My friend Bill Kerr gave me a copy of this book to read, which provides several ideas for solving energy and climate problems.
The book has some interesting ideas, for example using boron as a fuel. Apparently any solid metal will burn under the right conditions, so you can use iron or boron as a fuel, in the same sense as hydrogen is a “fuel”. Hydrogen is a way to store energy, like a battery. You can’t dig it up naturally in a form and volume sufficient to drive a car on. So it’s generated using fossil fuels or electricity.
Metals can be used in the same way, you burn the boron, capture the oxide, then recycle it back to boron using an external energy source. The fascinating thing about the proposed Boron engines are the exhaust products are liquid at combustion temperatures. A nice twist on traditional engines which have liquid fuels and gaseous exhausts.
One problem is that Boron engines, let alone cars, don’t exist yet. In contrast I drive a practical, low cost, Electric Car that is solar powered. I am doing this today, no R&D required.
The book recommends breeder reactors as our energy future, nuclear reactors that can generate their own fuel. I don’t understand the nuclear technology, however a system that makes it’s own fuel is pretty cool. The social problems in selling such technology to the general public are daunting. Although given the risks of dam failure I would rather live 1km away from a reactor than 1km down stream from a hydro dam. Unfortunately emotion around nuclear technology has clouded the issues. I do think nuclear deserves more of a “fair go” in public debate.
Using some numerical models the book makes the point that large scale renewable anything (wind, solar, hydro) is a big problem right now. I tend to agree. I figure coal fired electricity will be the base for a long time to come.
However I’m more bullish about Solar PV than Mr. Blees, at least for home use. His models assume the US average of 10c/kWh but thats low by world standards (we pay around 20c/kWh). Solar is about AUD$5/Watt retail here at the moment. Payback period of < 10 years and falling. There are other benefits over central generation - no transmission lines, peaks during summer, lower gird loading, and insulation from rising energy costs. It's possible to halve most peoples electricity use (I did it) – his figure of 888kWh/month average US usage is 30 kW/hr day. Easy to get this down to sub 10-15kWhr/day for most people, at least in Australia.
One key message is that there are plenty of options for a energy rich, non fossil fuel future. It’s not the science or technology that is the barrier – it’s political will and public education.
The core issue for me is that any big changes in our energy systems will take 20 years. The central argument of Peak Oil is that we have much less time than that. Governments are blissfully charging ahead with growth oriented economies aimed at consuming more and more scarce resources. They are planning exponential growth against a finite resource base. So we will be entering an “energy decent” over the next decade, very little can now be done to stop that and the economic problems it implies.