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YOU!: Fix the US Energy Crisis

  1. Sep 10, 2004 #1


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    We always have threads on various pieces of the puzzle, but what I want here is for people to post a coherent plan of how to fix the energy problems we have in the US (and critique what others propose). Some groundrules:

    First, though most would agree there are issues, people won't necessarily agree on what they are/what the most important are. So define the problem as you see it before proposing the solution. The usual suspects are: safety, capacity, pollution, cost, future availability of resources, and foreign dependence. Obviously, feel free to modify that list.

    Second, I want specific, coherent plans. Don't just say 'reduce CO2 emissions' or 'increase production' - tell me how.

    Third, money is important, but not critical (for this thread), so don't let it constrain your ambition. I want solutions that will work - paying for them is another matter. Obviously, any solution will require making tough choices and (in the short term, anyway) spending a lot of money. No need to build a new budget to support it. If you say you want to spend a trillion dollars a year, fine (but the benefit had better be big).

    HERE is a site from another thread with some background info on what we use for what.

    I'll go first....
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2004
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 10, 2004 #2


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    The problems I see are as follows (in order):

    1. Pollution, specifically coal: Somewhere around a quarter of our energy usage is in the form of coal - virtually all of that is used to generate electricity. Oil is also a major source of pollution, though its uses (and pollution production) are more diverse. I don't consider nuclear power to be a major (or even minor) source of pollution.

    2. Capacity (vs demand): Demand is rising faster than supply and results in increasing costs and more frequent (and more massive) power outages.

    3. Foreign dependence: Reducing our emphasis on foreign oil would improve the global political situation somewhat, but more important is reducing our trade deficit.

    4. Cost: Obviously solutions cost money, but in the long term, a good solution could reduce energy costs.

    My solution is a 30 year, multi-pronged, and three-phased approach:

    Phase 1 is short term: 10 years. It will focus on short-term needs and heavily fund research for long-term solutions. It will include:

    -Construction of many large, modern nuclear power plants. Five years or so of design and preparation should enable starting construction of 10 a year, taking 5 years to complete, for the indefinite future. By the end of phase 2, it would mean replacement of all existing nuke plants and an overall doubling of capacity from nuclear power. Increases in capacity would start at the end of the 10 year phase 1. This is a major expense: tens of billions of dollars per year.

    -Fund alternate energy research heavily. Emphasize things considered viable, but spread money around enough to pick up some speculative research. Fusion and solar power are key. Fund hydrogen fuel cells too, but I'm more concerned with generation than storage. Fund improved fission technologies. Total funding for research would be on the order of ten billion dollars per year.

    -Immediately impose heavy regulations to reduce the largest sources of pollution immediately (no 10 year phase-in crap). This means, primarily, coal power plants. Technology exists to greatly reduce their pollution with little difficulty (just money) - require its immediate implimentation. Close other loopholes - trucks and ships aren't as well regulated as cars, for example. This cost would largely be absorbed by the economy, but it would be several tens of billions of dollars.

    -Subsidize personal alternate energy, ie solar panels on houses/businesses.

    -Reward conservation, ie. give tax incentives for conservation: buying compact fluorescent lights, heat recovery, energy efficient heat/ac, etc.

    Phase 2, 10 years, decision-making, development, expansion of Phase 1 solutions. After 10 years of heavy research, we should know where we stand on new technologies. Start implimenting what works, continue research on what is promising, and drop what is not.

    -If fusion becomes viable, start planning for massive (and I mean massive) implimentation. This would cost tens of billions of dollars a year.

    -Expand Phase 1 nuclear plant construction (unless a viable alternate is found) and include new technology. This would cost tens of billions of dollars a year.

    -Start de-comissioning coal plants as new nuke plants come online unless significant (and I mean in excess of 99%) reductions in emissions are doable.

    -Start implimenting solar solutions: that means ramping up production of 20% efficient solar cells on the order of hundreds of square miles per year (or space-based collectors). This would cost tens of billions of dollars a year.

    -Start implimenting secondary energy solutions, ie hydrogen fuel cells. Emphasize production and distribution. This would cost tens of billions of dollars a year.

    -Upgrade electric grid to handle upcoming new load and distribution. This would cost tens of billions of dollars a year.

    Phase 3: Long term solutions

    -Continue nuclear program - fission or fusion:

    -If fusion is available, build 10-20 plants, hundreds of terawatts each, and have them take over the vast majority (>90%) of the grid, including expanded capacity for hydrogen generation. This could easily cost a trillion dollars over 10 years.

    -If fusion is not available, construct large solar arrays to augment fission capacity. 30-50% of total capacity should be solar. This could also easily cost a trillion dollars over 10 years.

    -Close the rest of the coal plants.

    -Begin phase-out of gas powered cars.

    In my estimation, in 30 years we could transform the way we produce energy in the US. But it wouldn't be cheap: easily $100 billion a year or $3 trillion over the 30 year life of the project. Roughly 1% of our current gdp. Of course, much of this money is recirculated, so its not as simple (or bad) as just sucking it out of the economy.

