Resistance Begins at Ohm!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Energy questions I can't find answers for

1) Why not natural gas?
Rather than using tax payer money
  • to replace everyone's electric meters, 
  • to deploy a bunch of wind turbines that will never return on the investment, 
  • to buy a bunch of solar panels when this country doesn't have enough real estate for solar (as we know it now) to ever make a dent in other generation methods,
  • to continue promoting ethanol when it is obvious it takes more energy to make it than we get back, not to mention the conversion of land from better agricultural uses,
  • to build a lot of electric distribution for wind and solar,
  • to fund a few more commissions and panels to mull over the same information we've been mulling for several decades, and 
  • to jump start the manufacture of electric vehicles which will never replace a substantial number of passenger cars let alone truck
Why are we not building distribution for natural gas for vehicle use? It is easy to convert gasoline engines to natural gas, it is much cleaner, and we have a whole lot of it! Seems to me that would be one of the most beneficial ways to use those stimulus dollars - building an infrastructure that would actually transform us away from the oil economy. Why is no one talking about this, what am I missing?

2) If I understand the laws of nature correctly, it takes the same unit of energy to move a unit of mass or to change the temperature of mass, regardless how that unit of energy is produced. In other words, it takes energy to do work and the work doesn't care how you get it. The work could be moving goods from one place to another or it could be changing water to steam. However the work is accomplished, the energy required to do that work is the same. The difference between one method and another will have a lot to do with how much energy is expended outside of the objective. For example, it takes x BTUs to change y liters of water from ice to steam. But applying the BTUs to the water will also increase the temperature of the container, the stuff that is producing the heat (engine, fireplace bricks) and the rest of the local environment (air, ground).

It doesn't matter whether one is using oil, wood or wind-generated electricity, it takes the same amount of energy to produce the same effect. It just comes down to how much is wasted along the way that makes one method more efficient than another.

There are really inefficient ways to produce energy just like there are really inefficient ways to use it. If I need to use as much energy to create a gallon of ethanol as it produces when I burn it (which is still creating the same amount of CO2 duh), then I'm not saving any energy, I'm consuming twice as much. However we decide to replace carbon-based energy with something else, one has to consider the whole formula. How much real estate is used to host those solar cells? What is lost getting the electricity from the solar cell to the house? How many trees (or how much prairie grass) aren't consuming CO2 because those solar cells are using their space? And how much will all those solar cells heat the air around them - those big black heat sinks that will continue heating the air after the sun goes down and they are no longer producing a single watt?

My not-so silly question, doesn't it produce as much CO2 more or less to plow the field with a diesel tractor as it does with a team of oxen?

My serious question about what happens to the energy, doesn't doing the work transfer a lot of heat to the atmosphere apart from whatever CO2 might be produced? How much in total?

My last question, what can we really hope to save through this adventure in massive wealth conversion to wind and sun considering not only the manufacturing but the transmission, storage (!), inefficiency, heat loss, and real estate requirements?

3) We have a *lot* of energy stored in the form of carbon-rich oil and coal. That stuff used to be something else - plants and animals. Before it was oil, what was composition and temperature of the atmosphere? What were the sea levels (like it's even comparable)? It seems to me that oil and coal are about the most efficient and stable ways to sequester CO2 that we could hope for. And before it was oil and coal, it was something else "in the wild." As far as I can tell, when all that carbon and oxygen was in the wild, the world did not end. But it couldn't have been "as we know it" so what was it instead?

4) This is not one of those big picture questions, but I can't confirm the answer. Plants convert CO2 to oxygen, but they also produce CO2 - they "respire." I want to know what the net oxygen production is. And is there a mechanism where O3 is created instead? I found one source that indicates the net is something like this: plants produce oxygen at a rate about twice what they produce in CO2.

I wish I understood this better.

5) Why do people think that CO2 is bad (it is plant food - the sun converting CO2 to carbon and oxygen) and oxygen is good (it is toxic, actually, in concentrations much higher than found naturally and it is the key element in combustion represented not just by fire, but by oxidation - rust, and aging)? Seems to me that CO2 is actually a pretty good way to sequester oxygen, which if we had too much of would destroy the world as we know it.

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