# YOU!: Fix the US Energy Crisis

I have to disagree with you on the topic of nuclear energy. In the process of finding, digging up, refining, delivering and then disposing of the waste, we use so much carbon-based fuels (oil, coal, natural gas) that it takes fully 20 years of running to make up for it before you produce a single watt of "clean" power. Furthermore, there is only a finite amount of uranium in the earth, which means we'll hit "peak uranium" very fast.

Then comes the most important question: where do we store the spent uranium?? Spent uranium is still radioactive for over 20,000 years. If the pyramids were used to store waste back in the days of the Pharoahs of Egypt, we'd still to this day be guarding them, and have another 10,000 years left of having to send our military to guard it from terrorists.

Do you want trucks filled to the brim with radioactive material driving next to you on the highway, or past your children's schools? What if a terrorist lowjacked a rig and drove it into a school?!

What if a terrorist flies a plane into the radioactive waste pools that currently hold our waste? Did you know that we store this horribly dangerous stuff in open pools that have only a chain link fence surrounding them?

This is all very dangerous stuff, and we need to realize that if we spill this into an area of pristine wilderness, we cannot undo it. We cannot clean up Uranium water. The area will be ruined forever. The harm to the genetic makeup of the animals and people in the area would be horrible.

Imagine 100 million gallons of Uranium water suddenly flooding into the Mississippi River... how many hundreds of thousands... millions.... of people would get sick and die?

Is it worth it?

If nuclear is so safe, why won't ANY insurance company cover them? Not one. Guess who insures these behemoths of destruction? The U.S. Government. That's right, your and my tax dollars.

Is nuclear cheap? On an average of $20 Billion dollars for a nuclear plant and the amount of time it takes to build, a nuclear plant is extremely expensive. Give me$20 Billion dollars and I can build a dozen Solar Thermal Plants, produce more electricity and then have money left over to take an early retirement.

So think twice before you give the thumbs up to nuclear. It's not worth the price, it's not worth the pollution, it's not worth the risk.

Go green!

http://www.bluechipearth.com [Broken] - A Green Industry Future Forum. Come join the conversation!

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supersheen
mheslep
Gold Member
I have to disagree with you on the topic of nuclear energy. In the process of finding, digging up, refining, delivering and then disposing of the waste, we use so much carbon-based fuels (oil, coal, natural gas) that it takes fully 20 years of running to make up for it before you produce a single watt of "clean" power. Furthermore, there is only a finite amount of uranium in the earth, which means we'll hit "peak uranium" very fast....
Go green!

http://www.bluechipearth.com [Broken] - A Green Industry Future Forum. Come join the conversation!
Welcome to PF HempForPres.

You'll find that many of these issues have been discussed in the Nuclear Engineering forum, in particular the sticky post references some hard facts that should clear up some of these misconceptions. See to start:

Effects/risks of waste:
https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=99171&postcount=25
https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=1544286&postcount=103

Comparisons to other sources of pollution:
https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=99887&postcount=52

Availability of nuclear fuel:
https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=1522110&postcount=99
https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=1926421&postcount=110

I agree with you that nuclear power is expensive in the US, but I believe that is due to US government policy that allows and encourages endless litigation, etc, and is not intrinsic to nuclear power technology.

The green advocacy links would be more appropriately posted elsewhere, not in the science/engineering forums.
https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=1544272&postcount=102

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mheslep
Gold Member

The Economist just hosted one of its online debates between a biofueled vehicle and an electric vehicle advocate titled:
This house believes that biofuels, not electricity, will power the car of the future.
in whiche the EV advocate heavily carried the day.
http://www.economist.com/debate/days/view/321

This comes right on top of the paper [1] in Science this month arguing that it is more efficient to burn biofuels to make electricity rather than directly in a vehicle. Taken together I'd say that EV's definitely have the advantage in momentum, making ethanol cars just a stepping stone.

