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Can the U.S. Achieve Energy Independence by 2020?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Source: League of Women Voters

The Republican platform adopted by the GOP in Tampa this week reaffirmed the party’s commitment to achieving “domestic energy independence.”As it happens, question #6 of the 14 “Top American Science Questions in 2012” deals with exactly this issue. More specifically, the question reads:

6. Energy. Many policymakers and scientists say energy security and sustainability are major problems facing the United States this century. What policies would you support to meet the demand for energy while ensuring an economically and environmentally sustainable future?

Some of us (myself included) are old enough to remember that every U.S. President since Richard Nixon has vowed to achieve energy independence. (See this timeline of energy independence by Charles Homans, at Foreign Policy). Here’s how the 2012 Republican Platform looks to achieving energy independence:

  • “development of new, state-of-the-art coal-fired plants that will be low-cost, environmentally responsible, and efficient.”
  • “a reasoned approach to all offshore energy development on the East Coast and other appropriate waters”
  • “opening the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) for energy exploration and development”
  • “opening the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for exploration and production of oil and natural gas”
  • “allowing for more oil and natural gas exploration on federally owned and controlled land”
  • “cost-effective development of renewable energy,” using a “market-based approach . . . to aggressively develop alternative sources for electricity generation such as wind, hydro, solar, biomass, geothermal, and tidal energy.”

For more details on how a Romney-Ryan Administration would go about achieving energy independence by 2020, see his newly released energy plan.

Scientific American is partnering with the folks at ScienceDebate.org and more than a dozen leading scientific and engineering organizations to try to inject more substance into the elections debates this year by asking 14 key science-related questions. Given the prominent place of the economy in this year’s election and science and engineering’s role in fueling the economy, it makes sense to look at these questions in further depth.

Energy policy is not my usual beat, so I am particularly looking for thoughtful, insightful comments on either (or both) the GOP Platform and Romney-Ryan plans. (Obviously, we have to wait until next week’s convention in North Carolina to read the Democratic Party Platform.)

Update (Sept. 5, 2012): Click to see the answers to the top 14 science questions from Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.

Election 2012 button used under Creative Commons license BY 2.0.

About the Author: Christine Gorman is the editor in charge of health and medicine features for SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. Follow on Twitter @cgorman.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Will_in_BC 3:00 pm 08/31/2012

    If I am not mistaken Romney’s stated goal is for North America to be energy self sufficient by 2020 which is different than US self sufficiency.

    I’ve read elsewhere that this target is likely to be achieved with or without intervention from either party as shale gas together with the oil/tar sands will allow for NA self sufficiency. Whether or not this progress will help or hurt global warming is a separate question

    Link to this
  2. 2. Christine Gorman 3:09 pm 08/31/2012

    Good point, Will. Here’s how the GOP refers to domestic energy independence:

    “The Republican Party is committed to domestic
    energy independence. The United States and its
    neighbors to the North and South have been blessed
    with abundant energy resources, tapped and untapped,
    traditional and alternative, that are among
    the largest and most valuable on earth.”

    Link to this
  3. 3. logthinker 4:37 pm 08/31/2012

    I also believe the platform indicated by the RP stated North American independence. Christine, you indicated that previous presidents attempted to achieve this goal. I can’t recall this being on their agendas, stated as such. I might be wrong. I am Canadian and follow US politics closely. The Politics of energy is also fascinating.

    From the available amount of North American reserves for oil, gas, coal, hydro electric and nuclear, the Republican Goal is very realistic. North Americans have the financial resources and financial partners to develop this energy needs by 2020. The technology to produce and deliver these resources have been improved immensely.
    Wind and solar have failed to come close. How many environmetalists do you know have stopped using cars, refrigeration equipment, plastics, pharmaceuticals,etc.
    You are now depending on oil from unfriendly nations. What is the problem with understanding this Republican Goal, even if they are late. At $5.00 / gallon gas, think again about foreign, unfriendly nations to keep you suppied.Guess how we got to $5.00 !

    Link to this
  4. 4. nonreturn 5:19 pm 08/31/2012

    What the heck are taking about? The solemn Republic of the United States has had independence from all dependence, foreign and domestic, economic and governmental since 1789. Read some history instead of burying your face in science fiction novels.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Cramer 5:31 pm 08/31/2012

    There is an amazing amount of ignorance about markets by people who believe “free markets” are the answer to everything.

    Energy INDEPENDENCE based on fossil fuels is impossible. The market for crude oil is a global market. Even if we were able to domestically (I know Romney said North American independence) meet all out crude oil demand, Saudi Arabia and the rest of OPEC would still have significant market power over our domestic prices. And I don’t see much of an electric car market by 2020.

