2004 January 27 Tuesday
Low Level Insurrection In Saudi Province On Iraq Border

Sakaka Saudi Arabia, capital of a province bordering on Iraq, is the scene of a low grade rebellion against the rule of the Saudi royal family.

Residents of al-Jouf province say recent months have seen the assassination of the deputy governor and the execution-style killing of Sakaka's police chief by a group of men who forced their way into his home.

Earlier, the region's top Shariah, or religious law, court judge was shot at point-blank range as he drove to work.

Given that Saudi Arabia is stuck in an internal power struggle between reformists and Islamists which is preventing the Saudi school system and other institutions from substantially reducing their teaching of hostility against non-Muslims does the United States have any stake on the continued stability of the Saudi monarchy? The answer is not clear. It is quite possible that the Saudis could fall and be replaced by some theocrats who would be even worse.

However, if the Saudi government fell and the Shias who probably make up a majority of Saudi Arabia's oil-producing province were to split off and form their own government then the Wahhabis would be defunded. Those Shias would have a lot of money but my guess is that it is unlikely they'd use it it in as harmful a way as the Wahhabis are currently doing. So that outcome would be a net benefit to the United States. Though during the interim period of revolution the Saudi oil fields might be knocked out of action for months and we'd experience a large rise in oil prices. This would not be as disruptive once the Iraqi fields get ramped up to be able to produce much more than they are currently.

There are other signs that Saudi society is experiencing major problems. Saudi Arabia has long been known as a society which has an incredibly low crime rate. But the low crime era in Saudi Arabia is now long gone.

A report this year by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency said crime among young jobless Saudis rose 320 percent from 1990 to 1996 and is expected to increase by an additional 136 percent by 2005.

Although official crime and unemployment statistics are not available, the number of jobless Saudis is estimated to be as high as 35 percent, and the al-Riyadh daily newspaper has reported that in 1999, courts dealt with 616 murder cases.

If the courts dealt with 616 murder cases then the total number of murders was problem even higher given that not all murders even result in a suspect being identified. But in 1999 Saudi Arabia probably had less than 22 million people given that it had 22 million in mid 2000 and its population is growing at an astounding rate of 3.28% per year (women who are not allowed to drive have a lot of time to make babies). But at 22 million population and 616 murders that would be a murder rate of 2.8 per 100,000. That is still only half the murder rate of the United States though it is a few times higher than the murder rate of South Dakota.

The continued lack of liberalizing change inside of Saudi Arabia (and in Pakistan for that matter) shows just how little the United States has accomplished post 9/11 in terms of changing the Middle Eastern societies which produce the terrorists who want to attack the United States.

As for what the United States should even seek to do about Saudi Arabia, the answer is by no means clear. James Q. Wilson has an excellent essay in the Winter 2004 issue of City Journal entitled What Makes A Terrorist? in which he covers the types of terrorists and the motives of nationalistic and religious terrorists:

That terrorists themselves are reasonably well-off does not by itself disprove the argument that terrorism springs from poverty and ignorance. Terrorists might simply be a self-selected elite, who hope to serve the needs of an impoverished and despondent populace—in which case, providing money and education to the masses would be the best way to prevent terrorism.

From what we know now, this theory appears to be false. Krueger and Maleckova compared terrorist incidents in the Middle East with changes in the gross domestic product of the region and found that the number of such incidents per year increased as economic conditions improved. On the eve of the intifada that began in 2000, the unemployment rate among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was falling, and the Palestinians thought that economic conditions were improving. The same economic conditions existed at the time of the 1988 intifada. Terror did not spread as the economy got worse but as it got better.

This study agrees with the view of Franklin L. Ford, whose book Political Murder covers terrorist acts from ancient times down to the 1980s. Assassinations, he finds, were least common in fifth-century Athens, during the Roman republic, and in eighteenth-century Europe—periods in which “a certain quality of balance, as between authority and forbearance” was reinforced by a commitment to “customary rights.” Terrorism has not corresponded to high levels of repression or social injustice or high rates of ordinary crime. It seems to occur, Ford suggests, in periods of partial reform, popular excitement, high expectations, and impatient demands for still more rapid change.

