Gates & Thiel Are Wrong On Energy, But Thiel Is More Wrong

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The major causes of climate change and air pollution are the burning of fossil fuels for electrical generation and transportation. Bill Gates accepts that but thinks that technical solutions don’t exist already and need to be discovered. Thiel doesn’t even accept climate change, but still thinks we need to invest in disruptive innovation in energy. He is one of the leading Silicon Valley lights behind the clean energy tech bubble that failed while enormous amounts of money is being made by people who accept the reality of cleantech and energy.

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What is that reality?

We now have technical solutions for each of the major problems in the solution spaces, it’s just a matter of political will and ongoing incremental innovation.

The major problems are political in nature, not technical. It’s the will to transform and deploy existing technologies and let incremental innovation improve them, which is required.

It’s worth stepping through the major problem spaces and identifying solutions which already exist and where innovation is still required.


Electrical Generation

Generation technologies

This is a solved problem. Wind and solar generation are rock-solid technologies which are now at or below grid parity in many parts of the world and still dropping in price. They will eventually be deployed and provide up to 75% of total global generation. That will take a few decades, and most of the problems pertain to achieving stable and level playing fields and the massive scale of replacement of fossil fuels. Hydro is very solid as well, but most of the best sites have been tapped out and many temperate and tropical potential sites would actually have very high CO2 emissions if developed, so are inappropriate regardless of local impacts on fish stocks and the like. The problems here are continuing incremental innovation, scaling of manufacturing, scaling of logistics, and scaling of deployment teams.

Management and integration

Wind and solar are intermittent but very predictable resources. Dealing with that intermittency is a different grid management problem than dealing with the inflexibility of large nuclear, coal, and hydro plants. This problem has been solved as well, as is shown by Denmark achieving over 40% from wind energy alone annually with peaks over 125%, Germany achieving almost 100% from renewables relatively frequently, Spain at 37% annually, Texas getting 40% from wind alone one day, Portugal achieving 100% renewable electricity for 4 days in a row, etc. The solutions are well understood: build lots of transmission and inter-country and inter-regional energy markets, and put in place better weather prediction such as ANEMOS. The problems are getting major utility stakeholders that are attached to large fossil fuel assets to accept the new grid reality (e.g. Poland, Montana, Arizona, etc.) and to get jurisdictions that are historically attached to local electrical independence (e.g. Texas, Ontario) to accept more grid interconnections. There are lots of organizational change issues to work through and there’s lots of money to spend, but the solutions are well understood.

Negawatts

The cheapest renewable energy is the demand you eliminate, and we’ve been getting better and better at this. There’s still room to grow here, but it’s more about implementing solutions more broadly than making up new solutions, just as with generation. Major industrial demand management agreements have been around for a couple of decades. Efficiency programs have cut HVAC, lighting, and similar energy consumptions massively. Smart metering along with time-of-use (TOU) billing is driving businesses and consumers to smarter electricity use choices. Those are being implemented globally. While economic activity is increasing, electrical demand is flat in most economies, which is actually a different kind of problem. There are organizational and political issues, and the issues of funding, but the technical issues are implementation of existing technologies and incremental innovation.

Storage

This is both more of a solved problem and less of a requirement than most people realize.

The “less of a requirement” point is straightforward. Grid interconnections and energy markets across larger geographic regions are allowing high penetrations of renewables already without storage of any scale. That will continue and reduce the need for storage considerably. Historically, it’s always been cheaper to overbuild generation than to build storage, and wind and solar are going to be so cheap that overbuilding will occur. Wind is already being used as fast-reacting backup in at least one US state just by underutilizing it. Mixed generation with hydro, biofuel thermal, geothermal, and the like provide a pretty good mix that blends reasonably well. Demand management is already working effectively to lower peaks, and is typically a lot cheaper than storage, so it will continue to expand. The most sophisticated study I’ve looked at ignored several of those factors. Most storage outlooks have been geographically constrained and relatively non-systemic, in they consider storage as the primary solution to intermittency, not part of a suite of solution. My gut tells me that total storage requirement is under 20% of maximum demand, not the higher numbers frequently asserted. That’s still a big number, but it’s important to remember that storage is also an endgame problem, important to finalize decarbonization of the grid and not nearly as important in the near term when we can maintain thermal peaker gas plants while ditching baseload coal and gas.

The storage technology winners are pretty obvious. Pumped hydro is still the biggest form of active storage globally, and there’s room to increase this capacity. Passive hydro — using naturally refilled dams as on-demand generation as opposed to baseload — is growing and will likely see new builds of major continental “batteries.” Then there will be district grid storage for certain classes of load balancing and distribution side demand management. That’s just a price point for batteries, which are fairly obviously emerging as the winner for that use case over some of the other edge approaches, and battery prices are dropping as rapidly as wind and solar prices.


Transportation

Personal transportation

This is a solved problem technically, it’s just a deployment problem now more than anything else. Public transit running on electricity, walkable cities, and bikeable cities are obvious levers that have been around for ever — it’s just a matter of asserting their primacy as a pattern and getting away from car-centric city planning. Battery-electric buses are spreading rapidly, light rail is almost always electric, subways are always electric. Just do more of that.

Electric cars have reached the tipping point too, with nearly 400,000 pre-orders for the Tesla Model 3 and every manufacturer announcing electric-only cars. It will take a few decades to work through, and there’s some fallout in charge point standards and approaches, but these aren’t major engineering challenges but societal and deployment challenges.

Freight transportation

This one is fairly straightforward too. Biodiesels and carbon-neutral diesels of a variety of types exist, but aren’t economic. Carbon taxes would go a long way to making them economic. That would drive a lot of incremental innovation which would make the alternative fuels a lot cheaper. This isn’t a technical problem in need of a breakthrough, but an economic and political issue.

Air transportation

Oddly, this is a solved technical problem too. There are carbon-neutral jet fuels which exist, are certified for use, and have been used. They just aren’t cheaper than fossil fuel–based jet fuels yet. Once again, the answer there is to price the carbon and drive use and investment in incremental innovations to bring the price down.


Transitioning to carbon neutrality and to clean air actually isn’t a hard problem technically. There are existing very good solutions in every major instance where there is a need. But there hasn’t been political will to transform and there has been a lot of money spent to reduce political will to transform by people and companies that do very well by selling fossil fuels.

It’s deeply unfortunate that Gates is adding to the delay in addressing these issues by promoting an illusory need for energy breakthroughs. His track record post-Microsoft has been very positive except for this. Thiel’s positions are less surprising given his Libertarianism (despite his claims that it is not narrow but nuanced), but his continued influence shows that people continue to conflate a talent for making money in one space with having credible opinions in others.


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Michael Barnard

is a climate futurist, strategist and author. He spends his time projecting scenarios for decarbonization 40-80 years into the future. He assists multi-billion dollar investment funds and firms, executives, Boards and startups to pick wisely today. He is founder and Chief Strategist of TFIE Strategy Inc and a member of the Advisory Board of electric aviation startup FLIMAX. He hosts the Redefining Energy - Tech podcast (https://shorturl.at/tuEF5) , a part of the award-winning Redefining Energy team.