    The benefit after 30 years, would be vastly reduced pollution, vastly increased capacity, assured long term availability/renewability, and lower energy costs going forward.
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2004
  4. Sep 10, 2004 #3
    Hopefully if the progress of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) remains steady, a commercial fusion power plant should be available in the years following 2010.

    Its a good plan but...

    The only problem in implementing this program is the politics that go along with it. I believe under the Clinton Administration their energy advisor didn't quite know what he was talking about, so America lagged behind in terms of nuclear research. I think the Bush administation's energy advisor wants to continue to build more nuclear plants in the future... and I believe Kerry wants to maintain current nuclear plants.
  5. Sep 10, 2004 #4


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    Thanks, and I share your concern: I don't think any politician is really willing to put a serious effort into this and the climate in the public isn't favorable to it either. Being the pessimist I am, I think its going to be 10-20 years of steadily increasing problems (the New York blackout every other month) before people start seriously considering fixing these problems.

    In any case, I wanted to focus on problems and solutions here, not politics.
  6. Sep 10, 2004 #5

    Ivan Seeking

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  7. Sep 10, 2004 #6
    Dayle's got some good points.

    Being in the Midwest, I would love to see biomass become our number one energy supply. i.e.-ethanol. This allows us to become less dependant on foreign oil, but our wealthy politicians who run this place wouldn't want that now, would they!? It doesn't help that some of our countries leaders are so closely tied w/ the oil economy.... CoUgHBuShCoUgH....

    I've also done some research on a microbe that will convert any type of sugar to electricity. Why not harvest those, use the same method they use to make ethanol, and feed them the sugar? This would get rid of farm waste also (living on a farm, I'd know).

    I dunno... just my OPINION! Whatever you other posters do, make sure you read the word "OPINION" before biting my head off. It is my right.

    My $.02

    Paden Roder
  8. Sep 11, 2004 #7
    In comparison with gasoline, how much CO2 is released into the atmosphere if one gallon of ethanol is burned in an engine? I know that for gasoline, the value is around 20lb. If ethanol releases a substantially smaller amount of CO2 into the atmosphere, it may be a better alternative to gasoline for transportation fuel. Over time, if ethanol is used on a large scale, the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere may be "scrubbed" back to their pre-industrial levels by the biosphere (this is prob just wishful thinking :tongue2:). But, like you said, with Bush, Inc. in the back pocket of Big Oil, things will not change.

    I like Dayle's post, too. Instead of placing the burden of the "energy crisis" on engineers to come up with new technology, maybe the burden should be placed on every man, woman, and child to conserve energy resources by changing behavior (by using mass transit, learning to live in hot weather instead of turning on the air conditioner, learning to wear long underwear in the winter, using cloth grocery bags, learning to quit breeding like rabbits, etc.). An intensive educational awareness program of the energy situation and how people can help out is sorely needed. I know that after the brief energy crisis of the 1970's, there was a multitude of such educational initiatives and quick progress in alternative energies. Then oil came back down in price, and we went right back to the status quo of maximization of consumerism. Funny how it all comes back to oil.

    That's my $0.02. :smile:
  9. Sep 11, 2004 #8
    For start, force people to switch from incadescent lightbulbs to fluorescent ones. In USA fluorescent bulbs are still BIG news.Small steps like this can make big difference.
  10. Sep 11, 2004 #9


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    I've read that in the most wealthy nations there is not self-sustaining population growth, that the death rate exceeds the new birth rate. However in the poorest nations, this is reversed in dramtic fashion. Even Feyman admitted to not having a clue to how to assist the poorest members of our global society in one of his books. And some controversial (but thought-provoking) ideas have been floated around that the assistance efforts have contributed more to the population growth in the poorest areas to make the problem worse than before the assistance.

    But our use of resources does keep increasing, no doubt about that. Russ addressed this in his point of using regulations, taxes, and incentives to change this phenomenon.

    And that is my issue, is that the people of the industrialized world won't change the consumption habits without leadership to do so and the policies to provide incentive to change.

    Car & Driver did some research into pollution controls on automobiles to see how effective certain policies have been. In short, compared to the pollution emitted by power generation (mostly coal) and industrial pollution the numbers were almost statistically insignificant. Abroad this is even a larger issue as the policies there have yet to even address pollution in many countries, and their problems show little signs of improving.

    "Green" policies would go an incredibly long ways to getting this done. Something like what Minnesota is doing with their E85 efforts to bring an alternative fuel to market should be commended, they have plenty working against them. Seattle or Portland (can't remember which one) switching to hybrid public buses to save something staggering like 30 million gallons of diesel each year.

