The geopolitical distribution of fossil fuels, and energy sources.

Saudi Arabia alone has an estimated 25% of the worlds proven oil reserves. Kuwait and Iraq have 10%, and Iran is close behind with 9%. OPEC has just close to three quarters of the proven reserves. This proportion has increased in recent times. The U.S. has 3%. At present the Middle East produces 29% and other producers relatively more. The ratio of percentage reserve versus percentage produced gives some idea of how fast a country or region is depleting their reserves. OPEC countries are at the low end, and the U.S. is high. These numbers suggest OPEC domination of the market will only increase with time. Remember, that this doesn't take into account undiscovered oil and gas. However, the world has been explored thoroughly enough that discovery of super giant oil fields that would change this scenario is considered highly unlikely. The future picture of Middle Eastern domination of oil production appears to be part of our future.

You have already seen that for coal the picture is very different.

Why is there this uneven distribution?



What are 'green' (environmentally friendly) sources of energy (and how green are they)?

How much can 'green' sources offer?

Summary of wind projects in Nebraska. Nebraska ranks 6th in the country. At present the power produced in Nebraska could service about 2,880 homes. There is substantial room for further development.

Nebraska energy statistics. Info on wind occurs at the bottom of the long list.

Ethanol and biofuels.

Plants store about 1% of sunlight they receive as carbohydrate energy. A solar cell can convert as much as 20 percent.

Some estimate that biomass provides 7-15% of the amount of energy used, mainly in the LDCs. Most of this is along the lines of wood fires.

How is ethanol produced? It is a big distillery!

Link to overview of ethanol as a future source. At present ethanol production is subsidized and the subsidy is planned to phase out in 2008. Several analyses indicate that more energy is required to produce ethanol than it provides with present technology.

Using everything but the squeal! Waste into energy and linked energy systems. Problems in isolation can be solved if linked. Sewage and landfills generate methane gas. Can/should landfills be designed to maximize methane production? An example of a ground-breaking linked energy system is described at the link below.


How much 'energy' is to be found in efficiency, and behavioral changes?

We are often converting between mechanical, electrical, chemical, thermal, nuclear and electromagnetic forms of energy. During the conversion physics mandates that the best you can do is very close to 100% efficiency. Typical efficiencies are much less.

When you turn on an incandescent bulb in your house, it was ultimately fueled by coal at the power plant. Given the energy content of the coal how efficient is that light bulb. Only 5% of the electrical energy is converted into light. The current in electrical lines from the power plant to your house is transmitted with 90% efficiency (it is a function of distance of transmission) mainly because of electrical resistivity. A typical power plant has about 35% efficiency. The overall efficiency is then 5% * 90% * 35% = 1.6%! This becomes even more striking when one realizes that the energy cost of digging up and transporting the coal is not included. Where does the other 95% of the energy go when electrical energy is being transferred to light?

In this type of thinking it is important to keep in mind the larger picture. For example, a compact flourescent bulb can have over 50% efficiency, but also may require more energy to construct (as suggested by its higher price).

Here are a few typical efficiencies to provide some idea:

What are ways to increase efficiency?

Behavorial/cultural changes are possible to!

The geography of energy. How is the geospatial distribution of energy production and use important? If you live in the suburbs and work in the city center how does that effect your energy expenditure? If vendors are concentrated in super malls how does that effect the aggregate energy cost of transportation?

While energy is cheap there is less incentive to increase efficiency.

The opportunities here from a combination of behavior and technology are huge!!! Remember that if we reduce energy consumption by 50 % then, a modest 5% from a green source such as wind becomes a more significant 10%. If the energy portfolio is diversified enough then the loss or depletion of one resource is much less significant.


In class exercise: Your group should develop one energy policy initiative you think that the U.S. should follow and defend it. These should be very specific. The idea here is not to solve the entire problem, just provide part of a larger solution. We will collect proposals up on the board, and then we will then take a straw poll to see which policy options are acceptable to the class as a whole (you will not be able to vote for your own option).
Harmon D. Maher Jr. reserves copyrights to the materials in this site. Material may be used for non-profit educational purposes as long as proper attribution is given. For permission for any other use please contact author. Thank you.

Sources:

Roger Hinrichs, 1991, Energy, Harcourt Brace Javanovich, p. 40