Michael Barnard has 650 posts and counting. See all posts by Michael Barnard

179 thoughts on “Gates & Thiel Are Wrong On Energy, But Thiel Is More Wrong

  • Carbon neutral fuels, wind, solar and fast reactor base load could do it.

    • Carbon neutral fuels, wind, solar and other renewables could do it cheaper.

      eta: And faster. And safer.

      • Fair enough Bob, but in all honesty I would prefer the current fleet of nuclear to be upgraded during the transition period rather than biomass burning or biofuels ( with the exception of aviation)

        • I agree. I don’t think new build nuclear makes sense, but keeping legacy plants running is important.

          • Power generators bring two kinds of value to the table. Cheap bulk power, and control , like batteries, or pumped hydro. Nnuclear really fits into the bulk power game, but on the pricey side.

          • Upgrading legacy nuclear plants is a terrible idea, and they need to be shut down. Here’s why.

            The constant bombardment by radiation weakens all the concrete, steel, and other materials in the nuclear power plant. You can’t actually repair it. It gets brittle and prone to damage. The same thing happens due to the heat cycling, though we know better how to repair that sort of problem.

            After 60 years, or 80 years of heavy radiation exposure and exposure to high heat and huge heat swings, not to mention various caustic chemicals, the materials are basically shot. They’re not fit for purpose. They’re also *not designed to be repaired or replaced*, since these are mostly 1950s – 1970s designs, so replacing them with new material which isn’t irradiated is an enormous, invasive, expensive effort. And because they’re irradiated, it all has to be done in radiation suits, and the radioactive waste has to be disposed of, and so on… it’s extremely impractical. Attempts to do this have bankrupted more than one nuclear power plant.

            The Navy actually stopped refueling its nuclear reactors to avoid the incredible problems with accessing and altering a running reactor. They build sealed units and never repair them; when their lifetime is up they are basically put directly into the radioactive waste dump.

          • Most of the US reactors are less than forty years old, so if they’re good for 60 or 80, they’ve still got as much or more life left as a brand new wind turbine or solar panel. The neutron radiation only really affects the belt round the pressure vessel level with the core – water slows neutrons very effectively – and test samples of the same metal have been exposed to long periods in research reactors. The results have encouraged the operators to go for extended lives up to eighty years. When the plants were first built there wasn’t enough info available, so they erred to caution and planned for forty years. Heat cycling isn’t a problem, since they’re usually run at full power for eighteen months, and then have a couple of weeks to wind down, reload, and start back up.
            Navy nukes are very different. They’re inside a pressure hull that has to survive tremendous forces at depth, so a refuelling hatch would cause weakness and complicate a very compact design. They can get thirty years power for the ship from a core about the size of an office chair, anyway, after which the vessel is probably obsolete.

          • If they are safe.

            We just found out a few days ago that France came close to screwing the pooch a couple of years ago. It was kept secret for about two years.

            “Both the French nuclear authority, ASN, and the company operating the two Fessenheim nuclear reactors, French energy giant EDF, allegedly did not divulge the gravity of the incident on April 9, 2014, when one of the reactors had to be shut down after water was found leaking from several places.

            Researchers from German daily “Süddeutsche Zeitung” and public broadcaster WDR claim the incident at Fessenheim, which is in Alsace near the border with Germany, could turn out to be one of “most dramatic nuclear accidents ever in Western Europe.”

            They are basing the claim on a document they say they have obtained, sent by ASN to the then-head of the facility on April 24, 2014.

            The letter and subsequent reply reveal that the reactor could not be shut down in an ordinary fashion due to control rods being jammed. The reactor had to be shut down by adding boron to the pressure vessel, an unprecedented procedure in Western Europe, according to an expert.

            “I don’t know of any reactor here in Western Europe that had to be shut down after an accident by adding boron,” Manfred Mertins, expert and government advisor on nuclear reactor safety, told WDR and Süddeutsche Zeitung.

            The reports say the official report ASN released did not contain information on adding boron nor the jammed control rods. It was also not reported in that way to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). ​”

            http://www.dw.com/en/reports-fessenheim-nuclear-accident-played-down-by-authorities/a-19093477

            One never knows what might be going on behind lead-covered walls….

          • ‘PWRs operate with boron in them normally.
            In fact, a full power PWR typically has all control rods out, and boron is used for controlling reactor coolant temperature.
            Most PWRs, with all rods in, don’t have enough negative reactivity to fully cooldown, and have to inject additional boron to allow the reactor to stay shutdown after you cool it.
            So boron is a normal part of PWR operation. To compensate for the chemistry issues, they add lithium to the reactor coolant system to minimize the amount of Primary Water Stress Corrosion Cracking that occurs.’
            Who was the expert that declared the procedure ‘ unprecedented ‘ ? Mycle Schneider?

          • John, there was a major problem at the reactor.

            Extraordinary measures had to be taken to keep the plant from melting down.

          • “screw the pooch” is going to be my go-to phrase for the week.

          • ‘On 9th April 2014 at 16h40, while a cooling system tank (SNO tank) in the reactor 1 turbine hall

            (non-nuclear part) of the Fessenheim NPP was being filled with water, the level of water in this

            tank exceeded the maximum specified level. The surplus water is drained off via the tank’s overflow

            system, specifically designed to evacuate water in the event of over-filling. The water drain pipe

            was blocked at ground level by a mixture of mud and rust and the pipe therefore filled, with the

            water backing up in other pipes before overflowing into the room located next to the reactor 1

            control room.

            At 17h00, the EDF staff noticed water in the corridor in front of the reactor 1 control room,

            located 15 metres above the ground. They immediately stopped tank filling. Water nonetheless ran

            down into the rooms on the lower floors, which in particular house the electrical cubicles. The

            subsequent analysis of the event showed that the openings, which were designed to prevent water

            runoff to the lower floors, were not leaktight and were unable to stop water from passing.

            The water splashed onto the electrical equipment leading to several items becoming unavailable

            with tripping of the alarms in the control room. In particular, train A of the RPR1

            system and the

            control rods visual position indicator were no longer available. However, train B of the RPR system

            was unaffected: the reactor protection functions performed by the RPR system continued to be

            guaranteed.

            The EDF personnel applied normal reactor operating rules and initiated reactor shutdown. As the

            control rods position indicator was not available, it was impossible to control reactor power by

            varying the insertion of the control rods in the core. The EDF staff thus used the addition of boron

            to the reactor coolant system to gradually bring down the reactor power. Manual or automatic

            shutdown of the reactor by complete insertion of the control rods remained operational at all times

            during the event, but it was not necessary to resort to this measure.

            In the hours which followed, in accordance with the reactor normal operation rules, the pressure

            and temperature of the reactor coolant system were lowered until a “maintenance cold shutdown”

            state was reached in the morning of 11th April 2014.’
            Footnote -‘ 1 The role of the RPR (or reactor protection system) is to ensure that the reactor is protected by triggering a series of

            automatic actions. Based on the information supplied by various types of sensors (temperature, water level, pressure,

            etc.), electronic processing decides on whether to actuate reactor automatic shutdown and safety systems. The

            pressurised water nuclear reactors operated by EDF are also protected by redundant systems and equipment. The

            electrical power supplies and I&C for the RPR system are thus provided by two electrical systems, referred to as train

            A and train B, which are separate and independent. Each of these trains can perform the reactor protection functions

            on its own.’
            The event was rated ‘1 ‘on the INES scale – an ‘anomaly ‘, and was studied by the Franco-German and Swiss liaison committees, with resultant changes to procedures and maintenance schedules.

            http://www.french-nuclear-safety.fr/Information/News-releases/Incident-of-9-April-2014-on-reactor-1-of-the-Fessenheim-NPP

          • There seems to be two reports. One which has been made public which claims that the control rods were not jammed and an internal report stating that they were which was not released but leaked.