    As much of a libertarian as I am supporting less government, I think a simple change to tax polluters and reward conservation would be one of the few methods of accomplishing the goals. Too many people plod along in giant SUVs and give me grief on driving a V8 car that gets 26.5 MPG because they assume it guzzles more gas than their hog. I'd love to convert it to run on hydrogen and get 3000MPG of gas especially if the US government would borrow from Britians laws where they will pay for conversions to LPG to help with their petroleum problems.

    I also agree with the nuclear generation of electricity but the public seems far too gun-shy of such a concept to allow this to become a reality. Unfortunately I also agree that many of the upgrades to the eletrical grid will not be implemented until the problem becomes much worse.

    Personally I'm happy that just some of us are aware of the multitude of issues and having discussions about it. All we need now is more activists like Dennis Weaver (big supporter of alternative automotive fuels) to champion the cause and get public support for it. Many because I cynically view the population as a whole to not being able to move towards such a goal until its a clear economic choice to pay heavily to pollute and waste resources and save money to do the opposite.

    my two cents..
  11. Sep 11, 2004 #10
    Just something to break off our foreign dependancy on oil. That reason is a big contributer to higher gas prices and (well, what I've heard) some war going on in the Middle East. Bush's back pocket isn't worth killing American soldiers. Get some smart people in there to enforce E85, hydrogen, or SOMETHING!!! It not only frustrates me, it kinda scares me. One day a bomb's gonna drop, if this doesn't stop.

    My (well....$.02+$.02....)$.04

    Paden Roder
  12. Sep 11, 2004 #11


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    I only skimmed your links, I'll spend more time with them, but it looks like pilot programs for hydrogen fuel implimentation - busses, for example. Pilot programs are good for study, but my fear is that they are emphasizing the end use of the hydrogen, and not the production of the hydrogen. And that's by far the larger issue. Building hydrogen fuel busses is relatively easy by comparison.

    Yeah, it is motion in the right direction, but not much... I want faster, bigger ideas. I posted this thread because it appears to me no one is thinking big about these issues.
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2004
  13. Sep 11, 2004 #12
    we all want changes, then we have to start changing our selfs first.
  14. Sep 11, 2004 #13
    I believe you erased my post in this thread. Is that so?
  15. Sep 11, 2004 #14


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    Yes, I did. I thought I had posted an explanation, but it appears it didn't go through. Your post was off topic. If you want to discuss the political and moral issues of people's effect on the environment, start a thread in the appropriate forum. I don't appreciate your attempt to hijack this thread.
  16. Sep 11, 2004 #15
    So, you got any insight on my proposal russ? I mean, seriously, if I'm being led astray here, I'd like to know an experts opinion. Is biomass a likely possibility?

    Paden Roder
  17. Sep 11, 2004 #16
    Im not an expert, but id think that biomass as a primary source couldnt sustain a larger country like America. It seems too low-yield for any substantial energy outputs. Personally I think for best results the primary source should be some form of nuclear (be it fission or fusion) as a base with other sources such as wind, biomass, solar, etc. falling in behind it.

    I was able to google a site that compares different energy sources: http://www.ewg.org/reports/choosinggreenenergy/appendix.html?print_version=1
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2004
  18. Sep 13, 2004 #17


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    I thought I had replied to yours too. Hmm. Biomass is a good idea, but I also don't think it has anywhere near the capacity to make more than a local impact.
  19. Sep 13, 2004 #18
    There are a lot of missed opportunities out there for recovering energy.

    Some energy recovery methods include: grey water heat exchangers (to recover heat from warm waste water), well water heat exchangers and desuperheaters (to precool refrigerant and preheat water), energy recovery ventilators (to recover heat from exhaust air), some forms of active solar air heating systems (Using large metal panels to heat incoming air for warehouses) can be used as insulation as well as heat to achieve 'R' values close to 50 (in heating season).

    Recovery of waste heat in cooling systems for preheating hot water benefit both of the systems (cooling and water heating) and can be incorporated in both home and commercial systems.

    Magnetic refrigeration systems show potential in the future for low energy use systems for refrigeration of cold storage boxes and large commercial cooling units. These also work with just water as the refrigerant so environmental impact is reduced.
  20. Sep 13, 2004 #19


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    So many of my clients could be doing more for energy efficiency - and tightening the codes to require it would help a lot too. Even on a 5 year payback, most companies still won't do it on their own.
  21. Sep 13, 2004 #20
    Some energy recovery methods include: grey water heat exchangers (to recover heat from warm waste water).
    Waste Water Preheater
    Active solar air heating systems.
    Solar Heating Panel Wall

    Well water heat exchangers and desuperheaters (to precool refrigerant and preheat water), energy recovery ventilators (to recover heat from exhaust air), Recovery of waste heat in cooling systems for preheating hot water benefit both of the systems (cooling and water heating) and can be incorporated in both home and commercial systems.
    Magnetic refrigeration systems show potential in the future for low energy use systems for refrigeration of cold storage boxes and large commercial cooling units. These also work with just water as the refrigerant so environmental impact is reduced.
    http:/Magentic Refrigerator
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