[1] Greater Transportation Energy and GHG Offsets from Bioelectricity Than Ethanol, JE Cambell, DB Lobell, CB Field. Vol 324, no 5930, pp 1055-1057.
http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/conte...FIRSTINDEX=0&sortspec=date&resourcetype=HWCIT

mheslep
Gold Member
... Tesla and other EVs use about http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Graph_Evolution_of_Tesla_Roadster_Efficiency.PNG" [Broken] at about $600/kWh of Li-Ion battery capacity that should last 100k miles. Better Place's exchange stations must maintain some battery stock, assume 30% stock beyond the batteries on the road. The battery cost per vehicle is then: 161km x 17kwh/100km x 1.3 x$600/kWh-LiIon = $21.2k/vehicle or$0.21/mile. The electric energy cost at $0.09/kWh is$0.025/mile. Total battery and energy cost: $0.23 / mile. ... The battery swap CEO, Agassi, did an interview with Wired a couple months ago. At http://vodpod.com/watch/1217704-agassis-electric-car-grid-interview-with-wired-science" he says his battery total lifetime cost with no help from subsidies, nothing, is$0.04 to $0.05 / mile! With the assumptions I made above, 100 mi range, 100000 mile battery lifetime, that means he's claiming he can buy Li-Ion batteries at$141/kWh i.e. $0.05 x 100,000 mi/vehicle-battery x (100km/17kWh/vehicle-battery) / 161 km x (1/1.3). I'm skeptical, as that's more than 3x better than Li-Ion prices I see elsewhere. Part of that might be cost of scale, as he also states his battery demand would be 5x total current world wide Li-ion battery supply. But, if he can deliver, given gasoline costs today are$0.09/mi and can only go up over the long term while batteries are sure to get cheaper, then EV's are bound to take off fast.

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vanesch
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
I have to disagree with you on the topic of nuclear energy.

[ ... ]

So think twice before you give the thumbs up to nuclear. It's not worth the price, it's not worth the pollution, it's not worth the risk.

Go green!

http://www.bluechipearth.com [Broken] - A Green Industry Future Forum. Come join the conversation!

You know, I've been in a long discussion in my country with people who think like you. I've even written a book about it (but it is in Dutch). Probably you're somebody honest and believe what you say, but there is not much rationality in it. Here at PF we try to stick to a more rational and scientifically inspired discourse, not to an appeal to emotion ("do you want a terrorist to high-jack a truck of radioactive waste and run it in your kid's school ?"). These are very transparant argument tricks which won't work with most of the public on PF.

I won't say that there aren't any problems with nuclear energy, but when you compare the numbers, and not the emotional statements, then the picture changes.

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supersheen
mheslep
Gold Member
You know, I've been in a long discussion in my country with people who think like you. ...
Long? You have a great deal of patience vanesch.

Eventually we will have to use renewable resources to power the planet. All others (nuclear, fossil fuels etc.) will run out.

Large solar and wind plants will be needed to power the more dense population areas.

In the areas where people live in single family homes though these people could obviously live on energy they harness on their property.

going nuclear may be the easiest thing to do but is it the best.

I guess eventually we will all be dead so maybe nuclear will last til then

vanesch
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Eventually we will have to use renewable resources to power the planet. All others (nuclear, fossil fuels etc.) will run out.

A friend of mine once had a stupid car accident. I was in the car (nothing serious, but the car was damaged) It happened as follows: there was a very long, straight road with many successive crossings, and at each crossing, there were traffic lights. He was fixing the traffic light "at the horizon", some 6 or 7 crossings further, and it was green. But at the nearest crossing, the light was red and he didn't see it, because he stared at the remote traffic light, and BONK.

The Romans didn't have to solve our energy problems. People from the 18th century didn't make plans (or relevant plans) for our current energy provision.