        • Nukes in all forms and incarnations are horrible. We knew this 40 years ago. Give it a rest.

          Just one of very many issues with nukes is that they use millions of gallons of water to cool the hot reactors. Have you ever put an ice cube into hot tea and watch it melt? What’s happening to the ice caps? They are melting. Is it because of nukes? It could be. I’d like to see this relationship explored.

          Bob, it seems like we may be getting nuclear industry trolls more and more.

          Nuclear by definition is not a renewable energy since uranium needs to be mined and anything mined is not renewable. This is a renewable energy web site, not an “all of the above” energy web site.

          No nukes!

          • Nuclear fans seem to be in a panic. I think even they can see the end approaching and it’s giving them major irritating rashes.

            By my count we’ve got a list of ‘to be closed’ reactors that is almost twice as long as the list of ‘to be built’ over the next ten years.

            The CEOs of the two largest reactor owning companies in the US (Exelon and Entergy) recently stated that they don’t see any more reactors being built in the US. Renewables have become too inexpensive.
            —-

            I really doubt the heat from reactors has played a meaningful role in adding to global heat. It’s likely that the avoided CO2 has more than offset that heat.

            Skeptical Science has a good piece on the role of heat from thermal plants. It’s minor. Check their ‘Arguments’ page.

          • Many of the dates for nuke plant closure set at the outset have been extended. Many of the plants are already dangerously old.

            I saw a aerial thermal plume of the Hudson river below the nuke there showing the nuke’s thermal pollution. It would suggest otherwise. As I stated, I’d like to see it studied more.

          • There is no need for studying..
            Just take all the nukes nameplate electricity together, multiply it by 2 and you get the thermal out put (efficiency for heat to electricity assumed to be 33% then).
            Then compare that with the solar insulation onto earth with an albedo of 0.2 or some such as average fro the planet.
            I’m sure you will find that nukes will be less than a millionth..

          • Yep. The whole “waste heat from electric power generation is a significant factor in AGW” meme is ridiculous.

          • The thermal pollution in the river is a different problem, than CC. It is a “local” say 100 mile down river. It changes the what can live there, and every time you turn the plant off, it changes back. So you do have a zone where not a lot of plant/animals like to live. It is no uncommon in cold area to see fish kills if a reactor goes off line in the winter. But have to agree with Bob, the heat added here is likely less than the impact of burning coal to generate the same MWhs would have had. And the coal would have heated local water also. Of course PV/Wind would have beat either.

          • Nuclear plant cooling canals have actually become wildlife hotspots, to coin a phrase, in some places – the manatees and gators in Florida love them.

          • Until the water gets hot enough to start cooking the wildlife and we are forced to shut down the reactor.

          • Nuclear fans are excited by the prospects of stretching current reactor life to 60 or 80 years. We’ve yet had a US reactor reach 50 years. (The first one that should reach age 50 has already been scheduled to be closed down that same year.)

            Then, old stuff breaks.

            About 25% of the US reactor fleet is not able to compete with current NG, wind and solar prices. They’re going out of business. We just had another closure (Fort Calhoun) announced a week ago.

            The price of wind and solar will almost certainly continue to fall. As those prices decrease more of the remaining 75% will slip into the “too expensive to continue” group.

            Then, considering that old stuff breaks, some reactors are almost certain to encounter a large, expensive repair. The cost of paying off the repair is likely to push them into the “too expensive” category.

            It’s like driving an old car. Needs a new thermostat? OK, pay for that. New transmission or engine? Junk it.

            If wind and solar actually fall below 3c/kWh it’s hard to see how any nuclear survives.

          • I’m sure Coley can defend himself but I don’t think he’s a nuclear troll.

          • Don’t go running to Bob, you got something sensible to say then spit it out, keeping existing Nuclear as a back up during the transition makes a lot more sense then building new nukes or gas or biomass.
            That position does not make me a nuke troll.

  • Regarding freight, it’s worth noting that freight hauling can of course be done by
    — electric trucks, particularly for short-range around-town drayage (port to warehouse, warehouse to supermarket, FedEx, UPS)
    — electrified railway lines (already done for pretty much all Russian freight)
    Both are inherently cheaper to operate than fuel-burning options, but the payback time for the capital costs has deterred adoption. Even a very small carbon tax could tip the commercial decisions towards electrification of these forms of freight traffic.

    • “– electrified railway lines (already done for pretty much all Russian freight)

      Both are inherently cheaper to operate than fuel-burning options, but the payback time for the capital costs has deterred adoption.”

      Why is it always the oil rich states that get this the earliest even though they need it the least?

      Russia, Dubai, Norway?

      • I think that virtually all the railways in Europe are electrified. Definitely in Spain where I live they are.

        • The UK is lagging behind, even on electrified lines you often diesels pulling the trains, and even on occasion, the odd steam powered locomotive-:)

        • Diesel locomotives are still in significant use in Germany, France, Italy and elsewhere in Europe.

        • More, in more parts of the globe would be welcomed.

    • Do the owners have to pay property taxes on the additional equipment needed to electrify the rail?

      • That depends on the exact legal arrangements. The better legal arrangement is when the line is owned by a government, and then it doesn’t pay any property taxes. (It can still be leased to a private freight hauler, who still doesn’t pay any property taxes.)

        • I think US rail lines are privately owned, no? Maybe this would be a good place for a tax break.

          • Most of them are privately owned, but lots and lots are actually in the hands of state and local governments. I actually know the situation in detail. It’s very bad for them to be privately owned for various reasons; any incentive to get the private owners to do a sale-leaseback with a public agency is helpful.

          • In Germany they managed to gift the rail network to the private company.. worst decision ever (for the public).

          • Cin Ohio, owned a large amount of track. Made money on it every year. Then a politician who only planned to be around only a few more years had a great idea! Sell the track, get money now to make next 5-8 years look good. By the time all the sale money is spent I will be gone, and the bigger budget hole will not be my problem.

          • and so it goes in every democracy in the world.

          • This sounds like it has Goldman Sachs finger prints all over it. You described exactly what they did in Greece and many other places around the world.

  • Don’t forget use of LEDs as part of negawatts. 1/5 the electricity use of incandescents, more reliable, and much longer life. Lighting used to be 20% of USA electricity. That’s already falling.

    Low-cost battery storage is coming. This will clearly make Solar PV a 24 hour resource in many sunny places throughout the World, including Mohave desert in Southern California …easy transmission distance from LA. Atacama desert in Chile, Sahara in North Africa, desert at in North of South Africa,… and many others.