    I am NOT advocating that we stop developing our fossil fuel resources, I’m just giving the facts about how markets work. [Unless the Republicans don't want free markets and outlaw oil exports -- and I'm not advocating that either.]

    Link to this
  6. 6. priddseren 6:14 pm 08/31/2012

    America could in fact be an energy exporter. We have enough technical competency and resources to do it. The issue is not with private business, energy companies or the people of America. The issue is and will always be politicians and their constant drain on the country and insistence to get a cut of everyone’s pie. The democrats are far worse, since they outright block any attempt at exploiting or developing American energy. The democrats want America’s economy tied to thier friends around the world and energy is a key shackle the democrats depend on. Even if they agreed to allow domestic energy production to increase, they and the republicans will get in the way with rules, regulations, taxes, fees and anything else they can throw in the way to increase the power of the government, the politicians and to line the pockets of politicians, unions, crony capitalists and anyone else they consider a backer.

    If we took all the government incompetence and corruption out of the picture and had only what regulations and taxes were actually meaningful and feasible, then America would already be energy independent.

    It is very unlikely to happen though, Republicans do a good job putting the brakes on the decades of insanity the democrats inflict on the country, 80 of the last 100 years are all democrat rule, the republicans have never actually reversed the damage to any significant degree. Go by past performance. The democrats have consistently ruined economies and inflicted all kinds of restrictions on everything, making it worse. The Republicans have at best put the government on pause. No where has either party actually started rolling back and ending the laws and other nonsense that are in the way. So with no past performance to fall on, we have to assume the republicans will not really do what it takes to get to energy independence.

    Link to this
  7. 7. vapur 8:41 pm 08/31/2012

    I saw the headline, and instantly what comes to mind: HAHAHA!

    The only forces that are going to enable energy independence for a whole nation is that which stems from its dependence on market forces. With two parties making up a majority to prevent any progress being made on anything, I don’t expect much from them. If you care about the Earth so much, change yourself.

    Link to this
  8. 8. geojellyroll 9:30 pm 08/31/2012

    It’s not just a matter of North America being energy independent but for it to be economically viable. Canada is a major supplier of oil, natural gas, hydro-generated electricity and uranium to the USA. However, those exports are limited in viable growth because of geography. It will still be less expensive to import a barrel of crude from Nigeria or Venezuela to the East coast in 2020 than via north American sources (Western Canada, Alaska, etc.).

    Energy independence is more realistic as a strategic goal than an economic one. It’s possible by 2020 but the price of energy will rise and make US manufacturers even less competitive.

    Link to this
  9. 9. jtdwyer 11:29 pm 08/31/2012

    All fossil fuel supplies are subject to depletion. Any political ‘independence’ of supply that might be achieved could only be temporary. Please see
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_oil

    Link to this
  10. 10. singing flea 11:59 pm 08/31/2012

    Quote from priddseren,

    “The democrats are far worse, since they outright block any attempt at exploiting or developing American energy.”

    This kind of statement is why the republicans will never be the party that takes us all to energy independence. The just don’t understand the basic principles involved. As for drilling for more oil, from studies done by the WSJ:

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2011/08/31/307946/drill-baby-drill-failure-obama-growth-in-oil-rigs-high-prices/?mobile=nc

    “The figure reflects a huge surge in U.S. oil drilling, up nearly 60% in the past year and the highest total since at least 1987, when oil services company Baker Hughes Inc. began keeping track,” notes the WSJ.”

    These facts only demonstrate that the ultra right wing has no clue about what is going on in the American oil market. Drilling for more oil is only going to make us all run out faster. The only key to long term energy independence is conservation and expansion of energy alternatives, preferably green ones.

    “The democrats have consistently ruined economies and inflicted all kinds of restrictions on everything, making it worse.”

    People who make historical claims need to study history first. The last three times the nation was on economically sound feet was at the close of four democrat ruled administrations.

    The great depression started after Calvin Coolidge left office and during the first year of Herbert Hoover’s presidency, both Republicans. It never got better during the rest of Hoover’s reign.

    Roosevelt and Truman dug us out of that mess, both Democrats. Eisenhower, a republican,actually made matters worse. Kennedy and Johnson, also Democrats achieved the best economic record in the previous 40 years. Johnson ended his term with a stellar record. Nixon ran the economy back into the ground with the escalation of bombing in Vietnam together with Ford. Carter, like Obama, was left to clean up the mess. Who did the Republicans blame for that mess?

    Reagan and H.W.Bush again left the country in a recession while at the same time they deregulated the banking industry and eliminated the fuel economy standards that had been set by the EPA which had they been left in place would have made a huge difference both in the price of gas and health of the auto industry which found it simply could not compete with imports that got better fuel mileage.

    Clinton followed with two terms of prosperity that left G.W.Bush with a net surplus in 2001.

