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re: utility costs
4 apr 1999
mr.magoo  wrote:
>what's cheaper, oil or electric?

oil, at today's prices. but maybe not, in 10 years. it's running out,
and all forms of energy will cost a lot more by say, 2015, when oil
production begins to decline. gas is also cheap, but getting gas from
a well usually means giving up oil; 22% of electricity is made directly
from oil or gas, but about 40% of the energy used to mine coal and 70%
of the energy used to transport it comes from oil, so higher oil prices
mean higher electrical energy prices, even with coal-fired power plants. 

a savvy friend writes:

>most people have no idea how addicted we are to oil.
>what is important is when oil becomes so expensive
>that it causes severe economic disruption. that will
>happen long before the "run out" date. world oil
>production will peak sometime during the next decade.
>even the most optimistic projections only extend the
>production peak to about 2015.
>once production peaks, demand will force prices up
>rapidly. (why do you think we are hovering around over
>iraq like vultures over a dying cow). with $30 barrels
>(bl) oil, your energy acquisition costs are about equal
>to your mortgage payment. with $40 bl oil you have
>to decide whether to drive or heat your house.
>with $50 bl oil the government tells you when you
>can drive and when you can heat your house.
>with $60 bl oil you walk and freeze. with $70 bl
>oil ..... you get the end of civilization as we know it.
>this is a much more serious and pressing issue than
>most people realize. depending on if you like the
>pessimistic or optimistic view, we will eventually
>recover between 1800 billion barrels (bbl) and 2600
>bbl oil oil. if the number is 1800 bbl, world oil production
>is peaked right now. if its 2600, we have until about
>2015. the reality is probably somewhere in between.

>we have 10 .... maybe 15 years to build a whole new
>electricity generation infrastructure.

>which one is more efficient?

that's an interesting question. if you burn oil, most of the heat goes
into your house. if an electric utility burns oil (or anything else,
including nuclear fuel), about 2/3 of the fuel's heating value is wasted,
mostly because of a basic thermodynamic limit on turning heat into motion:
it takes about 3 kwh of heat to deliver 1 kwh of electrical energy, and
2 kwh go up the cooling tower, along with about a gallon of water. a house
with a heat pump ($5k, with a limited lifetime) can turn that 1 kwh of
electrical energy back into 3 kwh of heat, but why not just burn the oil?

better yet, run a small diesel to heat your house and make the electric
meter go backwards at the same time. this is called cogeneration, or
"combined heat and power." it might be done with something like a $900
honda 1500 watt 90 pound gasoline generator that also makes 7500 watts
(26k btu/h, like half an oil furnace or 3 or 4 kerosene heaters) of heat.
this technique is old, not new. it was widespread in the 30s and 40s in
large homes and office buildings and hotels. 

our local nuke (limerick) could heat 200,000 houses, if there were that
many around and peco were less interested in selling electricity. they
were largely responsible for eliminating cogeneration in philadelphia.

>looking for houses, and just wondering which one i should favor.

how about an oldish "all-electric energy star certified" (now "smart
choice") house? one with good insulation and blower door testing that
costs an arm and a leg to heat with its forced-air electric resistance
furnace. you might pick one with very few windows on a large plain south
wall (houses were often designed this way in the 70s to reduce the need
for air conditioning) that faces away from the road, so you can weird
it up by adding a large $1/ft^2 sunspace, eg half of a quonset-hut-shaped
commercial plastic film greenhouse, turned sideways, maybe two stories
tall, with a solar closet inside it to store heat for cloudy days, and
use the forced-air system blower to circulate solar warmed air, with the
electric resistance element almost always turned off.


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