    Elon Musk’s reveal of current cost of their battery packs at $190/kWh. LGChem must be close with $145/kWh for cells. Those are both lithium ion batteries. There are many other chemistries and types of batteries. Resulting cost in 5 to 10 years will be a few cents per kWh for storage, <5c/kWh for sure. …this can be used at the end-of-grid where retail cost of electricity is higher and easier to compete with. Also, makes distributed Solar PV from residential prosumers more of a dispatchable resource. This is a tidal wave of change coming.

    • I wonder if (smart) lightning could be a good point to start with demand response.

      • Don’t see it. Unlikely people would enjoy having the light levels in their rooms going up and down.

        Freezers cooling down a bit more before peak hours and coasting through the peak wouldn’t be noticed. Neither would washing machines/dishwashers mind if they ran at 3AM rather than before midnight.

        • Maybe Jenny was talking about street lights.

          There would have to be a cheap way to detect if a car is on the road or not.

          I want a snake + scorpion detection camera built into my phone.

          • “There would have to be a cheap way to detect if a car is on the road or not.”

            There are a few that have already been deployed.

      • Yes, for reduced lighting when not in use, e.g. go off when not in room, come on when in room. That’s already being done a lot for commercial buildings. Maybe not so much for DR, but your thinking in the right direction.

      • Is smart lightning like greased lightning?

    • If you combine lighting and displays and factor in the required aircondition to remove excess heat generated from lighting and displays then LED’s will reduce global electricity consumption by 30%.

      Below 5c for storage is not likely unless you cycle those batteries a lot and not all storage batteries are poised for that fate because you also need deep cycle.

      • Simple math is that $100/kWh battery divided by 5000 cycles give you $0.02/kWh per cycle. Skip some cycles, do not deep cycle, add in finance costs, and you are probably near that 5c value. $200/kWh gets you there now if you fully utilize it. I expect that we will be there at retail by 2020.

        • But nobody knows what battery brand is best. Or do we go by warranty specs.

          • Warranty specs will normally be conservative, but mostly this is something that will be worked out over time. There is always some risk to everything in this life. Tricky is to reduce it to reasonable level.

        • Remember, there’s soon going to be a flood of old EV batteries that are down to 70% of original capacity but still useful. Is this why Tesla, Mercedes and Nissan are getting into the home battery business?

      • Good point on reduction of waste heat using LEDs.

        Below 5c will be easy accomplished for daily cycled load leveling of Solar PV. Look at duck curve in Hawaii here:
        http://cleantechnica.com/2016/05/20/hawaii-energy-crossroads-part-2-much-renewable-energy/
        That duck is screaming: “I need daily battery storage and you can get even more low-cost Solar PV electricity out of me!” Neck and Head of the duck will be first to go.

        You are correct about rainy day storage covering several days and for seasonal storage typically at larger latitudes (larger distances from equator). That is a different problem. First the duck gets flattened (sorry duck). Easy and cost effective fix. Cost effective in Hawaii and Australia (Chile and other?) already. Cost effective in California and across Southern USA in 5 to 10 years. This will enable huge Solar PV penetration.

        • of course in winter lighting reduces heating load by a measurable amount with current office lighting using CF and worse.

          • True, but even in winter resistive heat near the ceiling is not the most energy efficient way to heat. Then when the summer heat comes…

          • Because of lights and other thermal energy sources, including bodies, many commercial buildings run their air coolers even when it is very cold outside. The pity is that they waste massive amounts of thermal energy by dumping it into the air when, especially in dense areas, it would make more sense to use that energy to heat nearby heating dominated residential buildings.

            There is no “waste heat” there is only “wasted heat.”

          • but then you’d need to dig up all the streets and run a third energy distribution infrastructure using hot water or similar. Hello City of Sydney! Unless it was converted back to electricity but not sure how efficient that can be with ‘low-grade’ heat.

        • Is Hawaii already heating water with electricity?

          It could simply store surplus solar electricity in its water tanks and use this hot water for washing purposes in the evening, at night or in the early morning.

      • True, but most displays less than five years old are already LED … we’re already well on the way to “reducing” global electricity consumption by 30% from what it would have been if LEDs had never been adopted. Throw CFLs into the mix as well and call it 40% … we never saw that part of demand growth, which is nice, but demand grew all the same. Jevons hard at work 🙂

        • I dont know about the 40% potential but you are right in assuming that the world crank up lighting, signage, display size, display brightness, lighting proliferation and display proliferation nearly as fast as we employ better technology to save energy per unit.

          • We should not overlook the dramatic increase in wealth among a majority of what was formerly regarded as the “third world”. It’s not mere “cranking up”, it is economic and social development on a grand scale.

    • So what is the cost of storing electrons today.

      • Daily cycling for Solar PV is what I’m talking about. Important to look at different stages of storage integration, or segregate as different use cases. Daily cycling for Solar PV can be done now and will be extremely cost effective in about 5 years. Enables, no drives, huge increase in Solar PV use starting now in Hawaii, Australia, etc. Happening!
        Most lithium ferrite (LiFePO4cells can handle 3,000 deep DoD cycles. (Deep being 70% or 80%, but internal BMS may make this look like effective 100%.) I know this is not fictitious, since I have a good friend who has done deep cycle testing to 2,700 cycles (in a few weeks or months = harsh) on at least one …and these batteries were still in very usable shape.
        Tesla claims 5,000 cycles with their LiMnCo batteries. I’m guessing this is realistic if your system is designed and used properly. No reason to charge at super high rate or supply power at a super high rate …as might be true for utility level grid application.

        …AND there are other competing batteries, e.g. flow batteries.

        …AND there has been laboratory improvements to cycle life that we may well see on the market in 5 to 10.

        …AND you don’t really need either of those two ANDs to get to <5c/kWh. Just greater scale of production of what we already have now.

        • So Consumer Reports can test AA batteries and car magazines can test tyres but nobody dares to test Powerwalls and LG batteries.

          The DoE should be doing it.

          • Agree, good idea.

      • I misread this as “the cost of strong electrons” and wondered what the difference was between strong electrons and weak electrons… 🙂

        • Strong electrons come from dirty filthy manly processes kohl nuclar and tar with a healthy plant fertilizing dose of CO2. Wimpy hippie power processes, wind, solar and hydro give weak electrons, starving our nutritious crops.

        • Several weeks in the gym.

    • LED cost have come way down in the last few years, and the functionality is superior in some cases. Under the counter lighting is nicest with those slick LED’s. I have an external light with built in curved LED’s with no bulbs to replace, or gaps in the light, and I like the whiter light better for that. I put LED bulbs in a couple places I don’t enjoy climbing up to.

      I’ve eradicated all incondescents, but I saw one recently, oh look, only 52 W, and gives off less light. Ugh. Give me a 9 watt LED any day.

      • Yep, ditto. Less energy use, better lighting, no maintenance. I have all LEDs now.

  • Mike there may exist CO2 neutral aviation but not GHG neutral because water vapor at commuting heights is a strong GHG gas. For that you need batteries and so far the technologies needed for that are still some time into the future.

    • I do not have the reference right now, but Elon Musk has postulated that 400w/kg will be enough to get short range commercial air electrified. We are at about half that value with Li-Ion, and other technologies look to have the technological basis for getting there.

