrosive than most people appreciate, which means that maintainance costs are high.

I point out that a Degree in Chemistry, and even a Nobel Prize for work in that field, is no special qualification to opine on the subjects of petroleum, solar, wind, or nuclear energy. Dr. Kohns opinions on these subjects are no more or less authoritative than any of ours.

The current thinking on biotic oil is not that it formed from organics laid down on land during the Carboniferous,
but: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/03/science/03oil.html?_r=3&ref=science&pagewanted=all
"Today, a principal tenet of geology is that a vast majority of the world’s oil arose not from lumbering beasts on land but tiny organisms at sea. It holds that blizzards of microscopic life fell into the sunless depths over the ages, producing thick sediments that the planet’s inner heat eventually cooked into oil. It is estimated that 95 percent or more of global oil traces its genesis to the sea.

“It’s the dominant theory,” said David A. Ross, scientist emeritus at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod. The idea, he added, has been verified as geologists have roamed the globe over the decades and repeatedly found that beds of marine sediments are “a good predictor” of where to discover oil. "

The implication of this is that there is a lot more oil to be found than reserve estimates suggest.
http://alfin2100.blogspot.com/2010/08/ancient-geologic-upheaval-still-hides.html
http://alfin2100.blogspot.com/2010/08/oil-from-ancient-seas-where-ahoy.html

philw1776 said at August 26, 2010 1:53 PM:

Arthur C. Clarke was right about elderly scientists as experts. What Clarke did not forsee was ideology trumping science. The Gaia religion has infested science. Ignoring huge resurves of natural gas and nuclear power to name two, while touting wind power removes any credibility.

Jim said at August 26, 2010 5:10 PM:

From everything I've read this past year (I dedicate an hour a day to reading everything energy related I can find) it seems pretty clear that within 15 years home energy production, and smart grid energy management will greatly reduce our current reliance on nuclear power and slightly reduce our dependence on coal.

- Solar hydrogen "home" installations will become the norm, accounting for increasingly larger percentages of our average monthly consumption (getting close to 100% for middle class homeowners within 15 years).
- Smart grid modernization will likewise offset the need to build more nuclear plants (whose time has come and gone due to ballooning capital costs relative to solar energy plants).
- U.S. utility companies will vigorously expand their solar generating and storage facilities as the cost of solar drops to two cents a kWh within 10 years.

Many countries will likewise begin investing less into wind and more into wave/ocean energy, as wind energy loses it's appeal for any but land locked countries. Sadly, the U.S. will not adopt wave energy in this century due to federal regulations limiting wave energy research and implementation.

That said, over 50% of U.S. energy will continue to come from a combination of coal and natural gas through to 2050 (or later). Improvements in the cleaner burning of coal, and cleaner extraction of natural gas will continue to improve in combination with solar/chemical hybridization-- at least until commercial fusion energy production becomes a reality near the end of this century.

While the future is dim for nuclear and brighter for solar, there is little in the news to suggest that much will change in regard to the U.S. dependence on coal and natural gas to light our cities and commercial centers at least within the next fifty years.


Chris T said at August 26, 2010 5:21 PM:

LarryD - The first article is right in line with what I've increasingly come to believe.

People seriously underestimate the size of the planet and don't know how little of it we've actually explored. The oceans themselves are largely unexplored and we've looked at far less of the subterranean than even the oceans. We are likely nowhere near running out of most resources.

Sung Soo said at August 26, 2010 6:06 PM:

When are otherwise intelligent persons going to understand that the only Nobel Prize winners worth listening to are the winners in the hard sciences, AND the only time to listen to them is when they are young and vital -- in other words before they win the prize -- AND the only topic worth taking them seriously about is the topic of their own narrow area of research.

Making a fetish of the whimsies of has-been scientists who are speaking outside their areas of expertise, is a sad phenomenon, worthy only of journalists, politicians, tenured academics, and name-droppers.

William O. B'Livion said at August 26, 2010 9:30 PM:

"I don't understand how any serious scientist can trumpet wind as more than an opportunistic energy source."

What you aren't factoring in is how grant money is allocated in western liberal/participatory democracies.

