Sign up | Login with →

Comments by John Miller Subscribe

On Why Wind Farms Can Be Relied On For Almost Zero Power

Robert, your points on the impacts of variable, non-dispatchable wind power covers some of the obvious performance factors including the need for backup, fully dispatchable power (primarily natural gas and hydropower pumped storage under ideal conditions) and the primary benefit of reducing the fossil fuels consumption and associated carbon emissions from displaced baseload and intermediate coal/oil/natural gas capacity.  Another factor rarely highlighted is the fact that wind power capacity factors are most often ‘maximized’ by being given operating capacity priority over all other power generation sources (including hydro & nuclear in some cases).  The benefit of this operating practice is good for renewable power operators, but comes at a cost for consumers.  Besides the need for backup intermediate/peaking power capacity (often from fossil fuels), another less beneficial factor is the impact on fossil fuel power generation plant efficiencies; i.e. fuel consumption and carbon emissions per unit net power generation.  If wind power generation results in totally ‘shutting down’ equivalent amounts of average fossil fuels generation, the carbon emissions will be minimized and this benefit maximize.  However, all fossil fuel power plants have maximum designed efficiency levels of operation.  If the wind power merely reduces a natural gas power plant toward minimum rates (i.e. towards hot spinning reserve operation with minimal net power generation), the plant’s thermal efficiencies can drop towards half of design maximums.  Under this condition fuel consumption per KWh increases proportionally and the claimed/estimated carbon reductions by the wind power generator can be inflated considerably.

November 17, 2014    View Comment    

On Why Does the U.S. Still Need So Much Fracking Oil?

Nathan, thanks for a very good reference.  Another factor that impacts standards of living or suburban living vs. urban living choices and associated use of increased levels of privately owned-operate lighter duty vehicles (that primarily consume petroleum) is most often ‘economic based’.  The EU has the largest GDP in the world today, but on a per capita basis the U.S. average incomes are about 1/3 greater than the EU and per capita GDP is also greater in the U.S.  This factor is one of the reasons why those who can afford to move to apparently the more attractive living conditions outside higher density Cities have done so since WWII.  This trend could change, but not until living conditions in larger Cities improve to levels similar to more suburban settings as you have highlighted.  During the transition that could take at least many decades, if indeed it ever materializes, the U.S. needs to substantially increase the use of cleaner/higher efficiency EV’s and (non-petroleum) alternative fueled vehicles to significantly reduce Transportation Sector petroleum consumption.

November 15, 2014    View Comment    

On Why Does the U.S. Still Need So Much Fracking Oil?

Nathan, I agree that the probability of changing the current U.S. standard-of-living or moving the vast majority of Residents into high density Cities and shutting down a large part of the country’s infrastructure and economy based on a very mobile populous is extremely small in the foreseeable future.  The near future or practical solutions will most likely be higher efficiency and alternative fueled vehicles, which will include large fleets of BEV’s or (battery) EV’s.  And yes, biofuels still require 50%+ fossil fuels to produce and are far more carbon intensive that EV’s charged from Nuclear and Renewable Power sources.  The major economic barrier to EV’s is still the need to develop reasonable cost, high energy density, and safe batteries that have VMT ranges of a couple 100 miles between rechargings.  As you have focused on ammonia over the years, I am closely following the development of new technologies such as lithium-vanadium batteries.  The ultimate solution to replacing large percentages of petroleum motor fuels could be some balanced combination of battery, fuel cell and ammonia ICE vehicles in the future.

November 15, 2014    View Comment    

On Why Does the U.S. Still Need So Much Fracking Oil?

Roger, Geoffrey, and Nathan,  Very good discussion and debate on the pros-and-cons of options to current petroleum fueled vehicles and public transportation options.  To substantially reduce U.S. and other Countries’ Transportation Sectors’ petroleum consumption overall will eventually need to address a given country’s Demo- and Geographic’s.  Those who live in high population density cities have less need for personal vehicle transportation as long as some form of needed public transportation is available.  The same applies to city-to-city travel; if buses and rail can provide needed-timely transport of each Resident and their belongings.  As Nathan points out the time commitment and convenience can be an issue for those who live in the suburbs and work or otherwise must access goods and/or services in the cities.  This problem grows considerably for more rural settings.

The EU has one very significant advantage over the U.S.; population density.  The U.S. has a population density about 1/3rd Europe (90 sq.miles per capita vs. 30 in the EU).  This factor has significantly affected the Countries’/Economies’ development and Transportation Sectors vehicle mix/fuels consumption over the past 50-100 years.  As a result the U.S. economy & populous relies much more on independent-private vehicles (that overwhelming use petroleum fuels) than in European countries.  The challenge will be to transition the U.S. to higher average population densities, with lower independent mobility needs, and, do so without seriously risking the economy.  

November 15, 2014    View Comment    

On Why Does the U.S. Still Need So Much Fracking Oil?

Rick, the US/China agreement to curb CO2 appears to be more political than value added.  China appears to only consider peaking their carbon emissions by 2030, while President Obama suggests reducing total US carbon emissions by up to 28% in 2025.  Based on my past analysis of world carbon emissions, China’s carbon emissions could increase to a level nearly equivalent to the total of all Developed Countries (including the US) by 2030.  Not a very impressive outcome, particularly if CO2 does turn out to be the major variable towards climate change.

