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Question

Will people agree we have moved into a new Energy Era -- from the purely Hydrocarbon Era to a blended Solar Hydrocarbon Era?

Jamey Johnston's picture
Business Development Vector Structural Engineers

I maintain that the world moved from the purely Hydrocarbon Era to the Solar Hydrocarbon Era in 2020. This HE-2-SHE NRG Transition is affecting global culture. While it has been "A Man's World"...

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  • Nov 18, 2020
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I believe I have made a discovery of significant importance. Let me present the facts and see if you will consider the truth of my claim. 

What is an Era?

An ‘era’ is a noun meaning (1) a long and distinct period of history with a particular feature or characteristic and (2) a system of chronology dating from a particularly noteworthy event.

  1. Hydrocarbon Era: Upon mastering fire, we unlocked the solar energy stored in wood. As knowledge of chemistry and earthly substances grew, we unlocked ever denser fossil fuel resources e.g. concentrations of solar energy stored in the molecules of peat, coal, natural gas, and petroleum. 
  2. The blended Solar Hydrocarbon Era commenced when the process of generating electricity from sunlight was discovered, validated and proven to be sccalable. Although Einstein explained the physics in 1905, it took until 1954 for Bell Labs to build a prototype (it still works). Now, the world’s trillion watts of Solar PV (as of 2019) are converting sunlight to usable electricity across the globe.

I am suggesting that the Hydrocarbon Era qualifies as the long, distinct period with a particular feature; the Solar Hydrocarbon Era is noteworthy because Solar PV democratizes access to energy -- whereas it used to be that 40 countries had oil and 200 countries needed it, now all 200 have sunshine with which to make electricity. That's a long-term breakthrough. 


The purely Hydrocarbon Era is concluding, and a blended Solar Hydrocarbon Era begins.

There are many changes ahead and Energy Era Transition is an enabling event. If you can get behind what I am saying, please tell everyone.

Let the idea percolate through the 2020 holidays. It’s good news. The time has come, and this will make a difference. It's the new new thing.

Change is in the wind ... people want it ... they're ready and this is how it can happen:

“The new new thing is a notion that is poised to be taken seriously in the marketplace. It’s the idea that is a tiny push away from general acceptance and, when it gets that push, will change the world.” Michael Lewis, The New New Thing

"Large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant." James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality. John Lennon

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Bob:

You may want to check out a company called Solstice (www.solstice.us).  They specialize in community solar, especially for those that are low income and living in apartments/multi-family homes.  They are successful and are bringing solar to communities and residents that are not rich.  Certainly, solar started out as something for the rich.  But prices have come down dramatically, and solar is now moving into the masses.  Many states, like Hawaii have 10% or more renewables now.   We can move to 100% renewable grid affordably...Bill Buchan, P.E.

Jamey Johnston's picture
Jamey Johnston on Nov 30, 2020

William -- thank you for the link.

It's amusing ... Frank Lloyd Wright said that our society is infatuated with "rent" and its paying and receiving. We have become so materialistic and have lost touch with the spirit, with the songs of the birds, etcetera.

By the way, many things, like cars and air conditioning and airline travel and home theaters and dishwashers ... yes, the rich did have them first. I saw my first home theater at a trade show called CEDIA -- it cost many thousands of dollars. Now you can buy a Home Theater at WalMart for a $1,000 or less. Electric locks were installed on Cadillacs and Lincolns first. 

jamey

William Buchan's picture
William Buchan on Nov 30, 2020

Jamey,

You're welcome!

We all need to go out and talk a walk.  Nature is beautiful!

 

Bill Buchan, P.E.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 1, 2020

Heck, even staying within the energy stratosphere-- EVs were the playthings of the ultra-rich only a decade ago, and now you see Leafs, Bolts, and other more accessible EV models on the road everywhere you go, with prices continuing to drop and access to greater numbers of tax brackets increasing for electrified transport

We are just beginning to move to the blended era. Solar will have to provide a measurable share (3-5% of total energy) to call it blended...

