2/09/2015

Energy for Future Presidents


First, I want to thank Katherine for recommending this book.

Before "Energy for Future Presidents" I thought Robert Bryce's books on energy were the best introduction to energy / climate change for non specialists but now, in my opinion, this book by Mr. Muller is clearly superior.

Let me present some of the key points developed in the book:

  • Global warming is real, however, there is no alarmism or catastrophism here. The science of warming by CO2 is presented, but also the deliberate efforts by some scientists to make it seem worse than it actually is to "spur people to action." He also states the obvious: the real challenge to emissions reductions is not anymore in the "developed" world but in "developing economies." Interestingly, the best thing the USA can do to reduce emissions is helping China develop its shale gas (so they may replace coal with natural gas).
  • Electric Vehicles: the cost challenge of batteries is probably an insurmountable obstacle, so, ironically, the best battery types are not the most advanced ones but our old friend the lead-acid one. Sure, the range of cars using them wouldn't be that great but might be cheap enough to be attractive in developing economies. For the developed world, he pretty much writes off EVs. He makes the numbers for several battery chemistries and the cost per mile (considering the depreciation of the batteries) is way above gasoline (in the USA) except for lead-acid. 
  • Hybrid Cars: these not only are here to stay, but may eventually dominate the global market. They make economic and environmental sense. Go, Prius! However he does warn that plug-in hybrids are not a good idea. 
  • Natural gas is the benchmark and all other fuels (including nuclear) ultimately have to compete with it. Natural gas is extremely abundant and liquid fuels can be produced from it. Around the world already millions of cars run on natural gas. In electricity generation, it produces ~half the CO2 emissions of coal and even though fracking has some issues, they can be minimized with the right controls. 
  • Nuclear: he makes a review of many technologies (fission and fusion). He even mentions the original "cold fusion" as well as the new one (the one from the University of Utah). Essentially, very in favor of fission. Fusion, he pretty much positions it in the future and cold fusion (the Utah one) is written off as a mistake or worse. 
  • Efficiency: the no-brainer if there ever was one. Go for it!
  • Geothermal, wave, tide energy: might make sense in some specific localities but in the overall picture for the whole of our civilization are almost irrelevant. 
  • Solar PV: better suited for developing economies (in other words, where wages are low). In high wage countries PV is just too expensive. 
  • Oil: the reserves depend on the price point. If this price point goes high enough the reserves increase dramatically. Canada's reserves, in particular, might go off the charts if the price point increases enough. 
  • Coal: natural gas is better in almost every single parameter. We should try to replace coal with natural gas. 
The above are only some of the points covered in the book, however it is highly recommended because the author is very thorough, there are no black and white assertions. If everybody in the energy / climate discourse read this book, perhaps we could all come back to Earth and begin building from a realistic platform.

Warning: the green extremists will almost certainly find the information presented here very painful, but, as they say, "no pain, no gain."

Feel free to add to the conversation in Twitter: @luisbaram




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