    By 2007…well we all should remember what happen then without having to resort to history lessons.

    Too bad that some people have such a short memory. If the republicans regain the senate in 2012, and keep the house, it’s all over for economic recovery in the next four years, no matter who is the president.

    Drill baby drill is simply not a sustainable policy and the only ones who will benefit as usual is the oil companies and the legislators with their hand open to the lobbyists.

    Obama was on the right track with solar and wind power, but the transfer of American Technology, factories and jobs under the past decade doomed us to the unemployment and energy mess we are in today.

    Link to this
  11. 11. sjn 12:20 am 09/1/2012

    Having spent 30 years in the thin film deposition capital equipment industry, I have seen which countries have successfully used market forces (demand pull) to create viable PV, wind and alternative energy markets. As a result, US manufacturers have in large part moved their facilities to these countries (Germany, China, etc.) as that is where the business is. The refusal of the US to sustain a national level program to encourage alternative energy markets is why the results are so dismal in the US, while Germany this year hit an all time one day high of providing 20% of its electric power from PV.
    I have seen where the budgets for R&D at NREL, etc have been over these years, so if I look at the GOP “plan”, I can only laugh hysterically at its call for gov’t funding of basic alternative energy R&D – which no republican administration in my lifetime has provided.
    At the bottom line the GOP plan is drill, drill, drill. With their climate denial, we will probably end up at the position put out by James Lovelock – by the time they finally agree that something has to be done to find alternatives to extracting & burning fossil fuels, an emergency turn to full nuclear will be the only alternative to an energy/economic collapse or climate disaster.

    Link to this
  12. 12. Ralf123 2:57 am 09/1/2012

    There’s oodles of info about fossil fuels on theoildrum.
    Answer: Oil independence would be possible with a 50% demand reduction – that’s about the amount of oil, tar sands etc that could be produced with an all-out effort.
    Electricity independence is not hard based on natural gas and coal. Of course, going that route only kicks the can down the road a few years (nat gas) or decades (coal.) Shale gas wells deteriorate very quickly and the US are well past peak coal in energy terms.

    Link to this
  13. 13. m 4:08 am 09/1/2012

    Answer: Never and there are serval reasons why its important to NEVER be sustainable. Sorry yes While I know pretty much every argument from every side and sides hardly thought about, ill always touch on the side that is hardest to defend, cause its a challenge sometimes lol.

    To sustain global markets it is imperative you have something others can give you…even if you can supply it yourself….you must allow others to have something…(you control). If for instance a catastrophe were to happen you can reclaim the extra you send away at a “loss”…never a loss but i wont bother to explain.

    Sustainability is about 125%, but you give away 50% so you need 25% minimum….

    Im sorry i cant go into a dialogue for too long, its hard to explain things requiring a high iq. But suffice to explain what we believe is sustainability on the level is not what happens under the carpet in the real-world.

    Link to this
  14. 14. singing flea 4:54 am 09/1/2012

    “cost-effective development of renewable energy,” using a “market-based approach . . . to aggressively develop alternative sources for electricity generation such as wind, hydro, solar, biomass, geothermal, and tidal energy.”

    Here is where the republicans move from the realm of shortsighted wishful thinking to just plain ignorance. The market is driven by supply and demand. If we increase the production of oil and gas, the surplus supply factor will not create the demand for alternative energy. Necessity is the mother of invention. There is no substitute for necessity to induce market forces to do anything.

    What this kind of foolish reasoning and inaction will result in is a future America dependent more then ever on foreign sources of both fossil fuel and energy production in the alternative markets.

    Worse yet, our market driven waste of fossil fuel will drive up the price of all the chemicals we use based on fossil fuel and the byproducts of the distillation of raw crude like plastics, lubricants and fertilizer.

    Now is not the time to waste even more of this precious resource especially considering that burning it up for heat to power inefficient internal combustion engines is also harmful to our biosphere and our health.

    Meanwhile, it is the republicans that claim to be the most conservative among us. They all scream bloody murder when anyone mentions banning disposable plastic bags or light bulbs that burn three times the energy as necessary. Where is the conservation factor for the conservatives these days. I truly believe people like Rush Limbaugh call themselves that just to keep the dummies guessing as to their real intentions.

    This is a prime example of where the government (which is the voice of the majority in a democracy) should have all the authority necessary to regulate commerce as intended by our forefathers in the constitution. If this means using tax dollars to fund research and kick start businesses in the alternative energy market then so be it.

    We do it all the time make advanced weapons to fight wars which is a pet project of the same ‘conservatives’ that refuse to reign in waste and fraud in the energy industry.

    Personally, I don’t think Americans are educated enough anymore to really face this challenge and the republicans want to cut spending for education too.

