I cannot reblog the article again. (WordPress does not support that.)

However, Anthony updated the article on falling gasoline usage to show that although things are worse than I thought, they are not as bad as implied by the first take on the data.

Adding more data, Anthony shows that gasoline use is dropping, but we are probably not in some hidden economic collapse. Well, good to know we aren’t on cracking thin ice, but I do think things are getting more precarious than shown by the market, and especially worse than shown by government numbers.

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/04/09/forget-the-need-for-a-u-s-carbon-tax-the-economy-has-put-a-big-dent-in-gasoline-use-and-driving/

Note the graph below is from the EPA. http://www.epa.gov/airtrends/aqtrends.html

First, note the scale change. One division mark is 5 years initially, then 1 year. That messes with the appearance. This graph used to be better. The wayback machine might have old versions, and I have some lying around my computer somewhere. Anyway, it still shows clearly how significantly we have improved air quality.

In the graph, the recent years are iffy. The government doesn’t like letting on how bad they are screwing things up, so they seem to be redefining. Still, the trends were essentially steady until about 2006. It appears something changed the trend of driving to decelerate relative to GDP. Then GDP fell. (Was driving a leading indicator, or does this indicate factors not accounted in the graph?)

Note that energy use tracked population (which is still steady), until recently, which is, to me, an obvious indication of the government’s policies and regulations that are driving up energy prices and restricting production (especially with those worthless windmills), and causing people to choose more basic needs and spending less on energy. The energy should have tracked with GDP the whole time, but economic factors necessitated efficiency gains, which negated most everything above the actual increase in consumers and per capita need for energy. Energy and fuel poverty, government imposed, is driving down the overall energy use.

Since forcing up energy prices increase poverty, and decreases plant food production, and drops GDP, even when redefined to make it look less problematic, I conclude we have gone too far with government regulation and control and subsidizing stupid things like burning our food (corn ethanol–it is a sin to burn food while people starve.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_the_United_States

I’m not going to take the time just now to figure out how to put this in conveniently for the article, where it will size properly and expand when clicked, but this is the link:

https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/content/energy/energy_archive/energy_flow_2011/LLNLUSEnergy2011.png

Read the caption. Note that it is from LLNL. The government (DOE) pays them to collate the data and generate the graph periodically. I appreciate an effort like this, and the time must be compensated, but I sure don’t see any point in the DOE.

Anyway, there are assumptions involved, and estimates. Overall, these are smart people making reasonable judgements. LLNL should have the details documented somewhere. If a reader finds these details, please post the references in the comments. Thanks.

Older charts are here: https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/

The first thing to notice is the inefficiency. Most of our energy production is wasted. Well, that’s physics for you. You can never get something for nothing, and with energy, you always lose more than you get to use.

Here is the next thing to notice about efficiency, every step wastes more. Specifically, look at petroleum, 35 out of 97. It is almost entirely used as direct energy, fuel used to propel transports or to run industrial production. Transportation is very inefficient. We need something better than the internal combustion engine, and we need much better batteries for electric vehicles. Still, the fuel is used at the point of need with no intermediate loss steps. However, look at natural gas. Most of it is used for directly powering industry or directly providing heat when it is cold. Note how efficient those numbers prove to be. Side note, residential and commercial power use, heating and cooling, primarily, is probably as efficient as we can make them. That is, there is really nothing left to be gained from improvements in HVAC  systems and insulation additions. Back to the natural gas. Look at how much of it is going to electric generation. Look at those numbers. Doesn’t that inefficiency make you sick? 39.2 quads in, 12.6 quads out, with 26.6 quads wasted, rejected to keeping the generation systems cool and to line losses in transmission. That is really the definition of unsustainable. We have a short-term situation where natural gas has become exceptionally inexpensive to get and exceptionally available in terms of supply over demand. There is so much of it available at such low cost that electric generation seems to be a good idea. Well, for the short term, yes, it is good. It saves us money. But too much will be very bad. Assume I have a pot of water that requires 100 units of heat to boil. Assume the waste heat at the pot is included in that value. If I am heating with a natural gas flame on my cook-top, I use 100 units worth of natural gas. No additional losses. However, if I heat my pot with electric resistance heat, I still use 100 unites of heat at the pot, but lets back down the chain. At the approximate 32% overall efficiency indicated, I need over 310 units worth of natural gas to make that electricity at the turbine generator and transmit it down the lines to my cook-top. Using three times more energy to do something is stupid–unsustainable. But again, it makes sense short term. We will regret it if we build many gas turbine generators though, because we will be using our natural gas at three times the required rate for the energy we need it for.

