It's Not Just Alternative Energy Versus Fossil Fuels or Nuclear - Energy Has to Become DECENTRALIZED

George Washington's picture

Washington’s Blog

Proponents for oil, gas, nuclear and coal claim that we must expand these risky and oftentimes deadly types of energy production, or we will shiver in the dark like cavemen.

of alternative forms of energy say we should switch over to cleaner
fuels to avoid a parade of horribles ... and point to the Gulf oil
spill, the Japanese nuclear crisis and the destruction of aquifers with
natural gas fracking as examples. Defenders of fossil fuels and nuclear
rebut this by saying that alternative energy isn't ready for prime time yet.

Who's right?

As I'll show below, the question is not as simple as it may sound.

Return on Investment

As Thomas Homer-Dixon, director of the Trudeau Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto, notes:

A better measure of the cost of oil, or any energy source, is the amount of energy required to produce it.
Just as we evaluate a financial investment by comparing the size of
the return with the size of the original expenditure, we can evaluate
any project that generates energy by dividing the amount of energy the
project produces by the amount it consumes.


Economists and physicists call this quantity the "energy return on investment"
or E.R.O.I. For a modern coal mine, for instance, we divide the
useful energy in the coal that the mine produces by the total of all
the energy needed to dig the coal from the ground and prepare it for
burning - including the energy in the diesel fuel that powers the
jackhammers, shovels and off-road dump trucks, the energy in the
electricity that runs the machines that crush and sort the coal, as
well as all the energy needed to build and maintain these machines.


the average E.R.O.I. of an economy's energy sources drops toward 1 to
1, an ever-larger fraction of the economy's wealth must go to finding
and producing energy.
This means less wealth is left over for
everything else that needs to be done, from building houses to moving
around information to educating children. The energy return on investment for conventional oil,
which provides about 40 percent of the world's commercial energy and
more than 95 percent of America's transportation energy, has been falling for decades.
The trend is most advanced in United States production, where
petroleum resources have been exploited the longest and drillers have
been forced to look for ever-smaller and ever-deeper pools of oil.


Cleveland, an energy scientist at Boston University who helped
developed the concept of E.R.O.I. two decades ago, calculates that from
the early 1970s to today the return on investment of oil and natural
gas extraction in the United States fell from about 25 to 1 to about
15 to 1.


basic trend can be seen around the globe with many energy sources.
We've most likely already found and tapped the biggest, most
accessible and highest-E.R.O.I. oil and gas fields, just as we've
already exploited the best rivers for hydropower. Now, as we're
extracting new oil and gas in more extreme environments - in deep water
far offshore, for example - and as we're turning to energy
alternatives like nuclear power and converting tar sands to gasoline, we're spending steadily more energy to get energy.


example, the tar sands of Alberta, likely to be a prime energy source
for the United States in the future, have an E.R.O.I. of around 4 to
1, because a huge amount of energy (mainly from natural gas) is needed
to convert the sands' raw bitumen into useable oil.


Professor Charles Hall of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry provides the following graphic to illustrate the point:




graph” representing quality (y graph) and quantity (x graph) of the
United States economy for various fuels at various times. Arrows
connect fuels from various times (i.e. domestic oil in 1930, 1970,
2005), and the size of the “balloon” represents part
of the uncertainty associated with EROI estimates.

(Source: US EIA, Cutler Cleveland and C. Hall’s own EROI work in preparation)Click to Enlarge.


(click for larger image.)



take away message from the graph is that the energy return on
investment was very high for oil in 1930, but it is very low today,
since the cheap, easy-to-get-to (and less dangerous) oil is gone.


But what about alternative energies? Professor Hall writes:



The EROI for wind turbines compares favorably with other power generation systems (Figure 3). Baseload coal-fired power generation has an EROI between 5 and 10:1. Nuclear
power is probably no greater than 5:1, although there is considerable
debate regarding how to calculate its EROI. The EROI for hydropower
probably exceed 10, but in most places in the world the most favorable
sites have been developed.


Figure 3: EROI of various electric power generators.


("PV" stands for photovoltaic - i.e. direct solar power.) Solar thermal has a much lower EROI, although Hall notes elsewhere:



passive solar design is incredibly site specific it is very difficult
to determine just what the EROI might be. Rarely does an architect get
quantitative feedback on the system, finding a numerical Energy Return
on Investment (EROI) is nearly impossible.(Lyng 2006, Spanos 2005).
Nevertheless if various passive solar designs are built into the house
from the beginning then fairly large energy gains can be obtained with
little or no investments. In other words it may cost little to put
most of the windows on the south side, although that may greatly
increase the gain.


An EROI could be calculated for a
case specific location by dividing the energy saved each year over the
energy inputted to make that house passive solar. The EROI for a
passive solar would be very high because building passive solar is a
one time expense and houses last half a century or more. Studies have
shown that the energy savings can range anywhere from 30-70%, this
would cause the EROI to change vastly from case to case. If the
payback period is five years and the house lasts for 50 then the EROI
would be, apparently, 10:1.