Jamey Johnston's picture
Jamey Johnston on Nov 30, 2020

Well, that may very well might be ... but to quote Liam Williams in Bloomberg's 8/6/19 "The Hydrocarbon Era's Spectacular End"

"... in a transition, scale only tells where you are, marginal growth tells where you are going."

The article proceeds to explain that "wind and solar are expanding at a ferocious clip, 23% compounded over the last decade."

tell me ... can global hydrocarbon consumption match that? Is it growing or contracting? /jj

Jamey,

Thanks for the post.  Consumers have already accepted and demanded this transition.  Industry has already moved to transition away from fossil fuels,largely because of costs and ESG mandates.  So maybe by "people" you mean are politicians.

Politicians is a plural noun meaning 1) those that represent voting citizens, and 2) those that represent special interests, such as the oil industry.

The transition you and all of us yearn for is not a technical problem. It is not an economic problem.  It is a political problem.   This transition was greatly aided by the election results of November 3.  President-elect Biden has committed as part of his campaign pledge to re-engage with the world on the Paris Accord and take a major step toward reducing climate change by moving the nation toward a decarbonized grid.  This won't be done overnight or even in 4 years.  2050 is more like it.  But at least we will have a White House, along with the House of Rerpresentives, willing to move in this direction.

Depending on what happens in the Georgia Senate run-off races in the first week of January, we may not have the agreement of the Senate on any of these goals.  There are many in the Senate who either don't believe climate change exists or don't want to admit it lest it reduce their personal campaign funds or reduce existing jobs in their state.  President-elect Biden hopes to convnice them that this is short sighted, as they can easily create new jobs too in a clean energy industry.   California has been quite successful creating new clean energy jobs, even under the Trump Adminsitration.  Other states can do this too.

Be comforted that as of November 3, the transition is moving forward, as politicians join consumers and industry in this effort!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 19, 2020

"Blended Solar Hydrocarbon Era"? Nope. Wouldn't agree at all.

First: You are presumably using the definition for era as "a long and distinct period of history". Is 60 years a long period of history? Does solar's infinitesimal 1.1% of world energy qualify the last 60 years as distinctive somehow?

"Solar PV democratizes access to energy..."

Until solar panels become more than status symbols for the wealthiest 1% of the world's citizens, they "democratize" nothing.

"It’s the idea that is a tiny push away from general acceptance and, when it gets that push, will change the world."

A tiny push away from general acceptance since the 1950s, solar has yet to change much of anything. Worse than a false hope, it's only enriching those profiting on the world's destruction.

Jamey Johnston's picture
Jamey Johnston on Nov 20, 2020

I am glad to know that you disagree with my premise. I'll respond briefly to your comments.

1) I am saying that our once purely hydrocarbon-based grid is seeing an increasing solar contribution. Check the percentage of new power plants and you will see that many of them are solar. The fuel is cheaper. 

2) Begging your pardon, but the wealthiest 1% are not the only ones that are using solar PV. They may have been the first, but they are certainly not the last.

Frankly, technological penetration often happens that way. Take home theaters. Used to be available only to the CEDIA crowd. Now you can buy them at Wal-Mart. Good things trickle down, and I say solar is a good thing. You seem to have something against humans being able to generate electricity from sunlight.

I think it is a breakthrough of epic, era-changing proportion.

3) "Worse that a false hope ... etc."

Time out. What are you talking about? Pre-Covid, solar was the largest job creation sector during the decade between 2010 and 2020.

There are thousands of times more solar energy available from the sun than there is within the earth. The earth's energy resources are finite and the sun is infinite.

The global hydrocarbon consumption patterns are such that we do not have more than a century's supply.

Forty countries have hydrocarbons. Two huundred get sunshine.

