Thursday, February 05, 2009

Some energy stuff

Hey look, there's a role for command-and-control, big-guvmint policies in climate change after all. (Queue the usual chorus of "carbon tax only!" from the back.)

One of my fave bloggers has some advice for Obama.
Cargo-cultism and ghost dances are alive and well in America today. You can "drill here" all you want, but dry holes benefit no one. You can start the "shovel-ready" road projects, but people who drive less and less every year will get no use out of them. You can make ethanol out of corn, and watch the nation's best topsoil wash down the Mississippi to expand the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. All of these cults have their constituencies. All of them will want more mandates, more money, more power. If you're going to be the one to fix this mess you've inherited, all of them must be told "No."

And I got a different read from this, which annoyed Dave Roberts at Grist.
The bottom line is that nature has given us hydrocarbons in the form of fossil carbon and biomass, and their energy-mass and energy-volume densities are superior to the thermodynamic limits of nearly all conceivable alternatives. Thus, it's quite likely that hydrocarbons of one form or another will be humanity's primary energy storage medium for quite a long time.
Intriguingly, the authors don't use the words "fossil fuel" exclusively, instead choosing the clinical "hydrocarbons" and referring explicitly to biomass as well. I think it has to be read as a factual description of the inherent advantages of hydrocarbons, not necessarily an advantage of fossil fuels. Propane is a simple, versatile hydrocarbon and could be synthesized relatively easily. Nothing from that follows that we'll continue using oil and coal.

I do think the writers ignore the biggest point in favour of batteries: the fact that while hydrocarbons are incredibly energy-dense, we throw away the vast majority of the energy they contain by burning them in ridiculously inefficient engines. Meanwhile, we use batteries far more efficiently. (90% vs. 20%)

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