Chapter 6:

Energy and Our Daily Lives

Science defines energy as “the capacity to do work.”  Einstein says it’s “Everything”. Energy and modern life are synonymous. Without one, you don’t have the other.

Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it.
Match the frequency of the reality you want

and you cannot help but get that reality.

It can be no other way.

This is not philosophy.

This is physics

.            Albert Einstein

From the food that powers your body to the fuel you use to power your homes, businesses, and transportation, it takes energy to keep things going.

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What is Energy?

Energy - In physics, energy is the capacity for doing work. It may exist in potentialkineticthermal, electrical, chemicalnuclear, or other various forms. There are, moreover, heat and work—i.e., energy in the process of transfer from one body to another. After it has been transferred, energy is always designated according to its nature. Hence, heat transferred may become thermal energy, while work done may manifest itself in the form of mechanical energy[1]

Energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can, however, be changed from one form to another. For example, the energy that supports all life on Earth begins its journey in the form of sunlight. The energy in sunlight is constantly being transformed by plants, some of it supporting plants’ own lives, and some being “stored” inside them, much like batteries store electricity for future use.  The energy that gives animals life comes from the sunlight stored in the foods they eat. That may come directly from plants or from animals that eat plants or even from animals that eat other animals who have eaten plants. This energy is referred to as “current sunlight”.

Today, much of the stored energy we use for modern living comes from what is referred to as “ancient sunlight”. Examples of ancient sunlight can be found in fossil fuels: oil, coal, and natural gas. These are various forms of concentrated sunlight that have been stored for millions of years, under pressure below the surface of the Earth. Even the molten core of the Earth is ancient, stored energy that possesses qualities much like the sun itself. All of life uses the sun's energy, ancient, current, internal, or external to fuel the work that is life as we know it.

Types of Energy

In the developed world we use two principle types of external energy:

  • Electric energy. [2]

  • Transportation energy

Examining the chart above you will see the mix of energy used in the State of Hawai‘i. The largest volume of energy comes from petroleum products. Motor gasoline is for cars and light trucks. Distillate fuel oil is diesel fuel much of which is used for generating electricity and commercial transportation. Residual fuel is largely for Navy and Cargo ships. Other petroleum products include propane, asphalt, other petrochemicals used for industrial and agricultural purposes. - To transition to a renewable energy economy, much of the petroleum we use must be replaced with electricity. Electrifying personal transportation will be a big step. Another is to eliminate what is used to generate electricity. Both these can make a significant difference to our energy mix.
 

We mostly rely on electricity to power our homes, businesses, public buildings, and other static infrastructure. We mostly use petroleum for personal and commercial transportation. Our external energy sources are the equivalent of oxygen for keeping the global economy alive.

 

 

Hawaii Energy Consumption 2018.png

Examining the chart above you will see the mix of energy used in the State of Hawai‘i. The largest volume of energy comes from petroleum products. Motor gasoline is for cars and light trucks. Distillate fuel oil is diesel fuel much of which is used for generating electricity and commercial transportation. Residual fuel is largely for Navy and Cargo ships. Other petroleum products include propane, asphalt, other petrochemicals used for industrial and agricultural purposes. - To transition to a renewable energy economy, much of the petroleum we use must be replaced with electricity. Electrifying personal transportation will be a big step. Another is to eliminate what is used to generate electricity. Both these can make a significant difference to our energy mix.

Petroleum – Wonder-fuel of the Ages

Thoroughout past centurie,s the types of energy resources we’ve used have run the gamut from wood, to rivers, to whale oil, peat, petroleum, coal, natural gas, & uranium. All of these have varying quantities of accessible, usable energy and each have specific ways the energy they provide can be used.

Petroleum is, by far and away, the leader-of-the-pack. It is the energy source possessing the broadest spectrum of use options and provides the greatest EROEI [3].

It is the source that has the highest concentration of energy by volume and weight. It is portable, relatively safe and can be used in virtually every application for which energy is needed today. 

Petroleum is the fuel that has powered modern transportation. It has been a significant contributing factor to all the wars fought in the 20th and 21st Centuries. It has become the foundation of the global petrochemical industry giving us everything from plastic food wrap to the fertilizers we use to grow our food. It is truly a resource of wonder.

One of the challenges we face today is how to conserve what’s left so we only use it for things that cannot be accomplished as well by other means. One thing for sure … continuing to use it for personal transportation is a waste of an incredibly valuable and finite natural resource.

 

Electricity - Where Does It Come From?

