I don’t have a magic wand. Nor am I about to mine asteroids. BUT I am seeing one country after another shutting down coal and nuke plants, getting 10x energy prices in cold months – and now having all kinds of energy problems. Which lead to Nat Gas problems. Which lead to fertilizer problems. Which leads to crop yield problems. No bueno.
We obviously have energy coming from the sun. From rivers. And from wind. But we just don’t have enough right now to stop coal completely. Or nat gas. I have seen that coal is as much as 48% of our energy here in the US, and we have about 350 years worth of coal left, given our rate of consumption.
There are some strategies here:
- Use less energy. This is where you get the fun light bulbs. More efficient windows. TVs and appliances that use less energy. Cool!
- Supplement energy generation at the home. I’m getting solar in 2 weeks so I don’t need to get energy from the grid.
- Produce more energy.
Steve St. Angelo talks about EROI and the Energy Cliff. In business, you have ROI, or Return on Investment. Generally speaking, you do not invest in an expansion in your plant or change a business process unless it improves efficiencies and increases ROI. With EROI, essentially the concept is do you want to use 100 gallons of diesel to extract 20 gallons of diesel out of the ground. I think when he talks about EROI, it’s probably his strongest point at the moment. His most salient point is all of this is done using diesel. What if…it doesn’t? Would that change his hypothesis? What if it took 100kWh of battery power harvested by the sun to extract that oil? Would that make a difference?
My conversation goes away from gallons of diesel to pull oil out of the ground, but rather talks about pulling stuff out of the ground without using diesel. Two of my great grandfathers were coal miners. Perhaps 100 years ago they had some diesel means of extracting and transporting coal – but go back a bit further. People have extracted things from the earth for thousands of years. What we have done is find MORE EFFICIENT ways of doing so. Meaning, we transported coal by horse and buggy. Then by steam powered train. Then by diesel powered train. Over time, commodities companies that survive extract things out of the earth for less cost.
But what if….what if we were able to mostly eliminate our diesel usage? Would that change the game?
In Steve’s scenario, I believe in the next decade we will see much higher oil prices. However, I feel there HAS to be a breakthrough with batteries during that time. IF NOT, what can happen is that prices of things will get much more expensive. You can still mine things, but without diesel powered trucks, the costs could be astronomical. Can it really even be done? Yes – but it would cost a ton. Gasoline would go up to $10 per gallon here and most who could telework, would.
What I am seeing is that there needs to be a focus on battery technology, specifically for big trucks and home storage. IF so, I believe Steve’s energy cliff scenario never happens.
What 9 things would I do to eliminate a possibility of an energy cliff?
Step 1: Battery research for mining trucks
To me, I believe the green people aren’t exactly right, but also aren’t wrong at the same time. Meaning, I’m not exactly sure we are moving the dial with temperatures, but I also feel that we live too dirty as a society. I’m somewhat agnostic towards this overall when it comes to global warming. I feel it is a hypothesis that cannot be proven true or false; rather, it is a religion you have faith in or not. I am agnostic to both.
I feel they have their hearts in the right place, but using all means to an end without an understanding of how to get there. Population on the planet has exploded. How do you feed everyone? If you feed them the wrong type of calories, how do you care for everyone when they get disease? Lots of policies have erupted over the last 70 years with more unintended consequences. With this – you see windmills and solar panels need to be created with stuff that is mined.
These trucks are absolutely mammoth.
Think of the diesel engine in these, and the fuel they use. This is how you produce solar panels and wind turbines. This is how you mine the silver, copper, lithium, cobalt, and nickel in batteries.
What if you could perhaps shrink the truck, and run this on a very powerful battery? What if they had developed one? Well, they are doing that now…
This article points to a battery powered mining truck. Then you have this…
IF you can market mining vehicles that are battery powered, could this potentially be tied to permitting down the road? Think about mine permits in the next 5-10 years that MIGHT require electric trucks? Would California be open for more business to mining if all vehicles were EVs?
Step 2: Large batteries to store charges
Now, if you are a mining truck that is an EV, you probably need to charge. A lot of these miners in Canada use hydro to power their mills. I worked at a hydro electric company for nearly 5 years in IT. One problem they had with hydro was off peak hours, they just turn off the turbines so they aren’t generating power. What if you could harness that power 24×7 and feed it back into the grid?
Here, you can see Tesla is trying to build a battery for a town. The idea is that this battery could power 20,000 homes on a hot summer day. The idea then is that perhaps you collect extra solar, wind, and hydro power – store it here, and when the sun goes down or you have cloudy days, you can pull from the battery. Meaning – this technology is being installed now. This is how you can then store for off peak hours and use it then. Or, in the case of hydro, produce all night and then use it during the day.