Let's solve things for the next few decades, let's maybe try to think 50 years ahead. And beyond that, anybody's guess is good enough, I'd say. It is not because nuclear might meet a fuel problem in 5000 years or so, that we can't use it to solve a problem in the coming 50 years, no ? 200 years from now, society will be different, technology will be different, the problems will be different, and our thinking about that now is going to be utterly irrelevant.

mheslep
Gold Member
A friend of mine once had a stupid car accident. I was in the car (nothing serious, but the car was damaged) It happened as follows: there was a very long, straight road with many successive crossings, and at each crossing, there were traffic lights. He was fixing the traffic light "at the horizon", some 6 or 7 crossings further, and it was green. But at the nearest crossing, the light was red and he didn't see it, because he stared at the remote traffic light, and BONK.

The Romans didn't have to solve our energy problems. People from the 18th century didn't make plans (or relevant plans) for our current energy provision.

Let's solve things for the next few decades, let's maybe try to think 50 years ahead. And beyond that, anybody's guess is good enough, I'd say. It is not because nuclear might meet a fuel problem in 5000 years or so, that we can't use it to solve a problem in the coming 50 years, no ? 200 years from now, society will be different, technology will be different, the problems will be different, and our thinking about that now is going to be utterly irrelevant.
Tons and tons of common sense in this post.

I recently read a great book by David Mackay. Energy without the hot air.http://www.withouthotair.com/

He says if we wanted to stop using fossil fuels we would need to build 5 times the current level of nuclear plants plus cover California in windmills plus each person would have to install 80 sq meters of photovoltaic cells plus cut our energy consumption in half.

So it is a big problem. But, we currently spend trillions in oil. So as oil becomes more expensive, people will move to the a new source. The question for today is what will the new energy source be for now and ten to fifty years.

I think it is important though to know in the end we will have to be 100% renewable. So hopefully we can take the shortest path between there and here.

I personally think nuclear is a little out of the way.

mheslep
Gold Member
I recently read a great book by David Mackay. Energy without the hot air.http://www.withouthotair.com/

He says if we wanted to stop using fossil fuels we would need to build 5 times the current level of nuclear plants plus cover California in windmills plus each person would have to install 80 sq meters of photovoltaic cells plus cut our energy consumption in half.
No he does not say this.

gmax137
I think it is important though to know in the end we will have to be 100% renewable. So hopefully we can take the shortest path between there and here.

So many people take this idea and turn it into a recipe for paralysis, resulting in no change to what is really done. That means, continued burning of coal & nat gas. If you care about solving that problem, really - read the post by Vanesch (the stupid car accident) that mheslep quoted above. Then think about it. Really really think about it. This isn't a problem solved by wishing, or by hoping.

Here is a portion of David Mackay's article from CNN

http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/science/05/13/mackay.energy/

As a thought-experiment, let's imagine that technology switches and lifestyle changes manage to halve American energy consumption to 125 kWh per day per person. How big would the solar, wind and nuclear facilities need to be to supply this halved consumption? For simplicity, let's imagine getting one-third of the energy supply from each.

To supply 42 kWh per day per person from solar power requires roughly 80 square meters per person of solar panels.

To deliver 42 kWh per day per person from wind for everyone in the United States would require wind farms with a total area roughly equal to the area of California, a 200-fold increase in United States wind power.

To get 42 kWh per day per person from nuclear power would require 525 one-gigawatt nuclear power stations, a roughly five-fold increase over today's levels.

I hope these numbers convey the scale of action required to put in place a sustainable energy solution. What about tidal power? What about wave power? What about geothermal energy, biofuels or hydroelectricity? In a short article, I can't discuss all the technology options.

I thought this was in the book but it was in fact in a CNN article.

I feel we need to as a country begin to develop small scale ways for each home to harness energy. There are 125 million homes in America. Each home spends hundreds of dollars on energy a month. If there was a cost effective way for us to make our own energy we will be on the way to becoming energy independent.

I for one am excited every day gas jumps up. I know it causes millions of dollars to be invested in developing the next energy source for us.

I am also working on a system and I will be coming out with it in the next few days.