Will worsening economic conditions in Saudi Arabia as population dilutes the oil money over a larger number of people eventually decrease the motive for committing terrorist acts? Will the terrorists and the populaces that support them eventually become demoralized by a failure to cause large changes in their own and Western societies? Or do they measure their own success by their ability to block change by, for instance, preventing the Saudi government from liberalizing?

In my view the limited ability of the United States to change the internal evolution of Arab and other Muslim societies ought to drive home the need for other approaches. The US ought to mount a very major effort to develop technologies to end the entire world's dependence on Middle Eastern oil (also see here). If we fail to do this our ability to influence the Middle East will likely decline as the increase in energy demand from China and other countries is going to increase the amount of oil revenue flowing to the Wahhabis. The United States also needs to develop a greater amount of language skills among intelligence and law enforcement agents and increased ability to run agents in Muslim societies and in Muslim communities in the West.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 January 27 09:57 PM  MidEast Saudi Arabia


Comments
Engineer-Poet said at February 4, 2004 6:24 PM:

This is actually getting back to your comments on the elimination of oil dependency as a tool of national security policy.

It is not a technically difficult matter to radically reduce the need for oil.  It may even be possible to do it at a profit.  While the creation of an all-electric car which offers the power, range and other features expected by today's buyers is a difficult and expensive undertaking (over $200,000 per unit for the lithium-ion tzero), Calcars (www.calcars.org) has noted that it is a far easier and simpler matter to run a few tens of miles as an electric and the balance of any trip as a hybrid.  Hybrid vehicles are commercial products today, and the only thing we would need to do to create a CalCar from one is to expand the battery pack moderately, add an external charging port and change the energy-management software.

I respect Steven Den Beste's views on history and politics, but on this subject he's just plain wrong.  Wind power is nearly competitive with fossil energy without subsidies and the cost curve is still dropping.  Solar PV currently (no pun intended) comes out somewhere around $.25/KWH, which is less than summer peak rates in many places; a car using 300 WH/mile at the plug and charging from a PV panel costing $.25/KWH would cost 7.5 cents per mile for that energy, considerably less than most cars cost for their gasoline.

Even if you discard the idea of radical changes to energy sources, you could get huge amounts of electricity for transport by the widespread use of co-generation (particularly in the colder climes in the winter).  Thermodynamically, it makes no sense to burn natural gas, propane or fuel oil in a furnace a few yards from a garage for the purpose of making nothing but heat, and then burn more oil-derived fuel in the vehicle parked in that garage while throwing 83% of the fuel's energy into the atmosphere as waste heat.  According to the DoE, the typical gas-heated household uses 50 million BTU/year for space heat.  A cogenerator running at 20% efficiency would produce (after the additional fuel to make up for the diverted energy) roughly 12.5 million BTU of electricity, or 3660 KWH.  Used in a vehicle using 300 WH/mile, this electricity would drive the vehicle 12,200 miles; this is probably adequate to run a 2-vehicle household during the bulk of the heating season with no extra motor fuel required.  The additional natural-gas demand is a problem given our shrinking supplies (and requires some further technical work which I will not detail here), but for households burning fuel oil it is a pure reduction in net fuel use.

Randall, thanks for the forum.  You have been writing about things I have been thinking about for some time, but have not been able to find a good place to broadcast; it is good to have yours.

Randall Parker said at February 4, 2004 6:54 PM:

Engineer-Poet, Yes, if you click thru to here in the comments (if you haven't already) you will see that Steve showed up here and tried to tell me that solar power can't work because there is not enough surface area to install solar panels to collect it. I then responded with my own calculations on why I think he's wrong. But he didn't return and offer a rebuttal. Also, he's missing the point that the surfaces of buildings and cars and other structures could be built with photovoltaic materials. There wouldn't need to be separate installed surfaces for solar panels.

I'd like to see a scientifically informed argument on why photovoltaics couldn't provide most of our energy if photovoltaics were only cheap and flexible enough. I've yet to come across such an argument that actually did the calculations based on available land area and sunlight power density. My own stab at it makes me think photovoltaics could work.

As for batteries: that same post I'm referring to also included MIT prof Donald Sadoway's view that lithium polymer is the ticket for making viable batteries for cars. He says with enough research lithium polymer can be made to work. Is Sadoway wrong? Again, I would like to see a scientifically informed argument explaining why he is wrong.