      • Weight cost so I would question both current electric motor designs and rechargeable batteries. I think Phinergy style non rechargeable batteries will be more suitable for aviation and I think wider wing span and weight reductions will make the economics of Phinergy style batteries quite attractive. However what we need is taxation.

      • The only relevant air travel is long-range, though. Well, OK, I guess short range is useful for island-to-island hops in Hawaii. But a huge portion of air travel is trans-Atlantic, trans-Pacific, and NY-LA type stuff…

        • The 1 hour to 1.5 hour flight (approx 1000km) is very common. Sydney to Brisbane, Sydney to Melbourne. The business flights are full every day – it’s a long day, 4am start, 9pm home, a large portion of that time getting to the airports, waiting for the flight call, waiting for takeoff.
          Under 500km I can see how fast trains should be used instead, and will easily compete because you eliminate the airport delays. But beyond that… Hyperloop? Aluminium air batteries?

          • Hyperloop is the big hope. Faster than flying, faster acceleration and faster cruising. Stations can easily be inside population centers, not ‘out of town’ where we generally site airports.

          • And it could free airspace for wind energy.

          • Tall turbine towers are not that tall.

            And we have no demonstrated wind technology that goes higher than our highest wind turbines.

            We haven’t learned how to make electricity by harnessing pink unicorns and training them to fly in circles.

            (This site attempts to be reality based, Jenny. Please respect that.)

          • Excuse me… hyperloop, battery powered airplanes,..

          • When I talk about those ideas I always couch them as unproven ideas. I don’t talk about ideas as real things that could be used today.

          • It depends on what you call demonstrated.

          • The first step might be that the idea would have shown sufficient merit that it had attracted serious development money.

            The next would be an installed prototype cranking out data over a meaningful period of time.

            Finally, market acceptance. The idea being realized on a commercial level.

          • Google’s Makani energy kites fly much higher than the highest turbine towers.

          • I know that.

            Are any hooked to the grid and producing affordable electricity?

          • Just hope it’s as smooth as flying. Going to require super precise tube, or amazing active suspension. I also fear that if it demands maglev rather than air cushion ride, it won’t be cost competitive.

          • Despite Australia’s relatively small population, the two routes you mention are in the world’s top ten most heavily trafficked air routes.

            The other eight are Seoul-Jeju, Tokyo-Fukuoka, Tokyo-Sapporo, Tokyo-Osaka, Tokyo-Okinawa, Beijing-Shanghai, Hong Kong-Taipei, Rio-São Paulo and Johannesburg-Cape Town.

            Not one of the top ten is in the US or Europe, because those two regions have a lot of smallish “major” cities and more diversity of routes among them. Without a doubt there are many more short-haul flights coming and going from London’s four major airports than from Tokyo’s two.

        • From what I understood, he was talking about flights of less than 1000Km as short and medium range range while longer than that is intercontinental.

    • Its not just the H2O, particulates act as condensation nuclei, and that is also generally a warming influence. But, at least it doesn’t accumulates in the atmosphere like CO2, so for a fixed volume of air travel at least the problem doesn’t grow with time.

      • I think the jet contrails are actually a cooling forcing during the day, reflecting sunlight, but act to stop outgoing IR at night. After 9/11, when commercial flights over the US were stopped for nearly a week, day/night temperature differences were much greater than usual. The particulates, NOX, sulphides, and high level water vapour might have shorter residence times up there, but airline travel has been growing so fast that the overall immediate effect is much worse than the carbon dioxide. I read somewhere that a hydrogen powered airliner would be worse than an avgas burner.

    • Very true, but aviation neutral is a big step in the right direction, the last thing we need is the deniers being given a big stick, and if even a few environmentalists start egging on govts to add even more taxes on people’s ‘flights to the Sun’
      Then, they won’t have a stick they will have the entire tree.

  • The third largest source of emissions is fossil fuels used for heating. In US states with relatively clean electric grids, like New York, heating is the second largest source of emissions. I am constantly amazed that those concerned with Climate Change seem to focus so much on electrical generation and transportation while leaving the heating sector essentially ignored.

    We have practical technologies, like geothermal heat pumps, that can satisfy our heating and cooling needs without on-site emissions and that have the potential to work emission-free if their power sources are clean.

    It is time that those concerned with emissions learn to look beyond electric and transportation emissions and consider heating emissions as well. We need heat without fire.

    (Note: In New York, only about 20% of emissions come from electricity emissions. About 30% come from heating fuels and 40% from transportation. The rest is industrial applications. In New York, electrical emissions are a third-level problem.)

    • I’m not sure geothermal heat pumps have that much of a future. Perhaps only the most extreme climates.

      Current air source heat pumps have become very efficient.

      And before spending money running either get the building thermal efficiency up to date.

      • Please see my reply above to bobwyman, I am also interested in your input on heat pump choices/costs. I will have to research the retrofit costs and how they operate. Do they use existing ductwork at least?

        • I’m not a good source. I’m trying to get someone to write a high quality article for the site.

          There are units tht use the existing duct system and ones that don’t need a duct system.

          You might want to read this article about ductless, mini-split heat pumps.
          http://energy.gov/energysaver/ductless-mini-split-heat-pumps

          And check the links at the bottom of the page. You should come away with a good understanding of the different approaches.

        • Geothermal heat pumps use the temperature of the earth as the medium for heat exchange instead of air, which is what we see with ‘normal’ air conditioning. They can be ‘drop-in’ replacements for air source heat exchangers, and are more efficient compared to air sourced when the air temperature difference is over 30C, as the ground averages 15C year round at about 2 meters below the surface in most places.

          • “drop in” for the furnace duct work section sure. how does the piping for the earth portion work? Can they install it right under your house through the basement slab or how intrusive is that portion of the install?

        • Yes, typically can use existing duct work. You can also go ductless. Ductless systems use a small diameter tube with heated (or cooled) fluid. Dustless is good option if you don’t have
          Geothermal (ground source) heatpumps are more expensive to put in, but are far more efficient as bobwyman has explained. Energy cost savings will pay for install cost, but rate of pay back will depend where you live. If it gets very hot in summer and/or very cold in winter then geothermal sourced heatpump will pay off sooner. Once it is paid off you are looking at very low energy costs …assuming a well insulated home.
          Cost of electricity will be held in check, or even lowered, by increasing use of Wind and Solar PV, going forward. Electric geothermal (ground sourced) heatpump is a good way to plan ahead for lower more reliable cost of heat and AC.

      • Air-coupled cooling systems (ASHPs and air conditioners) are the primary source of summer peak electrical demand. The problem is that as outside air temperature goes up, the efficiency of air-coupled cooling systems goes down. So, precisely when you want them to be most efficient, ASHPs are losing efficiency. Geothermal heat pumps, because they are ground-coupled and because ground temperature is largely independent of outside air temperature, maintain their efficiency even as outside air temperature soars. Those who install ASHP are using cheap, but inefficient systems that over-stress the grid.

        Geothermal heat pumps will always be more efficient at the extremes than air-coupled systems. Any advancement in ASHP efficiency can, of course, immediately be adopted by GHP systems since they are both heat pumps — but GHP uses a more efficient heat source/sink. So, if ASHPs are getting “better,” that means that GHP will be getting even better.