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OmCheeto
Gold Member
I am also working on a system and I will be coming out with it in the next few days.

Me too. Though it'll be a bit longer.

I should be off the grid by the end of summer, as I promised sometime last year. If not, I hope the forum has a sense of humour and doesn't kick-ban me....

------------------------

Mentor
Here is a portion of David Mackay's article from CNN...

I hope these numbers convey the scale of action required to put in place a sustainable energy solution.
I don't see how such thought experiments are useful. The only part of it that comes anywhere close to realism is the 5-fold increase in nuclear power. Everything else is just daydreaming:

-Halving our energy usage is not an option - it isn't even desirable
-Completely eliminating coal hydrocarbon, and hydroelectric(!?) energy usage is not an option - it isn't even desirable.
-Solar power has no viability so it cannot be a part of an energy solution at this time
What about tidal power? What about wave power? What about geothermal energy, biofuels or hydroelectricity? In a short article, I can't discuss all the technology options.
None of those have any potential:
-Tidal power is expensive and there isn't much of it available
-Geothermal energy is not available
-Biofuels are not available
-hydroelectricity is essentially fully utilized already
I feel we need to as a country begin to develop small scale ways for each home to harness energy.
There is no realistic generation potential there. Heck, the energy usage of the average home isn't even that big a factor in the thought experiment. It is only something like 1/10th of our energy use. Most people use as much energy driving to and from work every day than their house uses during the day! (a gallon of gas is 45 kWh)
There are 125 million homes in America. Each home spends hundreds of dollars on energy a month. If there was a cost effective way for us to make our own energy we will be on the way to becoming energy independent.
If my poop smelled like cinnamon apple crisp, I could sell it as an air freshener! This just isn't reality.

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gmax137
As a thought-experiment, let's imagine that technology switches and lifestyle changes manage to halve American energy consumption to 125 kWh per day per person.

Well this may provide some perspective on the scale of the energy use, and as such it may be useful for people who are less quantitatively aware than most of the readers on this forum. But really, mixing various forms of energy use (e.g., direct combustion for home heating along with electrical power used for lighting, refrigeration & TVs) just leads to confusion. It misses the differences in efficiency etc. Read back thru this thread and others to see endless debates & misunderstandings due to this lack of specificity.

More important, mgb_phys is quite correct in pointing out the difference between average usage, and usage in the average home. Check into the amount used in office space, retail, and industrial facilities.

mheslep
Gold Member
Here is a portion of David Mackay's article from CNN

http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/science/05/13/mackay.energy/

As a thought-experiment, let's imagine that technology switches and lifestyle changes manage to halve American energy consumption to 125 kWh per day per person. How big would the solar, wind and nuclear facilities need to be to supply this halved consumption? For simplicity, let's imagine getting one-third of the energy supply from each.

To supply 42 kWh per day per person from solar power requires roughly 80 square meters per person of solar panels.

To deliver 42 kWh per day per person from wind for everyone in the United States would require wind farms with a total area roughly equal to the area of California, a 200-fold increase in United States wind power.

To get 42 kWh per day per person from nuclear power would require 525 one-gigawatt nuclear power stations, a roughly five-fold increase over today's levels....
That's more like it - no summing them altogether with the "plus"s used above.

mheslep
Gold Member
Mackay's 125kWh/d breaks down as follows (major parts):
• Car: 40kWh/d
• Jet travel: 30kWh/d
• Heating/Cooling: 37 kWh/d
• Food/fertilizer: 14 kWh/d
• plus misc.

Cars, heating/cooling could be improved, but as a whole there's no cutting this in half.
Also, the 125 figure doesn't include energy spent on creating imported goods (47kWh/d).