Cogenerators and natural gas at home and for electric cars: I've posted recently on my FuturePundit blog on the potential for fossil fuel burning fuel cells to generate electricity for cars and houses. Well, fuel cells would be a lot more efficient than other ways to burn natural gas to get electricity. Then the electricity generation could also run air conditioners during the summer, provide all needed electricity all year around, and, as you suggest, charge car batteries.

Also, we may turn out to have huge amounts of natural gas to work with if extraction of natural gas from natural gas hydrates (aka clathrates) at the bottom of oceans turns out to be a feasible source of natural gas.

I'm intensely interested in energy policy because, yes, I think a smarter energy policy is essential for improving national security. I'd really like to find more and better sources of information on it.

Also, thanks for the thanks. These are the kinds of discussions I hoped to have here when I started blogging.

Engineer-Poet said at February 4, 2004 8:50 PM:

I fear you've missed the thrust of my comments:  while developments such as cheap PV electricity would be nice, they are not essential.  We do not need lithium chemistries or even need nickel metal-hydride batteries either; lead-acid will do if all you want is a car that goes 20 miles on electricity before changing power supplies.  Cogeneration systems down to the scale of 30 KW are available off the shelf (see Capstone Turbines), and Otto-cycle engines suitable for home-scale systems are or were available from manufacturers such as Kohler; there are certainly no technical obstacles to manufacturing inexpensive and reliable cogenerators by the millions per year.

The concept of powering homes from vehicles is cute, but has one major inelegance; it shares the thermodynamic losses of current vehicles, throwing away heat which could be used productively to warm air or domestic hot water. I'll commment on that post over there.

Randall Parker said at February 4, 2004 9:24 PM:

E-P, The lead acid batteries are too expensive to replace. Yes, we really do need better batteries.

Also, 20 miles between charges ends up being a heavy annoyance to the user. You have to take the trouble to plug in the car too often.

If this was such an appealing idea people would be doing it a lot more already.

Fuel cells make electricity far more efficiently than other ways of doing it. So I don't get your point about thermodynamic losses. Fuel cells would burn fossil fuels for cars and to generate electricity for homes more efficiently.

Engineer-Poet said at February 5, 2004 9:19 PM:
E-P, The lead acid batteries are too expensive to replace. Yes, we really do need better batteries.
Lead-acid batteries appear to cost about $65/KWH at retail (I just checked the discount store on my way home).  They have short lifespans when heavily discharged, but I've seen a lifespan vs. depth of discharge graph which shows something like 4500 cycles to ~25% discharge.  If I put 20 KWH of these batteries in a car which uses 250 WH/mile, I would get the desired 20 miles on electric without going below 75% charge.  The cost would be $1300.  If the batteries lasted 4 years, that would be $325/year or about $27/month.  A car that eliminated most of my gasoline consumption might well save me more than that at the pump.  I would prefer batteries that lasted the life of the car, but that is definitely good enough already.
Also, 20 miles between charges ends up being a heavy annoyance to the user. You have to take the trouble to plug in the car too often.
That is not 20 miles per charge, that is 20 miles before the sustainer engine kicks on.  It is good to recharge whenever you park, but hardly essential.  Given most people's commuting patterns, 20 miles would suffice to eliminate gasoline for most of their daily driving.  Hybrid efficiency would cut usage by perhaps a third for the remainder.  Plugging in at home at night appears to be a very small burden.
If this was such an appealing idea people would be doing it a lot more already.
You neglect the effect of bad policy.  California attempted to impose a ZEV mandate (effectively, electric vehicles) rather than pushing for hybrids.  This mandate was eventually dropped, but only after setting the field back by 20 years.  Had California allowed hybrids to qualify for partial credits we'd probably be driving them today and wondering why anyone would want things different.  There is ample precedent:  nobody (save for certain gearheads) misses carburetors or mechanical distributors.
Fuel cells make electricity far more efficiently than other ways of doing it. So I don't get your point about thermodynamic losses.
My point is threefold:
  1. A system which feeds cars from co-generators can not only squeeze more useful energy from the same fuel, it can use fuels that cars have difficulty with.
  2. A co-generation system can take other sources of electricity (wind, PV) and feed the same car with it; it makes no difference to the car.  A fuel cell on a car still requires fuel.
  3. We can take a huge whack out of our oil-dependence using cheap cogenerators of moderate efficiency, feeding juice to grid-charging hybrid vehicles.  Fuel cells are not here yet, and it's foolish to wait for them.
Randall Parker said at February 5, 2004 10:53 PM:

E-P, there are hybrids available. I think the Japanese and American car companies that make them have put a lot of engineering effort into doing the best they can to achieve what is technologically possible today. Those cars are more expensive.