    It doesn’t take a Harvard PHD in economics to figure out how this ‘great’ republican plan is going to work out in the long run. Our only hope is dumping stupid, unscientific principles and dogma in the ash heap of history.

    Link to this
  15. 15. Gilligan 6:12 am 09/1/2012

    One of the basic assumptions that makes energy independence unlikely is that we have to use gasoline and diesel to power our vehicles. Right now that assumption is enshrined by the EPA into regulations with the force of law. It is illegal to sell methanol as motor fuel. If you convert a vehicle to optionally run on gasoline or compressed natural gas you will be subject to a fine of $5000 per day for tampering with emission control devices even though your vehicle runs cleaner.

    Just removing the regulations that prevent petroleum products from having to compete in the marketplace with other fuels would go a long way towards, if not energy independence, at least ending dependence on oil imported from the Middle East.

    Link to this
  16. 16. geojellyroll 11:52 am 09/1/2012

    Probably not because Americans, as indicated by above postings, can’t get their myopic sight off of Demos vs the GOP….blah, blah, blah.

    hint…there is hardly any difference between Tweedle Dee and Tweeedle Dum.

    Does every discussion in the USA have to deteriorate along party lines. If so….the US economy is doomed.

    Link to this
  17. 17. Owl905 12:26 pm 09/1/2012

    The Republican agenda is an absurd fishing lure – designed to catch fisherman … at the store.

    Hopefully for the last time:

    The Alberta Tar Sands produce a product that’s meant for the global diesel market. It’s not a replacement, compliment, or substitute for sweet light. Deal with it.

    ‘Clean coal power’ is a pipedream – it hasn’t shown up in a practical, scalable, way – and a retrofit is about the same cost as a replacement. And natural-gas level ‘cleaner’ is now twice the price of … natural gas.

    When the full lifecycle cost of carbon products is removed from the equation, there is no viable way for ‘market-based’ economics to lead to a wind/water/solar diversification. Get it right – it solar was cheaper in the market, no one would go near carbon products.

    Link to this
  18. 18. Fanandala 1:08 pm 09/1/2012

    @ sjn, Germany is a leader in photo voltaics and wind energy. But at what cost. House holders that fit solar panels get more than $ 1 per kwh they feed into the net. Who is supposed to pay for that? Now they are finding that they actually can not afford to connect the offshore wind generators to the shore. Renewables are a waste of money, since you anyway have to build a backup to fill in for night times and windless days. So they had one day where they produced 20% of consumption with renewables, but how many days did they have where they produced less than 2% ? Go nuclear !

    Link to this
  19. 19. Dzhafer07 8:13 am 09/2/2012

    it is possible
    Here’s the solution:www eco-energysource com

    Link to this
  20. 20. David Marjanović 9:40 am 09/2/2012

    …And doesn’t the ANWR only contain enough oil for 6 months? Seems to me like wanting to drill there has no reason other than the obsessive need to stick it to the treehuggers.

    At the bottom line the GOP plan is drill, drill, drill. With their climate denial, we will probably end up at the position put out by James Lovelock – by the time they finally agree that something has to be done to find alternatives to extracting & burning fossil fuels, an emergency turn to full nuclear will be the only alternative to an energy/economic collapse or climate disaster.

    Uranium is actually running out, too. There’s enough for a few more decades at present consumption

    its hard to explain things requiring a high iq

    What nonsense. If you’ve understood it, you can explain it. If you can’t explain it, you probably have a few undetected “and then a miracle happens” steps in your mental picture of how it works.

    Does every discussion in the USA have to deteriorate along party lines.

    Yes. That’s because to get rid of their two-party system, they’d need to amend the big-C Constitution which equates the head of state with the head of government, and that’s the most difficult constitution to amend on Earth. Do I need to explain?

    @ sjn, Germany is a leader in photo voltaics and wind energy. But at what cost. House holders that fit solar panels get more than $ 1 per kwh they feed into the net. Who is supposed to pay for that?

    See? The Germans actually get something for their taxes.

    What are the subsidies for nookular energy in the US? Or those for oil- or coal-burning plants?

    Get it right – it solar was cheaper in the market, no one would go near carbon products.

    When carbon products will become so expensive that solar will be cheaper, and that day will come because the sun will keep shining beyond Peak Oil, it’ll probably be too late. You can’t retrofit or replace everything overnight or within a few months.

    Like evolution, the free market lacks foresight. Adaptations to future conditions that are disadvantageous in current conditions are selected against.

    Now they are finding that they actually can not afford to connect the offshore wind generators to the shore.

    Link, please.

    Renewables are a waste of money, since you anyway have to build a backup to fill in for night times and windless days.

    Just make sure your country is big enough and your grid connected enough. And that’s before we get to solar towers, solar-thermic power plants and so on.

    Go nuclear !

