World Futures Institute: Energy Part Four

Los Alamos World Futures Institute
In “Energy – Part Three” we looked at the distribution of stored energy in the form of gasoline and of “stuff” we need in our daily lives.
Related to this were the financial impacts on our personal budgets because of the costs of new forms of transportation and indirect costs of stuff because of increased distribution expenses.
For example, one gallon of gasoline weights about six pounds and it must be moved (distributed) from the refinery to the gas station. This is 3.217 kilograms in the metric system. Of course, gasoline delivery would go away but shipping and delivery of electric powered cars would go up. The measurements get confusing very quickly, which is part of the difficulty in comparing bio fuels and electricity.
A gallon of gasoline has about 120 million joules of stored energy in its chemical content. If released in one second this would equate to 120 million watts (120,000 kilowatts) because a watt is a unit of power equal to one joule per second. If you have an appliance that uses 1,000 watts and operate it for one hour, you can consume one kilowatt hour (kWh) of power and incur a cost of 12 cents. For the most part we all understand this and can think in terms of watts and even kilowatt-hours.
Likewise, we can comprehend gallons and miles per gallon (or kilometers per liter), but can or do we think in terms of joules and their distribution?
In our world today we are absolutely dependent on the distribution of energy – joules – in a controlled and useable manner. We take it for granted until it is not available. When we lose power to our residence it causes concern on a personal level. We deal with it with confidence that it will be restored quickly. But what about a “crisis” on a large scale? In 1979 there was a decrease in the global oil supply of about four percent because if the Iranian Revolution. The price of crude oil doubles and gas stations had long lines.
My family was packed in a station wagon and was in constant tension in our trip from the east coast to Los Alamos, New Mexico. While all went well, the tension was there because of uncertainty about the availability of stored joules – gasoline.
Two years after arriving in Los Alamos, we moved to Belgium, and observed another circumstance. The streets and highways were brilliantly lit at night, almost making headlights unneeded. Belgium was on nuclear power and a nuclear power plant has to have relatively constant output. Meeting the daytime demands required more power to be delivered than at night.
Electricity was priced more cheaply at night because of the lack of demand. If you do not have the capacity to store the extra power you generate, you have to use it. In fact, one of the houses we rented had power storage that charged at night for daytime use. In simple terms, how good are your rechargeable batteries and how many do you have?
As an example, a AA cell battery has about 3.5 watt-hours of stored power. My most recent electric bill showed about 1,700 kWh consumed in a month. That is more power than 485,000 AA batteries can provide – for one residence.
While this is clearly an absurd example, it does highlight the challenge of energy storage on a massive scale. By the way, it would take only 3,500 car batteries (490 watt-hours). From I found that in November 2014, electricity (power) generation in the United States was 317,000,000 Megawatt-hours. Play with the math, assume it can be generated for only 12 hours per day, but must be available for use 24 hours per day. How many AA batteries are needed?
Nuclear power releases more energy that needed at night, solar make none when the sun does not shine, and wind energy stops being created when it is calm. The consumption figure cited from QUARA did not include much electrical power for transportation. What if the demand went up 30 percent? The challenge for electrical power storage climbs, making achievement more challenging.
Per, there were 127.59 million households in the United States in 2018. If all of these households were converted to local solar power, each would have to have electrical power storage established on the premises. How can we do that? And this is just for the United States. Or could some of the night time power come from nuclear energy? Or is humanity simply demanding too much power without enough concern for storage?
The debates about energy storage and release have descended upon us because of concern for global warming and climate change, linked to the emission of greenhouse gasses. While these arguments and judgments certainly seem correct, can we change the energy habits and needs of a growing body called humanity?
In the 1960s, the United States achieved the mission stated by President Kennedy to have Americans set foot on the moon. In achieving this mission the five “Ws” were very straight forward:
What: Land on, set foot on, and return from the moon.
When: Within the 1960s.
Where: Start in the United States, obviously get to the moon, and return.
Why: To maintain the leadership position of the United States in the Space Race.
Who: A subset of smart and brave people.
HOW, however, was a challenge, Fortunately, while an enormous scientific and technical challenge of the time, the body of people that had to meet the challenge was small, albeit very talented and smart. For most of us it did not require daily involvement other than perhaps watching a segment of news in the evening. But remember, the five “Ws” were easy while the “H” was hard. The “H” is always the hard part.
Today the United States wants to or should lead humanity in the fight against climate change and the storage and distribution of joules.
But the challenge is much greater than going to the moon. While we can easily define the five “Ws,” perhaps with some vigorous debate and argument, determining the how, the “H,” is the greatest challenge.
The science, engineering, and technology part may certainly be possible and only needs a subset of the population. The difference in the how, however, makes the challenge the greatest humanity has faced. It is not just three astronauts making the trip. It involves everybody and changes in lifestyle, thought, and commitment. What can we, what are we, willing to change and sacrifice to store and conserve joules?
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