        • Air-source mini-splits are exceeding SEER 30 these days (Fujitsu and Mitsibishi Electric models). It’s hard to justify the cost of the wells or geoexchange loop when the electricity cost for running air-source is becoming so negligible.

          On the heating side, the operating cost of air-source isn’t as cheap, but is about equal to the cost of burning firewood in a high-efficiency stove. (And with a lot less work and mess and particulate emission).

          I think you’d have to run a GSHP for quite a few years before it was cheaper than a modern ductless minisplit air-source equivalent.

      • Bob, now I might be missing the point somewhat, but regarding ” thermal efficiency” I had most of the houses I own brought up to the optimum insulation standards, which, while really effective in winter, make them uncomfortably warm in summer!

        • Next step then is to master the use of shade.

        • Thing about thermos bottles. Put hot stuff in them and they keep stuff hot. Put cold stuff in them and they keep stuff cold.

          Insulation serves to keep heat from passing from one side to another. In the winter you want heat to not go outside. In the summer you want heat to not come inside. Insulation works for you in both situations.

          If you have a well insulated house and it typically cools down at night you should be able to open up your windows at night and let everything in it (all that mass) cool down – for free.

          Then close your house up tight before it starts heating up during the day and seal the heat out.

          That’s how we survived in the South in the days before air conditioning.

          The only way that insulation would work against you in the summer is if you had some unusual heat source inside your house. Like running a server farm….

          And, yes, shade windows that get hit by the Sun in the summer. Avoid solar gain. But welcome it in the winter….

        • Funny that. I had my house insulated too and around the same time put photo voltaic panels on the half of the roof that faced within ninety degrees of facing the equator. The shade from the panels plus the insulation in the roof means my house is lovely and cool in the summer but a little too cool in the winter. Still I’m lucky enough to live in a very benign climate so the reverse cycle air-conditioner seldom gets turned on, maybe one or two days a year when it gets too hot or in the winter if I have a cold (otherwise I just wear a jumper).

        • That shouldn’t happen, the same principles which prevent cold air leaking in and heat leaking out, should also prevent hot air and heat from leaking in! (Or “cold” leaking out.)

          • Aye, but in winter the people (and the cats and dogs) living in the house are net importers of warmth but in summer they become ‘exporters’

      • Geothermal heat pumps are great for non-insulatable houses, like old stone mansions. I figure they’re going to end up being a high-end thing.

    • In Ontario the government is currently proposing getting off Natural Gas as a home heating fuel and using electricity. At first I thought it was ludicrous but according to your comment and Bob’s below I should look into it again as it would seem heat pumps have become quite effective.

      The good news is our energy production mix in Ontario is low emission, only a handful of Natural Gas Plants and the rest is renewable or emission free/nuclear. The bad news electricity rates are quite high so how does that effect heat pump cost?

      • Add more wind generation so that your electricity costs go down.

        • Actually, Ontario’s electricity price problem is that they are paying off old nukes. 😛

          • Ontario power prices went up 88% from 2010 to 2015, and they already had the nukes back then.

          • Isn’t that the time frame they retired most of there coal power plants?

      • The solution is to put a big tax on LNG. Then people will switch to heat pumps. And perhaps make heat pumps tax-free for the next 3 years.

        • I support the incentive on the purchase side for heat pumps but not on the tax for LNG. There are at least two significant problems with the tax approach already being abused or failing in other applications. First our government does not always achieve great value with compensating programs for these types of tax systems. Secondly, there are a lot of people that can’t afford the increases or the retrofit cost to switch equipment leaving them caught in a rising cost scenario with limited options out.

          Taking the thought one step further. Maybe an incentive to switch AND a restriction of equipment choices for replacement when existing equipment fails…

        • Ah, but that would effect a lot of donors to various right wing political party’s, so at present, not an effective approach-;)

      • In testimony before the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) just two weeks ago, Enbridge, a major natural gas supplier in Ontario, admitted that their plan to expand natural gas service in the province would cost, on average, more than $25,000 for each new home hooked up. They want all Ontario gas customers to share in the cost of these expansions and admit that no new customers would connect to natural gas if they had to pay the up-front capital costs themselves.
        But, in Ontario, there is plentiful, clean electricity available and $25,000 would more than cover the cost of ground heat exchangers. Why should everyone in Ontario pay higher gas bills to enable Enbridge to expand their polluting and expensive natural gas network?

        Actually, expanded use of GHP in Ontario would cause electric rates to go DOWN while expanded use of gas will cause gas rates to go UP. GHP reduces electric rates because it reduces peak demand, thus reducing the need for new capacity, and it increases the total demand by shifting demand from on-site combustion of fossil fuels to heat pumps during off-peak times. The result is less electricity produced from expensive fossil fuels during the summer and higher utilization of grid generating capacity during off-peak times when electrical generation is cheaper. Also, by increasing total demand, the fixed charges for distribution, etc. are spread across a greater number of units sold. All this adds up to lower electric rates.

        So, Ontario could pay more for gas, by expanding its gas network, or it could pay less for electricity, by increasing the use of GHP. Which do you think makes more sense?

        • For who?

          😉

    • There’s been an explosion of high-efficiency minisplit air-source heat pumps, at least in my part of New England.

      That transition is happening fast.

    • EU targets for CO2 reduction/renewables equally consider electricity, heating and transportation.
      It is however on the latter two that most EU countries are behind (on electricity there are mostly at or beyond targets)

    • It’s not really being ignored, it’s just that it’s a solved problem so it does not demand much attention. Heating with electricity is easy, making electricity low- or zero-carbon is easy.

  • Gates is too heavily influenced by pessimists.

    He reads and quotes on his blog about “How not to be wrong” and “using arithmetic” to identify the best plans to implement the energy transition.

    But he is using false inputs on costs, dodgy assumptions about what the future electric transmission network will be like, and focusing on the final 20% of the solution before it is clear what it will be.

    • Are those the techniques he used to start microsoft?

      Did he wait for “breakthroughs” to speed the transition of releasing the hold of IBM and DECs “big iron” on computing? Or did he just bail out of his dorm room at Harvard and get to work on creating the microcomputer revolution?

      • Unfair question. When he started Microsoft, he was just another entrepreneur trying to make it big. He just happened to be one of the best.

        Now he is in a position to affect the direction of change in any field if he decides to do so. Anything he does is critically analyzed. Only time will tell if he is right but right now jury seems to be against him.

        • Right unfair. We should be asking that of the people that are actually doing something…”Bill Gates launches multi-billion dollar clean energy fund” Oh wait – well we can’t question someone on the path they choose if they are spending their own money, well unless the are using it as a catalyst to get more money – “Bill Gates and other billionaires have announced a new cleantech research and development fund.”

          • Maybe I was not clear enough. My comment was mainly on first line of your comment.

            ‘Are these the techniques he used to start the microsoft?’

            He did not have that luxury then. Now he has.

            It is fair to criticise/praise him or anybody for the direction of their efforts. That is what fair exchange of ideas is all about. I am sorry that I gave an impression to contrary.

        • No, he had an inside track through his parents and he played very dirty.

          • Which shows that this kind of society/economy has a rather unique take on ‘survival of the fittest’ 😉

  • Building efficiency is a big one.