    Even assuming we find a place to keep the waste in for the next thirty thousand years, we’re going to run out of uranium. And then of thorium.

    it is possible
    Here’s the solution:www eco-energysource com

    LOL, that’s a perpetual-motion machine!

    (And why can’t you spell the address of your own site!?!)

    Link to this
  21. 21. dwbd 2:44 pm 09/2/2012

    DM claims:”..Uranium is actually running out, too. There’s enough for a few more decades at present consumption..”

    Nonsense. Current reserves are 80 yrs at present consumption, that is more than almost all other minerals, including gas, oil & copper. Go by that number and forget Wind & Solar they will quickly run out of mineral feedstock. As reserves are used price increases, exploration increases, speculative reserves become proven reserves. At current fuel cost of 1/2 cent a kwh including enrichment & fabrication for light water reactors, much lower for heavy water reactors, doubling uranium price would be easily sustainable and that typically means 10X the reserves. The simple-minded DMSR uses 1/6th the Uranium of an LWR so easily 100X the reserves. And spent fuel and depleted uranium stocks right now would supply GenIV reactors for 10′s of thousands of years. Get into thorium and you have an UNLIMITED fuel supply.

    DM: “..What are the subsidies for nookular energy in the US..”

    Nil. USA Nuclear is subsidizing the Federal govt, by paying fees for storage not provided.

    DM: “..big enough and your grid connected enough..”

    You’ve got to be kidding. Just the cost of the power transmission trunk lines to supply sunny Australia with Wind & Solar is $180B, 50% more than the TOTAL nuclear cost. And all that transmission will still not do the job, not even close.

    DM: “..place to keep the waste in for the next thirty thousand years, we’re going to run out of uranium..”

    It is obvious that we should burn the Spent Nuclear fuel in various types of reactors, as India is doing and Britain is now studying. Just the current 63k tons of USA Nuclear Spent Fuel will generate $70 trillion worth of clean, green, Zero Carbon Electricity. And Canada is freezing in place 240k tons of Arsenic, 4X total USA Nuclear Waste, 100 meters from Great Slave lake, which must be maintained FOREVER. Makes Nuclear spent fuel storage look trivial.

    And I already explained thorium & uranium are essentially unlimited in quantity, sea extraction is quite economical with higher burn reactors or with reprocessing. And Fusion is certainly going to be economical in the not-too-distant future.

    DM: “..Germans actually get something for their taxes..”

    The Germans are ACTUALLY getting 23 new Coal burning power plants to supply the majority of their electricity consumption. Plus imports of Nuclear from France, Czech republic and Russia. Latest proud German achievement, a giant 2200 MW Lignite Dirt-burner, just commissioned, producing 20 some millions tons of waste/yr, mostly dumped into the atmosphere, a donation from Germany to all its neighbors – breath this – thanks, Germany, thanks a lot.

    Link to this
  22. 22. singing flea 4:29 pm 09/2/2012

    “Nonsense. Current reserves are 80 yrs at present…”

    80 years is just a small slice of time in the grand scheme of things. The question needs to be asked, relative to what? Is that current use or all projected use if all our production goes nuclear? What you are overlooking is the fact that energy growth will continue to rise. What do we do with all that waste? This is an argument that is loaded with slippery slopes.

    “And spent fuel and depleted uranium stocks right now would supply GenIV reactors for 10′s of thousands of years. Get into thorium and you have an UNLIMITED fuel supply.”

    All this sounds intriguing, but the cold facts of reality set in when one realizes that it will be another 20 or more years before even proof of concept can be proven and decades more until the process is safe, if at all. It will also be at least another 30 years before the current investment in fossil fuel plants will make it economical to level all those plants.

    This alone makes the concept pointless in the context of question asked in this article, which is, “Can the US achieve energy independence by 2020?”

    There is another angle that is being overlooked by dwbd; there is no type of engine that can be retrofit into the current fleet of diesel trucks, jumbo jets or ships at sea that can run on electricity. They have a built in life expectancy of at least 30 years just to get financed in the first place. Sorry, but we are stuck with them at least for another 30 to 50 years, like it or not.

    This presents another dilemma that can not be overlooked. The production of diesel, kerosene and bunker C used by these vehicles requires that the crude be refined into those fuels. The cracking process leaves a huge amount of gasoline and other lighter liquids left over. Small internal combustion engines are the safest way to burn those higher octane fuels. This means that IC powered cars will be around for at least 30 to 50 years unless a new generation of huge motors is designed to burn these more dangerous fuels for large scale generation of electricity.

    This still does not address the global warming problem that is already showing it’s ugly face to the chagrin of the nonbelievers.

    The answer then becomes academic as to whether or not we can become energy independent in 8 more years.