Imagine now you are at San Dimas, for First Majestic. You have a hydro dam that is powering your mill and the town, and now can you imagine that you have a battery installed at your hydro dam? You now have a fleet of electric trucks that charge from your battery. This battery can be charged from the hydro dam when the sun goes down and less people use power from the hydro dam. Could this change the mind of townspeople who see dirty and loud trucks drive by all the time?
How is that for ESG? You are a miner of battery metals. You are running on solar/hydro power that is fed into a battery. You charge your fleet of trucks from this battery. You are then providing the below with no diesel….
- natural gas
So you are now producing metals and energy using solar/wind/hydro? Hey – if you are using EVs, you can also use nuclear power on top of it.
Step 3: Boost nuke plants
While we are at it, I’d start to increase the amount of nuclear power I’d start producing. Before I turn off coal plants, I’d like to flip the switch on with nuclear plants. From this site, “Today there are about 440 nuclear power reactors operating in 32 countries plus Taiwan, with a combined capacity of about 390 GWe. In 2020 these provided 2553 TWh, about 10% of the world’s electricity.” It further went on to say, “About 55 power reactors are currently being constructed in 19 countries, notably China, India, Russia and the United Arab Emirates. Units where construction is currently suspended, i.e. Angra 3 (Brazil), Ohma 1 and Shimane 3 (Japan), and Khmelnitski 3&4 (Ukraine), are not shown in the Table below.”
That is saying our power needs total are 25,000 TWh per year. That hurts my head. Meaning, when you run the numbers of 55 more coming online to the 440 already, you are going from 10% of the worlds power needs to maybe 12% of the power needs.
To me, this tells me we need to seriously, seriously look at increasing nuclear more. In Germany now, they had 6 and just shut off 3 to leave them with 3. Word has it the European Union may try and give a blessing to nuclear energy. Can you imagine if it was being mined by EV trucks powered by solar and hydro?
What this tells me is that if we want to significantly decrease fossil fuel usage, we need to improve our uranium output.
However, from above you see hydro. IF we are able to install some massive batteries with the hydro, we should then be able to drain from them during the day to supplement power needs.
From the above, you see nuclear is about 10%, which comports with the other study above. You can see that solar (2.5%), biofuels (2%), wind (5.3%), and hydro (16%) make up about 25% of all power. With batteries attached to all of these items to capture excess power generation, you can potentially get another 5-10% back into the grid.
Even if we triple the amount of nuclear plants from 440 to 1320 in the next 10 years from 10% to 30% (not possible), AND double the amount of wind, solar, and biofuels (10% to 20%), AND install batteries – to assist hydro (16%) and others – you are still looking at potentially 30% of the power that needs to be supplied by coal/nat gas.
A nuclear power plant can cost $6-$8 billion (source here) with roughly a 40 year life cycle. So perhaps we wanted to triple nuclear – you are looking at 800 plants to be built in 10 years at $8 billion each? So – worldwide you are looking at an investment of $6.4 trillion? Ouch. Coal is looking much better.
Step 4: Significantly increase home solar/battery
In less than 2 weeks, I’m getting solar installed here, along with 2 Tesla powerwalls. This was not a decision based on any tree hugger wishful thinking. Rather, it was me seeing that energy prices will significantly increase over the next 30 years. With interest rates as low as they are, I borrowed for them to put solar on my roof and 2 batteries in my house. This will generate 116% of the power needed and I can sell back to the grid. Overnight I will be able to use power stored during the day. My house essentially is removed from the grid for needing to produce. One reason I did this was the incentives were there for it yet. Tax breaks. I believe this is a powerful force to help solar providers continue to make money – as it is needed for the industry to be profitable. If I didn’t have the tax break, it would make more sense to have coal generating my power.
Now, if you look around my development of about 100 homes, I might be one of 4 to have it. Maybe 3. No one around me has it. They do in CA – as a law was put into place to require solar to be installed when it was built. Make sense, kind of. Think about California’s constant power problems and rolling blackouts. Does the state want to spend hundreds of millions on more power generation, or simply require new homes to have it at time of build to then offload new power requirements to homeowners?
As much as I don’t like the law, it does make sense. If you have millions of people moving to your state every year, it is hard to keep up with infrastructure. What if each year we are getting another few million homes off of the grid?
Step 5: Keep looking into “clean coal”
You see coal at 36.7% of world usage, but I think closer to me it’s 48%. I live just outside of Pennsylvania’s “coal regions”.