If you are going to dis solar because it was "waiting for its tiny push since the 50's," let's at least get the story straight. The Solar Photovoltaic Effect was discovered in 1839 by the then seventeen year old Edmund Bequerel in Paris. It took until 1905 for Albert Einstein to explain how it worked; his identification of the photoelectric effect won him a Nobel Prize in 1921. It took until 1954 for Bell Labs to produce the first prototype. First used in spacecraft, then in toys and calculators and, and, and.

Now we are approaching three million solar installs in the USA and in 2019, exceeded a trillion watts of solar installed globally.

I've been in this space since I met with Sheik Hisham Nazer, Saudi Arabia's President of the Central Planning Organization in Riyadh in 1974. I was twenty-one. He was explicit.

"We know that we are going to run out of oil."

I appreciate hearing your candid thoughts. Please expect that I will afford you the same courtesy.

Thanks.  

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 22, 2020

Jamey, thanks for your responses. Here are mine to yours:

1) "I am saying that our once purely hydrocarbon-based grid is seeing an increasing solar contribution."

As of 2019, 1.1% of global energy was produced by PV solar. Fossil fuels produce 84% of global energy. If we: a) Expect to replace all fossil fuels with carbon free energy, as the IPCC says we must by 2100, and b) We count on solar to do the job, and c) Solar increases at the rate it has since 1954, we'd meet IPCC's goal 5,040 years into the future - in the year 7060. That's 4,960 years too late - millennia after Homo Sapiens has ceased to exist.

2) "Check the percentage of new power plants and you will see that many of them are solar."

Irrelevant. Solar's "percentage of new power plants" has no relationship with the electricity they're capable of generating, or its usefulness.

3) "...the wealthiest 1% are not the only ones that are using solar PV..."

Until you show me one impoverished family, in the U.S. or anywhere else, with solar panels on their roof (and they have a roof), my point stands.

4) "You seem to have something against humans being able to generate electricity from sunlight."

No, I have something against humans pushing a product while deliberately (or unknowingly) misrepresenting it as a solution to climate change. It's snake oil - a fraud.

5) "Pre-Covid, solar was the largest job creation sector during the decade between 2010 and 2020..."

See #2.

6) "The Solar Photovoltaic Effect was discovered in 1839 by the then seventeen year old Edmund Bequerel in Paris. It took until 1905... and, and, and..."

Thank you for relating the history of the photoelectric effect. I was giving solar energy the benefit of the doubt, however; if we use 1839 as a starting point, progress has been considerably slower than I thought.

7) "In 2019, [solar capacity] exceeded a trillion watts of solar installed globally..."

With a global average capacity factor of 11%, that equates to an average power output of 100 billion watts. With an average global power consumption of 17,749 billion watts, solar is a drop in the bucket - and always will be.

8) "I've been in this space since I met with Sheik Hisham Nazer...He was explicit - 'We know that we are going to run out of oil.'"

Everyone knew Saudi Arabia was going to run out of oil. That's why oil majors now derive most of their income from selling natural gas - of which Saudi Arabia has 333 trillion cubic feet in proven reserves.

 

Jamey Johnston's picture
Jamey Johnston on Nov 30, 2020

Gimme a break!

"Solar is only a drop in the bucket and always will be." Where do you get off saying something like that?

Ford, Firestone and Edison were talking in the 1930s, probably in Ft. Myers, Florida at Ford and Edison's adjoining estates.

These were some of the greatest scientists and businessmen of their Age. They knew about Einstein's Miracle Year. They knew about his Nobel. They knew that all the hydrocarbons on the Earth were the results of sunshine and photosynthesis. They were equal to the task of spending decades on research.

"We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using nature's inexhaustible resources of energy -- sun, wind and tide. I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait before oil and coal run out before we tackle that."

The IEA published a study in 2009 and updated it 2015 ... Solar is a greater resource than any other.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 2, 2020

"'Solar is only a drop in the bucket and always will be.' Where do you get off saying something like that?'"