Also what some people (Jim) don't get (unless that was satire) is:

press release:reality::politican's promise:reality

Engineer-Poet said at August 26, 2010 10:57 PM:
The implication of this is that there is a lot more oil to be found than reserve estimates suggest.
Then where is it?  Oil manifests itself in ways such as seeps.  If there was a lot more oil to be found, there has to be some reason it hasn't.  All I've seen so far is hand-waving.  Not even wildcat drilling is turning it up, which you'd expect if there was lots of oil in places conventional wisdom didn't allow for.
The Gaia religion has infested science. Ignoring huge resurves of natural gas and nuclear power to name two, while touting wind power removes any credibility.
The USA's growing list of places with contaminated groundwater suspected to be due to fraccing for gas suggests that the "huge reserves" may not be recoverable even if they exist.  Wind power is abundant in many places, and land owners from the Dakotas to Texas are happy to take rent checks to put it in their back yards.  And the originator of the Gaia hypothesis has been pro-nuclear for some time.

I'm pro-everything-that-works.  I've toured one of the earliest commercial nuclear power stations in the nation, and I've seen wind farms from California to Illinois.  I've felt the wind whipping retention ponds into whitecaps in Saskatchewan.  I've run numbers for corn ethanol (loser), electricity from biomass (gap-patcher), wind and nuclear (huge winners).  I've seen the slide of US oil production since 1970 (and its very minor upturn of late).  I know where the energy is.  Do you?

Sione said at August 27, 2010 8:26 AM:

LarryD

Fair enough. I got interested in wave/tidal power after watching the sea rushing through a passage in a reef. It sure looked wild. Maybe there was enough there for a village to operate from. Perhaps more. I concede your points that it fluctuates and is diffuse. Also, in my experience the marine environment has indeed been a high maintenance one. Keeping a launch or even a yacht is a maintenance intensive affair (but it is fun). Oh well. Perhaps there is a niche for tidal and wave power generation. The devices (particularly for wave) are quite interesting.

There has been research into the source of oil which suggests it is (also?) produced by means other than the decay of deceased marine creatures. Two I have read about. One posits a deep, abiotic origin and the other posits a (non-marine) biospere deep within the Earth. Either or both mechanisms would be active presently were the theories to be correct. Have you come across them? In either case, astonishing amounts of "reserve" would remain to be located and exploited. All goes to show that the World is a big, big place with plenty yet to be discovered, learnt and understood about it.

Sione

Sione said at August 27, 2010 8:31 AM:

LarryD

I forgot to add. If either theory is correct, then oil is a sustainable resource just as geothermal or timber is.

Sione

LL said at August 27, 2010 1:01 PM:

I just wanted to note that the chart can be a bit difficult to understand. I have heard elsewhere and it is verified here as well that Wind makes close to 2% of our electricity generation. About 1.83% to be more precise. Randall's statement is true that wind is less than one % of TOTAL energy used, when adding non power generating sources like fuel for cars etc (especial transportation and industrial) In this case wind is 0.7%

I just wanted to be sure we were not comparing apples and oranges. When we speak of coal accounting for over 48% of electricity production, Gas 18.4%, and Nuclear 21.9% This is where wind is now at 1.8% and growing.

An interesting find from the image is that of the total Solar footprint, 91% of Solar is residential use and only 9% is for power generation (grid based)

Based on this image, I can't help but think that as we move away from petroleum based transportation to alternatives, the biggest contributers will be Biomass (already contributes more to transportation that wind does in total! .92 to .7), Natural Gas (direct use in transport is already the same as all wind at .69) and obviously nuclear and Coal as they seem to be the only sources that can scale up to the large contribution that petroleum plays.

In terms of % growth wind and solar will be great stories for the next several years but it may not be as significant in total contribution for some time.

Kralizec said at August 28, 2010 2:58 PM:

Sione, at August 25, 2010 12:56 PM, has already pointed out that men do not drill in the Americans' shallows because they will be fine, jailed, or killed, if they insist on doing so. I add that they do not drill in the Alaskan National "Wildlife Refuge" for the same reason. Neither at sea nor on land is an absence of drilling to be taken as absence of a desire to drill.

