It IS Too Late – Not Possible To Replace Cars In Time

According to the Great Sages of our time, Occasional Cortex and Saint Greta of the Gargoyle, we have less than 12 years to stop using ALL oil products and use stuff like cars charged by the sun and wind, and if we don’t, it is too late and we’re all going to die.

Well, it IS too late. It simply can’t be done in 12 years.
May as well give it up and party for the next decade.

Number of vehicles in use worldwide 2006-2015

Published by I. Wagner, Nov 26, 2018

This statistic shows the number of passenger cars and commercial vehicles in use worldwide from 2006 to 2015. In 2015, around 947 million passenger cars and 335 million commercial vehicles were in operation worldwide.

Yes, it is 2015 numbers. Yes, I’ll be comparing those to 2018 ability to produce. That’s OK as there are actually more cars in use now, so it’s even worse than we thought and worse than this comparison will show.

Worldwide automobile production through 2018

Published by I. Wagner, Sep 11, 2019

In 2018, more than 70 million cars and around 25 million commercial cars were produced worldwide. This figure translates into a decline of around one percent, compared with the previous year. China, Japan, and Germany were the largest producers of passenger vehicles in 2018.

We can make 70 million cars a year. We need to replace the existing 947 million. That’s going to take 947 / 70 = 13.5 years. That’s 1.5 years longer than we have. So clearly we can’t do it and we are toast.

Commercial vehicles are about the same. 335 million commercial and 25 million / year.
335 / 25 = 13.4 years.

Now for the added salt.

That’s ASSUMING we were making, selling and buying 100% Electric Vehicles TODAY. We are not. So we would need to change all those factories over to making eCars. That takes time and machinery changes. You don’t make electric motors on an automatic transmission assembly line. So to change a factory takes a year or three. Reaching a little further up stream, you would need to have the tooling manufacturers change THEIR operations to make the different tooling you need. You would also need a BUNCH of added mega-battery factories making batteries. That’s going to add at least 3 years, and likely closer to 5. But Wait, there’s more!

To make all that tooling and manufacture all those batteries and electric motors, you will need a massive increase in the production of Rare Earth Metals, Lithium, Cobalt, and a few other metals. That will require finding and developing new mines at a horrific rate. THEN buying the giant machinery that mines use to extract and refine ores, and build the mine and refining operations buildings and get electricity to the sites. Major machinery can take up to 5 years for a build. There are only a few places that can forge a gear for a house sized truck. They are all busy already. Add 4 to 5 more years for them to expand to meet the added demand.

What’s that all add up to? At least an added decade, probably closer to 2, as various other limits of run rate crop up. Some of this can be overlapped. IFF you had cash in hand, right now, for the mega-battery factory and signed guaranteed delivery contracts for the lithium and cobalt and such, you might get a mining and refining company to overlap their added capacity with your build of a battery factory. It typically takes a year or two to negotiate that kind of giant deal, though.

In any case, it would take at least 20 years, and likely closer to 30 (or more) to make this happen without destroying the economy wholesale.

Even then, you run headlong into the need to fill all those batteries. The total electric production is about 37.5 quads. This graph is critical to understanding the scope of change required and just why it is insane:

USA Energy Consumption, all forms, in Quads

USA Energy Consumption, all forms, in Quads

Notice the Petroleum block at the bottom. 35.9 Quads. (Click to embiggen if needed). That’s roughly the same size as ALL electrical production today. While “only” 25.7 Quads of that goes into transportation, the “goal” is to eliminate all of it. But it gets worse.

Look at the Electrical block at the top. That 37.5 quads has much of it coming from coal and natural gas. IF you just expand the present system, your eCars are just burning coal and natural gas instead of petroleum. Now you also want to convert that (roughly) 10 quads of industrial and house heating petroleum into electricity too.