    I think we can, but not by drilling for more oil. Oil is sold to the highest bidder and the oil companies are not going to sell it to Americans if they can get a better price over seas and they are not going to buy it from America if they can get it cheaper over seas. That is a republican smoke screen. Alaska crude is all going to Japan or China anyway. Mark my words.

    It is possible through conservation and alternative energy schemes. That is a real short term market based reform.

    BTW, this issue is all about politics. It is in fact the heart of the above article. Politics will always be the issue when it come to big money. Let their be no doubt that oil is the new ‘gold standard’ and he who controls the ‘gold’ controls the world. However it is not written in stone that oil is the only form of energy. It is just the cheapest for now, but the day is rapidly approaching when we will have pumped it all too soon and production will decline. Petroleum’s industrial value will eventually out value the use of oil as fuel. Alternative sources will always be more valuable than nuclear. There is simply too many hidden costs for nuclear to compete in the near future, but what ever happens, the end result will be as much the result of political forces as it will be market driven. It is just the nature of the beast.

    Link to this
  23. 23. David Marjanović 6:49 am 09/3/2012

    Current reserves are 80 yrs at present consumption

    You want that consumption to increase, and so does China, bigtime.

    And spent fuel and depleted uranium stocks right now would supply GenIV reactors for 10′s of thousands of years.

    Keyword “would”.

    Get into thorium and you have an UNLIMITED fuel supply.

    And you’re really not exaggerating?

    Nil. USA Nuclear is subsidizing the Federal govt, by paying fees for storage not provided.

    Interesting, because nuclear energy is heavily subsidized in Europe.

    It is obvious that we should burn the Spent Nuclear fuel in various types of reactors, as India is doing and Britain is now studying.

    “Now studying”? Breeder reactors were actually built in the 1960s and later. They’ve all been shut down.

    And Fusion is certainly going to be economical in the not-too-distant future.

    What makes you think so?

    And Canada is freezing in place 240k tons of Arsenic, 4X total USA Nuclear Waste, 100 meters from Great Slave lake, which must be maintained FOREVER. Makes Nuclear spent fuel storage look trivial.

    Why don’t they take the world’s nuclear waste and put it there, then?

    And all that transmission will still not do the job, not even close.

    Show me. The wind always blows somewhere. As far as the sun is concerned, solar-thermal seems to work well, solar towers definitely work all night long, and then I don’t know how far storage can be improved… what happened to that paper on iron-VI batteries?

    Link to this
  24. 24. dwbd 8:18 pm 09/3/2012

    “..that consumption to increase, and so does China..”

    Problem with that is mineral exploration is based on CURRENT demand. No Mining company is going to go bankrupt investing in exploration because “someday” demand might increase. If the resource is consumed beyond reasonable term supply exploration will increase to enable new supply. Been that way for hundreds of years. Else forget Wind & Solar, no minerals will be available for that.

    The Uranium or Thorium consumption of high burn reactors like LFTR, IFR, Traveling Wave, LCR etc is low that seawater extraction is economical. That is effectively an unlimited supply. And then there is asteroids & moons, also economical.

    And PACER fusion is already quite economical, quite likely more so than any other form of energy production, but politically untenable and a 1000 GWe plant would only use a trivial 250 kg of deuterium & tritium per yr. Other methods (several dozen & counting) are certain to be economical within 100 yrs absolute max. That’s a given.

    “..Why don’t they take the world’s nuclear waste and put it there, then?..”

    Uh, because if you mixed one ounce of Nuclear Waste in with the 240,000 tons of Arsenic, there would be NON-STOP lawsuits & protests by ENGO’s like Greenpeace, Sierra Club, WWF, UCS and Mainstream Media horror stories by the hundreds. As it is no-one could care less, and 240k tons of Arsenic right next to Great Slave Lake gets a great big yawn from Greenpeace & the Sierra Club.

    “..wind always blows somewhere..”

    An old adage. But not economically true. Wind is driven by continent wide air masses that are highly correlated by season & time-of-day. Wind Power across an entire continent behaves like one giant Wind Turbine. And transmission cost quickly reaches levels that are just not feasible. And storage costs are also beyond ANY economy’s ability to pay. An analysis showing the high cost of transmission for Wind & Solar:

    bravenewclimate.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/lang_transmission_cost.pdf

    Link to this
  25. 25. dwbd 8:30 pm 09/3/2012

    “..another 20 or more years before even proof of concept can be proven and decades more until the process is safe, if at all. It will also be at least another 30 years before the current investment in fossil fuel plants..”

    No the tech is already established and economical. India is just completing two FBR’s (startup next year) which will burn there spent LWR and PHWR fuel. China is burning spent LWR fuel in CANDU’s. Russia has long been operating Fast Reactors and building more as well as exporting them. The GE Prism is offered and ready to build in Britain to burn their Spent Fuel.