LarryD said at August 30, 2010 1:49 PM:

Sione, Dr. Thomas Gold's Deep Hot Biosphere is one of the theories you mention, and yeah, if either Dr. Gold's theory or the marine sediment are correct (let alone both, they don't have to exclude each other), then petroleum is a renewable resource.

I can imagine certain parties choking on that.

Engineer-Poet said at August 30, 2010 8:43 PM:

If oil is being created in the mantle (how, since high temperatures crack complex hydrocarbons to graphite and methane?), why isn't there oil flowing from every fault and fissure in the earth?

The world is burning over 80 million barrels a day, over a cubic mile per year.  If oil generation had been proceeding at anything close to current consumption, in the last 100 million years processes would have created over 100 million cubic miles of oil.  That's enough oil to cover the entire earth to a depth of half a mile.  If there was that much oil around, there wouldn't be anyplace you could drill and NOT hit oil.  Yet the truth is that oil is fairly rare; the theory is patently wrong.

This calculation debunking the abiotic theory is simple, easy to understand and above all obvious, yet sione failed to do it.  This is very telling.  What will be even more telling is sione's reaction.

Sione said at September 4, 2010 7:00 AM:

LarryD

I've heard of the book but have not got a copy. I'll go check it out.

Sione

Sione said at September 5, 2010 2:07 PM:

E-P

For the record, the appropriate reaction to you is contempt. How can an "engineer" be so willfully foolish? How can a "poet" have a mind so dull? The World is not all about what you WANT it to be. It's not all about rehabilitating your hurt ego. It is much bigger and much more interesting than that.

You ask how oil would be created in the mantle etc. A good start for you would be to obtain copies of relevant papers presented at conference. You need to actually read them. Assuming you comprehended what you read, then you'd understand where the theories predict oil to be located and what, ultimately, would be required to provide a definitive proof either way. You should also review some of the available literature regarding the present state of the art in drilling, and/or consult a person with significant expertise in the field, in order to discover the nature of the technology limitations which presently make obtaining definitive proof difficult and expensive.

In your second paragraph you resort to what is known as argument by reductio ad absurdum. When employing this device it is vital to understand and acknowledge your assumptions- the implicit as well as the explicit- and to evaluate whether said assumptions are reasonable or not. Trouble is, you never do. You generate arbitrary assumption and then, based on that alone, foam off about how your famous calculations "obviously" debunk any proposal that contradicts your blind faith. That argument doesn't hold. What is revealed as obvious here, is the shortcomings of your illogical approach.

In this instance you assume that the rate of consumption of oil by Man is equal (or near equal) to the rate of formation. You have absolutely NO BASIS WHATSOEVER to make that assumption.

None.

Nada.

Nothing.

Zilch.

Zero.

Zip.

Get the picture?

The rate of formation may be more, it may be less. You do not know. It may be that oil is formed and then mostly consumed deep within the Earth by natural processes. You do not know. The processes may be continuous or they might be variable or even completely discontinuous. You do not know. It may be that the processes result in reserves of larger magnitude than previously realised. It may be the processes can be harnessed by Man to generate useful quantities of oil. Fact is, you do not know. Yet you make assumption about the quantity of oil produced over a randomly selected time period. You continue with more arbitrary assumption about how it would behave, how it would be encountered, the Earth's mantle and crust etc. Again, the fact of the matter is that you just do not know. Further, you utterly lack sufficient understanding of the subject to make an informed guess, let alone to employ it as justifiable assumption {this is reminiscient of your guess that gold loses value against fiat money, while the reality was that over the last decade gold gained over $900 per ounce against the dollar}.

BTW your oil "calculation" method can equally be employed in regards to other things- diamonds for one. The results readily demonstrate the fallacy of your method (and mind).

