Energy Fantasies

As of 2020, U.S. primary energy consumption amounted to 22.9 Pwh (Petawatt-hours), 84% of which, or 19.2 Pwh is sourced from combustion of fuels. 94% of these fuels come from fossil sources (coal, oil, natural gas) and 6% from renewables (wood and other biomass). The remaining 16% of primary energy consumption is sourced by conversion of other forms of energy into usable electricity – thermal from nuclear fission and geothermal, mechanical from wind and water, electromagnetic in the case of solar. As of 2020 solar’s contribution is about 0.3 Pwh or 1.3% of total.

The electric power industry converts about 8.5 Pwh of combustion energy to electricity for distribution, the remainder is consumed by end users.

So de-carbonizing with solar power would require a new storage and distribution network capable of handling 20.4 Pwh of energy – 2.4 times the current capability. I say new because solar generation would necessarily be widely distributed, but almost exclusively over the southern portions of the US.

And of course capable of generating that much energy, or probably much more, depending on storage efficiency and capacity. By 2035? In 13 years? Planning, financing, acquiring land, permitting and environmental reviews probably couldn’t be completed by then, let alone construction. For example (because my father was involved) it took 14 years from conception to begin construction on the Grand Coulee Dam.

And then there’s the truly massive part, which is converting end users from combustion to electricity. If cars are any indication, this will only increase energy demand. Electric cars are very heavy because of the batteries they lug around. GM’s new Hummer EV comes in at 9,000 lb. Ford’s F-150 Lightning weighs 6,500 lb. These weights simply mean more energy is used to move them. To me, this makes no sense. It is bad enough that people have rejected cars and shifted to massive SUVs and pickup trucks.

Note 1: I converted Quads – quadrillion BTUs – to watt-hours.

Note 2: I drive a Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid, which IMO is a far superior engineering solution. It only needs fuel on the occasional long trip and requires no new infrastructure. It weighs about 3,360 lb. according to the scale at the local dump.

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