a letter to a friend...
EARTH: The Sequel
The Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming
by Fred Krupp and Miriam Horn (WW Norton 2008)
Thank you for sending me a
copy of Earth: the Sequel. It's a very good read. Fred Krupp is obviously thoughtful and well
intended. Most amazingly, his thinking almost convinces me that a tradeable carbon cap may be a
reasonable way to go. I say almost because I still think that we must free ourselves from
burning hydrocarbons altogether. Krupp hedges around this reality, but it is clear that he
understands that we desperately need non-carbon alternatives. I have clipped the following
points out of Earth: the Sequel because they support my long held assertion that a non-
liquid means to catch-and-release energy must be found: I submit that my proposal to
utilize the proven potential of certain metallurgical phenomena has less downside than any
of the carbon-based scenarios considered by Krupp.
In order to compete, such a catch-and-release energy system would need to achieve the energy density of liquid
hydrocarbons. And it would need to accomplish the regenerative yield of a typical gasoline
engine. Were such an energy catch-and-release system to allow off-the-grid power
generation, then wind, solar and geo-thermal power generation in remote areas could provide vast
I have clever friends in mind to help breathe life into this inorganic
idea. I just need to figure out how to get them paid. Let me know if you run in someone
eager to provide the five million dollars it would take to bring such an idea to life. I will demo
my little car for them.
Earth: the Sequel => page by page
- page - paragraph
- 11-1 Incumbent companies control pipelines and transmission grids; the high cost of upgrading and
connecting to the grid can strangle a start-up renewable energy plant.... Most important,
policymakers are only just beginning to confront the huge hidden subsidy for fossil fuels:
that no financial account is taken of the use of the atmosphere as a dumping ground for the
pollutants that cause global warming.
- 15-2 “Distributed energy” erases the strategic advantage of big energy companies, says Andrew Beebe, president of Energy
Innovations. “With solar, they can’t control the resource. That’s a real shift in
- 15-3 that is, if only 10% of that solar energy were converted to
electricity – a square of land 100 miles on a side could produce enough electricity to power
the entire United States.
- 16-3 Until such technologies are greatly improved,
however, storage will remain a major impediment to widespread use of solar
- 17-3 Though solar power is generally judged on the basis of whether
it can beat the retail price of coal-generated electricity, the comparison misses the key point.
The greatest value of solar power is that it is most productive when the weather is sunny
and hot – precisely when consumer demand forces a utility to operate at full
- 18-2 Given all that, almost everyone in the industry agrees that when
the price for peak watt falls to $1 and the storage problem is solved, solar-generated
electricity will compete with coal-fired electricity virtually everywhere.
- 22-2 Right now, Innovalight’s prototypes look like old-fashioned rolls of Kodak film, but by
the end of 2009 the company aims to produce each year enough flexible solar material to
generate 100 megawatts at the unimaginably cheap price of 30 cents a watt. In the space
of five months in 2007, it pushed efficiencies from 2 percent to more than 9
- 34-35 The real magic comes from coupling the concentrators with
the world’s highest efficiency solar cells. The cells don’t come from Silicon Valley, but from
a big, old company, Boeing subsidiary Spectrolab, which for two decades has made the
photovoltaics that power NASA satellites and lunar explorers. Spetrolab is now bringing that
space technology back to Earth, developing “terrestrial applications” for its cells. In
December 2006 it set a new world record of 40.7 percent efficiency, the highest ever
achieved by any kind of solar cell.
- 48-1 According to Mill’s models, the price
of electricity from a 700-megawatt plant with twenty hours of storage would fall to 7 cents
per kilowatt-hour, which beats the cost of electricity produced by [solar] trough technology
and is competitive with that generated by natural gas.
- 62-2 – 63-3 THE OTHER MAJOR REMAINING OBSTACLE to large-scale centralized production of
solar thermal electricity is effectively integrating it into the regional transmission
grid. The first problem is access. The best sites for large-scale solar thermal plants
are in the middle of nowhere, exactly where big transmission lines are not.
Substantial new investment in the interstate transmission grid will be needed to
bring the power generated by solar thermal plants from the desert to demand centers
hundreds of miles away.
The second problem is cost. It is expensive to build major new transmission lines (more than $1 million per mile) and it is hard to earn a
decent return on this kind of investment unless the line is used constantly. Because solar
is intermittent and reaches maximum output only in peak sunlight conditions, a transmission
line dedicated to serving solar thermal power plants will often sit idle or
The third issue is reliability. Managers of regional transmission
grids worry that too much unpredictable supply connected to their system will make
maintaining the crucial balance between supply and demand impossible, especially since
demand is already hard to predict....
Viable storage systems would help overcome
many of these challenges.
- 65-1 (total US electricity generation in 2007 was
about 4,000 terawatt-hours) In California, solar-energy systems covering a 30-by30 mile
square could make 300 terawatt-hours, enough to supply the entire state’s
- 67-2 Vinod Khosla estimates that to increase coal capacity enough
to meet growing electricity demand would require a $20 billion investment in railroads.
