Willett Kempton: Combating Peak Oil with Wind and Smarter Electric Power

I am graduating in May as a Mechanical Engineer with a specialization in Energy Systems and am employed in the industry already before graduation in specifically industrial/power effeciency.In my humble opinion what we need is not a magical box of energy production, but a magical box of energy storage.  Wind requires conventional plants to run at standby to pickup for the slack of wind, which means barely 20% effective capacity can be considered added and very little conventional plants displaced.   If we could store and retrieve power on a large scale AND transmit then those issues would be easily dealt with.  People shouldn’t be afraid of base line conventional power plants.  The well oiled ones with 48 hour startup times that run for months or years without turning off at near thermodynamic limits with reheat and steam sharing programs.
People need to be afraid of what demand stresses do to the grid and what costly low effeciency short notice power solutions are used to meet those demands.

[quote=FNKRoue]In my humble opinion what we need is not a magical box of energy production, but a magical box of energy storage.  Wind requires conventional plants to run at standby to pickup for the slack of wind, which means barely 20% effective capacity can be considered added and very little conventional plants displaced.   If we could store and retrieve power on a large scale AND transmit then those issues would be easily dealt with. 
I agree that storage is the best way to solve the problem.  However current options are limited and expensive.  Hopefully that will change.  Developing a network of geographically diverse wind farms connected by an electric grid robust enough to move lots of power from one part of the grid to another can also make a difference.  Statistics tells us that short term wind power production forecasts for such networks will tend to have much lower errors than those for groups of wind farms packed closely together since forecast errors of widely separated wind farms are more likely to be of the opposite sign, hence canceling each other.  With smaller forecast errors, much less spinning reserve (standby power) will be required.  Because of it’s short spinup time, natural gas usually plays the backup role for wind power.  This will free up natural gas for other uses.  The biggest obstacle to this approach is the time and expense required to develop both the wind farms and the transmission lines.

[quote=FNKRoue]In my humble opinion what we need is not a magical box of energy production, but a magical box of energy storage.[/quote]Here is one possible solution in the future, from Bloom:
[quote=Bloom]Hydrogen Production: Bloom’s technology, with its NASA roots, can be used to generate electricity and hydrogen. Coupled with intermittent renewable resources like solar or wind, Bloom’s future systems will produce and store hydrogen to enable a 24 hour renewable solution and provide a distributed hydrogen fueling infrastructure for hydrogen powered vehicles.[/quote]
Disclosure: I’m invested in Bloom.

Oil is a great energy source because it stores and transports so well -it’s essentially stored solar energy.  Unfortunately it takes thousands of years to store up what is burned in seconds, as you all know.
With less available in the future maybe we’ll have to reduce our expectations about using all we want whenever we want to using energy at certain times when its available.

Please post a transcript for hearing-impaired users.
Thank you,

  • Andrea

Anyone interested in wind power needs to check out the Windwing. I my humble opinion the best idea I’ve seen for generating power from wind or water.



Chris, you’ve got to be kidding me. Everyone knows that wind and solar power cannot supply the peak demands put upon our grid during the hot summer, etc., and add to that commercial usage. They are a bogus operation looking to get a free ride by installing a high maintenance and high failure-rate “Rube Goldberg” system that will keep bleeding the public dry. Belgium and Holland invested heavily in wind and solar years ago, and failed.  They had the highest electric rates in all of Europe, because so very little power is produced in the face of high demand, and the system requires too much repair and maintenance. Technology has not made any great advances since then, and storing energy is just a Rube Goldberg to keep a lot of people on the payroll.  Also, I definitely find it offensive that windmills have been killing birds by the hundreds, and they won’t use vertical-axis windmills to prevent such an occurrence. Vertical-axis windmills would stand a much better chance at survival during storms and high winds also.  Let’s face it, wind and solar are a rip-off. We must follow France’s lead and go with nuclear. There has been great advances in nuclear technology since its demise in the U.S. over 30 years ago. We need a system that won’t fail us when the chips are down, and that is nuclear. Together with nuclear, we must also implement LaRouche’s NAWAPA project now (larouchepac.com) in order to leave future generations a world that can make use of its wastelands and realize a greater potential economically for the betterment of humanity around the world. If you are not aware of the project (originally drawn-up in the 50’s I believe), then please check out the website and join us if you agree. If not, then please explain why.

Yes, I can second that.  As someone that works in the refining business, I can tell that H2 is a slippery little molecule.  Flanges that are tight enough for N2 can leak steadily when the atmosphere inside the line is switched to H2.  I foresee significant losses to leaks in the H2 economy where there are supposed to be H2 filling stations and distribution networks all over the place. 

His comments make sense and have the ring of hard won experience.  Here’s to “windpower 2.0”…http://www.kitegen.com/index_en.htmlI’d like to be an early investor in this one.  It seems to have real potential to solve many of the issues raised above.  I don’t know if the kites will have a long life, but the EROEI should be so much better having the heavy equipment based on the ground and the kite at much higher altitudes. 

To confirm what DTM says: hydrogen is the most mobile element in the universe and it leaks away very quickly.  Modern batteries have very low self-discharge rates and are the best way to store energy for transportation use at this time.  Another possible usage is to create NH3 (ammonia) which can be used as a substitute fuel for transportation, particularly for far-offshore wind turbines.