Hybrids such as the Toyota Prius are available but expensive.

The hybrid cars currently on the market cost from $3500 to $6000 more per car than comparable cars with conventional gas engines. This means that the amount of money you save, or don’t save, by buying a hybrid is very much dependent on gasoline prices. If gas is priced at $1.80 per gallon, it could take the average driver (15,000 miles per year) between 10 and 15 years to amortize the $3500 increase in the initial price. However, the higher gas prices go, the less time it takes to recoup the higher price tag.

Hybrid buyers may be saving on gas, but they are sporting a much more expensive battery. The cost of hybrid batteries ranges from $1,000 to $2,000. And, although the hybrid battery may be covered under the car’s warranty, once the warranty expires, you could find yourself in for more of a ‘charge’ than you expected.

Randall Parker said at February 5, 2004 11:45 PM:

The American car companies are going to come out hybrids first on SUVs and other larger vehicles. Some of those vehicles are coming out later in 2004 with Ford's SUV probably coming in the summer of 2004.

Engineer-Poet said at February 6, 2004 7:09 AM:
there are hybrids available.

And they are all completely dependent upon petroleum for their energy supply; at least one owner sports license plates stating "NO PLUG".  These vehicles are not capable of taking advantage of other sources of energy.  That needs to change.

Randall Parker said at February 6, 2004 10:33 AM:

E.P. If hybrids were not dependent on petroleum what else could they be dependent on? There isn't enough natural gas and the US is just now transitioning into being a net natural gas importer with its reliance on imported natural gas set to grow.

Randall Parker said at February 6, 2004 5:51 PM:

E-P, Also, suppose you could plug your Prius into a wall socket and recharge it. Wouldn't that cost as much or more than just filling it up with gasoline and letting the gasoline engine keep the battery recharged?

Engineer-Poet said at February 6, 2004 7:02 PM:
US is just now transitioning into being a net natural gas importer...
The US has actually been a net importer for some time (Canadian, mostly).
If hybrids were not dependent on petroleum what else could they be dependent on?
I'm glad you asked me that.

"Dual-fuel" (gasoline/propane or gasoline/NG) and "flex-fuel" (alcohol blends) vehicles have been around for some time.  To the extent that these are all petroleum or natural gas derivatives (even ethanol from corn takes around 1 gallon-equivalent of fossil fuel to make 1.25 gallons-equivalent of ethanol [1]) they do not represent progress, but they show that people are willing to use more than just one energy supply in a vehicle.

I believe that electricity is the best choice for this energy supply.  Electricity has a somewhat unique position among alternate "fuels".

  1. It already has a ubiquitous distribution network (which is under-utilized for much of the time).
  2. It can be generated from any fuel, from light, wind or falling water, or as a byproduct of processes using heat.  As such it represents a "universal medium of exchange".
The efficiency of even the most efficient non-hybrids on the market today is abysmally low.  If we take 200 WH/mile as the energy required to push a typical mid-sized 4-door sedan like a Honda Accord, 40 MPG represents (200 WH/mi / (123000 BTU/gallon * 0.025 gal/mi * 1054.4 J/BTU / 3600 J/WH)) = 0.22 CoP or a whole 22% efficiency.  The current generation of hybrids boosts that by roughly 50% by reducing idling and throttling losses of the Otto-cycle engine; call it 33%.  I have read that the average efficiency of the US vehicle fleet is a mere 17%.

The CalCar concept leaps over that boundary.  Current batteries are 70% to 90+% efficient, chargers are ~90% efficient, and electric transmission (if applicable) is also ~90% efficient (perhaps 80% for long hauls).  The net efficiency ranges from ~57% up to 81% for local generation; this is from 2.5 to 4 times as efficient as current economy vehicles and can easily double the efficiency of today's hybrids.

In practice, this means that you can drive a grid-feeding CalCar on a whole lot less raw energy than a hybrid needs (until you run the battery down far enough to need the sustainer engine).

