I'm convinced that the only reason we haven't switched from oil as a major source of energy is that oil as an industry is still both cheap and profitable. Even if we depend primarily on foreign oil, it is American companies that profit from its refining and redistribution. It's still cheap enough that American consumers won't refuse to buy it, and it's still profitable that it's in the best interest of American producers to deliver it. However, I'm not so convinced that, if the oil supply dried up tomorrow, Western society would collapse in a heap. There are plenty of other sources of energy that may be even cheaper than oil, but are so cheap that they aren't profitable. So energy companies are predisposed to do everything in their power to keep us from switchig to these alternative sources of energy. The two that are on the top of my head are solar power and water (via hydrogen). In both of these forms of energy, there would be no annuity value for the energy company. You buy whatever machinery is necessary to convert the energy source into a usable form and then you use the energy. Since there would be no regular payments, there would be a great loss to the company.
If energy companies were forward thinking (who knows necessarily if they are) they would be preparing for the off-chance that oil suddenly ceases to be a viable energy source. Eventually the oil will run out (though that be a thousand years from now), or eventually the cost will exceed the value. The company that is prepared to pave the smoothest transition to some other form of energy would be the one most likely to succeed in such a crisis.
Scenario: If some event occurred which instantaneously made oil an inviable energy source, how quickly could we switch to some other form? What would it be? What would be the cost? Would the government be prepared to help... etc.
My personal opinion is that if the oil disappeared tomorrow, we could switch to hydrogen and solar power in six months to a year. Solar power would probably be best for stationary uses, such as buildings, and hydrogen would be best for mobile uses (cars). There would probably be a huge cost because nobody would be prepared to step in with a ready-made solution, but the government would probably cover most of that with no complaining. But how many oil companies would survive the transition?
PureText, you may have an issue if oil ever became unviable - but it has grown in size of known reserves dramatically over the past few years - and is not in danger of shortage.
However - if it did go away - most alternate energy sources you posed rely on battery storage of energy rather than clean production. While that science is improving - it is still farther away than fusion plants going on line.
You may also wish to look at the Tesla idea of using the earth's potential to supply energy for everything. He was ready to demonstrate his concept when his patrons pulled the proverbial plug on his test design. We know it works, afterall, Tesla just about destroyed the Denver power stations by overloading them - and the USSR had a weapons-grade system tryout.
quote: I'm convinced that the only reason we haven't switched from oil as a major source of energy is that oil as an industry is still both cheap and profitable.
The biggest reason is probably the momentum in infrastructure for distribution. Even if the cost of oil were to double or triple, it would still take a long time for infrastructure to switch over so that alternatives were viable.
The immediate effects would be more distribution via rail and ship, and a significant increase in documents handled via internet (along with the needed crypto based notarization, etc.).
The cost of foreign oil is actually heavily subsidized by tax dollars in terms of military expenditures to maintain oil supply stability from the middle east. The oil industry also gets a great deal of federal dollars for R&D, and assorted valuable tax breaks. The cost of distribution (such as the Alaska pipeline, and proposed natural gas pipeline) is also often heavily subsidized.
quote: However, I'm not so convinced that, if the oil supply dried up tomorrow, Western society would collapse in a heap.
No, it wouldn't. There could be substantial switching costs, and economy's could suffer very slow growth (or a major depression), but long term it wouldn't be much of a problem.
quote: There are plenty of other sources of energy that may be even cheaper than oil, but are so cheap that they aren't profitable.
Not really. For a highly mobile and cheap energy supply, oil is really tough to beat. After enough R&D goes into other alternatives the cost might become comparable (a common estimate is about 50 years before photovoltaics become comparable...).
quote: So energy companies are predisposed to do everything in their power to keep us from switchig to these alternative sources of energy.