    There is no problem replacing diesel and gasoline with Methanol, DME and synthetic diesel. South Africa FT’s 40% of its diesel already, as Germany did in WWII. Nuclear can make a much cleaner FT fuel as well as carbon neutral Methanol & DME. The Nobel Prize winning chemist Dr. George Olah documented the whole process in his book “The Methanol Economy”.

    “..It is possible through conservation and alternative energy schemes..”

    That is a ridiculous statement. Not even remotely close to being true. What you are talking about is Energy Starvation, and you will make the poor & middle class suffer. The rich will be unaffected.

    “..s all about politics. It is in fact the heart of the above article. Politics will always be the issue when it come to big money..”

    That is true, of course. That’s why western governments are spending ZIP on R&D into Nuclear Fission & Fusion that would resolve the problem but throwing $trillions down the sewer on nutty scams and Oil Wars. Big Oil buys our politicians and they do what is necessary to ensure Big Oil Energy Hegemony, including a lot of bait-and-switch or greenwashing scams like Wind & Solar energy.

    Link to this
  26. 26. David Marjanović 12:49 pm 09/6/2012

    If the resource is consumed beyond reasonable term supply exploration will increase to enable new supply. Been that way for hundreds of years.

    Don’t act as if that meant the supply were unlimited. You mentioned copper – it’s being stolen on massive scales in Germany, and sold to China. Recently 6 km of cable were stolen; 100 trains had to be diverted or canceled till the cable was replaced.

    The Uranium or Thorium consumption of high burn reactors like LFTR, IFR, Traveling Wave, LCR etc is low that seawater extraction is economical. That is effectively an unlimited supply.

    That’s imaginable.

    An analysis showing the high cost of transmission for Wind & Solar:

    Thanks, I’ll read it sometime. I hope the research into high-temperature superconductors continues. (IIRC, there is already a room-temperature superconductor, but it immediately burns down upon contact with oxygen.)

    There is no problem replacing diesel and gasoline with Methanol, DME and synthetic diesel. South Africa FT’s 40% of its diesel already, as Germany did in WWII.

    That came from coal and from oil shales. Solves precisely nothing. Methanol, on the other hand…

    “..It is possible through conservation and alternative energy schemes..”

    That is a ridiculous statement. Not even remotely close to being true. What you are talking about is Energy Starvation, and you will make the poor & middle class suffer.

    Anyone have any numbers?

    Link to this
  27. 27. gunt 6:12 am 09/7/2012

    Concerning dwbd’s comments on Germany :
    Germany and renewable energy – this can serve to-day as a negative example for green energy.
    It all started with a great green idea – the wind and the sun don’t send you a bill.
    In the meantime Germany has the second highest electricity rates in the EU – only Danmark with its still more excessive windmill installations has higher rates.
    But this is just the start of the cost story :
    As large industrial electricity consumers (an example is the chemical industry) are not willing to pay for the kwh containing the high feed-in tariffs of wind elecricity , they got an exemption. The result is, that the ‘normal’ customer has to pay for this exemption also.
    Then as Germany as such is not a favourable country for wind – the idea was to set up large windparks in the north sea and baltic sea.
    But this turned out to become another financial nightmare. The tech and logistic hurdles are much bigger than originally planned. So, the feed-in tariff for offshore windmills had to be raised from the 9 ct (Euro)per kwh on land to 15 ct per kwh.
    But this does not cover the transfer of the generated kwh from the offshore windpark to the grid on land. Due to the high costs of these transfer stations the absurd situation arises now, that a windparks stands there ‘ready-to-go’ but the kwh cannot be transferred to the North German grid, because the electricity company responsible for this does not have the money for this.
    So the windpark investors raised hell and confronted the electricity company with liability suits.
    Well – the solution was (by the German government) that the electricity bill to the ‘normal’ customer will include a fee covering such liability costs.
    The next still unsolved problem is – the major part of the generated windmill kwh are generated in the northern part of Germany but the main industrial centers depending on these kwh are in the west and in the south of Germany.
    This will result in a massive extension of the German grid (about 4000 km) – which is just going through its intial what I call planning ‘labor pains.´ Costs anything like 60 Billion Euros or higher. These costs are also payed by the ‘normal’ user via its electricity bill.