I live in PA Dutch country (my grandmother grew up as PA Dutch as her first language and English as her second language), but she grew up in Pottsville, PA. Her dad was a coal miner. Lots of coal here. LOTS. I live near the Susquehanna Valley now. Grew up just south of the coal regions. I bring this up because coal is ingrained in all of us as a power source. And coal jobs.
When looking into “clean coal”, you get some definitions, but I chose to use an MIT site from 2008 here.
Step 6: EVs for all
I felt that while Tesla has kicked in some doors, I believe the world auto industry is about to kick in the teeth of Tesla. They are ahead on battery technology, for now, but product offerings by other companies at or around the same price and at or around the same miles per charge are going to move the dial here. If I were Tesla, the first thing I’d do is make my charging stations licensed and allow all other car companies to use the charging infrastructure and collect licensing fees. For every KwH charged, Tesla gets a cut of the pie. Other car companies right now cannot necessarily stand up charging stations everywhere. It would be silly driving across town to find a Ford charging station or a GM-compatible charging station.
The truth is, these other companies know how to crank out millions of cars per year, period, and they are about to do it. The Ford F150 has my vote to be THE model that gets all other car manufacturers to immediately step up their EV game. I want a Ford F150 lightning. I have a Ram 1500 now – my first pickup. I have seen articles bashing pickup owners, but you try fixing up your house or rental units without a pickup truck. Additionally, I live in the northeast with tons of snow, so the 4WD on my pickup is amazing.
This, as opposed to the ugly cyber truck. I can’t stand the look of it.
Lots of companies are now jumping into the EV game. Tesla has some of the best offerings, for NOW…
We also have a list here of 85 EV companies that are start ups – and who to watch.
The point is, I think inside of 20 years, ICE vehicles will be the rarity. To me, the issues right now are:
- Cost – like solar panels, if they continue with tax credits, you are removing ICE vehicles from the road.
- Range – I work 90 minutes from my house, and there’s nowhere to charge. I need something that will get me there and back with a LOT to spare in case of traffic/bad weather. I have range anxiety
- Charging – IF there were a lot more stations and they were rapid, that might make more sense. We aren’t there they. More of these are popping up, but it’s still in infancy.
Step 7: Mass transportation EV
Imagine a day when buses, taxis, and trains were all running on batteries?
They do exist, now we just need Seattle and NYC to buy a few thousand of them.
We already have “light rail” here which run on electric – these could have electric sourced from green power…
We also have electric being put in to upgrade the power train…
Step 8: Let’s move everything with EV semis
This is rather a distant dream, but inside of 20 years, I can’t see why a lot of the existing ICE fleet can’t be swapped out for EV semis. Tesla has already created one – but that doesn’t mean anyone is near commercial production of them!
Step 9: Small engines – forbidden
AS battery tech gets better, you can phase out engines for things like residential lawn mowers, snow blowers, weed whackers. When you have a country of 100m homes, and each mows their lawn every week, that consumption adds up. I’d still allow commercial lawn mowers to be gasoline powered. While this isn’t a massive item, it can go more towards electrification powered by more green items than by gasoline. This could even be applied toward residential generators. I believe most may be incentivized to install powerwalls and solar over the next 10-20 years.
What is missing?
I believe there’s some gaps to be filled – BUT – IF we do the 9 items above in the next 20 years, the gaps below could be filled in over the next 100 years or so.
- Planes – apparently batteries are a problem here. The heavier the battery, the more power you need for propulsion
- Factories – these things REALLY suck down the power, and increasing nuclear base load can help
- Ships – while nuclear is an option, it’s not commercially viable. Batteries are massive, and may not get a ship very far.
While I find some of Steve’s arguments compelling – and not necessarily incorrect, I feel that if a plan like the above was in place over the next 10-20 years, we could mitigate a lot of the findings by significantly increasing our baseload power to non-fossil fuels as well as reduce our fossil fuels for locomotion by perhaps 90-95% in that time.
I think Steve’s overarching point is that this stuff isn’t being done nearly fast enough, and not to put words in his mouth, but he may see battery powered mining trucks as a pipe dream. While I can’t disagree – the plans are there to start making the stuff happen now. Can ESG with permitting force this to be a reality? I don’t see why not.
Personally, I believe batteries and battery tech over the next 10-20 years will be as important as the printing press. Why? Because we will be able to harness a lot more of the available energy already provided to us and help us reduce our usage of fossil fuels.
Is Steve wrong? No. Is he right? Maybe. My point here is that I believe we are potentially on a path to significantly reduce fossil fuels – in transportation, mining, power generation, everything. Can the replacement tech make it in time before a cliff drop? No one can know. It’s just not knowable.
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