March 01, 2007

More accurate breakdown of energy equivalents

This is a more accurate breakdown of what equals one cubic mile of oil. The IEEE Spectrum comparison compares oil's inputs to the other's outputs.

The world's annual consumption, one cubic mile of oil, can be replaced by [this includes converting all cars and trucks to electric or PHEV/biofuels a likely 30-40 year effort with massive global pushes]:
* 700 1.1 GW nuclear plants,
* 1,550 500MW coal plants,
* 720,000 3MW wind turbines,
* Maybe 2 billion 2.1KW solar panels

If we were going to supply a cubic-mile-of-oil equivalent of heat and work from nuclear plants at 33% thermal efficiency (3.3 GW thermal input, 2.2 GW thermal + 1.1 GW electric output) it would take a lot less. If you cranked them for 50 years, a mere 14 1.1 GW plants could supply 771 GW-years of electricity and another 1540 GW-years of low-grade heat, more than satisfying the requirement of 1370 GW-years of heat from oil. Coal would do about about the same, but it would take 31 500 MW plants to equal the 14 nukes. Wind has no waste heat stream and couldn't do as well (the energy would have to be all electric), but the possibilities for solar are amazing. Solar heat (for space heat) can be collected for very little, sometimes for free with careful design. Supplying 770 GW-years of electricity from solar PV at 25% capacity factor would require only about 40 million 2.1 kW installations; doing a year's worth per year would require about 2 billion 2.1 kW systems, or about 700 watts per capita.

700 watts is about 10 of today's PV panels. The industrial nations could almost afford to give 10 panels to every child at birth, and cost improvements in the pipeline could extend this to much of the world in the next decade or two.

Other analysis


James Aach said...

Saw your comment over on Open the Future about nuclear power (Stewart Brand, etc.) I left a comment too, but did it in a hurry so it ended up somewhere else in cyberspace.

I put up the picture graphic of the cubic mile of oil on our bulletin board at the old nuke plant last month, replacing the article about the Ford motor company's plan for a nuclear car in the 1950s.

I may have mentioned this here before - if so, forgive my repetition: Stewart Brand has also endorsed my insider novel of nuclear power (I've been in the business over twenty years) as a good way to get acquainted with the current technology and politics of this wacky energy source. Rad Decision is available at no cost online at or you can pick up a paperback at online retailers (from which I get no royalties). I think proponents and skeptics alike can learn from it - so perhaps they'd occaisionally be talking from the same book, if not the same page. (And the part in it about the troll breeding center is really cool.)

James Aach

"I'd like to see Rad Decision widely read." - Stewart Brand