There is another factor for the energy/fuel source, convenience of use. We use petroleum for transport because it is a liquid fuel and relatively easy to use in mobile storage tanks and fuel pumping systems. Gaseous fuel is almost as easy for the use, but it is more prone to explosion. A bit of an added risk, though manageable. Hydrogen is problematic; think of the Hindenburg, but not bad. The risk can be engineered for. However, there is no hydrogen. We have to make it. One of those added steps with added waste. It is easier to burn the natural gas in the first place than make hydrogen and burn it. Of course, fuel cells are an efficiency gain, but methanol works in fuel cells, and it is liquid. Methanol is easier to make than hydrogen. Mainly, fuel cells of either type just don’t seem to be there, and don’t seem to be getting there either.

Consider solid fuels. They are good for nothing but direct heat through burning. We can boil water for steam for turbines. We’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years, and it works well. Coal and biomass are good for little else. Direct heat, or boil water. Biomass is mostly used for industrial heating, and it is mostly secondary use for waste products, such as wood scraps and sawdust or pulp remains. I suppose the biomass for transportation is sinful liquids converted from our food. And biomass for residential use is generally cut trees, of course. My point here is that these solid fuels are easy to get and easy to use for this purpose. They are cheap. They are good for nearly nothing else. We should maximize the overall economic value of these products and use them fully.

Solar power generation amounts to nothing. After all the hype, all the push, and all the government funding, it still amounts to nothing. We import several times more electricity than we get from solar. (Not counting privately, individually generated from photovoltaics for point use.)

Hydro is great. However, we have built so many in the US that the enviros and Gore’s are fighting to tear them down. (Stupid, but what do you expect? And if you want to save the salmon, quit eating them.) There are a couple of major hydroelectric projects in the works, but for the most part, we’ve tapped out the good locations. There is no more to be gained with hydro.

Wind, well, it sucks. Windmills have been abandoned over and over for over 3,000 years. There are small, good uses for windmills. Pumping water is a good use, especially in remote areas. However, it is readily demonstrable that windmills cannot economically contribute to broad-grid power and never will. It is a stupid mistake. Our grandchildren will curse us (or at least swear at us) for it. Wind also really amounts to nothing in the grand scheme. With the Pickens’ plan, the billions thrown at it by governments, by special interests, by forward (or foolish) thinking energy companies and engineering firms, wind power still requires excessive amounts of maintenance, and it still doesn’t work when the wind is too weak or too strong, and that cannot be predicted and planned for at the grid level. We could take down every windmill in the country tomorrow and not one electricity customer would notice. Well, they would notice the drop in their electric bill next month.

Geothermal is cool, well, really, really hot if I’m to believe Algore. Of course, as a metallurgical engineer, I can assure you that there are no pipes that can withstand millions of degrees, not even thousands of degrees. Geothermal has a niche. We should improve it and exploit that niche were reasonable, but it will never amount to anything in our overall energy usage.

So, nuclear. It is a solid fuel. So, like coal, it is best to use it to boil water. We are good at it. Nuclear, for all the fear and paranoia is the safest energy source by far. We have even better ways to do it, including integral breeders.   EBR-II was an exceptionally awesome facility; NBC’s opinion was simply wrong. Fear and politics play so big in nuclear fission that it is hard to tell the facts. Regardless, in the end, nuclear fission will be responsible for nearly all of our energy production and use. Within a few hundred years, there will simply be no alternative. We will be driving electric vehicles with either batteries that are MUCH better than now, or we will build in an infrastructure that provides power directly to the car. (I’ll allow for a genius breakthrough and paradigm shifter, but such cannot be counted on.) Nuclear fusion will take over at some point. With current state of the art, we just don’t have the materials that can withstand the extremes for practical operation periods. There are the recent developments with the FDR, or fusion driven rocket engine. That might prove adaptable to power generation. The technology seems too immature to judge so far, but it looks better than pretty much everything else that has been touted over the last several years as a game-changing technology.

In conclusion, the only practical course of action today, the course of action that will guarantee the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, will be to burn coal as well as we can, and uranium and thorium in the best ways we can devise as we actually implement a long-term energy strategy, rather than the shortsighted scope we’ve held for decades now with regard to nuclear power production. We need to improve efficiency with oil and natural gas, and prioritize to ensure these versatile fuels remain available for the applications that require them most.