I say that because it's true. 

"''I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy,' said Edison. “What a source of power! I wish I had more years left!'”

Edison was wrong, wasn't he? After half a century and tens of $billions spent in development, solar has proven to be one of the most persistent wastes of time and resources on a technology to date.

All scientists make mistakes. Einstein made mistakes, too:

"When he was crafting his theory of gravity, general relativity, Einstein needed a bit of a fudge factor. Everyone back then assumed, based on the information available, that the universe was static, unchanging place, but his equations kept disagreeing. To make them fit the data, he added the factor, which he named the cosmological constant, into the equations. When he learned, in subsequent decades, that the universe is actually expanding, he supposedly exclaimed 'Then away with the cosmological constant!' He famously considered it his biggest blunder."

The difference between Einstein and today's solar enthusiasts is that Einstein could admit it when he was wrong.

https://astronomy.com/news/2018/09/5-times-einstein-was-wrong

Gerard Reid's picture
Gerard Reid on Nov 24, 2020

Bob, just want to expain why solar panels IN THE US are for the wealthiest 1% and it's callled crazy planning, fire and other regulations which push the cost of solar installations up to $3 a watt...I did mine in Germany for $1! Get rid of the bureuacracy and the US can also benefit from the solar revolution...

 

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 27, 2020

Gerard, the perception of a low-priced German "solar revolution" is as much an engineering feat as the state-of-the-art braking system on a fine Mercedes Benz automobile.

Legislators in Germany, where solar was already receiving the highest subsidies per watt in the world, recently decided the best wasn't good enough:

"The German government has acted to remove a key hurdle to solar growth, in a deal hammered out as pressure for bold climate policies builds in the country’s streets and legislative chambers."

Germany ditches solar subsidy cap to hasten clean energy shift

Whether through higher taxes or the second-highest electricity rates in the EU, Germans are paying just as much for solar as Americans are - if not more.

Jamey Johnston's picture
Jamey Johnston on Nov 30, 2020

Era Lengths: The Hydrocarbon Era lasted thousands of years. We are just getting started with the Solar Hydrocarbon Era. It, too, will last thousands of years. A human lifespan is not a sensible yardstick.

Democratize Access to Energy: The broader view is, now that humanity can convert sunlight to electricity, every nation in the world can make their own, ergo, solar democratizes access to electricity.

A friend of mine who founded Koins for Kenya has built over 100 schools in a district of that country. Many use solar because it is their only source of power for light. So you tell me ... aren't those the kinds of things that we as Americans should be doing?

Finally, not to put too fine a point on it, but Hydrocarbon-based wars have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds and hundreds of millions of people. Maybe it really is time that men moved over and let women take the reins!

Costco and WalMart did not put solar on their buildings because it was a status symbol. It made good business sense. Royal Dutch and BP are not building solar power plants because they are status symbols. They like the fact that the energy cost is less, and they don't have to explore for it.

Since the 50's! Get your facts straight. The first solar panel was assembled at Bell Labs in the sprint of 1954. It's first practical use was with the space program, then toys and calculators, and the per-watt cost has continued to decrease  ... now we are on the way to three million installs.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 2, 2020

"So you tell me ... aren't those the kinds of things that we as Americans should be doing?"

No, you tell me: is your home powered exclusively by solar? Of course not, you're connected to the grid. Maybe that's the kind of thing you should do before telling other people what they "should be" doing.

"The Hydrocarbon Era lasted thousands of years. We are just getting started with the Solar Hydrocarbon Era."

Wonderful. Have you heard the news? The IPCC says we have 80 years to ditch hydrocarbons completely. We don't have thousands of years to wait for your "Solar Hydrocarbon Era".

"...now we are on the way to three million installs..."

Wouldn't it be easy if reductions in CO2 emissions could be measured by the number of people installing solar panels...but they can't. No more time to waste.

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