They would prefer to delay our switch to other energy sources as long as possible. They also make sure to keep their options open. They absorb the majority of R&D funds for alternative energy. The purpose is twofold - one - they keep their options open, two - if a breakthrough is found they have the patent rights and can delay its introduction.
quote: The two that are on the top of my head are solar power and water (via hydrogen). [/QUOTE[
Hydrogen is only an energy storage method, not a source. (Technically oil is also an energy storage method, but the energy has already been stored, whereas for Hydrogen, we must convert the energy by seperating hydrogen from oxygen [or whatever source we want to free oxygen from...])
For solar, as I noted the time frame before it becomes economically cheaper than oil is a ways off (the 50 years is a bit overestimate in my opinion depends on the route, what sort of distribution we desire, whether we are willing to reduce subsidies for other energy sources, wheter we are willing to subsidize solar, whether we wish to add a tax for carbon, etc.).
[QUOTE] In both of these forms of energy, there would be no annuity value for the energy company.
Oil companies are researching and investing heavily in fuel cells and quite a bit in photovoltaics.
Whatever we switch to in the future, they'll be happy to keep taking their cut.
quote: You buy whatever machinery is necessary to convert the energy source into a usable form and then you use the energy. Since there would be no regular payments, there would be a great loss to the company.
Regular replacement and maintainance of fuel cells and photovoltaics, they will still maintain the revenue stream. While the current model is certainly preferred by oil companys they would still survive.
quote: If energy companies were forward thinking (who knows necessarily if they are) they would be preparing for the off-chance that oil suddenly ceases to be a viable energy source.
They certainly are forward thinking, but they'll maintain the status quo as long as possible.
quote: Scenario: If some event occurred which instantaneously made oil an inviable energy source, how quickly could we switch to some other form? What would it be? What would be the cost? Would the government be prepared to help... etc.
The switch would be to coal (or shale, or ...) with hydrogen as the distribution medium. (Or possibly synthesis of oil from other carbon sources + energy) Solar would not even be on the radar.
The cost would be based on the transition time desired. A half a year would be extremely painful and costly with a massive drop in personal transportation and air travel. Rail and ocean shipping, and net commerence would all greatly increase, road and plane transport would drop significantly. A 15-20 year transition is about the shortest that can be done without massive pain (for the US anyway some of the Scandinavian and other European companies have adequate public infrastructure that they could switch much quicker and less painfully.)
quote: . Solar power would probably be best for stationary uses, such as buildings, and hydrogen would be best for mobile uses (cars).
Why wouldn't regular coal power continue to be used? Oil is only the prefered fuel for transportation (and some emergency generators).
quote: There would probably be a huge cost because nobody would be prepared to step in with a ready-made solution, but the government would probably cover most of that with no complaining. But how many oil companies would survive the transition?
Yes the government would cover some of the cost, but it would be fairly massive. Most of the major oil companies would survive without problem. The companies that would suffer a major hurt, are the oil refineries.
WmLambert - as to Tesla - I've not seen anything to substantiate the rumors I've heard regarding his 'free energy' inventions. If they are effective and reliable they would certainly be worth exploring.
Tesla is the alchemist of the 20th century, unlike most alchemists, there is something behind the rumor.
The Tesla coil is used today in medicine. Edison was more than ready to use only DC electricity for the entire country and had a running battle with Tesla regarding Tesla's idea that AC was better (with DC we would have a power station every two or three miles). The running battle was mainly due to Tesla's vision that the entire nation would be electrified while Edison thought there was no market in rural areas (supply side way of thinking, that was Tesla alright). Tesla was commissioned to design and build the AC generators at the Niagra Falls electic generating plant. Those same generators are still in use today.
At one time the chairman of Westinghouse (George Westinghouse) came to Tesla with a problem. Seems Tesla's patent for the AC induction motor was worth more than the Westinghouse company itself. So Westinghouse approached Tesla, not sure about what to do about the issue, there was, in essence no way GE could afford Tesla. Tesla didn't care, in effect he said "give me a lab, keep me funded, you can pretty much have the patents. Whenever you see a transformer, that is Tesla's device you see.