Yes.  TXU and Shell have announced a 3,000 MW wind farm in Briscoe County, Texas which will use compressed air storage.  Air will be compressed when demand is low (typically at night), stored in old mines and fed into gas turbines when needed.  This will reduce gas consumption by an estimated 50%.  Other storage techniques include flow batteries and Vehicle-to-Grid (where batteries in plug-in hybrids are used to supply peak demand when the vehicle is parked.)

JBC235: you have got to be kidding me!  Photovoltaics (PV) are totally passive - absolutely no maintenance at all.  They generate maximum output when the sun is shining, which is exactly when air conditioners are run hardest.  There are thousands of large wind turbines in use throughout the world and while some failures occur in any type of technology they can and do generate large amounts of electricity very cost effectively.
I agree that nuclear is still very attractive but large plants just are not cost effective.  No one will tie-up billions of dollars for ten years before generating any revenue.  A potential game-changer is smaller, community sized, factory manufactured and fueled nuclear generating units (typically 20-100MW).  See http://www.hyperionpowergeneration.com/ for an example.  I hold out high hope for this type of unit.

"People need to be afraid of what demand stresses do to the grid and what costly low effeciency short notice power solutions are used to meet those demands."That is very true, and renewables only make that problem worse.
I propose an electricity “free market” as opposed to a “smart grid”. The only thing required of the generators is to multiplex or piggyback a signal onto the grid. The signal transmitted is the current bid price ($/KwH) for electricity. The end user would have an inexpensive device that reads the price and has a programable timer to turn on/off appliances or machines based on the current price. For example; clothes washers could be loaded and programmed to come on at lowest cost (2:00am?), refrigerators could freeze a frost pak at night and use it to cool the box during peak, electric car charging, etc. Eventually these devices would be built into common appliances as standard. Also, hobby generators could read the price to know when to feed into the grid during high demand (highest pay). Some power intensive factories might decide to run shifts at night and close down during peak load.
This, I believe would do the most to smooth the load. As always, free markets work best.


TWIP Fails to Warn of a 1.8 mb/d Supply Shortfall

by Bill James

January 24, 2011
Mission failure. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) is funded by American taxpayers to warn about energy issues. Every Wednesday the EIA publishes This Week in Petroleum (TWIP). The failure to warn is highlighted in the Jan 12, 2011, TWIP:

“EIA expects a continued tightening of world oil markets over the next two years. World oil consumption grows by an average of 1.5 million barrels per day (bbl/d) each year while the growth in supply from non-Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (non-OPEC) countries averages less than 0.1 million bbl/d. Consequently, EIA expects the market will rely on both inventories and significant increases in production of crude oil and non-crude liquids by OPEC to meet world demand growth.”

The TWIP notes that demand for oil will grow by 3 million bbl/d over the next two years but there is no supply risk because EIA “expects” OPEC to fill in the need. That is like being lost in a desert and saying that you will be hungry and thirsty at 6 PM so you “expect” the pizza delivery company will find you. Oh, and you will need to borrow money from China to pay for the meal.

EIA’s own data shows how absurd their “expectation” is.

OPEC’s oil production between 2004 and 2010 averaged about 30.5 million bbl/d; supply growth in response to price increases from $40-$140 per barrel was only about 0.6 million bbl/d. Add to this International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that existing oil fields are depleting at 6.8 percent per year (or about 2 million bbl/d). Even if OPEC can overcome depletion rates and increase production to their previous high average of 30.5 million bbl/d, demand will exceed supply by 1.8 million bbl/d. The 2007 increase in production required President Bush to go and beg the Saudis to step up their output. What assurances does EIA have from OPEC? If the latter cannot provide declarations then EIA should be warning of supply shortfalls.

EIA and IEA have an incredible record of failing to warn the American people about risks of higher oil prices and supply shortfalls. Following are graphs from the Dallas Fed and ASPO on EIA and IEA repeated underestimation of price increases and overestimation of supply.


Life requires energy: less affordable energy, less life. Failure to warn of higher oil prices resulted in policies that encouraged home ownership with “drive to qualify.” As gas prices increased from $1.45 in 2002 to $2.92 in 2006, American families lost $2,000 per year of disposable income. More and more families were forced to choose between paying for their commute or their mortgage. Foreclosures collapsed the banking system, housing market, and jobs.

There are alternatives, but they will take time to build. China’s economy is growing at $90 a barrel oil because they have 100-plus million electric motor scooters so coal can be used as a transportation fuel.

Chinese cities are bikeable. Europe has trains. The Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) network in Morgantown, WV, has delivered 110 million oil-free, injury-free passenger miles since being built as a solution to the 1973 Oil Embargo. The solution is self-reliance.

US policies over the last 50 years have caused the loss of thousands of miles of railroads and a monolithic dependence on a single source of energy 65 percent outside our control that we must borrow from China to buy.

Policies have created oil’s Potato Famine potential. Instead of warning of supply shortfalls and much higher prices, EIA says there is no need to innovate our infrastructure because we “expect” OPEC will save us.