Tag Archives: natural gas

Natural Gas Vehicles – Making the Dream of Alternative Fuel a Reality


 

Public transportation across the United States has been utilizing alternative fuel vehicles for decades, employing buses that run on either compressed natural gas (CNG) or a liquefied natural gas (LNG) to alleviate the burden of high fuel emissions from conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles. And according to the industry group NGV Global, there are more than 16.7 million natural-gas vehicles on the road worldwide at the end of 2012. In the United States however, using natural gas cars has been slow to catch on. Natural gas vehicles (NGVs) are, for one thing, still much pricier than gasoline powered vehicles, or even hybrids. But when taking into account the many benefits they offer for both drivers and the environment, an interest in NGVs in one we can all afford to develop.

 

Like any alternative method, it’s wise to take some considerations into account before implementing CNG or LNG into your fueling routine. But for the average motorist, there are many good reasons to make the switch.

 

  • Safety: It comes as a surprise to some to learn that natural gas cars are found to be safer than those that run on diesel or gasoline. This is because not only do the physical properties of natural gas make it safer (less flammable) but it is lighter than air, and if it were to leak it would simply rise into the atmosphere and disperse. It is also odorless and non-toxic. The fuel tank which contains the gas is also made of steel up to a half-inch thick and coated in protective fiberglass. Newer tanks can even be made of polymers that exceed the strength of steel. The massive car recalls imposed by both GM and Ford this year alone make the safety of an NGV appealing.
  • Environmentalism:  Natural gas, the cleanest fossil fuel, produces the fewest emissions of all internal combustion vehicles. The pollutants found in natural gas are also significantly fewer than those found in gasoline. In most cases, using natural gas results in less carbon dioxide, (the primary greenhouse gas), sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and small (but harmful) particulate matter. Using natural gas assists with a host of environmental concerns, such as CO2 emissions, smog, and acid rain. Transportation is the largest single source of air pollution in the United States.
  • Life in the Fast Lane: NGV drivers are allowed to drive in the express or carpool lanes on many highways.
  • Domestic: Natural gas is found in plentiful amounts right here in the United States, reducing the supply chain needed to bring drivers their fuel. By utilizing an abundant form of energy found right here at home we can save untold amounts on transport alone. Unlike oil, which is typically imported, approximately 99 percent of the United States’ natural gas supply is found here in North America.

 

Even if the environment is out of the realm of your interests, and you’re content with the performance of your current vehicle, alternative fuels are also an attractive option due to the rising costs of typical gasoline. CNG costs less than gasoline, and is also a clean-burning fuel which results in less engine wear and fewer oil changes. Certain states offer tax credits for purchasing an NGV, and NGV owners are also potentially eligible for state and local tax benefits. Many websites such as this resource help consumers explore their options, whether they choose to convert their vehicles to run on natural gas or decide to purchase a new one off the lot.

 

Not everyone agrees that natural gas is the best choice for motorists. There are some serious limitations for those interested in making the commitment to an NGV. For one thing, they are manufactured by fewer automobile companies, and are typically more expensive. There is also a limited number of fueling stations where one may go to refuel the vehicle when needed. Most are located only in largest metropolitan areas. The “fracking” process through which natural gas is often extracted from the ground also has many Americans concerned.

 

Of course, the rising interest in these vehicles raises many questions. Should the government effectively try to “sell” these vehicles to its citizenry? And does it make sense to choose one type of alternative vehicle – NGVs, say, over hybrids or plug-ins? Some have argued that it might be easier to use our natural gas resources to power electric cars rather than create an entirely new fueling system. But seeing natural gas technology flourish in places like Iran, Pakistan, Brazil and Argentina gives us hope that this alternative fuel might soon be able to reduce our dependency on oil, improve the air we breathe, and make our impact on the planet less destructive.

This article was originally submitted to Soshitech.com from Kate Voss.

Solar Energy: This Is What a Disruptive Technology Looks Like


A picture is worth a thousand words. The graph above compares the price history of solar energy to conventional energy sources. This is what a disruptive technology looks like. While conventional energy prices remained pretty flat in inflation adjusted terms, the cost of solar is dropping,fast, and is likely to continue doing so as technology and manufacturing processes improve.

