Emails and conversations reveal the need for people to have worthy information to base their opinions on. Today we’re not going to get into details or particular technologies but for new visitors we’ll cover the largest scale circumstances and for the regular readers a review more concise than going through dozens of prior posts.
The only energy available to us as consumers is, from electrical potential at the outlet and the releases from fuels, that our machines put to work. Energy is necessary to get fuels. Most of the work we want done, lighting, heating and cooling spaces and water, most personal travel and much commercial delivery can be done with electrical potential saved up in batteries and capacitors. That hard reality makes the first point:
Civilization must get on with electrical generation potential and electrical potential storage with batteries and capacitors. With enough leadership and guidance from sound policy, the transition could drive economic improvement rather than enduring a slow withdrawal from old fuel sources, recessions and dislocations. It’s much better to ask for a “dislocation” with a better future than being compelled to one with misery and suffering. Electrical potential made low cost enough and widely available can “dislocate” the fossil fuel problem in a large way and build a healthier economy as new tools to do the work are made and sold.
Portable fuels will always be needed for an incredible array of work that needs done. From airplanes and other long-range travel and transport, on to intense workloads in farming and construction, hydrocarbons will be useful and offer lower cost solutions than loading/charging the batteries or capacitors and taking them along. The finest, safest and lowest cost fuels, albeit not terribly efficient so far, are hydrocarbon fuels from oil and biomass. But the sourcing of the hydrocarbons needs a transition too.
Carbon is abundant, its everywhere, from our exhaled breath to the biomatter from plants, both the recent years growth and millions of years old oil, gas, coal, and methane. The problem is getting it wedded back to the hydrogen in a hydrocarbon. So far, the most effective way is done by plants then processed by man back into fuels. Even then, the hydrogen fraction is not always optimal and usually, in going to an alcohol output, there are those problematic oxygen atoms hooked on, too.
That makes the policy point for fuels a hydrogen issue. First in getting it freed up and second to reconnect it with carbon. Hydrogen is also abundant, with H2 of H2O everywhere in various proportions. The issue is having the electrical power to split it out of water, pending some new highly efficient way to get it loose. Freed hydrogen at low cost brought to carbon would offer way to “dislocate” the most costly problem, the export of earned income for fuels that used once are gone, and for most people, gone to another unfriendly country.
Now we’re right back to the electrical potential point. To move an economy to a highly efficient electricity based energy source it must become an issue to get much more electrical power, much cheaper. As consumers, employees, business managers, voters, investors, or any role at all in an economy, relies on change that is fully optimized for improving living standards and enriching the society. So tolerance for barriers, stalling on research and development, ignoring generating efficiencies, litigating and other devices to force a narrow view or special advantage on everyone else needs swept away.
An electrical energy source at low cost for everyone opens the doors to solutions. From transitioning to highly efficient heating and cooling on to personal transport an electrical potential shift will create opportunities unimagined right now. Abundant electrical power to cleave free hydrogen for use in fuel production offers a much wider base of carbon sources for fuel manufacturing. Gasifying or liquefying coal is only such a large CO2 emitter because of the lack of hydrogen to fully optimize the use of the carbon available. Biomasses are better as they are part of an endless carbon recycle where the plants reconnect some hydrogen, but low cost available hydrogen dramatically changes the kinds of biomass that would be useful and the processing issues that hold up development for now. Food vs. fuel isn’t really about land or crops – its about hydrogen.
Here is the key point for policy – batteries, capacitors and fuels all store energy – the optimal use of public policy is to promote the most abundant lowest cost means to do work. The base input is electricity. The bonus is its usually the most efficient, too.
A quick look at “energy policy” on Google gives lots of pages, and trying “energy policy electricity” yields, well, old stuff. For now we’re all agape at the price of oil, gasoline and the middle distillates like diesel and home heating oil. But the goal is to build economies and improve people’s lives. So lets keep our eyes on the main prize.
Wherever you are, whatever country, a “National Electrification” program is the first order of business. The options for energy and fuel policies and the availability of these depend completely on humanity’s’ willingness to look long term, more than the next quarters profit results, the next paycheck, the next batch of tax receipts. Many pundits and marketers offer that the change to a highly electrified civilization is too big to sell. OK, but try selling products from $200 barrel oil and see what a few billion people are willing to choose if they’re still in the market at that price. And if they’re out, what might they be willing to do to those that are still in.
If you’re tired of being at the point of an (oil, gas, coal soaked) spear, well, seize the damn thing, electrify it and turn it on your oppressor.