So what does this mean? Comparing Professor Hall's two graphs, we can see that virtually all forms
of alternative energy - wind, geothermal, photovoltaic, and hydro -
have greater or equal EROI than fossil fuels and nuclear. Passive
solar might be lower, unless it is incorporated into original building



However, Professor Hall's figures were generated in 2006. All forms of alternative energy have become more efficient since 2006.



But - as we'll see below - it's not just a question of fossil fuels and nuclear versus alternative energy. It's also a question of centralization versus decentralization.



The U.S. Wastes More Energy Than it Uses - Partly Because of the Centralization of Power

As shown by the following graphic from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the U.S. wastes a lot more energy than it uses:



(click for giant graphic.)


America uses 39.97 quads of energy, while it wastes 54.64 quads (i.e. "rejected energy").


As CNET noted in 2007:



Sixty-two percent of the energy consumed in America today is lost
through transmission and general inefficiency. In other words, it
doesn't go toward running your car or keeping your lights on.


Put another way:


  • We waste 650% more energy than all of our nuclear power plants produce
  • We waste 280% more energy than we produce by coal
  • We waste 235% more energy than we produce by natural gas (using deadly fracking)
  • We waste 150% more energy than we generate with other petroleum products

The Department of Energy notes:


about 15% of the energy from the fuel you put in your
tank gets used to move your car down the road or run useful
accessories, such as air conditioning. The rest of the energy is
lost to engine and driveline inefficiencies and idling.
Therefore, the potential to improve fuel efficiency with
advanced technologies is enormous.


According to the DOE, California lost 6.8% of the total amount of electricity used in the state in 2008 through transmission line inefficiencies and losses.



The National Academies Press notes:



the time energy is delivered to us in a usable form, it has typically
undergone several conversions. Every time energy changes forms, some
portion is “lost.” It doesn't disappear, of course. In nature, energy
is always conserved. That is, there is exactly as much of it around
after something happens as there was before. But with each change,
some amount of the original energy turns into forms we don't want or
can't use, typically as so-called waste heat that is so diffuse it
can't be captured.


Reducing the amount
lost – also known as increasing efficiency – is as important to our
energy future as finding new sources because gigantic amounts of
energy are lost every minute of every day in conversions. Electricity
is a good example. By the time the energy content of electric power
reaches the end user, it has taken many forms. Most commonly, the
process begins when coal is burned in a power station. The chemical
energy stored in the coal is liberated in combustion, generating heat
that is used to produce steam. The steam turns a turbine, and that
mechanical energy is used to turn a generator to produce the


In the process, the original
energy has taken on a series of four different identities and
experienced four conversion losses. A
typical coal-fired electrical plant might be 38% efficient, so a little
more than one-third of the chemical energy content of the fuel is
ultimately converted to usable electricity
. In other words, as
much as 62% of the original energy fails to find its way to the
electrical grid. Once electricity leaves the plant, further losses
occur during delivery. Finally, it reaches an incandescent lightbulb
where it heats a thin wire filament until the metal glows, wasting
still more energy as heat. The resulting light contains only about 2% of the energy content of the coal used to produce it.
Swap that bulb for a compact fluorescent and the efficiency rises to
around 5% – better, but still a small fraction of the original.


Example of energy lost during conversion and transmission.

of energy lost during conversion and transmission. Imagine that the
coal needed to illuminate an incandescent light bulb contains 100 units
of energy when it enters the power plant. Only two units of that energy
eventually light the bulb. The remaining 98 units are lost along the
way, primarily as heat.



Moreover, many appliances use energy even when they are turned off. As Cornell University noted in 2002:

typical American home has 20 electrical appliances that bleed
consumers of money. That's because the appliances continue to suck
electricity even when they're off, says a Cornell University energy
expert. His studies estimate that these so-called "vampire" appliances
cost consumers $3 billion a year -- or about $200 per household.


a result, we're using the equivalent of seven electrical generating
plants just to supply the amount of electricity needed to support the
standby power of our vampire appliances when they're off."



standby power consumes an average of 7 percent of a home's total
electricity bill, although that figure is as much as 25 percent in some
homes. In Australia, standby power accounts for 13 percent of total
energy use; in Japan it accounts for 12 percent; and in the United
States, 5 percent.


Increasing the efficiency of
appliances would cut standby power consumption by about 72 percent,
according to a recent study by the International Energy Agency in


(Lawrence Berkeley National Lab provides data on the standby power drawn by different appliances.)

We can't prevent all of the loss of energy from energy production, transmission or usage. As the National Academies Press puts it:



of heat engines can be improved further, but only to a degree.
Principles of physics place upper limits on how efficient they can be.


