What’s Current? Issue #8 – Innovation in Desalination, Synthetic Fuels, Sites Reservoir

When it comes to achieving energy and water abundance, you can report on policies and you can recommend policies. But before doing that, it’s necessary to see the numbers, and evaluate the relevant technologies. When viewing numbers, consider most data points as numerators, and reject anecdotal comparisons. It’s easy to anecdotally describe quantities of water, or quantities of CO2: “Enough to fill 50,000 Olympic swimming pools.” “Enough to remove 20,000 cars from the road.” But for useful policy analysis, these anecdotes are useless. Meaningful denominators put datapoints in perspective. How much water do we use, statewide, each year? How much CO2 is emitted statewide each year, and what percent of worldwide emissions does that represent? Even more important when setting public policy is the future of technology. Will we ever commercialize synthetic fuels? Will new desalination technologies require far less energy? Stay tuned.

Synthetic fuels — The next revolution?

Here’s why preserving petroleum-fueled transportation is a tremendous opportunity for California. It’s not only that advanced hybrids promise to deliver far less pollution per mile, and don’t consume nearly as much materials to make them as EVs. It’s because of the fuel they’ll eventually use: Synthetic fuel. Companies around the world are racing to perfect the process, whereby electricity electrolyzes water to produce hydrogen, which is combined with CO2 from the air to produce a combustible liquid hydrocarbon. We could keep our cars, we could keep our gas station infrastructure. This promising fuel technology is emissions-free, and its so-called carbon neutrality doesn’t even require adding to the world’s already disastrous 500,000 square miles of biofuel plantations.

OceanWell’s Innovation May Reduce Energy Required for Desalination

Anyone interested in desalination should be aware of OceanWell’s new technology, currently set to be tested in Las Virgenes Reservoir in partnership with the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District. The company claims their design can desalinate an acre foot of seawater at an energy cost of 2.3 megawatt- hours. Carlsbad requires about 3.5 MWh. The theoretical minimum is 1.2 MWh. Their idea? Put the filters deep enough so the natural water pressure pushes the salt water through the membranes and fresh water is drawn from the opposite side, which reduces the power consumption necessary for the treatment process.

Southern California’s natural gas plants to stay open through 2026

Seawater-cooled units at three power plants in Long Beach, Huntington Beach and Oxnard will be kept in reserve for three more years to feed energy into the state’s grid during power emergencies. A lot of energy. Just the Ormond Beach Generating Station in Oxnard can produce 1.5 gigawatts, equivalent to 4.7 percent of California’s average 32 GW grid consumption, and 6.8 percent of California’s current in-state 22 GW generating capacity. Natural gas, in a few short years, has gone from being considered the cleanest fossil fuel in the world, to being a villainous contributor to “extreme smog.” But just as California’s policymakers currently exclude advanced hybrid cars from our future, they are ignoring the potential to retrofit natural gas power plants to achieve extraordinary efficiency — possibly higher than 80 percent, using new innovative technologies that are clean and sustainable. More on this to come.

Sites Reservoir: Greenhouse Gas Threat or Hot Air?

Nearly ten years ago, California voters approved funding for the Sites Reservoir, to be located north of the Delta and drawing storm runoff from the Sacramento River. In its current design, Sites is downsized to a still gigantic 1.5 MAF storage capacity. Opponents now claim Sites will produce 362,000 tons per year of CO2. Sites proponents, using approved models, predict lower numbers, at most 84,000 tons. For reference, in 2021, California’s total estimated CO2 emissions were 324 million tons. This means Sites will increase emissions by an amount somewhere between 1/10th of 1 percent and 1/40th of one percent. But an unsaid reality, courtesy of LakeScientist.com, is that “greenhouse emissions from freshwater lakes are probably equivalent to 20% of all global CO2 fossil fuel emissions into Earth’s atmosphere.” Shall we drain the world’s lakes?

Pseudoscience, Greed, And Nihilism Behind Disinformation On Climate Change And Fires

Michael Shellenberger, honored in 2008 as a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” in 2015 co-authored An Ecomodernist Manifesto. His recent writing expands on what he refers to as “Pro-Human Environmentalism.” This growing movement rejects what they regard as a “dark and dogmatic,” “radical new religion” that claims “a better world is possible only if we move away from our modern, high-energy civilization to a low-energy one powered by renewables.” Shellenberger offers an important perspective on what motivates California’s policymakers to engage in what history may judge as a misguided and extreme reaction to manageable environmental challenges.