Looking at the primary energy sources for electricity, we see there are 2.48 Quads (Quadrillion BTU) of Hydro. That’s not going to get any larger as all the good sites have been built. 8.42 Quads of Nuclear – forbidden by the Green Agenda and slated for reduction. Geothermal is a paltry 0.23 Quads and again the best sites are already in service, so only a little more nothing available. Gas is 28.5 Quads and Coal is 14.2 Quads. That’s 42.7 Quads that must be replaced with Solar and Wind, along with the added 35.9 Quads of Petroleum. A total of 78.6 Quads.

Solar is presently 0.587 Quads and Wind is 2.11 Quads. Together that’s 2.697 Quads. Call it 2.7 Quads. Divide. 78.6 / 2.7= 29.

You would need to increase the number of windmills and solar panels by 29 times.

Everything that was built over the last 20 years, built 29 times over in under 10 years. Roughly a 60 Times increase in run rate of production. Again, we will run into the same logistical issues. From where will the resin for all those wind turbine blades come? The copper for the generators? The FACTORIES to make those solar panels and windmills? The trucks to haul the windmills (they are very special trucks). How many good wind sites are there? (Hint: Most of them are already built on).

In short, you can’t do it. Not in a decade. Not in 20 years. Not even in 40 years. You WILL be using Coal, Natural Gas, or Nuclear to charge all those eCars, even if you could build them in a decade.

I’ve been a professional project manager for about 25 years (more if you count my time as a data center manager and director of I.T. and Facilities). I do PERT and GANTT charts and work out logistics for a living. Lead times and dependencies are my natural element. The above estimates are exactly the kind of thing you do at the “talking up” stage of a project to see if it’s at all reasonable. To ask “Can this even be done?” before you stick a lot of resources onto it. Yes, you can “crash the schedule” a little once you do your charts and find the “Critical Path” items. But often there’s several major limiting items that just can not be expedited.

For our Cray and when we built out that computer room, one of THE biggest PITAs was the transformer. The electric companies don’t move fast. We needed 750 kVA for the Cray. There were 2 such transformers available in the whole country. We got one, and it was a dud on installation. Getting the second one required a lot of Special Attention. These are usually ordered a year or two in advance and custom built. To support all those eCars, you will need hundreds of these all over the country to support the charging stations. How many hundreds?

Near my home, a local shopping centre has installed Tesla chargers along one side of their parking lot. 18 stalls. Using the numbers for the lower power home charger, that would be 240 V x 80 Amp of service per stall. This is reasonable as these did not say “Super Charger” and even the Super Chargers drop to half rate it two folks plug in at once. Do the math: 240 x 80 = 19,200 VA. (Or roughly W but large power is quoted in VoltAmps or VA). Yes, I know the charger “only” draws 60 Amps, but the SERVICE is going to be sized at 80 so it doesn’t blow up on a hot day. Now x 18 for the stalls = 364 kVA. About 1/2 the size of our Cray Transformer.

For that size, you can likely find a dozen in the country at any one time, as a guess. When I saw the charge station it had 8 stall full (on 2 occasions). Once with 3 bored people sitting in their cars while they charged. The other with 7 bored people who I watched for about 1/2 an hour while the spouse shopped. Now figure it’s an hour to charge the Tesla, and figure it gets done about every 2nd day. Note I’m shifting to just the USA here, not the total world:

Number of cars in the U.S. 1990-2017
Published by Statista Research Department, Jul 22, 2019

How many registered motor vehicles are there in the U.S.? Some 272.48 million vehicles were registered here in 2017. The figures include passenger cars, motorcycles, trucks, buses, and other vehicles.

So you need to charge 272 million cars. if it’s every other day, that’s 136 million / day. Figure about 12 hours of the day (no, most folks will not be charging during rush hours, nor prime shopping nor …) for one hour, that’s 11.3 Million charging stations. Figure about 10 in use per location is around 1 million charging locations and about 1 million of those transformers.