Most electricity is produced through a simple process: water is heated to create steam. Steam creates pressure which spins a turbine connected to a wire wrapped coil in proximity to magnets (Generator) and the net result is electricity. Even nuclear power plants use this same process. They produce heat to create steam from water to spin a turbine to make electricity. The key factor is where do we get the heat

Heat, Water, Steam, Turbine, Generation Coil = Electricity

Heat, Water, Steam, Turbine, Generation Coil = Electricity

http://www.bbc.co.uk/staticarchive/461fbd2fc0f1a3f1eda3b128520f065b9248407e.gif

Today, virtually the majority of the raw materials used to heat water and make electricity come from fossil fuels: coal, natural gas, and petroleum.

Due to the effects of Climate Change we now know that we must significantly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

However, there are still many questions about how we can achieve that goal:

  • How do you meet electrical demand without using fossil fuels?

  • Solar? Wind? Wave? Tidal? Geothermal?

  • How do those systems provide on-demand electricity, at scale, 24/7/365?

  • How long will those systems’ infrastructure last?

  • Are they more or less expensive than what we use now?

The answers are much more complex than we have been led to believe. The most significant considerations regarding our energy future are influenced by the following:

  1. Climate Change. [4]

  2. Fossil fuels are a finite resource and many, especially petroleum, are at the flowrate [5] limit of their recoverable reserves. Fossil fuels have been the primary energy source we’ve used since the turn of the last century for both transportation and electricity. They have two essential and interconnected limitations affecting the prospect of their continued use.

  3. There are no sustainable renewables without the use of some fossil fuels in the cradle-to-grave lifetime for such solutions. That means that it is extremely important we limit fossil fuel use for the essential uses such as forging metals, critical petrochemicals, and industrial transportation. Using fossil fuels for personal transportation is a waste of this valuable resource. This means electrifying as much of transportation as possible.

The Nature of Finite Resources

Being a finite resource means there is only so much of each kind, after which there is no more. With any finite resource, reserves are discovered and developed over time. During the lifespan of a resources’ development the amount recovered on a daily basis typically increases as operations are improved and expanded over time. This process continues until the extraction volume can no longer be expanded or maintained at the same rate of production. From this point forward, daily output will steadily diminish over time This happens because the easy to recover materials tend to be extracted first and what’s left is increasingly more difficult (and expensive) to extract.

Resource Depletion Curve for Petroleum​

This chart created by Shell Oil geologist, M. King Hubbert, is his full life cycle projection for petroleum production in the lower 48 states. It also represents a typical depletion curve found with many natural resources.

Where Do We Go From Here?

We have a lot of research and work yet to do. There is no one-size-fit-all solution for all these crises. Each region of this planet has needs, demands, resources, and environmental qualities that will define the local choices made in search of solutions.

Here in Hawai‘i the approach we choose will be different than what is chosen in Alaska or Sub-Saharan Africa. We need to intelligently assess our needs and capabilities so we can make the best decisions we can for the long-term. Among others, these decisions will be based on:

  1. The ongoing availability of a resource which typically requires commercial and economic justifications such as profitability and ongoing consumer affordability for private companies to produce them for public consumption. As they become more difficult to access, the more expensive they will be to produce and consume. When they cease to be profitable, they will no longer justify commercial development and economies around the world will reflect that change.

  2. This applies to integrated systems and not just resources. Systems are made from many resources. When evaluating the longevity of a system, considering the most vulnerable part of that system to resource interruption is a reasonable one.

  3. This means that a Levelized Cost of Ownership and a Levelized Cost of Energy will need to be considered looking at options over the long-term vs. short-term/near-term timespans. What changes can we anticipate? What are the unknowns? Do the roles of private vs. public enterprise need to change if economies become more local than global?

  4. Another consideration might be the nature of the economic model that governs the availability of a resource or service to its consumers. For example, should energy resources be considered a public necessity like roads, police, fire, or military protection by governments around the world? Should it be guaranteed like health care is in most of the developed world?

Is it sustainable for access to energy to exist only as a for profit enterprise? Can we continue to rely on publicly traded private sector businesses and the perpetual growth of shareholder value to be the qualifying factors for public utilities and its cost to the public? Profitability tends to be the only criteria at play today for how energy is accessed. Can that continue to be the metric governing basic access to energy in the future?

These questions, and more are entering into how we go about making the changes necessary to live in a renewable energy economy.

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Footnotes

[1]   https://www.britannica.com/science/energy

[2]   An important distinction is: Electrical energy consumption within island populations, such as here in Hawai‘i, has limitations that don’t exist on larger, interconnected land masses such as North America, Europe, or Asia. That can be explored in detail here.  (This links to the section “Hawai‘i - Island Life is Unique”)

[3]  EROEI – Energy Returned On Energy Invested – This is a calculation of the net energy left to be consumed after all energy expended in exploration, extraction, refinement, and delivery to an end user.

[4]  See Climate Change for further details. (NASA)

[5]  The maximum production volume calculated on a per day basis at a given production site over its lifespan. This is what allows a resource to satisfy demand over time.

EROEI_Overlay_Black.png

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