But we can prevent a lot of energy loss. For example, the Rocky Mountain Institute estimates that we could reduce energy use by a third:



inefficiencies across the US's energy network can be eliminated
relatively easily, cutting about a third off the nation's energy use,
according to a major new analysis of power consumption.


The study from environmental think tank the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), entitled Assessing the Electric Productivity Gap and the US Efficiency Opportunity, argues that wholescale efficiency improvements could be in place by 2020 ....




the rest of the country achieved the electric productivity already
attained by the top-performing states, the country would save a total of
1.2m gigawatt-hours annually – equivalent to 30 per cent of the
nation's annual electricity use or 62 per cent of US coal-fired
electrical power.




2020, if the US can, on average, achieve the electric productivity of
the top-performing states today, we can anticipate a 34 per cent
reduction in projected electricity demand," he said.


How do we increase energy efficiency and reduce loss?

Sure, we could talk about energy efficient appliances and cars, and providing smarter systems - such as using power controlling devices which make sure that only the amount of power each device requires each moment is delivered.


But the bigger picture is decentralizing power generation and transmission.


As the Rocky Mountain Institute writes:



Often the cheapest, and most reliable, distributed power is the power produced at or near the customer. Distributed energy -- often called micropower -- refers to a variety of small, self-contained energy sources located near the final point of energy consumption.

is in contrast to a more traditional system, where power is generated
by a remotely-located, large-scale plant and electricity is sent down
power lines to the consumer -- often over vast distances.

RMI's extensive research (culminating in "Small is Profitable," the Economist's
2002 Book of Year) on distributed energy resources found that properly
considering the economic benefits of 'distributed' (decentralized)
electrical resources typically raises their value by improving system
planning, construction, operation and service quality.

Centralized electricity systems with giant power plants are becoming obsolete. In their place are emerging "distributed
resources" — smaller, decentralized electricity supply sources
(including efficiency) that are cheaper, cleaner, less risky, more
flexible, and quicker to deploy.


production at or near the point of use can greatly improve efficiency
and reduce the costs and energy losses associated with the national
grid while increasing security and reliability.


or distributed power (also called "micro generation") can take the form
of local solar, wind power, hydro, geothermal ... or even making
alcohol out of stale donuts to run your car. See this, this and this.


Indeed, even nuclear power can be generated and then used locally at the neighborhood scale - and a lot safer than Tepco or GE can do it in a giant nuclear plant.


Power can also be captured from excess heat energy. As I've previously noted:

Heat can be used to generate electricity.
This is true not only on the industrial scale, but even on the level
of your home faucet. Indeed, inventors have already built home faucet
kits which turn the unused heat from your hot water into electricity.

In hot climates, black thermal-electric mats could be installed on roofs to generate electricity.

is a byproduct of other processes, and so nothing special needs to be
done to create it. Just about every human activity and many natural
processes create heat, so we just have to utilize it.

dramatic example of wasted heat energy is the Oak Creek coal-fired power
plant in Wisconsin. The two units at Oak Creek suck up two billion gallons of water from Lake Michigan each day, and pipe it back into lake 10-15 degrees warmer. All of that heat energy is wasted.

I've also noted that there might be a lot of untapped "stomp" energy:

Another use of a free, wasted byproduct to generate electricity is piezo-electric energy. "Piezo" means pressure. Anything that produces pressure can produce energy.



example, a train station in Japan installed piezo-electric equipment
in the ground, so that the foot traffic of those walking through the
train station generates electricity (turnstiles at train, subway and
ferry stations, ballparks and amusement parks can also generate



Similarly, all exercise machines at the gym or at home can be hooked up to produce electricity.



perhaps the greatest untapped sources of piezo-electric energy are
freeways and busy roads. If piezo-electric mats were installed under
the busiest sections [a little ways under the surface], the thousands of
tons of vehicles passing over each day would generate massive amounts
of electricity for the city's use.


As Ken Alex - director of California Governor's Office of Planning and Research - notes:


possible way to reduce the need for transmission lines has received
little attention until lately. “Distributed solar” is the term for
solar PV projects in and around population areas that feed directly into
existing transmission.... Rooftop solar is part of that mix,
potentially providing more than 40,000 MW to the system (from commercial
and residential roofs). That’s about 2/3 of California’s power needs,
although it’s not likely we will get close to 100% of what is
available. Ground mounted solar PV projects of up to 20 MW each could
provide much more, by some estimates many tens of thousands of MW.
Modest-sized systems could be sited at utility right of ways, along
highways, on the outskirts of some urban areas, even along the
California aqueduct.


solar is not a panacea, but it could provide a much more significant
percentage of renewable power for the state than currently contemplated,
and it could happen quickly.