First, about the graph. I recently published an article, Bitcoin, Energy and the Future of Money, which explores the idea of using energy as the basis for money. One of the key concepts in this is to standardize the way energy commodities are measured, to measure them in terms of energy content rather than parochial units of measure (e.g. therms or cubic feet of natural gas, gallons of diesel, kilowatt hours of electricity, and so on). See also www.joulestandard.com for more information about this idea.

The graph above charts the inflation adjusted price of different types of energy, not in terms of gallons, but in terms of gigajoules of energy (a gigajoule is one billion Joules, the standard metric unit for energy). Pricing energy commodities in terms of their energy content makes it easier to compare the relative cost of different sources of energy.

Using data from the Energy Information Agency, I pulled together a history of retail prices for natural gas, crude oil, gasoline and residential electricity, all adjusted for inflation. For each energy source, I converted the prices to $/gigajoule, using conversion factors from engineering tables. (For example, a million cubic feet of natural gas contains 1.083 gigajoules of energy content).

Next, using data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and other sources, I looked up the price history for solar power, in terms of dollar per Watt of system capacity (a standard unit of measure for solar). With this data, I built a cost model to translate the cost of a solar cell into $/gigajoule. The basic idea is to amortize the system cost over its useful life, and divide this by the average amount of power it generates per month. This allows the cost of solar to be compared directly to other sources.

The comparison shows quite clearly that the cost effectiveness of solar power is increasing exponentially. In 1977, solar cells cost upwards of $70 per Watt of capacity. In 2013, that cost has dropped to $0.74 per Watt, a 100:1 improvement (source: The Economist). On average, solar power improves 14% per year in terms of energy production per dollar invested. Technological improvements are the primary driver of this trend, as manufacturers learn to produce panels using less energy and raw materials (the basic physics of solar panels are a century old), and to make systems easier to install.

While solar currently accounts for less than 1% of the energy supply, it is an exponentially improving technology, both in terms of price (14%/year) and pace of construction (60%/year). Already it is approaching parity with other energy sources in the Western US. Assuming this trend continues for another 10 to 20 years, and there’s no reason not to, solar power will become 5 to 10 times more cost effective than it is today. This raises an interesting question. What happens if solar becomes an order of magnitude cheaper than other sources of power?

This is the nature of disruptive technology. It represents such an improvement that it renders existing industries obsolete. We saw waves of disruption take place as the Internet upended entire industries. Expect to see a lot of this in the coming years.

UPDATE: a follower pointed out that not all Joules are equal, for example electrical energy versus thermal energy. Since the majority of electricity in the US is generated from carbon based fuels, we should expect it to cost roughly three to four times their amount. Why is this? The process of converting heat to electricity (by driving a steam turbine) is relatively inefficient. Most of the energy is lost as waste heat (this can be reclaimed in cogeneration, for example to use steam to heat buildings but this is not reflected in electricity prices).

UPDATE: several readers ask how I calculated solar prices. I did this by calculating how much power a 1 watt cell would generate per year, using average insolation of 4.5 hours/day (southern US), divided this by 12 for a monthly average. I calculated the system cost as three times the solar panel cost (installation and other components account for 2/3s of typical system cost). I then calculated the amortized monthly cost, assuming a 360 month term with a 5% cost of capital. Then divided this by monthly power output in gigajoules to get $/GJ. If the system is located in a less sunny area, or the cost of capital is higher, that will increase the cost per gigajoule. That said, the point of the article is the exponential decrease in unit costs, which trump everything over the next 10-20 years.

UPDATE: I am looking for inflation adjusted historical data for oil, natural gas and coal going back to the 1800s, so I’ll be updating the price history as I collect new data.

Written by

GAS FOR THE MASSES


Antique Gas PumpBy Bill Blaire – Private Equity Investor

As told to John Jonelis

I’m sittin’ way in the back o’ this crowd so’s I can duck outa here fast. That’s just in case this meetin’ gets outa hand like the last time. It ain’t like I don’t enjoy mixin’ it up—you know I do. Thirty years in the Local #1 boilermakers don’t make a guy soft. But if they haul me off to the lockup again, maybe they throw away the key this time. Continue reading