Among his other accomplishments he devised a system for world wide wireless communications (Marconi actually stole most of his ideas from Tesla), fax machines, radar, radio guided missiles and drone aircraft (he called the remote control "Telautomatics").
A few years later his lab exploded with all of his work (he kept everything in there). He was devestated and never went on to repeat his earlier experiments.
A neurotic, obsessive compulsive immigrant from Serbia (via France and England), he is most probably the greatest unsung genius of this age.
quote: A few years later his lab exploded with all of his work (he kept everything in there). He was devestated and never went on to repeat his earlier experiments.
However, this is a misinterpretation, as he states
quote: I was just beginning work on the third element, which together with the first two would give a refrigerating machine of exceptional efficiency and simplicity, when a misfortune befell me in the burning of my laboratory, which crippled my labors and delayed me.
But then later...
quote: Much of this task on which I have labored so long remains to be done. A number of mechanical details are still to be perfected and some difficulties of a different nature to be mastered, and I cannot hope to produce a self-acting machine deriving energy from the ambient medium for a long time yet, even if all my expectations should materialize. Many circumstances have occurred which have retarded my work of late, but for several reasons the delay was beneficial.
Photovoltaics are the instruments that you would use to convert solar power (photons) into electricity (Volts). Usually these refer to semiconductor solar arrays that have an efficiency of 10%-30% depending on the quality (and cost) of manufacturing.
BTW, solar power is a terrific resource but it is not a panacea. The energy density is so low that solar powered cars have to be extremely light and can not accelerate very fast. Even with significant improvements in technology, there is a theoretical limit to what they can do.
One of the problems many pseudo-environmentalists ignore, when they suggest solar power as a solution to the energy problem, is that photovoltaics decay with time and their production process creates quite a bit of toxic pollution.
With regard to using hydrogen, I am still trying to figure out why so many people think of it as an ALTERNATIVE to hydrocarbons (oil, gasoline or natural gas) as an energy storage method.
There is no question the hydrogen is by far the most mass efficient (specific energy = energy per unit mass) way to store energy (chemically) on earth (where you can get oxygen from the air). The problem is that storing hydrogen as gas is not very practical and that the mass of the bottles used to compress hydrogen into reasonably sized containers defeats the purpose of efficient storage. The energy density (energy per unit volume) of the combined (hydrogen + bottle) system is lower that that of hydrocarbons like gasoline.
The best way I know of to store hydrogen is by chemically combining it with other substances (carbon or nitrogen) to form liquid or solid compounds that still burn well. Hydrocarbons, which are second only to hydrogen itself in specific energy, are therefore the natural choice for compact energy storage! They would still be the best way to store and deliver energy even if we could not pump them out of the ground.
When the Earth eventually runs out of oil-reserves (not likely to be anytime soon), it would become economic to synthesize hydrocarbons from other energy sources (nuclear, solar, geothermal, whatever) but it would still be done for those applications that require a high energy density. At that point some of the economy may shift away to other power sources but as Dom and LR have already pointed out on another thread much of our economy has already undergone the shift to coal/nuclear power.
It makes little sense to invest capital for synthesizing fuel and alternative methods (other than R&D) now when we are not likely to need it any time soon.
Finally with regard to the risk of losing our supply due to politics in the middle east and with regard to the military cost of defending out oil interests there, I would like to point out that both considerations may lead us to the opposite conclusion that the best strategy is to use up most of their easily accessible reserves before we use our own resources.
[This message has been edited by seagull (edited November 12, 2002).]
sorry I thought Grant Morgan had answered on the photovoltaics... - doh! (and I should have used solar power cells or some such, my bad...).
I just realized I completely overlooked the plastics and lubricants impact of no oil.