Alex also points out:


“Distributed storage” could become a significant contributor. Many
sources of renewable power, such as wind and solar, are intermittent;
they are not necessarily available when customers need power. And
electricity is notoriously difficult to store. That’s a big reason why
California has a lot of "peakers" – expensive, often highly
polluting, high CO2 generating power plants that run only during peak
demand, usually in the late afternoon on hot summer days. If we can’t
efficiently store power for peak demand periods, we need extra power
plants just for those high usage times.


Something like
50% of peak demand in the summer in CA results from use of air
conditioners, pushing peak power requirements to about 65,000 MW.
Cutting peak demand reduces the need for peakers, and makes it easier
to achieve the 33% renewable goal. So, peak load can be shed through
action like "cycling",” where the utility cycles down individual air
conditioners for a few minutes each hour, and by storing power
generated off-peak for use on-peak.


storage takes many forms. It can be as simple (conceptually, anyway) as
moving water uphill, and sending it back downhill across turbines to
generate power when needed, or it can involve exotic technologies. It
has tended to be expensive and inefficient. But that may be changing.
As battery technology improves for hybrid and electric cars, it also
has applications for localized electricity storage. For example, an
air conditioning unit might be paired with a modest battery storage
system that runs the unit during peak demand. Other approaches include
using off-peak power to make ice and then using the ice for air
conditioning on-peak.


Indeed, huge breakthroughs in local energy storage are taking place. For example, as I noted last year:


A scientist has figured out how to make and store energy by splitting water with sunlight. He says: "You've made your house into a fuel station [and we can get] rid of all the ... grids" [he's recently discovered an even cheaper way to do this]


So alternative energy versus fossil fuel and nuclear is only part of
the question. At least as important, power must become distributed
through micro power at the local level closer to the end user.

Indeed, given all of the mischief that the energy giants are causing, there is an argument that decentralizing power would help restore our democracy and our freedoms:



Wars are being fought in our name over oil.


energy companies -- some with earnings bigger than many countries --
are calling the shots. As long as we rely on them to provide our power
to us, we are buying into the imperial wars, injustice and destruction
of our liberties.

If we install solar, wind, or
whatever other micro equipment we can in our homes and offices, then we
could decentralize power-generation -- and thus -- decentralize power
away from the energy giants and their imperial political allies.

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GeoffreyT's picture

This was a fascinating piece; of particular interest (to me) was the discussion of the level of inefficiency in 'traditional' power generation and transmission, whereby something of the order of 2/3rds of the energy value of the fuel never makes it to the household. As the title implies - the centralising of power generation lines some pockets (otherwise it would not be set up like that given its inherent wastefulness).

I note that recent advances in solar panel technology have resulted in a solar cell that operates at 24% efficiency (see ) while lab-development models are currently hitting over 40%. Obviously for a home system there are virtually no transmission losses.


This stuff interests me for a couple of reasons - none of which has anything to do with environmentalism, climate change or whatever dull tripe we're being gulled with. I have no preference for any type of power, but frankly the idea of nuclear plants overseen by political agencies appals me; not because it's nuclear but because political oversight is always and everywhere a recipe for disaster: fraud, waste, corner-cutting, cronyism and corruption. And of course weapons (the US and France stopped trying to develop thorium-based reactors when they found out that they couldn't use the byproducts for weapons). I haven't seen much recently about home-based pebble-bed reactors (which were much talked about from about 1999 to 2003), but I would have one in a heartbeat.


As to why this story interest me specifically:

First: The Lovely's parents have solar power and hot water/heating (they live in a rural area, albeit only 80km from Melbourne; getting powerlines to the house would have cost $40k so they have a $10k solar system instead). Prior to a recent upgrade their system provided a bare minumum (the refrigerator is gas powered; couldn't run a vacuum cleaner, steam iron, air conditioner or hairdryer except on sunny summer days). On days with low or little sunshine, a generator was required for lights in the evening: all things considered the system did a reasonable job. As a result they (and by extension we) became VERY aware of 'vampire appliances'. (Since panel prices have fallen they've recently added two extra panels (33%) and the issues no longer exist). The full cost (amortisation of the setup,maintenance of the panels and replacement of battery arrays) is far lower than the power bill on a similarly sized urban home.


Secondly, it highlights the fact that we're bombarded with 'solar is inefficient' tropes when it turns out that 2/3rds of the energy value we dig up (and pay for) has to be made up for by charging consumers on what actually gets into the fusebox of their homes (that's how it ought to be: price per kWh should equal its marginal cost). But on balance it's therefore not surprising that solar can compete in value for money terms if 66% of the BTU-equivalents being extracted from the ground are pissed away in the generation and transmission process. (and note also: the $15k setup that The Lovely's parents paid for 10 years ago, would cost about $6000 today and would be more efficient in both generation and storage)


Yeah I know... TL;DR. 

epwpixieq-1's picture

Good article.

Well summarized information. All the data is out there on the NET, one just have to look for it and have the right mindset to understand it and look into the future ...

