Controlling the Post-Oil Energy Economy

The World’s First Solar-Hydrogen Demonstration Power Plant

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To meet the total global energy need expected for 2100 (when the life style of the 3rd world has reached our present one) all we need to do is to cover 3% to 4% of the Sahara (or the Mojave desert) with solar collectors.

Therefore, it is time to “retune the economy control loop”. The first step in this retuning process must be to get accurate sensors (start dealing with facts)! In order to accomplish this transformation, we must start building the world’s first solar-hydrogen demonstration power plant described in my book (Post-oil Energy Technology).

A key component of this solar-hydrogen demonstration power plant is the reversible fuel cell which I invented (see the Reversible Fuel Cell Model). During the day the RFC operates as an electrolyzer and generates hydrogen while at night it works as a fuel cell converting hydrogen back into electricity. Naturally, hydrogen would also be available as a transportation fuel, shipped and distributed as is LNG today. Considering that fuel cells are twice as efficient as internal combustion (IC) engines, hydrogen will not only be less expensive, but should provide twice the mileage as the IC engine and will emit no pollutant, only distilled water.

The World’s First Solar Hydrogen Power Plant

Figure 2 provides a “bird’s eye view” of my proposed solar hydrogen power plant.. If this plant is built close to an existing fossil power plant, it could also convert the carbon dioxide emission of that conventional power plant into methanol fuel. If an electric grid exists in the area, the excess solar electricity can be “stored” on that grid.


Solar Hydrogen Plant
Figure 2: The components of the world’s first solar-hydrogen power plant.


As was shown in Table 1, all fossil and nuclear fuel deposits are exhaustible, in addition fossil is dirty, nuclear in unsafe. Similarly, biofuels generate carbon emissions and interfere with the food supply. Yet, contrast, the solar electricity and solar-hydrogen is already economical (Figure 3) and the transition can be done in a calm, orderly and economical fashion.


NREL projections
Figure 3: NREL projections of renewable energy cost 1980 to 2020.

I believe that the time for building has arrived, that it is time for mankind to install a new “control loop” for our economy, but what I believe is completely irrelevant! What is relevant is that the building and operating this, the world’s first solar-hydrogen demonstration power plant will close the debate on “what to do?” and will initiate action! The factual data generated will force “top management” (the voters in our free society) to tell our “operators” in the control room (the leaders of mankind) to stop running the system in manual on-off and reconfigure our control loop to optimize it for the smooth transition to the new inexhaustible energy economy.

Feedback control alone (market forces, cap and trade, increased fuel costs, taxation, etc.) will not be fast enough to convert our economy and in addition they will stifle the global economic growth. Instead, during the transition, temporary feed forward is required (applying large-scale public funding) to develop and demonstrate the feasibility of cost effective, clean, free and inexhaustible energy technologies.

To achieve these goals, to start this, the third industrial revolution will need vision and commitment, but so did the landing on the Moon. The scale of the effort will exceed that of the Marshall Plan. The transition will start not only with the building of solar-hydrogen power plants, but also with the installation of millions of solar roofs to make millions of homes “energy free” and with the conversion to a totally electric transportation system.

It is debatable, if our “operators” (political leaders) have any idea what process control is or how PID loops are tuned. I doubt that they understand the requirements for converting a batch process (operating with exhaustible resources) to a continuous one (operating with inexhaustible resources). It is also debatable how much fossil or nuclear resources are left on the planet, how much climate change can we live with or how long can we use our atmosphere as a global garbage dump. What is not debatable is that the conversion to a clean, free and inexhaustible energy economy is inevitable and understanding process control can help in the transition. The other thing that is not debatable is that we must not give reason to our grandchildren to ask: “Why did you not act?”


Want MoreCheck out other of Béla Lipták's articles on Solar Energy.


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