So, in addition to fuel infrastructure costs, we would need to accelerate new plastics and lubricants sources (both doable from other sources, but much more expensive). Thus you would see a massive increase in plastics recycling (and scavenging). The cost of all plastics products and lubricants would climb pretty high for awhile, meaning a lot more glass bottles and a rise in the cost of all sorts of goods.
quote: Usually these refer to semiconductor solar arrays that have an efficiency of 10%-30% depending on the quality (and cost) of manufacturing.
Yep, maximum is actually about 35% now, cheap semiconductor is 10%, if we want to include the low end plastic solar cells are at 2% (but they are is just starting out, and they won't become comercially available until efficiency is 10% or so... the advantage is that they can be made much less costly, and have greater flexibility, and I believe degrade more slowly than amorphous silicon solar cells...).
quote: The energy density is so low that solar powered cars have to be extremely light and can not accelerate very fast.
Well, generally you would convert solar to something with higher energy density instead of using it directly for transportation. Although direct solar is useful for battery assisted bikes and what not.
quote: One of the problems many pseudo-environmentalists ignore, when they suggest solar power as a solution to the energy problem, is that photovoltaics decay with time and their production process creates quite a bit of toxic pollution.
Yep, although the toxic byproducts depend on the process and type of cell, as does the rate of degradation.
Personally I prefer space solar power for these reasons. (As well as 24 hour sunlight and a few other plusses. There are minuses too of course, but no need to go into that now...)
More info on Tesla In 1931, Tesla is honored by being on the cover of Time Magazine, and received congratulations from more than 70 pioneers in science and engineering including Einstein... In 1943, Tesla dies penniless, a lonely man at 87 in room 3327 in the Hotel New Yorker, his only remaining friends the pigeons he fed in the park. In 1944, Tesla was finally awarded the Patent for Radio. The US Supreme Court confirms that Marconi’s patents infringed Tesla's.
One of the most important inventions of Nikola Tesla was was the electrical transmitter. Shortly after leaving his Colorado research facility and returning to New York, Tesla began construction of an gigantic version of this invention, to be known as The Wardenclyffe Tower. Constructed between 1900-1905, the tower stood 187 ft into the air, with a 68 ft metal dome The purpose of the tower was to transmit wireless messages across the Atlantic. Tesla believed this to be a simple procedure, and later confirmed through experimentation, that the Earth conducts electricity naturally, much like a metal ball. Tesla hypothesized that Earth could be charged from a single location and energy could be safely extracted from any other point on the globe's surface. The Earth could be pumped with electricity and anyone on its surface could remove it by simply placing a wire into the ground. This energy could be withdrawn in unlimited amounts for unlimited uses, free for all the world's people! Financier J.P. Morgan footed the bill until he realized the main purpose of the project was to provide free energy to the entire globe. The Wardenclyffe Tower was never completed. Morgan refused Tesla the funds necessary to complete construction, and finding alternate financing proved impossible. The Tower at Wardenclyffe was later dismantled under F.B.I. supervision. See the Tesla Wardenclyffe Project
The successful demonstrations of the effect he was harnessing was done several times. The most noteworthy was his almost total destruction of the Colorado power station. He began bouncing power waves through the Earth, where they echoed and were continually reinforced until the energy rebounding through the Planet was quite substantial. Substantial enough to accidently fry the Turbines in the Colorado Department of Energy. The reason given that the tower was never allowed to go into production is that the power generated could not be run through a meter for billing. As supremely sucessful as all Teslas's projects were, when he said this could power the world, it is not illogical to give him credence.
quote: The Earth could be pumped with electricity and anyone on its surface could remove it by simply placing a wire into the ground.
PUMPED ie energy would have to be put in. It would be free in that the reciever could not be metered for their usage, not in that it would be perpetual motion.
As to the distance the power could be transmitted, most Tesla enthusiasts are under the mistaken impression that he trasmitted power 26 miles, this article suggests the source of the rumor. http://www.tfcbooks.com/articles/tac3.htm
Upon his death, his documents were gone through to check for national defense relevant materials (not surprising given his designs relating many war relevant devices.)