And for all of you who like to get their hands dirty, a small bonus ( sorry, not from GS, of course :) ),

"How to convert a Lead Acid Battery into an Alkaine Battery" - with help of a product from the local grocery shop :)

TheBillMan's picture

As far as the tar sands of Alberta go, have a google at "THAI" or Toe-Heel Air Injection. Requires little natural gas and/or water and is self sustaining after the process starts up.  That, plus the fact that the oil extraction tends to be around 85% vs. 40% to 50% using the conventional strip mining methods.

tim73's picture

If your country's only industry is tourism, decentralized wind turbine energy network as main power source could actually work. If your country has heavy industries of any kind, forget about it.

Many factories need constant power and a lot of it. Even one millisecond distruption could cause robots and assembly lines going out of synch and damages would be in millions of dollars. Big machines have also long startup and shutdown times, so you cannot just switch those off and on in few seconds. 

GW just collected all the talking points from the Greens to one article but most of those are either wrong or questionable. Wind power EROI calculation especially is really laughable. Nuclear plants produce power 90-95 percent of the time at max capacity while wind power generates 15-25 percent of the capacity on average.

Common_Cents22's picture

What about the BloomBox fuel cell technology?  It is decentralized a bit with future promise of various fuel.   But now can run on cheaper, abundant natural gas input until if/when cheaper more sustainable inputs might be developed.

A few articles claim it is already cheaper than many electricity rates.  But it is more expensive now w/out govt subsidies.

could it be economical factoring in economies of scale in production?

Google and a few other companies are using them now.

Gunther's picture

Old-fashioned energy saving is missing in the discussion.

It will not solve the energy input problem but could help a lot.

Simple things are real switches in electrical stuff or a power bar that gets turned off.

In houses insulation and proper sun protection helps a lot to save on heating and cooling, not to mention appropriate thermostate settings.

The list of things to do is quite long and everything helps a bit. Together it can be a lot of improvement.

George Washington's picture

the uninsurability of nuclear, viz.

From the U.S. to Japan, it’s illegal to drive a car without sufficient insurance, yet governments around the world choose to run over 440 nuclear power plants with hardly any coverage whatsoever.

Japan’s Fukushima disaster, which will leave taxpayers there with a massive bill, brings to the fore one of the industry’s key weaknesses — that nuclear power is a viable source for cheap energy only if it goes uninsured…

…A 1992 study for the German economy ministry — the latest official report available — found the total cost of health damage to the population and other economic losses by a nuclear disaster could amount to €5.5 trillion — or about €7.6 trillion in today’s money.

Nuclear power plant operators could insure a larger, more realistic part of the potential damage, but experts note that that would lead to rising electricity prices.

The insurance in Germany costs utilities €0.008 cents ($0.015 cents) per kilowatt hour of electricity, a tiny part of the final cost for customers of about €22 cents, according to Bettina Meyer of think tank Green Budget Germany in Berlin. But insuring the full risk would amount to a prohibitive extra cost of about €2 per kilowatt hour.

Nuclear wouldn’t exist without state. Which is why it’s obvious that the industry has never had any intention of:

1) insuring the full risk of nuclear meltdown; or

2) dealing with the waste (hell, they’ve had 60 years to sort that one out, and we’re still waiting).

US nuke utilities have even sued – and won compensation from – the DoE over clean-up (see

The lawsuits follow requests for suspension of the payments made to the DoE by both NEI and NARUC in July 2009. Under the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, DoE was supposed to begin taking used fuel from nuclear energy facilities from 1998. As a result of its failure to meet this obligation, the federal government has been sued by a number of utilities, which have been awarded compensation totalling some $1 billion by US courts.

It’s a shame there’s no private insurance industry, though, because given that major meltdowns are now occurring once every 20 yrs or so, Goldman or someone could easily be on the the other side of that – and just imagine the bonanza to be had, shorting Tepco, NINA and nuclear catastrophe.

tim73's picture

"that major meltdowns are now occurring once every 20 yrs or so,"

Typical green idiot. That was a 9.0 earthquake, your fucking house would be destroyed in that kind of earthquake. Those Fukushima nuclear plants are still standing there. So go back to painting anti-this and anti-that industry posters with your fellow greenpeace naive elois.

Zero Govt's picture

yes Tim Fuku is still standing from earthquake but it was shattered by the tsunami. Most houses and buildings are still standing in fact from Earthquake, what knocked them down was again the tsunami. I'm not sure how GW claims nuclear is "cheap" apart from the fact they cannot get insurance. Nuclear is an extortinately expensive means of electricity generation It's not only insurance they can't get but private investment unless it's covered in lashings of Govt (taxpayer) subsidised help and waste material whitewashes.

Nuclear is an expensive joke... which is why only politicians, the biggest jokers on the pkanet, will build them

MarketFox's picture

Let´s put it this way....

For what reason does the FTC exist....



