Scenario Plans (& Delphi Research)

I looked into the future, and the time to act is now.

Tag: renewables

Democratization of Power

SustainZine (SustainZine.com) blogged about a rather cool idea on the decentralization of power (here). The idea in Nature Communications is to have buildings everywhere use their renewable power sources to generate a biofuel of some type. And the authors had the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) unit extract CO2 from the atmosphere to generate the fuel. Some of the technologies they pointed to were new-er technologies that are now (hopefully) making their way into main-stream. (Read the nice summary article in Scientific American by Richard Conniff.)

Basically, everyone everywhere can now produce their own power at rates that are a fraction of lifelong utility power. Storage is now the big bottle neck to completely avoiding the grid. The distributed power should only be a big plus to the overall power grid; however, the existing power monopolies are still resisting and blocking. So complete self-containment is not only a necessity for remote (isolated) power needs, but a requirement in order to break away from the power monopolies.

In the US, there is the 30% Renewable Investment Tax Credit which makes an already good investment even better for homeowners and businesses. Plus, businesses can get accelerated depreciation making the investment crazy profitable after accounting for the tax shield (tax rate times the basis of the investment). Many of the states also sweeten the deal even more. But the 30% tax credit starts to reduce after 2019, so the move to renewable starts to drop off precipitously at the end of 2019.

You would think that the power companies would join in the solutions, and not spend so much time (and massive amounts of money) on obstructing progress. All those tall buildings that are prime candidates for wind. Think of all the rooftops, roads and parking lots worldwide that are prime candidates for solar. Distributed power. As needed, where needed. No need for new nuclear, coal or nat-gas power plants. Little need for taking up green fields with solar farms.

Of course, the oil, coal and gas companies need the perpetual dependence on the existing infrastructure. When we all stop the traditional fossil fuel train — and all indications from the IPCC show that we must stop that train sooner, not later — then all the oil and gas in the world will need to stay in the ground. Call me an optimist, or a pessimist, but I would not buy oil or gas for almost any price. I definitely wouldn’t buy into the Saudi-owned oil company spinoff.

It is probably a mistake to think that technology to take CO2 out of the atmosphere after the fact can repair past sins. Avoiding putting pollution into the air, water and land — the negawatt and the negagallon, in this case — are by far the best approach.

In Sustainzine, BizMan concluded with this thought about the here-and-now scenario, not in the future at all:

“Hidden in this whole discussion is that scenario that is here and now, not futuristic. Renewable energy is cheaper and massively cleaner than conventional energy, and it can be located anywhere. Storage, in some form, is really the bottleneck; and storage in the form of synthetic fuels is a really, really cool (partial) solution.

References

Dittmeyer, R., Klumpp, M., Kant, P., & Ozin, G. (2019, April 30). Crowd oil not crude oil. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-09685-x

Scenarios of Stranded Assets in the Oil Patch

The researchers over at Strategic Business Planning Company have been contemplating scenarios that lead to the demise of oil. The first part of the scenario is beyond obvious. Oil (and coal) are non-renewable resources; they are not sustainable; burning fossil fuels will stop — eventually. It might cease ungracefully, and here are a few driving forces that suggest the cessation of oil could come sooner, not later. Stated differently, if you owned land that is valued based on carbon deposits, or if you owned oil stocks those assets could start to become worth less (or even worthless).

We won’t spend time on the global warming scenario and possible ramifications of government regulation and/or corporate climate change efforts. These could/would accelerate the change to renewables. There are other drivers away from fossil fuels including: National Security, Moore’s Law toward renewables; and, efficiency.

1. National Security. Think about all the terrorist groups and rogue countries. All of them get part, or all of their funding from oil (and to a lesser extent, NatGas and Coal). Russia. Iran. Lebanon, where the Russians have been enjoying the trouble they perpetuate. The rogue factions in Nigeria. Venezuela. Even Saudi is not really are best friend (15 of the 19 bombers on 911 were Saudi citizens). Imagine if the world could get off of fossil fuels. Imagine all the money that would be saved, by not having to defend one countries aggression on another if the valuable oil became irrelevant. Imagine how much everyone would save on military. This is more than possible with the current technology; but with Moore’s law of continuous improvement, it becomes even more so.

2. Moore’s Law. Moore’s law became the law of the land during the computer chip world, where technology is doubling every 18 months, and costs are reducing by half.  (See our blog on The Future of Computing is Taking on a Life of Its Own. After all these decades Moore’s law is finally hitting a wall.) In the renewable world, the price of solar is dropping dramatically, when the efficiency continues to increase. For example the increase of 30% on imported PV, matches the cost reductions of the last year. In the meanwhile battery efficiency is improving dramatically, year-over-year. Entire solar farms have been bid (and built) for about $.02 per kilowatt and wind and/or solar with battery backup is about $.03 per kilowatt. At that price, it is far cheaper to install renewable power vs coal or NatGas, especially given the years to create/develop for fossil fuel plants.

Note, that we haven’t even talked about peak coal and peak oil. Those concepts are alive and well, just that fracking technology has pushed them back maybe 10 years from a production supply-side perspective. At some point you hit the maximum possible production (on a non-renewable resource) and production can only go down (and prices go up) from there. The world production of oil is now up to 100m barrels per day.  But oil wells deplete at about 4%-5%, so you need 4% more new wells every year. Fracking drops about 25%-30% in the first year! So you need about many more wells each year to stay even. But let’s go on to efficiency and probably the major demand-side force.

3. Efficiency. The incandescent light bulb, produces very little light… it produces more than 95% heat, and just a tiny bit of light with 100 watts of energy. With only 10-15 watts an LED light can produce the same light was required 100 watts in days of old. The internal combustion engine is hugely inefficient, producing mostly (unused) heat and directly harnessing only 10-15% of energy from gas or diesel… plus it took huge amounts of energy to mine, transport, refine, transport, and retail the fuel. Electric engines are far more efficient, and they produce no toxic emissions. A great book that talks about energy, efficiency and trends is by Ayers & Ayers, Crossing the Energy Divide. The monster power plants (nuclear, coal, NatGas) have serious efficiency issues. They produce huge amounts of heat for steam turbines, but most of the heat is lost/wasted (lets say 50%). Electricity must be transmitted long distances through transmission lines (where up to 40% can be lost in transmission).

Producing power as needed, where needed, makes so much more sense in most cases. Right now, using today’s technology, pretty much everyone can produce most of their own power (PV or wind) at about the same cost as the power monopolies.  But Moore’s law is making the renewable technology better and better every year. Add some batteries and microgrid technology and you have robust electric systems.

The losers in these trends/scenarios can be the BIG oil companies and the electric monopolies. They will fight move until they change, or they lose. Just like peak oil, it is a mater of time… but the time is coming faster and faster…

Saudi is trying to keep prices high enough to complete their oil Initial Public Offering so they can diversify out of oil. Venezuela is offering a new cyber coin IPO (their Petro ICO) with barrels of buried oil as collateral (See Initial Kleptocurrency Offering). But what if that oil becomes a stranded asset? Your Petro currency becomes as worthless as the Venezuelan Bolivar.

You really want to carefully consider how much and how long you want to own fossil fuel assets… Fossil fuels may be dead in a decade or two… Moore or less.

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