Anyway, this TEC Post outlines how the U.S. could feasible achieve a 28% reduction in total carbon emissions (in combination to the EPA Power Sector reduced carbon and other existing Federal/State regulations).

November 13, 2014    View Comment    

On Why Does the U.S. Still Need So Much Fracking Oil?

Engr.-Poet, the technology gap in displacing gasoline powered equipment such as most existing snowblowers with alternative electric units is due to limited availability and very high costs.  Those snowblowers that need larger power packs (or batteries) as you suggest would increase the unit costs by many times current market prices based on the relatively high costs of currently available larger-capacity/portable batteries.  Hopefully, near future innovations will substantially increase energy densities of available equipment (and EV) batteries and keep the cost to a small fraction of the total equipment/unit cost.  One promising developing technology is new lithium-vanadium batteries.  This developing battery technology could yield substantially higher energy densities, lower costs, and, be safer than currently available/state-of-art lithium batteries due to lower risk of overheating and fires.

November 13, 2014    View Comment    

On Why Does the U.S. Still Need So Much Fracking Oil?

Agreed, that’s why we need the Government to strongly support R&D in these and other promising areas.  And, get the Government out of the Commercialization or financially supporting  Industrial scale projects (project capital funding subsidies, loan guarantees, etc.).

November 12, 2014    View Comment    

On Why Does the U.S. Still Need So Much Fracking Oil?

Your idea sounds interesting if you can indeed get most commuters to routinely share rides all the time.  The alternative is of course Public transportation.

The estimated time required to convert most the existing U.S. vehicle fleet (or 150 million) will start with how long will it take to get the couple dozen driverless/computer controlled vehicles currently being build and tested, increased up to 15 million per year?  

November 12, 2014    View Comment    

On Why Does the U.S. Still Need So Much Fracking Oil?

Roger, agreed that computer or ‘self driving cars’ can improve vehicle fuel efficiencies.  Both current and future vehicle/drive-trains can be made more efficient by utilizing what I call ‘smart driver’ technology.  However, directionally approaching a 10-fold improvement in on-road vehicle fuel economies is not feasible unless the vehicle is a state-of-art EV.  The EV, of course, must be charged with low or zero carbon nuclear + renewable power.

Since the current U.S. highway registered fleet is just over 250 million vehicles it will likely take well over 10 years to computerize the fleet; unless some type of retrofit system is developed that can be readily installed in most existing vehicles as needed to make the conversion.

November 12, 2014    View Comment    

On Why Does the U.S. Still Need So Much Fracking Oil?

Hops, your comment on the dangers of nuclear power vs. driving is also a very important point.  In the U.S. alone there are on the order of 10 million vehicle accidents each year resulting in about 40 thousand deaths annually.   Since increased nuclear power generation capacity will be likely required to comply with the developing EPA Power Sector carbon reduction regulations (Re. Tables 2a and 3a), and nuclear power generation will also be increasingly needed as EV fleets grow up to 50 million in future decades, is this risk expected to grow?  Guest how many injuries and deaths have been caused by nuclear incidents in the U.S. over the past generation?  Something close to zero.

November 12, 2014    View Comment    

On Why Does the U.S. Still Need So Much Fracking Oil?

Jim, I agree the economics and benefits of CCS is likely uneconomic nor currently cost justified based on the most liberal assumptions for ‘social costs of carbon’.  Besides the costs, the performance risk or probable carbon storage leakage is another very significant problem; beginning with ground water contamination and the corrosive physical properties of carbonic acids on many rock formations. Reducing fossil fuels consumption through efficiency and developing truly cost effective-carbon reducing alternative fuels is probably the most reasonable strategy.

As to ocean based solutions and improvements, the technical challenge is also chemical-thermal-pressure due to relatively dilute concentrations/energy gradient levels.  The relatively small change in temperature differences, acidity and other physical characteristics make efficiently taping these potential carbon reduction/energy generation-concentration  options within the oceans extremely challenging.

November 12, 2014    View Comment    

On Why Does the U.S. Still Need So Much Fracking Oil?

Hops, commuting to-from jobs is a major contributor to petroleum motor fuels consumption.  Today, many individuals are slowly making the transition to at-home/on-line jobs.  Also the transition from labor-to-automation in numerous businesses from on-line goods sales to automating restaurant ordering/payment services is reducing the need for on-site labor.  Unfortunately every change of labor based jobs has its pros-and-cons.  In the case of on-line shopping, shutting down retail outlets can negatively impact local jobs, economies & available tax revenues.  And, the Consumer option of over-night delivery can be quite wasteful and consume large amounts of transport (air & truck deliveries) petroleum fuels unless this Consumer market behavior transitions to more patience for slower/more efficient deliveries.  In the case of restaurant automation, lower labor needs reduces domestic employment levels, which definitely reduces the need for commuting/associate fuel consumption.

In the evolving computer based business sectors many jobs can definitely be worked from home, but most goods (manufacturing) and services (in person) will continue to require on-the-job labor and commuting.  Over the years most domestic manufacturing companies have substantially reduced the need for manual labor (despite near overwhelming Union opposition) by automation upgrades and other production efficiency innovations.  Who knows, someday robot technology can displace all manual labor in construction, maintenance and fabrication-assembly lines.  The problem statement will be how do we reasonably employ a growing work force of younger generations that chose a more physical lifestyle than sitting at home on the computer, social media and on-line games only.

November 12, 2014    View Comment