I cannot wait until energy is individualized per sun...and ones house....

Just monopolistic fuel depots that one cannot do without...etc....


The total....sure buys the battery....but after needs for 10 years....



THIS IS the opportunity....


As denoted by BYD.....

sundown333's picture

By the way, while you are doing the math tell me how cost effective nuclear is when you consider the cost to bild the plant, maintain the plant, operate the plant and put a few in concrete when things go wrong. Cheaper than coal or natural gas? PROVE IT! Show me EXACT math.

Diamond Jim's picture

a submarine nuke plant in every community........

proLiberty's picture

Why do people think there is something mythically special about energy as compared to other economic activities?   It is utter nonesense, for example, to say: "America uses 39.97 quads of energy, while it wastes 54.64 quads (i.e. "rejected energy")."   We don't care about how much money that Wal-Mart wastes in order to make a dollar of profit, for  profit is the only metric that really matters.  What matters with energy is the total cost as compared to the total value of the energy produced. 

Before anyone complains that production of energy has environmental costs, that is true.  The answer to that is to stop socializing the costs of pollution and make the polluter pay in full for any damage.  But I suspect that enviros will not be in favor of that because it will tend to make it even easier to justify building a new generation of nuclear power plants.


George Washington's picture

Some leading environmental economists have pioneered the concept of "externalities", which does exactly what you say.

Fukushima is cheap?

sundown333's picture

I give up. You guys think nukes are the answer than go for it. We have not learned anything from chernobyl or fukushima. We deserve what problems we get in the future.

falak pema's picture

It is not MAN who controls the ATOM, it is the ATOM that controls man. Oppenheimer's deadly toy...Pandora's box must be shut fast!

gasmiinder's picture

destruction of aquifers with natural gas fracking as examples

Is bullshit GW but I expect no less from you.  If it came from a lefty loon documentary it must be true.

But more to the point of your article - decentralizing energy is a non-starter because our brilliant environmental lobby/power brokers are a lot more interested in making sure they never have to SEE a power generating source than they are in actually solving any of these problems.

LawsofPhysics's picture

Go drink the water from my mother-in-law's well on her property in Texas.  Tasted fine until they started fracking.  Now she can't even live in the house because of the smell.  I am sure it was all just coincidence fucknut.

gasmiinder's picture

Not one documented example of the fracture stimulation process affecting an aquifer.  Not one, not anywhere. 

Calling names doesn't change that FACT.  But I don't expect the GW crowd to understand the meaning of ad hominem.

falak pema's picture about the explosion in Pennsylvania...

gasmiinder's picture

Hahaha - try to read the thread your responding too.


And further - "the explosion" also had nothing to do with the process of fracture stimulation.  I'd explain but that would immediately brand me as a faux zero hedger trying to slip in reason and rationale.

jmc8888's picture

Actually it's energy flux density.  Mankind needs to constantly raise it.  EROI is not a sufficient metric, too much can be fudged or be in error, plus it misses the whole point, mankind needs more constantly which can never be measured by this. 

Nuclear's cost is out of whack.  Gov't funded, change the rules of amitorization, gov't insurance (as if any private could withstand anything like fukushima), and Nuclear gets down to 1-2 cents per kw/h.  So if measured by the inferior EROI it would be much better than wind/solar, plus the EROI for wind/solar doesn't count how it would change the EROI if we were building MILLIONS of these a year...or at least 50 million windmills to power most of the U.S.

That's some serious metal that needs to be pulled from the earth, smelted, and manufactured, transported, etc.  The costs would be much higher and the EROI a lot lower based on this.  It can't just hit the sweet spots like it is now in those EROI calcs.

That said, only FUSION will make us sufficient.

But here's some good stuff from LaRouche on Nuclear, as well as hydrogen created by Nuclear, and fusion as well.

But if we decentralize, we can remove alot of waste.  This is good. But also superconductor lines would help with our current transmission and should be looked at as well. (and of course all under the notion that with fusion, decentralization becomes less of a priority..although we should always try to increase efficiency, as it makes sense to a point)

The decentralized wind/solar stuff doesn't make much sense. People don't want wind turbines around you.  It's not classic, NIMBY when the sound can cause people to go crazy with low hums, and dead birds will constantly be picked up around the turbine.  Solar...good luck with that. A certain percentage will cause home fires, which the fire department won't put out since they don't want to be electrocuted (or for any home fire even unrelated to the solar panels). 

4th generation and beyond Nuclear reactors on a small neighborhood or city scale would make sense for this decentralization. 

Back to wind/solar...again as mankind grows, wind/solar don't move up the chain, they are fixed.  They are good for 1950's style energy usage, not 2050 or beyond.  Think of it like this.  The Apple II was a great computer, but look at it now.  It's useless for the most part.  That's what wind/solar will be soon enough.  That's a major problem when you consider you need at least 50 million windmills.