This energy needs to get to the grid to come from the grid, and cogeneration enters the picture here.  Right now this nation burns a lot of natural gas for space heat and industrial process heat, while burning yet more gas (a total of ~23 quads in 2002) plus ~22 quads of coal per year (also 2002) mostly for electricity.  Integrated-gasification combined cycle plants are capable of large reductions in emissions while increasing the efficiency of coal combustion from ~33% to ~40% [2].  So far as I know, there is nothing to prevent clean "syngas" from being taken from such a plant and sold as a product for industrial and commercial use.  If we assume that the syngas process itself has 2% efficiency in conversion of coal to electricity [3] and the "cold-gas efficiency" of the process is 76% (chemical energy of the gas), shipment of the gas to an industrial user employing a 30%-efficient co-generator would yield (2% + .3*76%) = 24.8% conversion efficiency to electricity, plus .7*76% = 53.2% conversion efficiency to process heat (total utilization 78%).

Domestic and light commercial cogeneration using natural gas would probably have efficiencies ranging from 20% for Otto-cycle cogenerators to 26% for small gas turbines (see http://www.microturbine.com/).  Pulling a figure out of the air, if 60% of all natural gas goes for space heat and cogenerators turn an average of 23% of it to electricity, this would yield (23 quads * .6 * .23) = ~3.2 quads of electricity with a corresponding need for another 3.2 quads of heating fuel to make up the difference.  If all the ~20 quads of coal used for electric generation was used in IGCC plants, and 30% of the syngas was diverted to cogeneration at the same 23% efficiency, the net change in product would be

(14 Q * .40) + (6 Q * (.02 +.76 * .23)) - 20 Q * .33 = +.17 Q electricity plus
(6 Q * .76 * .67) = +3.06 quads of heat at the point of use.
The net usage of natural gas could actually be reduced quite a bit (displaced by coal syngas sold by electric plants) while increasing net useful energy in all forms.

This proposal would result in the generation of an additional 3.4 quads of electricity per year with no additional requirement for fuel.  The USA consumed about 38 quads of petroleum in 2002, roughly half of which went for motor gasoline alone.  Call it 19 quads; at 17% efficiency, the net energy obtained from this oil was 3.23 quads, roughly equal to the additional electricity that appears to be available from cogeneration [4].  This leads to 2 conclusions:

  1. we could completely replace the energy we now use to run cars and light trucks using cogeneration.
  2. we could actually reduce the net amount of other fuels (coal and natural gas) from what we are using today.
I have not yet tried to account for the possibilities of low-temperature retorting of coal to produce oils and tars which could be used directly as refinery feedstocks, nor have I sufficiently studied the potential of wind, solar, etc. as sources of electric generation to displace coal and shrinking natural-gas supplies in turn.  However, given that the wind-energy potential of just the 11 central US states is over a terawatt average (more than 30 quads/year), it looks like we could displace one hell of a lot of natural gas, petroleum and coal (in that order) using wind alone.

There are other benefits of going to energy systems dominated by cogenerating supplies and "omnivorous" users.  For one, grid or pipeline outages become much less of a problem when they cannot interrupt energy supplies for any particular end-use.  If you lived in Phoenix AZ in 2003 or SE Michigan in 2000, you'd appreciate the benefits of cars that could largely get by without gasoline, and anyplace that experiences storm-related outages of the electrical grid would appreciate the benefits of homes and vehicles which can form "islands" and operate independent of the grid for a while.  You can't do this without systems that can trade in the same currency, and the best currency appears to be electricity.


[1] http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/1996/ethanol1096.htm - the link mangler got it again
[2] http://www.lanl.gov/projects/cctc/factsheets/wabsh/wabashrdemo.html
[3] My calculations indicate that the heat byproduct of an oxygen-blown, entrained-flow coal gasifier would yield sufficient steam to power the gasifier's air separation plant and also a small surplus.  This is based on the reported net efficiency of the Wabash River plant, the independently reported figure of 76% for the cold-gas efficiency of a Texaco gasifier, a figure from other sources that NG-fired combined-cycle gas turbines are ~50% efficient, and finally the reported power consumption (30 MW) of the Wabash River plant's air-separation plant.
[4] I have not yet found a way to account for the industrial use of process heat, or the feasibility of using gas-fired or syngas-fired cogenerators to supply it.  The potential gains may be substantially greater than my calculations here.