Mentor
Cutting energy consumption in half would seem to be a good thing.
Sure, so would money rain. But that doesn't make it realistic. Thermodynamics puts pretty hard limits on what efficiency gains can be had. There are some gains to be had with improved insulation, but modern homes are already pretty good. And they aren't the big energy users anyway: business are and they also have hard constraints on energy consumption (ventilation and equipment loads).

mheslep
Gold Member
There's also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox" [Broken] to contend with

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vanesch
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
I would like to "defend" MacKay's book (which is really, really worth the read): you can buy it, but it is also freely available for download at http://www.withouthotair.com

However, one should read it *completely*. MacKay is NOT proposing a specific energy plan, or he's not proposing *how* one is going to live "sustainably".
He's just writing a catalog of "numbers" which are guesstimates, and rough indications of tendencies en dependences, just to "get realistic" about renewables.

In fact, his book is important, not to find out how a plan might work, but to find out which plans are NOT going to work - have no chance of working. His point is that even before you are going to look at things such as economic viability, or even if you are going to look at reliable electricity from wind or the likes, he "wants the numbers to add up". It is not because the numbers add up that you have a workable plan, but if they don't already add up, for sure you'll never have a workable plan!

If they add up, you've passed the first test, and now you have to get into more detail. But if they don't add up, no point in looking further.

That's also why he puts coefficients "1" before all the energies. He's well aware (and discusses this) that not all energies are the same, and that conversions can be lossy. In fact, he goes "maximally electrical", because he demonstrates that this can give rise to energy economies. And first of all, "total energy" has to be found. We *then* still have to take into account conversion efficiencies, but that can only worsen the problem. If at a start, the power isn't even there, no point in calculating efficiencies of conversion, your plan won't work.

The "250 KWhr/day per person" in the US is divided by 2, simply because his argument is based upon the UK, and there, energy consumption is about half of it, 125 KWhr/day per person, and he has all his numbers ready for this quantity.

Now, living standards are higher in the US than in Europe, but one is nevertheless left with the sentiment that there must be more potential for simple economies of energy in the US without affecting lifestyle, as energy-saving measures which are already in place since long in Europe are not so much applied in the US as far as I understand. Now, as living standards in the US are higher, it will probably not be possible to bring US consumption down to Europe's consumption (halving), but some diminishing must surely be feasible.

So his book is not "to show the way", his book is more "a first realistic test for any energy plan before we look into the details". If the plan doesn't work at his level, no point in looking further.

vanesch
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
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mheslep
Gold Member
....The "250 KWhr/day per person" in the US is divided by 2, simply because his argument is based upon the UK, and there, energy consumption is about half of it, 125 KWhr/day per person, and he has all his numbers ready for this quantity.

Now, living standards are higher in the US than in Europe, but one is nevertheless left with the sentiment that there must be more potential for simple economies of energy in the US without affecting lifestyle, as energy-saving measures which are already in place since long in Europe are not so much applied in the US as far as I understand. Now, as living standards in the US are higher, it will probably not be possible to bring US consumption down to Europe's consumption (halving), but some diminishing must surely be feasible....
A good part of the difference in per person energy usage between US and the UK must be attributed to the population distribution over a large country and consequent transportation needs, and not so much to lifestyle differences. For further evidence see Canada, which covers a vast land area and has a higher per person energy usage than the US but with a slightly lower standard of living.

More important, mgb_phys is quite correct in pointing out the difference between average usage, and usage in the average home. Check into the amount used in office space, retail, and industrial facilities.

I third this. Check it out:

From LLNL. Units are quads. It's a bit messy - it doesn't distinguish between electric energy and heat, so you have to figure that out from context - e.g., the 'hydro' bar is high-grade electric energy, whereas the 'coal' bar is low-grade heat, of which only 1/3 is converted to electricity, and the rest flows into the gray "electricity generation losses" bar. Bad design choice in my view.

At any rate, US households consume 4.64 quads of electricity out of the 12.46 total. And electric generation consumes 38 quads of primary energy (mostly thermal) out of 98 in total. So by my count, 14 quads - 14% of primary energy - goes towards residential electricity. Add in 5 quads of natural gas heating, and that's 19% of primary energy which is used by houses.