Where will you get 1 Million transformers in, say, 5 years, when the current run rate is likely in the dozens? Where will you get the copper and steel and insulating oil for them all? The factory to make them in? The delivery trucks and cranes? All the new cables and towers to connect them to the substations? All the transformers at the substations to double their size? All the long distance towers to the new generation facilities? All in under a decade.

Just physically can not be done.

Note that home charging does not fix this. It just moves the need for the transformer to the local string of 18 houses.

So, since that means there’s no way in Hell to achieve the “decarbonizing” goal, that also means there’s no sense in trying. Party down for the next decade and don’t worry about it. You can’t “fix it” anyway.

Me? I’m happy to keep using gasoline and Diesel. It works fine. We already have the infrastructure. We have the oil. Besides that, the world is not warming and there is no “emergency” to fix. So I really don’t care that we can’t fix an imaginary problem with real world capacity.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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70 Responses to It IS Too Late – Not Possible To Replace Cars In Time

  1. rogercaiazza says:

    New York is all in on electrifying the transportation sector. No one has bothered to do the analyses you describe. More to the point how do you charge all the EVs in New York City where most people have to park on the street? Last I looked there were about 1.9 million standard vehicle registrations in the City.

  2. rhoda klapp says:

    It all makes sense when you realize climate catastrophe/crisis is not a problem for solving. It is for beating political opponents over the head with. If it were for solving, we’d have nukes. We’d have so many nukes we could us the spare power to make fuel out of all sorts of bio matter or even atmospherical gases, because it’s only the energy inefficiency of that process that stops us now.

  3. jim2 says:

    Nice presentation. It really drives home the point that we aren’t talking Republican vs Dimowit, we are talking common sense vs sheer stupidity.

  4. cdquarles says:

    And as our esteemed host says, virtually no-one does the logistics. Why? Most don’t have to. Entrepreneurs do have to do it. Investors may have to do it. Businesses and the military have to do it. Even when the average Joe/Jane do work in these areas, they mostly don’t have to do it. Someone else does it for them and tells them what to do.

  5. Larry Ledwick says:

    I’ve had this discussion on several occasions and people simply cannot fathom that some things are not possible, even with a Manhattan Project level of effort.

    They have been conditioned by Amazon home delivery etc. to presume that all you have to do is order the pieces and they will show up on your door step a few days later. Having never worked in a real commercial environment (ie building things) they have never experienced sitting on the phone calling around to see who has what in stock and what the lead time is to get that one odd part that is a show stopper if it does not show up on time.

    The also cannot comprehend the tree of dependencies that flows backward from the completed project to permits to move oversize loads, special trucks, factories with enough capacity to make things they need, staff for the factory that are trained in the jobs they need to do, tens of thousands of small part manufactures making controllers, wiring harnesses, motors relays, switches, wire drawing machines, magnet manufactures, refiners for the metal ores and the assembly plants to make the motors with the magic high strength magnets etc.

    Power lines (millions of miles of them) power towers, insulators, gantry trucks to erect them, linemen trained to work on 500 kva lines, helicopters to fly inspections of those lines, power stations to step those power outputs down to something that can be handled by normal residential grid systems, easements for the power lines (NIMBY just like oil pipelines could take years to get approval for just one line).

    Unavoidable losses in the distribution system like power losses in transmission lines, heat losses in transformers, percent of out of service generation capacity (wind – aka bird blenders) or solar etc.

    Practical people realize it is well beyond moon shot class project in its sheer scale but your average green college graduate has no clue they are asking for mountains to be moved.

  6. cdquarles says:

    Indeed, Larry. Capital equipment businesses have long lead times and do Manhattan Project type stuff regularly. A totally new pharmaceutical can easily take a decade to bring to market and cost $Billion in the process, think of the Apollo stuff done in the 60s/70s in time spent and in current dollars. This is something Austrian economics folk go into as well as some others, (meaning Sowell, Simon and Friedman come to mind); and forget that today’s profit is tomorrow’s job, which is determined by market actors and adjusts as fast as it can (which may mean near real time).