    Now – unfortunately the wind is not always blowing. So – even the greenies have to admit, that – as no economically viable solution to the electricity storage problem exists – we need so-called ‘capacity’ power stations, which are on standby waiting to get started when the windmills are on ‘stand-by’.
    Normally – power stations get their revenue by generating and selling their kwh.
    But this business model does not work for these ‘capacity’ power stations, because their mode of operation is completely dependent on the operation of the windmills. No investor would sink one penny into this.
    So the government here had a new idea : Why not subsidize these ‘capacity’ power stations depending on the amount of power (Megawatt) they offer.. Another cost item which we will later find on our electricity bill.
    For the time being – as gas power stations are too expensive (we don’t have here the cheap shale gas like you in the US, but we depend on the Russian Gasprom extorting as much money as they can) we are now starting lignite power stations (as dwbd said) , because lignite is the cheapest enery source here (about 2,5 ct per kwh).
    This runs, of course, counter to the former German commitment to reduce the CO2 emissions.
    On the other hand – our exceptionally safe nuclear power stations generating CO2-free kwh are stopped !

    What I want to say is this : The initial great idea, that the wind is not sending a bill is now becoming a nightmare of ever increasing costs.

    Apart from the economics there are other problems like an inordinate amount of material (concrete, steel, copper, rare earth metals) for these windmill monsters with their rather meager power output.
    But I don’t want to go into this.

    Link to this
  28. 28. David Marjanović 7:55 am 09/7/2012

    On the other hand – our exceptionally safe nuclear power stations generating CO2-free kwh are stopped !

    Places like Biblis were not “exceptionally safe” or anywhere near it. Most weren’t like Biblis, but some were.

    Apart from the economics there are other problems like an inordinate amount of material (concrete, steel, copper, rare earth metals) for these windmill monsters with their rather meager power output.

    Hm. How does nuclear energy compare? Sure, a single nuclear power plant generates much more energy than any wind park, AFAIK, but it needs a lot of material, and so do the uranium mines, the shipping, the refining…

    Link to this
  29. 29. gunt 2:01 pm 09/7/2012

    David, here are some comments to your remarks :
    I don’t know the specific details of problems in the nuclear power station in Biblis.
    Here are some facts :
    The IAEA has set up a scale of the severity of problems in nuclear power stations.
    It ranges from severity 0 (no relevant problem) to severity 7 (Chernobyl).
    Fukushima was classified as severity 6.
    During 1995 to 2010 there were 2198 events in Germany which went on record in the IAEA.
    98% of these events were on scale 0.
    3 events were recorded on scale 2.
    The problem is, that the German Umwelt ministry labelled those 2198 events as ‘Störfälle’ (that is error situations affecting the nuclear safety).
    A typical example is a problem in the large transformer in the Krümmel nuclear station coupling the nuclear station to the grid. Due to this problem the Krümmel nuclear facility went through a fast shutdown. This is a normal operation because the electricity generation has to be stopped. In the media and by our political ‘experts’ , however, this was described as another example of how unreliable nuclear is.
    On the IAEA scale this was recorded as a scale 0 event.

    Concerning material :
    I checked with the people in Olkiluoto (the new 1600 MW ERP3 under construction) on the amount of cconcrete used.
    The figure I got was about 500 000 tons – that’s quite a lot.
    However – if you set up the same power (the capacity factor is 40% of the rated power) in a north sea wind park you end up with about 1 500 000 tons.
    A critical factor is the rare earth metal Neodym, which is used in all wind mill generators to keep their weight down. I saw a figure of 150 kg or more (for the large 5 MW Windmill monsters) in each wind mill.
    Now – think about the mining and refininmg for this rare earth element in China.
    And -by the way – I consider this the weakest link in the chain of windmill materials.

    Link to this
  30. 30. Dredd 10:22 am 09/8/2012

    In the context of Bush II saying America is addicted to oil, getting in all locally is nothing more than switching our drug dealer.
    We need to address the addiction itself in order to deal with it realistically and comprehensively.

    http://blogdredd.blogspot.com/2012/09/new-drug-dealer-same-addiction.html

    Link to this
  31. 31. powera 12:06 pm 09/8/2012

    i have read through this post. you guys are thinking of powering the world which is the problem of science/technology. keep it small. free electric is simple as long as you “trick’ it. but not to power a city, yet.
    the real problem is that cutting the earth’s dependence on these multiple energy sources will cause an economical catastrophe. sure Mother Earth will love it. no more tapping, lesser pollution, less waste. But those jobs will also be lost. From the big shots to the guys swiping air samples in a jar. That’s the real dilemma.

    Link to this
  32. 32. Ian St. John 1:28 pm 09/10/2012

    The Romney plan on energy independence from exploiting more marginal fossil fuels is breathtakingly implausible. The goal has been restated since 1970 by every president and none has achieved even a steady state, much less an improvement. Yes I know about the Bakken formation but it is MOSTLY oil shale which is economically unrecoverable. Even the Canadian oil sands are limited in economic viability. The more you expand extraction, the deeper the overburden and the more expensive the extraction. Some current projects indicate about $75/Bbl costs which would require a world price of $150 or more (heavy oil is priced well below global prices for ‘light sweet’ oil.

    Link to this

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