However, the tower was disassembled to pay creditors, not via a sinister government plot.
His funds ran out when his westinghouse patents expired. He had negotiated a bad deal with them.
As I said, while he was a brilliant man, however a great deal of legend, rumor and exageration surround some of his accomplishments and history.
I'm always confused about people who think we can get energy for nothing from the earth. We can't. The earth is an open system.. and the primary transition of energy is FROM the earth OUT of the system. Until you can find a way to add energy, you won't be able to pump energy for free from the earth. you CAN use it as a conductor... but that just means you're moving energy around, energy which then gets burned, and part of it lost to entropy. You'd need a continous pump of energy into the system in order for it to work over a long period of time.
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quote:no idea what the theoretical limits for fly wheel is though
I think the theoretical limit is directly related to the tensile strength of the flywheel material. For maximum efficiency, the flywheel mass should (theoretically) be all structural mass at the rim (max moment of inertia).
With that design goal in mind the energy density of the flywheel would be a property of the material and is almost independent of size. An interesting consequence is that answering Raviv’s first question on material strength also provides an answer for the second question on energy density for flywheels applications because:
Energy Density (Joule/Kg) = Tensile Strength (Pa)
Current materials (Graphite fibers and PBO zylon) with a tensile strength of 5 GPa will not compete well with hydrocarbons (20 Wh/cm^3 = 72 Gpa). But if we could get carbon fibers or nanotubes that get close to the theoretical in-plane strengths for single crystal graphite (assuming 96 GPa was not an error or typo - I still don’t trust that number or for that matter my own tendency to lose factors of 1000 every once in a while) it could get very interesting.
It should get pretty interesting even sooner because the conversion efficiency for flywheels is much better than for gasoline engines, especially if the efficiency of fuel synthesis needs to be taken into account.
[This message has been edited by seagull (edited November 12, 2002).]
LetterRip: close - but not quite on. The concept Tesla was pushing was not that energy had to be created and then dumped into a reservoir of echoing energy to be used. It was more along the functions he demonstrated using Alternating current. Edison's version of DC power consisted of a major power station every two or three miles with rural areas never getting power. Tesla proved that was only one way to transmit energy. Tesla's historic approach using AC was incomprehensible to the scientists and inventors, like Edison, who couldn't appreciate the method until it was demonstrated. Along the same lines concerning his Wydenclyffe project, Tesla wrote that it was the Earth's own electrical potential that was to be exploited - not energy that he pumped into it. The pumping process was only an adjunct, more of a focussing of energy which proved his hypothesis rather than the actual process to be used to supply energy. Please notice LR, that Tesla repeatedly referred to "Free Energy." See Tesla's own writings on the project, and his estimates of how little effort was required to "girdle the globe."
Take it from an electromagnetic continuum point-of-view... Alternating current is the flow of electrons along a path made possible by displacement of charges, but not the brute force method used by Direct Current. The same DC energy required to power a single lightbulb at the end of a mile-long conductor would be enough to power a small sized city using AC. (As Tesla did to Edison's chagrin at the Chicago Exposition where he got the nickname "Master of Light.")
You, and most researchers who study this Wydenclyffe project, tend to think too linearly - and Tesla was certainly not one you could follow with that kind of logic. He envisioned a system that once started could feed itself. Although this may fall into the arena of "perpetual motion" it certainly was not. I believe I once read that the physics of this project might slow the speed of the earth's rotation marginally. An amount that in a hundred thousand years, it's loss could not be noticed or measured. He referred to "Obtaining energy from the ambient medium."
The story of Westinghouse's purchase of Tesla's patents needs comment as well. Tesla originally made a handshake agreement with George Westinghouse, that since it was Tesla's patents which was the basis of all of the Westinghouse company's business and whatever profit they ever earned, it would forever provide for Tesla, and his experimentation costs and livlihood would always be provided for. When Westinghouse died, his heirs alleged no documents gave Tesla any claim to their wealth and they cut him off.