  7. Larry Ledwick says:

    Nicely done.
    I’m hungry.
    I will give you a dollar for that fish.
    Fisherman I have a dollar now, how much is that fishing line?
    I will sell you that fishing line for 50 cents.
    hardware store owner, I need more fishing line, how much for a case of fishing line?

  8. p.g.sharrow says:

    Liberal Progressives that I know insist that they can’t be bothered with the details because THEY are the “Big Thinkers” and it is up to the little people like me to figure out the details of a project. Often they will tell me the general requirements and their timeline and budget. After I examine everything and inform them the real cost in time and funds, they Inform me that I don’t understand !…… 8-(
    If they are Bureaucrats or politicians they insist that the project be done their way, on their schedule, AND I have to pay for it ! Then they can not understand why I tell them NO! to carrying out their Wonderful plans for my benefit.. We don’t need them! …pg

  9. A C Osborn says:

    Larry Ledwick says: 15 December 2019 at 4:52 pm
    “I’ve had this discussion on several occasions and people simply cannot fathom that some things are not possible, even with a Manhattan Project level of effort.”

    They talk about a “World War 2 push”, not realising they are talking about doing it for 10 or 20 years.
    They are totally clueless because they can be as no one in the MSM questions them or their ideas.

  10. Power Grab says:

    In flyover country (I don’t know about the coasts), cities can’t even keep the copper in their street lights. Thieves steal it so frequently that they just leave the lights without it. So the streets are pretty dark nowadays.

    I wonder how long it will take for the metal thieves to figure out how to steal from those chargers.

  11. philjourdan says:

    It cannot be done – using sane rational logic and logistics. However, you do forget the other prong of their end goal. A 95% reduction in the human population.

    So cars and trucks are not needed. Just bearskins and stone knives.

  12. sabretoothed says:

    The bigger issue with up-scale production of solar panels is the increase in the production of the chemical Nitrogen Trifluoride. 17,200 times the green house warming potential of CO2.

  13. pinroot says:

    My nephew sent me a link from Reddit of some guy cruising through a charging station at the San Luis Obispo, CA Supercharger Station. There is an insane line waiting to get to a charging station.
    Well, I’m not including the link because the video has been removed by Reddit. I’m not surprised, but I was able to find it on YouTube:

  14. cdquarles says:

    Being a child of the 50s and coming of age in the 70s, I recall Watergate; maybe all too well. Thus, I have been following Geoff Shepard’s saga, given that he is one of the few still around to tell the ‘rest of the story’, so to speak. Here is his latest article:, in the American Spectator.

  15. Larry Ledwick says:

    Hmmm very interesting – that confirms my long standing feeling that John Dean was a self serving weasel.

    It also raises the interesting question that the erased tape segment may not have been what everyone assumed it was.

  16. E.M.Smith says:


    At an hour / charge (minimum for mostly full from low enough to really want to sit in a line) that lines a few hours long, then you get to sit another hour…

    I noticed some of the charging stalls were empty. Any idea why? Wrong plug or just broken?


    Great read.

    The parallels with Trump confirm my suspicion that the Dems are running the Nixon playbook against him. However… no underlying crime exists, and, wouldn’t it be delicious of the work product of one Hillary Rodham tossed the Abuse of Power angle?:

    First, a comprehensive study of abuse of power allegations made against prior presidents had been authorized by the HJC and led by Yale history professor C. Vann Woodward. It was supervised by Hillary Rodham but suppressed when it showed that abuse of power accusations against Nixon differed little from those made against virtually every president, beginning with George Washington. To everyone’s great surprise, the Yale study was published in book form three months following Nixon’s resignation. It showed that such tug-of-wars between the legislative and executive branches had occurred with every president since our nation’s founding.