    Someone needs to look at the viability of collecting and filtering used shower water for flushing toilets.

    You would probably want the viruses and bacteria to be filtered out.

    Hope the hair down the shower drain can be filtered out too!

    • And the spiders-;) seriously though, it’s a good idea, and the viruses and bacteria would be flushed away with the contents of the nettie bowl-;)

  • “The major causes of climate change and air pollution are the burning of fossil fuels for electrical generation and transportation.”
    ==============
    I thought that was true as well until I learned the biggest cause of global warming is animal husbandry. Yes you heard me right.
    Find the documentary “Cowspiracy” if you can and watch it as it is very informative.

    • You were duped.

      Best,

      D

    • Animal agriculture is one of the most significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of environmental damage.

      But fossil fuel use is the major contributor.

      http://www.skepticalscience.com/how-much-meat-contribute-to-gw.html

      Agricultural greenhouse gas emissions must be included along with other sources such as deforestation when taking actions to keep the earth habitable.

      • Americans eat twice the amount of meat as they did in the 1920s and 75% of farmland is used to grow animal feed. If people chose to eat meat just one meal a day, the emissions reductions would be huge.

        • American meat production is very much more intensive than the rest of the globe… this is a problem that needs mostly solving in the US

      • Even rice fields and many other vegetables growing ooze huge amount of methane and other potent GHG.

    • That’s all we need! give the loonie deniers the excuse to wipe out the elephants, wildebeest and probably the Zebra so McDonalds can continue to produce their ‘happy meals’

  • Good survey. It’s not news to most us us here, but it’s nice to have the main arguments in one place. Minor additions:

    Biodiesel. If it’s the proposed solution for shipping and long-distance trucks, remember that biodiesel is just as bad as the fossil variety for air pollution. Shipping is a very big deal. Assuming that we need biofuels for aircraft, can there be enough for ships as well?

    Cement. Again, there are technical solutions, they just cost more.

    Sequestration. This is not a technically solved problem, on the scale required by a 1.5 deg C target. You can only do so much with reafforestation. Biochar and olivine weathering are promising but need a lot more research. Perhaps Mr Gates could spend some of his money here.

    Coal: “The problems are getting major utility stakeholders that are attached
    to large fossil fuel assets to accept the new grid reality.” The problem is more serious than a lack of understanding. They stand to lose a very great deal of money in stranded assets. US coal companies are simply going bankrupt, their top executives having jumped from the plane with their golden parachutes before it went down. Generating utilities will be needed in the long term and are much more influential. They managed to slow the German Energiewende very substantially in the 2013 EEG “reform”. In the end, the losses will be socialised, as with nuclear reactors.

    • Biofuels? While looking good on paper result in mass deforestation and the sequestration of arable land(while millions starve) same applies to biomass generation, The deniers are given valuable ammunition when people on the RE front defend these methods of energy production.
      I don’t like nuclear or NG but would prefer them as alternative transition technologies.
      Not Hinckley though, thons a joke too far-:)

    • Biodiesel comes in many forms including some much worse than fossil diesel and some very much better.

  • Most Americans worship wealth and the people who have it. Hence, Trump’s popularity.

    American logic: Gates made a lot of money so he must be right about everything.

  • I suspect that those in Gates camp, are there primarily because of EIA misinformation (predictions). If you assume EIA is the expert authority, then a renewables stall follows from their predictions. So you would then conclude that we need far more than incremental improvement.

  • Regarding storage, I read in another article here about the falling cost of CSP and the SunShot goal of getting CSP down to 6 cents per kWh by 2020. Included in that 6 cents was 1 cent/kWh for the thermal storage system. That’s pretty cheap. Could an electric heating element be added to a thermal storage system to store excess power off the grid? Would that even be efficient?

    • The thermal efficiency of CSP is fairly low (just guessing say 30%). So the round trip efficiency of electricity to heat to electricity is pretty low.

      • The efficiency of a stream turbine (the heat of any CSP power plant) is based on temperature difference. Today 30 to 40% efficiency is typical for nuclear, coal, biomass power plants, and CSP. The energy lost in the turbine amounts to most of the energy loss. heat lost at the thermal reciever and the piping between the reciever and power plant add to that. however piping heat lossees can easily be limited by good insulation.

        For Fossile fuels also suffer efficiency losses because power is needed to extract, process, and transport the fuel to the power plant. CSP does not have this loss. However you never see this loss listed in fossile fuel efficiency reports. Most just focus on steam turbine efficiency.

        Their are ways to improve turbine efficiency. simply increasing the temperature and pressure of the working fluid can result in better inefficiencies. Some researchers are also investigating turbine with a working fluid of CO2 instead of water. In other work researchers looked at various glass chemistry as a possible replacement for the molten salt used on CSP power plants. This work found several promissing glasses. This work could allow the operating temperature to be increased to about double what it is today.

    • Ian, SunAmp, a UK company, does precisely what you suggest. They have a SunampPV product that converts excess electricity (usually from a PV system) to thermal energy for storage in a PCM-based thermal battery. They have another unit that uses a heat pump as the source of thermal energy to store. The heat pump version is useful when doing load shifting to take advantage of time of use electric rates. In any case, it is cheaper and more efficient to store electricity as thermal energy than it is to store electricity in chemical batteries. If you need the heat, why not store it in the cheapest available useful form?

      • Bob – this site needs a good article on heat pumps. Take people from the basics through how to pick the best solution kind of stuff.

        Interested in writing one?

        • Sure, I’d like to write about heat pumps. How does one get articles published here?

          • Sending you an email…

      • Thanks for the info Bob. Going just one way from electricity to heat has got to be a lot more efficient than trying to do a round trip.

    • Ian, you can use thermal batteries for “cold” as well as heat. In the US, Ice Bear and Calmac offer thermal batteries optimized for cold storage — basically tanks of water that get frozen during off peak hours and then melted during peak. Typically, these systems have been limited to the commercial market, but Ice Bear recently announced a version for residential installation. See: http://cleantechnica.com/2016/02/29/intelligent-ice-battery-homes-introduced-ice-energy/

    • Time for me to plug Isentropic again, I think 🙂

      Highly efficient round-trip storage of electric power in hot and cold thermal stores using a reversible heat pump.

      http://www.isentropic.co.uk/

      • But have you heard anything from them lately? I’ve got an alert set and have seen no news.

        They received, IIRC, enough money to build a modest sized unit and should have had more than enough time to put it together and gather some data.

    • Nice if the Sunshot goals are achieved. Can you inform us about the storage to daily production ratio.

      A friend of mine is partner in a company that combines ground heat pumps with solar cells including solar thermal and storage of the heat in the ground. This system also extract heat from the house during summer and store it in the ground. By storing heat in the ground and by combining with solar thermal they reduce increase COP. It does not come cheap so the typical use case (large older poorly insulated houses) rarely sees return on investment before 8-10 years.

      They design the system in Scandinavia but source the parts globally.

  • Never heard of this Thiel guy before and definitively never anything about actual coal power plants with 55% conversion efficiency that he claims are in existence. The research that lead to the present validated record of 47% was lead by a team from DTU (Danish Technical University). The team had the ideas for approaching beyond 60% but decided that the business case made no sense and abandoned the research. The Danish government has signed a contract with the Chinese government in order to improve Chinese coal power plants as much as possible to lower emissions.