It's alot easier to build 10,000 nuke plants or so than 50 million windmills.  Depending of course on reactor output and number of reactors at each site.

There is some leeway for some small types of solar, but not for general home/industrial use.  Redundency, backup, and small portable appliances. Plus paint solar on stuff might lower costs, and increase where one could use it, although I don't know about the safety of such things. I.E. Fire? Electrocuted?  I would say this is solar's only real bet, because society just can't have thousands of square miles of solar cells. 

Not that it is the main issue, but 50 million windmills and thousands of square miles (hell more than that) would kill millions of birds, alter weather patterns, etc. It does have consequences.

Only fusion will get us out from this problem.  It will take decades, and until then nuclear power is the way to go.  Wind/solar not so much. Plus I don't entirely trust the data on EROI for wind/solar.  Lots of subjectiveness.  The key metric, the more accurate one, especially going forward, is Energy Flux Density.  

It's nuclear until fusion. As for decentralization, I see no reason why that cannot play a big part of wringing out some savings until the very least, fusion gets operational and mass produced so-to-speak.  But not through Wind/solar boondoggles...and not at the expense of current methods of generation.  We'd need both centralized and decentralized.  That would raise costs, since you cannot just say lets go decentralized, and cut off the grid.  So it would be the costs of maintaining and improving the centralized grid + all the stuff regarding decentralized.  In a monetary system, I don't see that as possible.  In a Hamiltonian credit system, I can.

This is a tought nut to crack, so I applaud GW presentation on it.



falak pema's picture

glass steagall sounds like your cup of medicine against every disease including Alzheimer's. Hope you are not going around in circles of transient flux. Just look at Kitegen and Combined cycle fed on bio gas or coal gasification and you'll know that decentralised flexible production is the most energy efficient AND most EROI oriented; as well as being the most reactive in case of base load system breakdown. Without incurring either the ecological risk of big central nuclear or that of strategic supply risk for large sized imported oil/gas fired units

FeralSerf's picture

As much as this runs counter to my academic training, cold fusion is looking better all the time.  There appears to be some pretty big money that's putting on a campaign against it.  Claiming it doesn't work and its adherants are a bunch of nuts has worked so far, but there are leaks and the leaks are getting bigger.  Maybe BP needs to assume the position of global investigator and take charge of all research.  They could use their black uniformed army to make sure there aren't any trespassers.

Zero Govt's picture

it's very easy to find a return on energy, look for Govt subsidies and Govt legislation (ie. corruption). Coal, oil and gas does not need Govt subsidy. Alternates like wind, wave, solar and the biggest economic joke, nuclear, require vast sums thieved from taxpayers to keep their bankrupt business models propped up

You're quite wrong that hydrocarbons are 'dangerous' or dirty GW. They have proved themselves over a century to assist in the growth of our lifespans and our enviroment has not suffered either (volcanos and natural planetary emissions are greater and also get 'clean rinced' by the Earths enviorment with ease)

You're quite right about decentralising GW. Get Govts corrupt mangling out of the energy markets (including bans/controls on exploration, drilling and refinaries) and their protection racket of large global dinosaur energy monopolies to stop competition in the market place.

In short, let the Free Market work

sundown333's picture

Speaking of nuclear energy, I don't have all the answers and don't pretend to but if nuclear is one of the "best" ways we have to boil water in the year 2010, we are still just outside the stone age!

sundown333's picture

After Chernobyl and Fukushima, after knowledge is coming out that all nuclear leak some radiation and once most find out just how much harm this can do to body tissue despite all the lobby telling us things are fine, you will not get much support for mini-nuke plants for your local neighborhood. I sure as hell don't want one in mine!

FeralSerf's picture

I don't mind having (a safe) one in my neighborhood that's large enough for us plus your neighborhood if we can charge your neighborhood enough for the energy to support us in the manner we'd like to be accustomed.   Don't want one?  OK, then pay through the nose and abject economic slavery for you if you want lights, refrigeration, food, etc.  That's actually the system we have now on a much bigger scale.

George Washington's picture

Then your neighborhood shouldn't get one!  It should be a local decison ...

Shell Game's picture

Energy, food, money and the mind are keys to power.  No wonder the control-freaks go after all four.  Time to decentralize, BIG time.

Nice article, GW.  Well researched and presented, not bad at all for a 279 year old.. ;)

IdioTsincracY's picture

Stop the wars ... close all bases abroad ... use the money saved every year to install solar panel on every roof.

Energy problem solved .... the only reason they don't do it is because they would not be able to charge us any longer ...

F#ck them!

NotApplicable's picture

To extend your reason a bit further, it's all about dependence upon centralized infrastructure creating a choke-hold on energy. Brzezinski's Grand Chessboard lays this out in detail.

Which is to say, decentralized electrical power will never be wide-spread as long as political power remains centralized.