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supersheen
A good part of the difference in per person energy usage between US and the UK must be attributed to the population distribution over a large country and consequent transportation needs, and not so much to lifestyle differences. For further evidence see Canada, which covers a vast land area and has a higher per person energy usage than the US but with a slightly lower standard of living.

I question that. I suspect a large part of it is the climate difference, which result in much larger heating needs. For example, the Scandinavian countries also have anomalously high energy demand, but are comparatively tiny.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_energy_consumption_per_capita

power per capita:

Iceland - 15.6 kW
USA - 10.4 kW
Finland - 9.6 kW
Norway - 7.9 kW
Sweden - 7.7 kW
...
France - 6.0 kW
Germany - 5.6 kW
UK - 5.2 kW

Mackay's 125kWh/d breaks down as follows (major parts):
• Car: 40kWh/d
• Jet travel: 30kWh/d
• Heating/Cooling: 37 kWh/d
• Food/fertilizer: 14 kWh/d
• plus misc.

Cars, heating/cooling could be improved, but as a whole there's no cutting this in half.
Also, the 125 figure doesn't include energy spent on creating imported goods (47kWh/d).

Here are his demand and supply graphs:

supersheen
Astronuc
Staff Emeritus
$316 !! That book is made out of photovoltaic cells or what ?? There are a number of specialty texts in the range of$300-$500. That's certainly daunting to an undergrad or lay person. Articles at ScienceDirect are$31.50 now. The journal subscriptions are .

Meanwhile - here is an interesting assessment of the prospects of nuclear energy in 1966.
THE NUCLEAR ENERGY REVOLUTION—1966
Alvin Weinberg (Physicist and Dir. of Oak Ridge National Laboratory) and Gale Young.

Very optimistic were folks back then.

I am truly impressed by all the discussion going on in this one single thread. I feel a a little wiser after reading the responses every day.

If you take Mackay"s general numbers into account it is obvious our domestic energy policy is a large animal. I would think the best way to tame such a large beast would be to give the tools to the billions of people around the world.

I think technology will advance and bring us new exciting ways to harness large amounts of energy in a more cost effective way.

I am more interested in technology scaling down the tech we have today into systems that individual people could implement.

Boyle's Law says (I am paraphrasing I apologize) gas will spread out and take up the entire volume of a container and then begin to pressurize.

I think residential energy consumption is similar to that. I know in my house electricity is so cheap(?) I just use what ever I feel necessary at that point in time. It seems plausible to me the rest of the country works on a similar process.

We will continue to use energy in this willy nilly manner until we reach a level that puts pressure on the system.

I would like to see a test program that puts a cap on energy usage. Maybe not a hard cap but maybe just a beeper on your meter that beeps once you reach a set number of kwh each day. I think some people would see their usage and make more of an effort to reduce consumption.

I may be wrong and people may already be living without wasting energy but, maybe not.

If we could start budgeting our energy throughout the day we may be able to slow the growth of energy consumption. This may be slim in its ability to solve our needs but with a beast this big every shot helps.

vanesch
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
I am more interested in technology scaling down the tech we have today into systems that individual people could implement.

Well, all bits help, but as MacKay says, if everybody does a little, we'll achieve... little.

There's nothing wrong with individual ways of gathering energy and saving energy. However, don't forget: effective solar energy: 20 W per square meter (depends on location), effective wind energy density: 2 W per square meter. This is not very "compact", so unless you have a large property, your distributed techniques will only contribute a certain part.

Also, energy technologies often have economies of scale, so large scale systems are very often more cost-effective (and effective overall) than distributed systems. Large windmills are more cost-effective than small individual turbines, for instance.

One should be careful, in finding a realistic energy policy, that one doesn't put extra ideological constraints on the "solution" such that no workable scheme for the near future comes out.

We will continue to use energy in this willy nilly manner until we reach a level that puts pressure on the system.

Very simple: multiply energy prices by, say, 50. You'll see an effect. Maybe not the effect hoped for.