Renewable Energy

There can be no doubt that the development of non-polluting renewable sources of electrical energy is the most urgent priority facing mankind.

The price of oil in 2004 reached the highest levels ever recorded, far exceeding those of the energy crises of the 1970s. In March 2005, we wrote "if $55 a barrel is possible today, prices could reach $100 a barrel in a few years - as consumption by China and India continues to grow. China is now the second largest importer of oil and growing. 2004 has seen several surprise downward revisions in estimated oil reserves by the oil companies."

Oil is now (September 2005) at $70 per barrel.

It is increasingly being predicted by oil industry insiders that 2007 will be the crunch year when consumption exceeds available production for the first time. The new oilfields that are needed to bridge this gap do not exist.

Where will the energy come from to sustain civilisation?

Sources of Renewable Energy

The main source of renewable electricity today is overwhelmingly conventional large scale hydroelectric power. While wind, wave, solar and geothermal power are the widely recognised face of Renewable Energy, conventional hydroelectric still accounts for over 70% of renewable electricity. However, much of the world's potential hydroelectric capability has already been exploited and the environmental consequences of further developments are too serious for contemplation (damming of rivers, flooding of land).

There is no doubt that natural energy sources can potentially provide vast quantities of electrical power that could provide developed world power levels for the entire world.

The two main renewable energy systems that are being progressed by the rapidly growing renewable energy industry are Wind and Solar power.

Solar Power is expensive and the best solar cells today convert only 20% of the energy of the light into electricity. 

The other major drawback of solar power is that it only operates during the day and most effectively in southerly latitudes. The large scale battery storage required is also very expensive.

Wind Power is relatively inexpensive, reliable and robust. However, even in the windiest locations wind turbines only produce electricity 50% of the time. Locations where enough wind exists to make it worthwhile are also somewhat limited.

Another widely available source of renewable electricity exists which has been overlooked since the 1920s:  Atmospheric Electricity.  It is in this area that Meridain International is carrying out an extensive research programme.

Energy Efficiency

Between half and two thirds (50% - 66%) of the electricity generated by central electricity generating stations in the USA is wasted in power line transmission losses. (Source: "National Energy Security Post 9/11", US Energy Association, June 2002, P34).

If these losses could be significantly reduced or eliminated, it would double or triple the effective electricity generating capacity of the western world.

The technology to achieve practically lossless electricity transmission exists.  Pulsed high voltage DC transmission is one of the most promising approaches being re-investigated. It was first proposed in the 1920s. High voltage high frequency AC is another viable approach, recently re-pioneered by the Russian scientist Avramenko.

Motive Power

The single biggest use of oil today is for transport:  60% of the oil imported by the USA is used for transportation.  In the road transport field, half of the oil burned in the USA by road transport is consumed by HGVs, SUVs and Vans - all the least aerodynamically efficient vehicles.  The average fuel efficiency of an automobile in the USA is no better than the Model T Ford.

This lack of efficiency is not for want of the availability of technological solutions.  In fact, the USA is going backwards, as evidenced by the watering down of the famous 1990 CARB rulings.  These ruled that by 1998 2% of all new cars sold in California were to be Zero Emission Vehicles and that by 2003 10% per year of all new cars sold were to be ZEVs.

The only type of vehicle that meets the ZEV criteria is a Battery Electric Vehicle.

In fact, in 2003 no electric vehicles were sold by the major car manufacturers in California.

Ford, General Motors and the other manufacturers only ever gave minimal marketing to their programs and terminated production between 2000 and 2003 citing lack of demand, in fact caused by absence of marketing and high pricing.

Analysis of the 7 EV models on the market between 1996 and 2002 shows that their average monthly lease cost was 70% higher than the equivalent petrol vehicle.

The Ford Ranger EV was initially priced at $450 per month compared to $200 per month for the petrol version.

The only Lithium Ion car available, the Nissan Altra, was priced at $600 per month.

Not surprisngly, these high prices more than offset the lower operating costs of the EV and gave owners no compensatory trade off for the lower range.

In late 2004, Ford and General Motors were engaged in a program to crush nearly 3000 serviceable nearly new electric vehicles rather than allow their lessess to keep them. A grassroots campaign "Dontcrush.org" succeeded in saving some of the vehicles during 2005.

The only perceived drawback of battery electric vehicles is their lower range compared with petrol vehicles, despite the average trip length that the motor car is used for being less than 20 miles.  But with the latest lithium ion batteries, prototype EVs are now being produced with a range of 200 miles or more.

 
 

Copyright 2005 Meridian International Research
Last updated 22/09/05