FeralSerf's picture

And political power will never be decentralized as long as they have the big guns and control of energy.

NotApplicable's picture

Or as Brzezinski would say, "Checkmate!"

falak pema's picture

Brzzz was no Gary Kasparov.... he couldn't play against sicilian defense of Iranian revolution to save his ass. He lost -every time to Ayatollah K! What a fiasco that was!

tony bonn's picture

small is beautiful....i do think that there is much merit in the pursuit of energy dissipated energy could be rechanneled to producing useful forms such as electricity.....

using less energy per se is not a solution.....quality of life requires certain applications of energy....

it should not be overlooked that so-called fossil fuels are not fossil fuels - they are abiotic productions which are renewable....we just don't yet know the period of renewal....but the earth is a magnificent machine for producing oil, coal, and natural gas....i predict that many oil fields will replenish in the coming years....indeed we have numerous examples of this occuring on small scales....

FeralSerf's picture

A lot of the inefficiencies are the results of the Carnot and Otto cycles.  There's not much that can be done about that as long it's necessary to convert heat into mechanical energy.  This is conveniently left out of most studies.

George Washington's picture

Yes, that's why I wrote:

We can't prevent all of the loss of energy from energy production, transmission or usage. As the National Academies Press puts it:

Efficiencies of heat engines can be improved further, but only to a degree. Principles of physics place upper limits on how efficient they can be.

Problem Is's picture

+5 -- Awesome, GW
It is like everything else in the last 30 years... If you are waiting for a top down solution to your problems (e.g. Corrupt Corporate Owned Governance)...

Grab your ankles and keep waiting...

Your solutions are local, grass roots, bottom up... Unless you think idiots like Obummer, Dodd, Frank and Boen-er are going to solve your problems...

Giant Centralized Wealth Sucking Vacuum
Decentralization of political and economic power are the citizens only defense to a looting, bribed political class who are lackeys for finance oligarchs who seek escalating parasitic rents and taxes from the productive working citizens until we are all impoverished.

Dissolution of the Corporation is the Sine Qua Non of the Republic
Stop buying corporate crap. Buy local. Support your local farmers, cooperatives and businesses. Look for local investments and local solutions...

krugergate's picture

1 oil is abiotic and is not running out - the russkies figured this out in the 70's - remember the club of rome sponsored the famous book by Dennis Meadows - limit to growth.

2. Tesla figured out how to give us all free energy til JP pulled the plug on him because they cant put a meter on free energy.

3. Why does the US Gov hold more than 6000 secret patents on this subject?


silver to the moon !



Jab Cross Hook's picture

Long on transmission towers and lines.

Wait till the cartels start fighting over this patch.

FeralSerf's picture

"The sister company, Sempra Generation, also announced that it is selling half of the project to BP Wind Energy, a subsidiary of energy giant BP."

Big Oil strikes again.  There doesn't appear to be any way the sheep can keep from being sheared by these rotten motherfuckers, eh?

Jab Cross Hook's picture

As BP hired security contractors to protect their "cleanup" zones last year, could we see Blackwater/Xe glove up against the Zetas and their hermanos?

pasttense's picture

So, George Washington, do you have both an electric line and and a natural gas line coming into your house? Why? Why don't you drop the electric line and get a natural gas powered electrical generator? You have just been explaining to us how decentralized systems are so much more efficient, about the line losses for electricity.

FeralSerf's picture

Line losses don't nearly equal the differences in generation efficiencies between small ICEs and large combined cycle gas turbines.

tamboo's picture

you might want to look into the myriad of 'disruptive technology' devices that have been suppressed over the last 100 years.

oxalis_tuberosum's picture

Starts out sounding good, but then alarm bells triggered;

But perhaps the greatest untapped sources of piezo-electric energy are freeways and busy roads. If piezo-electric mats were installed under the busiest sections, the thousands of tons of vehicles passing over each day would generate massive amounts of electricity for the city's use.

Sorry but this is nonsense.  This is an old, old misapprehension.   Just like the people who would have you put a windmill on your car to charge up the battery.  

The power has to come from somewhere; it comes from the cars driving over it!   At a hideous inefficiency and very low EROEI. They will consume more fuel. Author  does NOT know what they are talking about.


FeralSerf's picture

But you do have to admit that artificial washboard roads are a devilishly clever method of stealing from the motoring public.  Now if you could only invent a way of converting potholes to generators. . .  New York and California could become energy independent.

Jab Cross Hook's picture

Maybe something like those shaker flashlights with a striker plate atop.  I can already see Cali's pot growers doing jumping jacks in the streets to lower their rates.

Jab Cross Hook's picture

More accurate to consider the costs and energy input to manufacture and install these Spark Carpets at locations where cars will drive over, regardless. But then it won't be long till cheap motoring gets farted into the halls of yesterday.  Then it's wasted effort.

Hell, we can't even get the damn potholes fixed.