Investing that same money in a national grid, he argues, would provide greater
- 72-2 Even switchgrass, a cutting-edge energy crop, is less than one-
hundredth as efficient as the best solar cell. It converts just 0.3 percent of incoming solar
energy into chemical energy: Spectrolab’s solar cells, by contrast, convert 42 percent. It
also has ongoing needs for nutrients and requires all the work of growing, harvesting and
processing. The amount of water demanded by biofuels production is immense, with
most crops requiring about a thousand tons of water for each ton of
- 72-4 In a civilization as centered as ours on the automobile,
however, and a global economy so dependent on transport, fluid fuels will necessarily play
a crucial part. While there are many clean ways to make electricity, and while electricity
may in the future become the prime power source for transport...there is simply no
substitute for liquid fuels, which as currently produced inflict a heavy burden: the U.S.
vehicle fleet pumps 1.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, and
$820 million in capital is exported every day for the oil needed to do so. The concentration
of chemical energy in a gallon of diesel or gasoline and the ease of storing and delivering
that energy are unmatched. As Caltech professor Nate Lewis says “You can take a $5
piece of hose and pump at a rate of 10 megawatts into your car. To move 10 megawatts
of electricity, you need high voltage transmission lines. And the electricity won’t just sit
there, like the gas, waiting for you to be ready to use it.”
- 76-3 At current
average yields, according to biomolecular engineering professor Kyriacos Zygourakis of
Rice University, replacing just 30 percent of the gasoline consumed in the United States
with ethanol made from switchgrass would require 200 million acres, equivalent to about
half the total cropland in the United States. [impasse]
- 74-2 In an August 2007
article in the journal Science, Renton Righelato of the World Land Trust and Dominick
Spacklen of the University of Leeds calculated the amount of carbon released to the
atmosphere when forest is cleared to plant crops for biofuels, then compared that to the
amount of carbon saved by substituting those biofuels for gas and diesel. Even after thirty
years, they concluded, the “up-front emissions cost” would exceed the emissions
avoided by switching to alternate fuels. In fact preserving and restoring forests and
grasslands would sequester up to nine times more carbon, while also preserving
bio diversity and reducing nutrient runoff and soil erosion. If landowners could then sell
those carbon offsets in a global market, many – especially in rain forest nations – would
come out well ahead,...
- 98-2 CHOREN Industries, a German company, is
building its first commercial plant in Freiberg, Germany, to produce diesel fuel from various
agricultural and wood wastes, consuming seventy thousand tons of biomass annually and
producing 4.5 million gallons of fuel;....
- 101-3 Under the right circumstances,
however, the microscopic single-cell creatures [algae] turn out to be a dream feedstock for
making liquid fuels. They are the fastest growing plants on earth – doubling their mass in
a few hours... Most important, they are the world’s most efficient converters of carbon
dioxide to oxygen and biomass... “It is photosynthetic life reduced to its essence,” says Ray
Hobbs, who runs APS Future Fuels program.
- 105-3 But if half of all U.S. cars
ran on diesel, as they do in europe, replacing all of it with soy diesel would require
1.5 billion acres of fertile land, three times the total cropland in the country. Algae
could do it in 47 million acres, on land not suited for agriculture. And though they
require huge amounts of water, they can tolerate waste water – and clean power plant
emissions along the way.
- 114-3 “You need a way for people to make money.
Forget Wisdom. We have to play off greed. A carbon cap will be the turning point. You
can’t stack the deck against these scientists and innovators. Society has to stand with
them. And utilities are nothing more than instruments of public policy.” [Ray
- 156-1 ”The Aleutians, for instance, are a string of volcanic islands in
the Pacific’s ring of fire that project westward toward Russia. They are a world-class
geothermal resource far from major human settlements and power lines, but adjacent to
the major international shipping lanes known as the Alaska Marine Highway. Geothermal
powerplants there could be used to make hydrogen to power merchant vessels. [Gwen
- 202-2 While it costs 6 to 8 cents to generate a kilowatt-hour from
new coal or nuclear plants, plus another 2 to 4 cents to move that power through the
grid, saving that same kilowatt-hour cost just 3 to 4 cents. [25-50% post generation
- 204-2 The biggest arena of innovation may by “energy
intelligence,” which in 2006 attracted more than $450 million in venture capital. The idea is
to build the energy equivalent of the Internet: a sophisticated web that draws electricity
from where it is abundant and sends it to where it is needed; such a system reduces
the need to add new plants in order to meet peak demand requirements.
- 218-2 The Volt [GM] is still in development, its battery remaining the biggest sticking
point. But, says Robert Lutz, GM’s vice chairman for global development, “We would not
be devoting the considerable investment in engineering if we weren’t confident that
it could be done.”
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