  17. E.M.Smith says:

    Interesting to note that the article misses a beat in that the Brexit Farce Parliament did NOT vote for a new election for far too long, leaving things in just the situation he says can not arise in a Parliamentary system…

    It is instructive to point out that this situation could not arise in a parliamentary system. If the prime minister’s party lost control of Parliament or failed in a party-line vote, it would be seen as no longer representing the nation. The government would fall, and there would have to be a new election.

    Discussion of this topic ought to continue here in W.O.O.D 7 Dec 2019.

  18. pinroot says:

    @EMSmith “I noticed some of the charging stalls were empty. Any idea why? Wrong plug or just broken?”

    I’m not sure, the video doesn’t say. In the Reddit thread, some people are speculating that they’re either broken, or they are new stalls and haven’t been put on-line yet.

  19. philjourdan says:

    Another key difference between the 70s and today is that the left owned the media during Watergate. And that was all there was. They still own, but now there are alternatives, and no one trusts the media any longer.

    Perhaps that is the big take away from Nixon versus Trump

  20. Zeke says:

    “Where will you get 1 Million transformers in, say, 5 years, when the current run rate is likely in the dozens? Where will you get the copper and steel and insulating oil for them all? The factory to make them in? The delivery trucks and cranes? All the new cables and towers to connect them to the substations? All the transformers at the substations to double their size? All the long distance towers to the new generation facilities? All in under a decade.”

    Sire, we could charge 8 times as much for the cars, only make it a lease, and bake in the costs of the new power infrastructure, and then claim they are saving money on fuel, sire.

  21. Russ Wood says:

    Any IT person (especially those who’ve been team leaders) will know about the “IT Boss”. You plan out the work, cost it out, schedule the right people for the right jobs, and present your project plan. The Boss (who has maybe written a few Word Macros in his life) throws your 7 month plan back at you and tells you to get in done in 3 months, because that’s what he promised the management. Yep – there’s ALWAYS a disconnect between the people who DO, and those who tell!

  22. E.M.Smith says:

    @Russ Wood:

    Yup. Been there, done that, have the scars….

    On one occasion we badgered the V.P. (we reported to) so much that he admitted “You ARE right, but I just don’t have the budget for it”. OK, armed with that, we went back and squeezed some of the supply chain all over the shop and “found the budget”… (DEC was NOT happy with us… turned a new VAX 780 into a used one in our buy plans… along with other squeezes).

    At Apple we were expected to do the impossible. A VP decided he needed a Cray for our project. These things are NOT sitting on the shelf. You negotiate about 1 to 2 years, then place your order and they spend a year building it. We were tasked to be up and running NOW. Our VP flew back to Cray HQ. We want a Cray NOW. After much “negotiations” / badgering, the Cray VP said “You be here with full price cash on Monday you can have one”… Knowing full well it would be impossible. We’re talking $40 Million after all. It was Thursday IIRC… Back on the plane to California. Calls a board meeting on the weekend, gets approval. Back on the plane… Monday Morning slides a check across the desk at the Cray VP. WT? … (Astonished doesn’t quite cover it 8-0

    Well…. Seems that Standard Oil had bought several Crays over the years and was in that 2 year negotiation near the end, just about ready to say “yes” but haggling over price. Cray had done a spec build based on assurances they WOULD buy it… We got their Cray and they were told: IF you sign the purchase order, we can start building you a new one…

    That’s how you get “Special Attention”. Lots of money, and lots of face time.

    Then we had 60 days to delivery. In 60 days we built an entire computer room facility and staffed the shop. When I first saw the building, a small skip loader was driving around inside knocking down the non-structural interior walls… 60 days later we had cubicals and a raised floor computer room complete with the special motor generators that make 400 Hz power (so the Cray PSU has smaller transformers) and a 4 inch water coolant pipe to the water tower that dumped the heat. And a new Cray bolted in place and booted up.

