Tag Archives: Heat Pumps

Energy Transition Gaining Traction

If we pull back and fly at 30,000 feet then look down at our landscape, there are many changes barreling toward us. Our electrical grid is antiquated and needs upgrading. Our electrification of our transportation sector requires bringing large scale power charging facilities all along our highways. This buildout is going to be revolutionary and change the way our economy works.

Sun shines bright on our tomorrows

In Central California the shutting down of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Station in San Luis Obispo has stuttered along, for all intents and purposes this is a failed technology sited atop an active earthquake fault. Retrofitting the facility is beyond expensive. Governor Gavin Newsom has been in negotiations with various interests to put off the power stations closure. Doing so will be costly, risky and with a bit of backbone won’t happen. The facility needs to be shuttered. 

Instead of nuclear power  it is offshore renewable energy systems installed over the horizon in nearby Morro Bay where planning is underway to deploy a network of “floating” wind turbines. Another location north in Humboldt County has also been selected for deployment. These are massive electricity generating systems and this week the California Energy Commission set a goal of building out enough offshore wind power to keep the lights on for 25 million homes. This is where to put our money, time and energy. 

Whole fleets of ships will be built to service the offshore wind turbines. There will be sited along the shore enormous battery storage facilities that are tied into the grid. Many thousands of people will work in this emerging renewable energy sector. The fossil fuel economy will shrink while the renewable sector expands. Our power producing systems will be widely distributed and will be tied together by our upgraded more resilient grid.

Highspeed rail is coming to California. Pieces of the system are already built. In the years ahead you will hop on a train in San Francisco and get off in downtown Los Angeles more or less arriving in the same length of time it would require you to fly. Non-visionary types love to gripe about highspeed rail, that’s their right, but they will be proven wrong. The issue has to do with how many gates are available at our airports. The answer is we’re almost at capacity, there is no land to expand upon, and nowhere to load and unload the extra passengers forecast to be traveling between this key California corridor.

Smaller electric powered passenger planes are coming in the next few years. For now, they’ll be the aircraft we’ll use to move passengers on shorter regional flights. Non-carbon jet fuels are in development, they don’t come cheap, we’re not quite there yet, but stay tuned airline passenger technology is ready for change. Eventually whether by safe non carbon fuels or by battery electric propulsion our entire airline industry will be moving passengers safely without harming our atmosphere. Hope and our future both catch a break.

Even with all our many major technological advances in agriculture there remain many reforms that this sector will need to undertake. Our oceans have been overfished, suitable land for livestock is becoming harder to find, and researchers are making progress on many fronts to help feed our growing world with latest greatest low carbon and less water intense technologies. 

Try not to sneer, gripe, grumble or close your mind to the new world you are about to go shopping in. You’ll soon be purchasing real chicken, beef, pork and lamb. If you prefer fish your favorites will be readily available. These products will taste the same as ever, they will not be genetically modified, but they will be grown in manufacturing facilities. And yes, it’s all very real food, the same food you’ve been eating all your life. It’s just going to be grown in a new way.

Once again, these new products will be decentralized, you can set up production facilities nearer to your markets. Like the renewable energy employee these will be skilled jobs and workers will be paid a good wage.

The American West has become smaller and smaller as our population has expanded out into this region. More of our land will be devoted to recreation. Manufacturing meat, fish and poultry facilities only grow meat, we no longer will require slaughterhouses, there won’t be huge feedlots, cesspools will vanish, and best of all pathogens will have a much less target rich environment to launch their misery upon the world. 

Consumption of water is radically reduced when compared to raising that same whole animal on a pasture. Same goes for how the land use, figure that would be shrunken down by 90%. What is unknown at this juncture is what specific plants will be needed to create the familiar flavors we are all accustomed to. Researchers in Berkeley, California have been working with different foods, there is also the puzzle of creating a matrix for the cells to grow on, and the synthesizing the enzymes that spark the cells to grow. 

Oats, rye, wheat, soybeans, and corn all work, it is the mixture of these foods that produces a palate pleasing flavor. Better still the process converts these food stocks into a final product more efficiently, way more, like instead of 25 pounds of grain to make one pound of meat it is more like 3-4 pounds to make that same one pound. 

Estimates vary but you should expect to be buying manufactured meat products at the grocery store in the United States by 2025. If you can’t wait you can fly to Singapore today and enjoy laboratory chicken manufactured by Just Eat. 

Conventional Power Station Oxnard, California

On the shores of the Salton Sea in California’s Imperial Valley several geothermal power stations are experimenting with removing the naturally occurring lithium from the superheated water used to spin the turbines that make the electricity. Several teams from several different companies plan to begin producing battery grade lithium within the next two years. California is looking for automobile manufacturers that want to come here setup shop. Again, these will be good paying jobs to help propel the local economy because of the water that no longer goes to the Imperial Valley for agriculture, the shortfall in water from the ever less abundant Colorado River will be offset by this new burgeoning electric automobile industry. 

This is what the energy transition looks like. We’ve got a fossil fuel system that because of the instability of the price of a barrel of oil keeps sparking wars, recessions and out of control inflation. In this new energy system, the price of wind and sunlight remain the same— economists forecast access to clean affordable energy will help reduce the uncertainty and price spikes that have been all too common in the carbon energy sector.

Our neighborhoods are about to go through a revolutionary transition. Smart meters with two-way communications capabilities will be able to talk to all our battery electric automobiles. In this networked battery storage system, we can move electricity into your connected car or send it off to power some other need on this networked grid. While you are home, and your car is parked its batteries can help keep the grid stabilized. 

Heat pumps have been around a long time, they run on electricity, but the appliances of today are many times more efficient than the heat pumps of yesteryear. Whole teams of installers will be busy retrofitting the 100 million homes across the nation to take advantage of this electricity powered appliance. These will be good paying jobs, the work is challenging but socially important and rewarding, getting paid to save our planet will put a smile on a technicians face.

Moore’s Law is our friend. Researchers are developing more efficient electric motors, smaller more powerful and quick to charge batteries, and as we scale this industry up the costs will continue to go down. The price of a lithium battery has decreased by 90% in just this last decade. 

Our energy revolution has arrived. I drove our electric car to San Francisco last week, listening to a podcast, engaged the car’s autopilot (it works well enough, not entirely as fully autonomous as imagined), whisked right through toll booths as my transponder tallied my toll up. On the way home prior to arriving I checked my Nest app on my smartphone and engaged the air conditioner to cool the house. Once home I plugged the electric in and the vehicles software will take care of the rest recharging the batteries late at night when load demands are low and rates are cheapest. I don’t suffer range anxiety, make the most of recharging on long trips, and take advantage of stops to take a short walk— about 30 minutes— while the batteries refill before continuing along to my destination. We are already deep into the energy transition, we proven that our renewable energy economy doesn’t have to self-destruct, if we can quicken the pace of change, and the odds are with us, humankind stands a good chance of landing this out of control world on its feet. 

Enjoy the ride and relish the hope, we will go further, be happier, and do what we do best, make this a better world.