    • Thiel is a well known billionaire loud mouth libertarian seasteading dreamer, with a penchant for philosophy. He identifies himself as gay and Christian. His Christianity is of a liberal variety. The tiny government libertarians like Thiel are as delusional as the communists.

  • Not a fan of bio jet fuel. We need cryogenic hydrogen or even small scale fusion here. The hydrogen could be produced via artificial photosynthesis.

    • Don’t think liquified hydrogen is going to be the answer. By the time you install insulated tanks and enough tankage to cross oceans you wouldn’t have much room left for passengers.

      Hope for the Hyperloop.

      If the ‘loop works we could eliminate probably 90% of all flying. ‘loop to the closest places between the continents (faster than flying) and then fly-hop to the other continent.

      If not, then hope bullet trains get faster so that we can leave moderate range flying behind. Biofuel or high capacity batteries for the remaining flying.

      Of course we could always use fusion or unicorn farts. Whichever we get our hands on first….

      • old fashioned Shinkansen / TGVs are already fast enough for a good chunk of the air travel taken within the US. Entire eastern seaboard / PIT / Ohio / great lakes / Chicago. There is a sizeable city every 200 miles east of the Mississipi and people fly between them. You’re right that hyperloop would be great.

        there’s another potential: Hydrogen. not directly using hydrogen, but if hydrogen electrolysis can be made to be cheap (it’s very expensive now), it would allow storage of renewable energy short term (hours), storage of renewable energy long term (months for winter), and synthetic Jet / diesel fuel. If you have a ready supply of hydrogen, any carbon source, including that captured from cement, direct air capture, or biomass can be converted to jet. and it’s 1000 times more efficient that all the biofuel schemes today. This is an R&D project, or at least should be a huge one, because of the flexibility for air travel and long term storage. In the meantime, it’s not known how to do it cheaply.

  • I’ve known super geniuses and out their element they are no brighter or enlightened
    than anyone else so why are we listening to these characters? Since the Nineteenth Century thoughtful people have known about how warming would be caused by our activities so what is up with these guys? Do they just want to corner the market on next tech before the masses move to it? Is that not what the other deniers are doing
    and fast?

    • I agree. How can Thiel deny Climate Change? I can see one may argue that it is not human related but how can one deny the Arctic and Antarctic glacial melts? Two points resonate with me. First is that the rate of change sans any large meteors or world-wide volcanic effects, is faster in geologic time than in the past as proven by ice core samples going back 100,000 years. Second, is that nature over thousands of years struck a carbon balance. When a tree fell and started to decay it released the carbon that it had sequestered. At the same time new growth reabsorbed that carbon. Today what we find is that the lush regions all over the world are being cut back for agriculture to feed an ever growing population. The plants that they plant do not sequester carbon as completely nor for as long with annual harvesting.

      Think of the natural balance as a large bar scale. If the scale is sensitive enough you could put a ton weight on both sides and it would remain in balance. Now just add a single pound to one side and the balance is thrown off. When we burn fossil fuels we are throwing off the natural balance. We also know that every time a fossil fuel changes hands it is recorded somewhere. When it is mined, pumped, transported, refined, and burned there are good records to show that we aren’t just adding a trivial amount of CO2 when we think of the balance scale and how little it may take to throw off the balance.

  • As I discovered when I ran the numbers, geothermal heat pumps pencil out if you have *high* heating/cooling loads which can justify the initial deployment costs, but not if you have *low* heating/cooling loads. I see geothermal being used for big, energy-wasting buildings and ASHP for small, efficient houses.

    • For many the either new or retro-fit, you would be better to spend more on insulation and then get a small high SEER air heat pump. Than to spent a lot more on the GeoThermal heat pump. Of course that will vary at the extremes. Of course soil temp varies also. http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/Cooling/EarthTemperatures.htm
      For most home (small) install they don’t go to much depth. Yes two types, tracks and vertical drills.
      As you get to warming lats, those near the coast would do better with district chill water systems, which is the easy side of OTEC.

      • Matt, How are you defining “better off?” If you’re heating with oil, propane or electricity, a geothermal heat pump will almost always result in lower life-time cost of energy and a lower net present value of the expense streams. Thus, GHP is “cheaper.” The big difference is that GHP will have higher up-front capital costs. Thus, it is less “affordable.” Of course, the wise thing to do would be to finance the GHP. But, most folk don’t have enough available credit to do so at reasonable rates. Even though an investment in GHP offers a great ROI, most folk are more concerned with cash flow issues rather than investing for long-term value.

        The solar PV industry had the same issue with their stuff being “cheaper” but not “affordable.” (A GHP system costs about the same as many solar PV systems — $25K or so.) That is why they got into third-party ownership via PPAs and leases. If the same were done for GHP and one could get a “no money down, no debt, savings on day one” installation, GHP would not only be cheap but also affordable for more people.

  • Gates lost it a long time ago, he is talking non sense for year, last time I’ve listened to him, he wanted to spread particles in the sky to avoid global warming.
    He should buy an island and get retired on it

    • The crap China puts in the air is probably already putting a brake on the CO2 effect. When they clean up their smokestacks temperatures could take off like a frightened horse. In that case a lot of people would be desperate for any short term mitigation, and sulphur or titanium dioxide particles are the obvious one. Pinatubo’s already done the trial run for us. It’s clearly far from ideal, but a seminar of climate scientists on the subject went in pretty much unanimously against, but came out mostly agreeing that the downsides – which certainly exist – are most likely manageable. Not putting carbon in the air in the first place is clearly much better, but a bit late, and taking it out, probably with olivine, is better too, but slower.

  • What about home, commercial and industrial heating (and cooling)?

  • I’m intrigued by the storage technique of pushing trains full of rocks up a hill when power is available, and letting them roll back down when it’s needed. Brilliant! Uses no water, can be built anywhere there’s a hill, low environmental impact.

  • That’s a dishonest statement.

    CT is not a site for nuclear dreaming. For discussions about unproven ideas about some sort of reactor that might make nuclear capable of producing affordable electricity.

    The reason for that is that there are some people who are simply obsessed with nuclear energy. They’re “trekkie-crazy” about some future in which nuclear energy might get back in the game.

    They tend to take over discussions, often going off-topic, to proselytize to the world about the wonderful life we will have when our nuclear savior comes riding to our rescue.

    And many of them are simply willing to lie, over and over, in defense of their idol.

    (Did we just circle back to my first sentence?)

    • You could insert ‘ renewable energy ‘ for ‘ nuclear energy ‘ , change a few positives to negatives, and much of that statement would still be aposite.

      • So what, John?

        Nuclear is too expensive to have any role in our decision of what to build. Why don’t you get in contact with reality and quit bothering people with your nuclear fawning?

        • Actually I want to change what I said in my first sentence.

          Your comment is actually bullshit, John.

          People aren’t lying about renewables on this site. They aren’t taking the discussion off topic – renewables are the topic.

          You just did exactly what I said nuclear advocates do –

          “And many of them are simply willing to lie, over and over, in defense of their idol.”

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