    You can guess just how much “hustle” had to go into making THAT happen! We did enjoy the benefits of a rather big wallet full of cash to make it happen… It was only later that the wallet became smaller ;-)

    WHY did we build a Supercomputer Data Center in 60 days? Because the V.P. had promised that was when his staff would be working the project… Something that normally takes 6 months to a year, done in 60 days. Including 2 transformer installs of the 750 kVA beast AND a direct drop from the distribution system separate from the surrounding feeds / neighborhood. (Because they couldn’t put another 750 kVA of demand on the existing feeds). Getting PG&E to move was one of the critical path items, then the first transformer went FUNT! and it became Very Critical Path. BUT, having promised us, PG&E did move heaven and earth to get the replacement as they were responsible for the failed one.

    So yeah, I can relate to the “I.T. Boss” issue ;-)

  23. Sheelah Goldsmith says:

    We need to CUT down on our use of cars by car sharing, using public transport, moving closer tobehereweeirk, using well organised home delivery services , co ordinating with neighbours so delivery journeys do not waste miles, instead delivering to the same area allvst onetime. Change our habits as well asseitcjigt cars that run on a non polluting energy dource

  24. Bruce Ryan says:

    E.M. Here is a wonderful fellow, his points need time to germinate. So you really need several hours of free time to listen to him. Start out about 31 minutes into his rant. What he is getting at is the energy supply system in California, and by presumable the rest of the country.

  25. E.M.Smith says:


    I’ll give it a go after dinner (happening in 15 minutes).

    The “energy supply system” in California has some interesting attributes.

    We have lots of natural gas, so those who have it just use it without thought. Berkeley has started the trend of blocking new users.

    You can not use your fireplace unless explicitly told it is OK today. No new ones can be installed.

    We produce oil, but refineries are taxed to death and penalized, no new ones being built. Our gasoline has unique requirements imposed by the State, so you can not import gas from elsewhere. Our Gov. Nuisance demands to know why it costs $1 more per gallon than other States, after voting for a 50 ¢ / gallon tax increase on our already high taxes. We pay sales tax on that gas tax, BTW.

    We demand no new nukes, but import lots of nuclear power from Palo Verde in Arizona.

    We are removing dams to save something or other, but import hydro power from Washington State.

    So it goes… we’re suppised to double our population, double the electricity per head for eCars, and not add new generation capacity.

    Welcome to Kalifornia….

  26. jim2 says:

    Could the Federal government limit what the States can do in order to ensure individuals “preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness” I wonder. That would put the kibosh on a lot of little idiocracies.

  27. E.M.Smith says:

    Ok, I’m 45 minutes into the video, the sound now is at least clear enough to hear what is being said (unlike the start) , but the guy talks at 1/4 speed and has circumlocutions that double that. Is he ever going to make a point?

    I’m giving it another 10 minutes or so, but 2 hours of this will drive me bonkers.

  28. E.M.Smith says:

    Ok, reached where he embeds some other guy’s video. That guy is making the point, laboriously, that the Political Class through their Politicized PUC, screwed up PG&E turning it from a great reliable utility into the crappy basket case it is today; focusing ig on green crap instead of nuts and bolt operation (snd bankrupting it a few times)… well, yeah. I thought we already knew that?

  29. E.M.Smith says:

    Ok, finally at about 1 hour and a couple of minutes, he’s making points. Green PUC Crap focus ignoring boring maintenance screwed the pooch, causing the Camp Fire.

  30. E.M.Smith says:

    OK, so his Schtick is “point of use generation and storage”. We’re all going to have solar roofs and Tesla power walls. And he says at about 1:24:xx that it’s national failure to maintain that will cause multi-dollar / kw-hr forcing it.

    Uh, no.

    The rest of the nation is not as corrupt nor broken as California PUC. Power is about 1/2 to 1/3 the cost in Florida and they DO keep their system maintained. (If nothing else, hurricanes keep it ‘fresh’ ;-)

    I do agree with the notion that WHEN a PUC / Utility combination exceeds the cost to “roll your own” people will resort to DIY, but it will not replace rational central generation. The economies of scale are just not there.

