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Transition to Electric

Our Electric Future?, by Andy Grove formerly of Intel.

14 replies on “Transition to Electric”

Took a lot of time but still read it and learned a few things i never knew about energy and electricity.

Couple best extracts –

Electricity is the ‘stickiest’ form of energy and it is multi-sourced. As a result, it will give us the greatest degree of energy resilience.

We live in a world where just about everything—from a hairdryer to the Internet—runs on electricity. A big exception is the transportation sector.

[…] Andy Grove: “I believe that the appropriate aim is to strengthen our ability to adjust to such changes—to strengthen our energy resilience. We can do that by increasing our reliance on electricity.” [via.] […]

“Energy independence is the wrong goal” The history of mankind is the history of eugenics. That is the only goal. The only way to beat any dependence is to beat eugenics.

Interesting read, but it leaves more questions than answers:

1. Where does the electricity come from? With oil prices rising, natural gas and coal have been following (but with much less attention) because their demand as alternatives is skyrocketing. Most experts believe there is a significant delay in this process, which means they don’t reflect the current oil prices.

2. Electricity may be more “sticky”, but it’s also got issues in regards to transporting it. Resistance in wiring over long distance means you waste power getting it to it’s destination. That’s why we use a “grid” and feed power into it from a plethora of locations. Less waste in shorter distances. This waste is still costly.

3. Replacement infrastructure costs. This has an impact on the economy as well. Our electrical grid is strained as is (rolling blackouts, NE 2003 outage, among other examples). It’s a trillion dollar problem that when fixed still isn’t guaranteed to fix the problems.

4. Storage. Electricity storage (batteries) sucks. Oil/Gas is much better in this regard. That’s why lawnmowers, leaf blowers, edgers etc. still do better on gas than electric. Both exist and can be found in any hardware store. But you don’t have to deal with limited battery capacity, and battery disposal once they die. Electricity is hard to store. In 20 years, there’s really been no progress in improving batteries.

I’d suggest that the real solution is to improve efficiency across the board:

1. More fuel efficient cars (it can be done, but nobody wants to waste the engineering cost thus far).
2. Better public transportation grid. Buses in many cities suck, trains are archaic, many don’t have bus stop for miles. We could massively improve this in and around metropolitan areas so that it’s pretty much stupid to drive.
3. More efficient homes. Until recently home energy efficiency was ignored. Poorly insulated, wasteful electronics sucking power, etc. It’s just a mess.

Among many others.

Allowing for more flexibility (less oil power plants on the electric grid), hybrid engine cars, etc. would also let the country use the energy source that’s most cost effective, or by diversifying a spike in one medium wouldn’t have such an impact.

Electricity is a great medium to transfer energy, but it’s far from perfect.

Flexibility and efficiency is by far the best way to go.

Good article. Sounds like a good plan to me. Put more of our economy on electricity and we have more ways to keep it running. But good luck on convincing the radical environmentalists to burn more coal — even if it will be a net plus for the environment in the long run. They won’t trust an industrialist like Grove.

1. You like the idea of recharging at home, at work or almost anywhere.
2. You make a local commute to work each day.
3. You realize that electric vehicles are the future.
4. You like riding a bicycle, but traffic is a bummer.
5. You want to get away from using fossil fuels.
6. You want to use your car less and not wear it out on short trips.
7. You see what air pollution is doing to the environment.
8. You want people to smile when they see you driving.
19. You’ve been attracted to electric vehicles ever since slot cars.
10. You need an inexpensive, attention-grabbing, business delivery vehicle.
11. You tend to be an early user of the latest and the greatest.
12. You want to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.
13. You would rather see more parks rather than more parking lots.
14. You want to take responsibility for the impact of your driving choices.

Canada’s Energy Market

There is a renewed policy interest in using renewable energy as a way to decrease emissions of Green House Gases (GHGs) and other pollutants. Canada is a world leader in the production of renewable energy. In fact, hydro-electricity is the dominant source of electricity in Canada, representing nearly two-thirds of total generation. Canada has abundant water resources and a geography that provides many opportunities to produce low-cost energy. The largest producers are provincially owned electric utilities. They include Hydro-Quebec, BC Hydro, Ontario Power Generation Inc., Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, and Manitoba Hydro. Hydro-Electricity production is projected to increase by about 14 percent until 2020. The need for reducing GHG emissions in Canada may lead to additional growth potential for hydro-electricity.

Quebec’s electricity production comes for the greatest part (97%) from hydroelectricity. Using FEV in Quebec will make it possible to reduce CO2 emissions by more than 3.8 tons per year per vehicle.

Electricity isn’t an efficient source of space heat, unless you use a heat pump, which can get quite expensive.

Conventional resistive heating puts 3-4 units of heat into the atmosphere or a body of water for each unit of heat that goes into your house. That just sucks. It’s a case where it makes sense to burn fossil fuels closer to where the energy is used.

Nice article. All of my yard equipment runs on electricity (mower, weed trimmer/edger, blower/leaf vac). Cheaper to run now, likely much cheaper in the future. Quieter, cleaner. Don’t need to mess with smelly and dangerous gas cans. And as a bonus, it’s better for environmental air quality too.

We just need a better way to store energy. Better batteries may be the answer. Hydrogen might be it, too (although it is energetically wasteful to create).

I’d be curious to know the real-world implications of electric cars being added to power grids. In theory they’d draw at non-peak hours. In reality, I can see people plugging the cars in when they get home and cranking up the AC for their house at the same time. Timers would solve this, but without monetary incentive I don’t see people bothering. Maybe a cut in nighttime electric rates would work.

Fascinating article, thanks.

@Robert Accettura. 1 & 2 are good points and are problematic, but the future is micro-generation. Imagine every home, office block with solar or wind or whatever else works, enabling it to produce surplus energy and pump it back into the grid. Local, cheap, renewable. But this will obviously take time.

@Paul. You are right. But it is technically possible to build homes that do not need externally sourced heat or cooling sources. Build the thing right in the first place and it keep warm in the cold and cool in the warm. And can generate surplus energy to feed back into the grid. Not easy, not going to happen tomorrow, but it needs to happen.

@Mark. Hydrogen is energetically wasteful to create unless you are in Iceland. They are planning and building infrastructure to become the world’s Hydrogen producer. They can do it virtually for free in terms of energy to produce it…

Microgeneration is an appealing vision to some, but it may not be the future.

Microgeneration might make sense for PV Solar (where there’s no economy of scale) or when cogeneration is possible, but it certainly doesn’t make wind energy affordable.

Wind power has become controversial in my area (the vicinity of Ithaca NY); large wind farms are popping up to the North, where the wind blows strong and farmers need the money. Try to put up a large windmill in Tompkins County and you’ll get a large crowd to complain how the windmill will ruin their sleep, ruin their music festival, or otherwise ruin their neighborhood.

I hate to say it, but the future might be uranium, which tends towards the large scale. We might see PBMR cogeneration schemes if (i) PBMRs get a few decades of good operation experience and (ii) we solve the problem of world peace.

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