(are your eyes glazing over yet?)

Engineer-Poet said at February 6, 2004 7:08 PM:
Also, suppose you could plug your Prius into a wall socket and recharge it. Wouldn't that cost as much or more than just filling it up with gasoline and letting the gasoline engine keep the battery recharged?
Gasoline at $1.50/gallon and 50 MPG is $0.03/mile.

Electricity at 250 WH/mile (at the plug) and $0.08/KWH is $0.02/mile.

Looks like the electricity would cost only about 2/3 as much as gasoline, and that is assuming you don't get any off-peak discounts for charging at night.  If you can get electricity for $0.05/KWH, the cost falls to $0.0125/mile.

Randall Parker said at February 6, 2004 9:52 PM:

There are limits to the use of heat from electric plants to heat buildings:

1) Most of the heating is needed during the winter months. But we need electricity all year around.

2) Even in the winter the amount of heat needed varies from day to day and in different times of day.

3) In southern climes less heating is needed all year around and in the summer air conditioning is needed.

4) There a minimum size for a cost-effective local electric generation plant. That mimimal size has shrunk quite a bit over the years. But it is still much larger than what would be needed for individual houses.

Fuel cells hold out the hope of reducing the minimum sized cost effective electric generator. But they are still some years away from being available at an affordable price.

So I'm back looking at efficiency of your idea of using central electric plants to generate electricity to power cars. If we leave co-generation heat out of the equation then the current efficiency of converting natural gas or oil to electricty strikes me as low enough to make it no better than just burning petroleum in a hybrid and maybe even no better than a plain non-hybrid gasoline car.

Engineer-Poet said at February 6, 2004 11:51 PM:
So I'm back looking at efficiency of your idea of using central electric plants to generate electricity to power cars. If we leave co-generation heat out of the equation then the current efficiency of converting natural gas or oil to electricty strikes me as low enough to make it no better than just burning petroleum in a hybrid
Okay, let's take a look at what we might get with today's tech and no cogeneration benefits.

IGCC plant (coal):  40%
Transmission:  90%
Charger:  90%
Battery:  90%
Overall efficiency:  29%, a darn sight better than 17% and you're not using a drop of Middle East oil.

But I think you're mistaken in dismissing cogeneration just because it isn't a great thing everywhere, all the time.  When you can use it, it pays off in spades and you'd be a fool not to use it.  For instance, suppose that you have a furnace that's 95% efficient (off the shelf hardware); to get 50 million BTU of space heat takes 52.6 million BTU of fuel.  If you have a cogenerator (say, a small engine) that has 20% electrical conversion efficiency and 95% overall efficiency, your fuel demand rises to 66.7 million BTU of fuel but you get 13.3 million BTU of electricity out of it; your marginal efficiency is 95%.

A therm is 100 kBTU or 29.3 KWH.  A cogenerator burning gas at $1.00/therm and 95% marginal efficiency produces electricity at 3.6 cents per KWH.  The best combined-cycle powerplant burning the same gas at 60% efficiency but with no waste-heat utilization is going to cost 5.7 cents per KWH, and is going to need considerably more gas (driving up the market price) to boot.

How expensive would a low-efficiency cogenerator be?  I can guess that an Otto-cycle cogenerator would cost about the same as a garden-tractor engine; an engine burning 67,000 BTU/hour of gas (about 67 cubic feet) would consume roughly 740 cubic feet per hour of fuel-air mix.  This is approximately 0.2 cubic feet or 350 cubic inches per second.  At 15 power strokes per second (1800 RPM 4-stroke), a 24-cubic inch displacement engine would do the job.  The heat output at 75% recovery would be 50,000 BTU/hr, the work output would be about 3.9 KW.  I can't see one of these costing a great deal more than your typical furnace does today.  $500 extra, maybe?

At 50,000 BTU/hr and 50 million BTU/year heat requirement, it would run for 1000 hours/year.  If it's displacing purchased electricity at 8 cents/KWH with generated electricity at 3.6 cents/KWH and generates 39,000 KWH/year, it pays you $1716 per year to own the thing.  If your 3.6 cent/KWH electricity is feeding your 250 WH/mile car, that's zero-point-nine cents per mile for the energy to run your car.

