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In a rigorous analysis is this "missing link" a solution or evidence of a much larger and systemic policy, market, and investment problem?

While Prof. Sadowy is correct on energy issues, his “the missing link” conclusion lacks perspective and highlights a larger problem in clean energy.

The Yardstick

“Missing link” technology has to have specific performance (other technologies have these) and cost. The most central feature for a "missing link's" is -

The combined system cost per kWh must net out lower than today’s renewables to have value.

This battery’s cost is 1/3 "the best battery technology" (MIT). AGM batteries are ~$250 per kWh of storage. Renewable output needs to be leveled (store when producing a lot, supply when not) to behave like fossil. Wind requires 3-5 days of leveling storage equal to 50% of rated capacity (the turbine’s max output) (LBNL).

Storage for 1MW wind turbine = 3 x 24 x 500kW x $80 = $2,880,000

1MW turbine cost = $1,800,000

Wind subsidy is ~$.026 per kWh to equal Natural Gas at $.065 per kWh

Combined wind/storage cost = $.15 per kWh, Subsidy raw = ~$.085 per kWh, Subsidy w/externals = ~$.05 per kWh

The effect of subsidizing a large percentage of global consumption at current rates is severe (see Edenhoffer’s ADAM) on the order of a 2% global economic contraction per year. More expensive renewable energy that behaves like fossil is not a solution.

The Larger Problem

As long as governments are subsidizing (driving private investment) energy technologies that are highly unlikely to solve our core energy problems, our problems will not be solved because we frittered away the money to solve them. The last 30 years provide a snapshot of this problem.

The US has funded and subsidized incremental storage, solar, and wind technologies for 30 years at a cost of tens of billions of dollars without producing anything that can or is on track to actually compete with fossil. If we continue to lack rigor in clean energy policy and investment and to invest large sums without vision, the future for climate change and/or our standard of living looks very dark.


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  • Jan 15 2013: Thanks for the pointers to those articles. I will read those.

    As for “without lobbying influence,” man, is that a tough one. Here in California, I don’t think state regulators even write laws anymore. They simply get behind this-or-that lobby-written legislation.

    The idea about Eisenhower and the interstate highway system is another good one (and instructive). It’s another idea I can add to my own thinking.

    (A side note: I remember when many Republicans were quite concerned about the environment and were responsible for important legislation in that area both nationally and at the state level--my, how times have changed.)

    I was aware of the funding for liquid metal batteries (including the funding from Bill Gates). For me, the petition represents my frustration with the national dialog. I mean, for goodness sake, the only national news show to cover liquid metal batteries so far (i.e., last time I looked) is the Colbert Report—a fake news show!
    I’m also hoping to influence the work of organizations such as 350.org to add pushing for new technologies (such as liquid metal batteries) to their political strategy. Of course, I may not get anywhere with this, but I am learning valuable lessons; e.g., getting random people on the street to even talk about global warming (let alone sign a petition) is like pulling teeth.
    • Jan 15 2013: what is your background?
      • Jan 15 2013: I spent many years in software engineering and a few years before that as a technical writer. I have no background related to this discussion (other than being keenly interested and concerned).
        • Jan 15 2013: so I can give you a bit of a shortcut on getting up to speed. Three main areas:

          1) Conservation/efficiency
          2) Transmission
          3) Generation

          Storage is a secondary area with its main effect being on solar and wind intermittancy and somewhat on generation demand offsetting. Important but not primary.

          On 1 this is mainly smart grids and building efficiency software which should be easy for you. This area is a short term solution given that our financial markets are driven by growth and maximizing it. Over mid to long term effect is likely negligible but it is a good bridge focus area.

          On 2 think about it similar to a network backbone only a lot older with server farms in the middle of nowhere that do not have enough bandwidth to be used fully. Most grids globally cannot handle current demand let alone the next 2 decades of growth in population density which has a compound effect on demand (every extra person needs a home, a workplace, and more retail services). NYC alone will have to spend ~$25 billion to keep up with current demand from ex-urban power sources.

          On 3 more than 90% of all new installations since 2000 have been Natural Gas. Natural Gas creams everything else due to its power density and flexibility (can be installed at 25MW in a trailer size turbine - 500MW in a central facility), NG is about the same as coal on GHG emissions when you look at the full life-cycle especially the well head leakage which is methane and about 75 times more powerful at heat retention than carbon.

          The way to think about the confluence of all this in its simplest form, which assumes avoiding as much transmission investment as possible, is in terms of urban electricity consumption intensity (avg. US annual ~ 60 kWh per m^2) vs. electricity production intensity. If a gen tech has high production intensity it is better and more competitive. On policy you need to fold in population trends and urban population density growth to see what is needed over the mid-term.
      • Jan 15 2013: Thanks for the shortcut, Rob. Much appreciated.
      • Jan 16 2013: Rob: Good points. But Gas means carbon pollution, and other problems. Have you heard about the Thorium Liquid Fuelled nuclear reactor? IIt was invented and demonstrated 50 years ago as an aircraft engine. Its Energy Density simply blows away all competition. Its failsafe, cheap , and "Greener" than anything other than Hydropower. Solves the transmission problem too, since it is scalable, and doesn't require pressure vessels, water, steam , etc. Fuel is laughably cheap.
        • Jan 16 2013: Would say gas means carbon and methane pollution, so a bit of a double whammy though its carbon emissions are about 1/2 of coal. LFTR's seem to hold out promise but to the point as long as we are dropping $20-30 mil on multiple non-solutions then no one is going to dump in the billions needed to get LFTR tech up and running. Estimates I have seen are that it is roughly 30 years out.

          seems to me we need a rational bridge/near, mid, and long term policy of which multiple fusion, fission, and other energy dense technologies are all in the hopper.

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