    For example, a DIY Solar with storage won’t work due to winter. You WILL be grid connected or your whole house must be a battery charged / discharged on a once a year cycle. So that’s not an escape.

    Diesel runs about “cents / kW-hr = $/gallon / 10” so with Diesel about $4.00 / gallon, that’s 40 ¢ / kW-hr. So once we’re at $1/2 buck, I’m running my own small Diesel. BUT, really, natural gas is far cheaper (no gas tax either), so really I’d install a Honda Co-Gen system with water and house heat from the gas and electricity for cheap. I don’t need a Tesla Power Wall to do that. My local high school already did it with a 10 kW micro-turbine (heats the swimming pool). Just up the street I installed a computer room at the Sun Microsystems Newark campus and they put in nice cogen / generators since they regularly had “load shedding” from PG&E. Again, no batteries. Throttle and go. Down the street the other way is a shopping mall with a large Diesel generator that runs when power drops (fed co-fuel of piped natural gas for 80%+ of fuel).

    So none of this is new, just reaching awareness of folks other than Big Shop folks.

    I’ve got plans for a natural gas 2 kW generator to hook into the gas here IF PG&E electricity prices ever get bad enough. Not there yet, but close. But really, I hope to be in Florida with electricity about 1/2 the price right now. People will also vote with their feet.

    Bad management by the California PUC telling PG&E to do stupid stuff is not a problem everywhere. But where it IS a similar problem, there will be similar results and similar responses.

    Heck, I’m already doing a lot of my cooking on Propane and other fuels and I’m not seeing any real reason to go back to electric cook-top given our electricity prices and that gas is in the wall…

  31. Simon Derricutt says:

    EM – point-of-use generation and storage of energy is actually a good strategy, with the problem being that normally renewable energy (wind, solar, tidal, wave) is intermittent and you may need to store enough for a couple of weeks unless you have some sort of backup. Also, storing that energy in batteries is expensive and they wear out too quickly. Using current technology, it costs too much and requires too much resources to be economic.

    It may however be possible to get renewable energy 24/7/365, though the power level will depend on the outside temperature. See for the logic behind this. Yep, I’m still working on this but finally reached the bottom of the rabbit-hole and found that the problem (and paradox) was because of basic language and definitions.

    If that works in practice as I think it will, then the energy storage can be a simple hot-water tank, and you convert that heat to electricity (at 100% efficiency) when needed. For EVs, it would also be possible to extract energy from the air as you go and thus power the car – may need a battery or supercap to give a higher acceleration and to use regenerative braking, but in principle the car would charge itself and cool the atmosphere. Wouldn’t work as well in cold conditions, of course, and there is an icing problem then, but we’d figure ways around that. Maybe even a fuel-tank to provide a very-low-pollution burn to provide the extra heat needed.

    Yep, this sounds like it’s impossible, but I found the hole in the standard logic that says it’s impossible and I can’t yet find a hole in the logic that says we can do it.

    Thus for house power we’d replace solar panels with thermal solar collectors, which can be better than 80% efficient even for the cheap ones (cost around $1.5 for a 300W tube) and then use the thermal-to-electric converters to use that collected heat when needed. Less roof-space needed and a lot cheaper than PVs. Instead of air-conditioning requiring power, it would instead deliver power. Might make Florida a lot cheaper place to live than you’d expected….

    The theory side of this requires somewhat of a satori moment in seeing the momentum vector that’s been overlooked in the descriptions of kinetic energy and thus of heat. The momentum vector is not zero, even though it averages to zero for heat. For the practical manufacture, it needs chip fab techniques so not that easy for home manufacture, but mass-manufacture should be easy enough if you buy the right kit.