E-P, by now you should have realised your apologetics, "calculations" and rhetorical devices are unreliable. They don't provide adequate substitute for dealing logically and directly with reality in the first instance. This is not new. In the past you've been warned that scratching up a few simplistic "calculations" is not a substitute for an honest analysis, let alone understanding, of reality. It is to be recommended that when you lack knowledge or information you are man enough to admit it (especially to yourself). When you do not know about something, no amount of "calculation", position statements, apologetics or plain bluster is ever going to enable you to attain that knowledge you so clearly lack.

Again, the gross error you make is that of pretending reality follows your arbitrary assumption, bigotry and blind faith. It doesn't. Yet your approach has consistently been to argue from various silly beliefs, rejecting anything that contradicts those- cart before horse stuff over & over again.

Sione


PS. You've wasted more than enough time with your bitter sniping and smearing. We both realise your shortcomings and foolishness. Seriously, you can't rehabilitate your injured wee ego by resorting to yet more emotive irrationality. Time to grow up and sort yourself out.



Engineer-Poet said at September 9, 2010 5:35 AM:

As I predicted, sione's reaction was telling.  Heaps of abuse, but nothing to back up the empty claims.  Sione is a flamer in the classic style, all bluster and no substance.

For the record, the appropriate reaction to you is contempt.
I note for the record that irony is lost on sione.
How can an "engineer" be so willfully foolish? How can a "poet" have a mind so dull?
People with worthwhile knowledge consider those who don't follow the "fad of the week" to be sensible.  Another worthwhile principle is "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".  We know that e.g. oil does not come out of the mid-ocean spreading ridges, despite the chemical energy available there in forms such as hydrogen sulfide (which supports biological communities based on chemotrophs).  The evidence has not been presented, and the known patterns of abundance of oil do not support the thesis.
A good start for you would be to obtain copies of relevant papers presented at conference. You need to actually read them. Assuming you comprehended what you read, then you'd understand where the theories predict oil to be located and what, ultimately, would be required to provide a definit
To borrow a Wikipediaism, "[citation needed]".  Which conference(s)?  Which paper(s) by which author(s)?  Sione's rant is fact-free and apparently unencumbered by the thought process.  S/he can't even get the argument from authority right; you need to have an authority.

One serious issue with the abiotic theory is that its major proponents are Russian.  Russia depends on oil revenue, and would be threatened by any move to reduce dependence on oil due to impending shortages.  Would Putin's Russia buy research to try to prevent its customer base from abandoning its chief product?  We know the answer from the US tobacco industry's influence on health research on the one hand, and Lysenkoism on the other:  not just yes, but hell yes.

Digging further into the irony of Sione accusing someone else of having a dull mind:

In this instance you assume that the rate of consumption of oil by Man is equal (or near equal) to the rate of formation. You have absolutely NO BASIS WHATSOEVER to make that assumption.
I know that following chains of reasoning isn't easy for you (else you wouldn't have posted the nonsense in this thread and others), but do try to fill in concepts not explicitly stated:  if oil actually is produced by abiotic processes but the rate is much smaller than current consumption, it will still run out for all intents and purposes.  Even if the abiotic hypothesis is true, if the rate is small it is irrelevant to energy policy.

BOTE example (a foreign concept to Sione):  if abiotic processes are making oil at a steady 1000 barrels per day, the 3 trillion bbl of oil in place at the beginning of the industrial age would have taken less than 10 million years to accumulate.  However, once the accumulations are drained, the rate of replenishment would not support even a single modern oil refinery; current oil consumption is closer to 10^8 bbl/day than 10^3 bbl/day.  Again, a calculation that's simple, obvious... and utterly beyond Sione's abilities.

The rate of formation may be more, it may be less. You do not know. It may be that oil is formed and then mostly consumed deep within the Earth by natural processes. You do not know. The processes may be continuous or they might be variable or even completely discontinuous. You do not know.
Of course, the observed rate is consistent with zero, and the net rate would have to be very large to make a difference.

The irony of Sione telling someone else that they do not know anything is delicious.  Savor it.

PS. You've wasted more than enough time with your bitter sniping and smearing. We both realise your shortcomings and foolishness.
Foolishness, like implying we should bet our energy future on a hypothetical process never observed at any scale and possibly not operating in nature at all?  If you find a way to get rid of the serious tone, you might have a future in comedy.

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