He was in such poor shape monetarily, that he invented things like the electric drinking fountain just to get by. He was never able to garner the funds to try his power experiments - and the adversarial relationship that Edison and Morgan waged against him made most of his brilliant ideas just untested hypthesis in unpublished papers. Over the years, I haven't hard of any of his inventions not working.
Will his Power Tower worK? I don't know. The only attempts to try it were met by sabotage and lawsuits alleging financial damage to existing companies. Perhaps Hollywood, if done properly, could embolden the world to revisit his ideas and see what is worth trying.
[This message has been edited by WmLambert (edited November 13, 2002).]
Why is nuclear power not brought up as more viable than hydro or solar in the national public forum (ie. talking heads)? I have heard rumors of smaller, safer nuclear power plants that would be very inexpensive. Does anyone know more about them?
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Sorry Ev, I am not sure I understood what you are trying to say.
In general I agree with you that there is no such thing as a free lunch (the 2nd law of thermodynamics). But I find the colloquial phrasing of creating. adding or burning energy somewhat confusing when according to the 1st law of thermodynamics energy is always conserved. I use that same colloquial phrasing myself, but it still confuses me when it get to talking about FREE energy. Are we talking about Free of cost Free (we get something for nothing) Free as in freedom (see the Free Software Foundation) Free as in readily available in the sense Tesla was using (according to WmLambert).
So I am not sure what you meant with:
quote:the primary transition of energy is FROM the earth OUT of the system
Are you talking about the fact that heat from the Earth’s core (presumably generated by radioactive decay) is still leaking out to space? AFAIK, we are not even sure that the rate at which heat leaks out to space exceeds the rate at which the sun’s radiation adds energy to the surface. Does anyone have any good links on this?
On the other hand, with WmLambert‘s latest comment about the Earth slowing down in mind, maybe you were referring to the fact that the Earth and the moon are not yet tide locked, and that the tides are slowly dissipating that energy? Once again, AFAIK, we don’t know if the moon is spiraling in or out but I do know that gravitational assists using lunar flybys can harness that “free” energy.
solar power- photovoltaics are not the only way to get electricity. concentrating solar collectors focused on a heat engine (rankine <steam> or stirling <hot air> ) can produce electricity or shaft power at the same efficiency as photovoltaics without the toxic wastes involved in conventional semiconductors. The mirrors are the key element, and low-E glass has high efficiency and long life. aluminized mylar is very nice and inexpensive, but doesn't have the life. But the engine, if properly designed, can go indefinitely. Free piston stirling linear alternators can last for tens of years, and then the overhaul is just replacing seals. some links:
according to my astronomy class, The moon is pulling away from the earth and when the earth reaches tidal lock it will remain forever locked at whatever distance it reaches I didn't take very good notes in that class, so I don't remember what the rate is...
you can even use he stuff straight from the macdonalds tank with only minor modifications to a diesel car. so if oil evaporated tomorrow, besides having really greasy air , the stationary power plants would go to coal or natural gas, transportation could go to biodiesel or wood. but everything would get a lot more expensive for the foreseeable future.
LetterRip: Thanks for those links. Once again, I marvel at your ability to find such interesting documents on the internet. Well done. Isn't Tesla fascinating?
You may also find a number of links to more uncomfortable sites that deal with attempts to investigate his inventions that were strangely reminiscent of something from out of the "X-Files." There was one investigator who was found killed back in 1944 (I believe) under extremely strange circumstances, with his experiment sabotaged. I am aware of the attempts to build his steam turbine engine - which is fascinating on its own. It was too energetic for any materials available in his time, and until new alloys became available in the 70's and 80's couldn't be tried. The few experiments tried were right on to what Tesla predicted - but no one ever took it to the next step - just minor experimentation and then it was dropped.