Most of the heating is needed during the winter months. But we need electricity all year around.
True, and outside the heating season you'd be much better off burning coal in 40% efficient IGCC plants or gas in 50% efficient CC plants than in anything you'd pay to own.  On the other hand, you tend to have ample sunlight and other resources outside the heating season; it's the cold, dark northern winters that are problematic for the standard "alternatives" aside from wind power.  Cogeneration neatly eliminates that one.

Interestingly enough, cogeneration might create a problem with electric surplus; if everything needs heat but all the lights are off, it is easy to see a situation where there is far more electric supply than consumption.  Any system of widespread domestic cogeneration is going to have to have a set of loads which can be scheduled to consume any excess; the ideal would be a set of loads which consume energy for the exact same reasons (heat demand) that it is being generated.  Heat pumps fill the order.  Even in the north, many houses and most commercial buildings already have heat pumps (they're called "air conditioners").  Some slight re-engineering might be necessary to make them work most efficiently summer and winter, such as using the earth as a heat source/sink.

Even in the winter the amount of heat needed varies from day to day and in different times of day.
It would be simple to divert power to heat pumps as needed to achieve the desired electric balance.  Heat pumps would also be an excellent method of consuming energy from intermittent sources, such as wind.  The transfer of heat demand from cogenerators to wind and back could be seamless (when your generation can be "scheduled" in 4 KW units, what else could it be?), and there is something about the idea of a winter gale keeping people's houses warm that makes me smile.
In southern climes less heating is needed all year around and in the summer air conditioning is needed.
If I lived in the South I would probably want a few of these.  The target price is $1/peak watt, with hot water being another one of the outputs.  In the summer you could charge your car (a 1 KW unit @ $1000 would probably produce some 6 KWH/day many days, good for 20-30 miles in the hypothetical baseline vehicle), run your air conditioner, heat your pool and whatnot.  If you did things right you would have your system configured to make ice so that you could handle the hot, cloudy days without having to hit the grid for expensive electricity.  On cloudy days you might run your car on chemical fuel to bring electric demand in line with supply.
There a minimum size for a cost-effective local electric generation plant.... Fuel cells hold out the hope of reducing the minimum sized cost effective electric generator.
It's obvious that I believe the minimum size is currently a lot smaller than you do.  $1700 in net electric production per year would pay for a lot of hardware.


Fuel cells would do some great things for this.  They would push total fuel usage down a great deal, and supply 100% of vehicle recharging demand much closer to the margins of the heating season.  But they aren't necessary to make the scheme economic, so we shouldn't wait for them to appear on the market before we get started.

Engineer-Poet said at February 7, 2004 12:10 AM:

Correction to the above:

At 50,000 BTU/hr and 50 million BTU/year heat requirement, it would run for 1000 hours/year. If it's displacing purchased electricity at 8 cents/KWH with generated electricity at 3.6 cents/KWH and generates 3,900 KWH/year, it pays you $171.60 per year to own the thing.
A 4-year payback isn't bad, but it's not as good as a 2-month payback.  My bad.  :-O

Reem said at May 3, 2006 8:38 PM:

There is no such struggle between reformist & islamist,,,,,actually the rebilion u talked about is against the government policy,,,& more specifically it is against the American interference in the country………
So ,,,we r divided into two groups:
1- The people who love the royal Family…But hate u.
2-the people who hate the royal Family,& hate u worse….

U can never change us,,,,,,if u don't to be attacked,,,,U r the ones who need to change….Stop yr war in Iraq, Afghanistan,& stop yr support to the Israeli colony which u planted in Muslims' land….
Even if u changed our education,,,,& spent millions to present Amirica as a country of Freedom,,,,,,,,u can never change us,,,,,Deeds talks louder than words……..
& ou strength is in our hearts, which is above yr reach…….

Women r pampered in my country,& I am one of them,,,,,,,,my father,brother or driver will take me where I want,,,,,that makes me superior,,,than women in yr society,,,,who have a little time,because she lies under & spread her legs for every one…Very disgusting,,,,,,,
Look at yr lame society ,before u talk against mine,,,,,,,,I am proud for being a Saudi,& more proud for being a Muslim…
WE R frightening u,,,,,,,,,,??
Islam,not Oil is the source of our strength….
Die with envy???

Reem,
A saudi girl.


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