    It’s thus not really too late to change cars to electric, even though using current technology it would have been. There may even be quite a large demand for cars you don’t have to charge at all, and thus avoid that problem of the grid not being sufficient and needing to have at least twice as many generators added and twice as much cabling to the homes. Since that upgrade hasn’t been started yet, it couldn’t have been completed by 2050 anyway. Using current technology, we’d also have had difficulty ramping up the production of Lithium, Cobalt, and other materials needed, and of building enough factories to make all the batteries and to recycle the worn-out ones.

    Projecting a straight line based on current technology and conditions often leads to pessimistic predictions, from Malthus onwards. Things change.

  32. cdquarles says:

    Having seen Brownian motion push larger particles out of the field of view of a microscope; I’ve never considered it to net zero unless the system is large (for some definition of large) and I’ve also considered kinetic energy to be a vector. Even then, though, the thermodynamic temperature is a summary statistic of a defined sample of matter; so yes, for most usage, the vector component need not be considered. I suspect we should be doing vector mathematics on it, though. (And most folk do not know how fast gas constituents move nor how empty gases are. So they think, it seems to me, in liquid terms when they shouldn’t.)

    That said, pollution isn’t absolute. There is a concentration where any chemical just isn’t toxic; just like there is one where any chemical is toxic and this depends on what species you are talking about.

  33. Larry Ledwick says:

    which brings up the issue of how solar energy is poorly used because of people’s misconceptions.

    Thermal solar collectors are much cheaper and more efficient than PV solar collectors and the storage medium for the heat generated can be as simple and cheap as a large super insulated bin full of fist sized rocks. That sort of solar heat bin storage can be sized to provide 100% of home heating for 2-3 days, if augmented with ground heat (like that green house using tubes buried in the ground you get even more efficiency. )

    PV solar has its place but it should be a small part of the solar heating system in parts of the country where winter heating load is the major energy user.

    The tube in the ground heating is really just a huge low maintenance, passive thermal solar collector and storage system.

    So what you need is a combined cycle system.

    Picture cold day clear sky in the winter.
    Take in outside air, and pass it through the ground tubes which pre-condition the outside air to local ground temperature (near 55 deg F), then use that air to harvest waste heat off of the PV solar panels as they only convert about 18%-20% to electricity all the rest of the solar energy they absorb is converted to heat. Solar PV panels are also most efficient if kept cool, so removing excess heat will increase your solar PV harvest as well. Then you take that air now at perhaps 70 deg F and pass it through a conventional set of low cost thermal solar panels, with a finishing stage through a set of thermal solar panels which use optical concentration and super insulation to achieve high stagnation temperatures. That final hot air then passes through the rock heat storage bin to keep it as hot as possible (sort of a large thermal capacitor that will provide heat at night.) then into the house as conventional forced air.

    The thermal solar side of such a combined cycle system would be 2x-3x as effecient as the same panel are used only for PV solar.

    So instead of net efficiencies of 18% of solar energy collected you would get something like over 50% of total solar energy collected.

    With passive thermal solar in this part of the country you can make home heating costs nearly zero except in the very coldest weeks of the year.

  34. Simon Derricutt says:

    CDQ – thanks for actually reading the essay. Yep, “the solution to pollution is dilution”, and that may change a poisonous concentration to an essential nutrient for some things, and for others make them harmless. Still better if we don’t have to deal with such pollution, and that seems to be a possibility. More news when I’ve done the work and got the data.

    If you deal with kinetic energy as a pure vector, then the sums will be wrong. You need to treat the energy itself as a scalar and the momentum of the carrier of the energy as a vector, which gives simultaneous equations to solve. When you want to know the energy of a particle, the scalar sums work fine, but if you want to know its direction then you need to look at the momentum vectors as well. Of course there’s actually nothing new in what I’m putting forward and, given the mechanics problem, any engineer or physicist would produce the right answer. The reason this is so hard to see is that the definition of heat as a scalar means that you can’t change its direction because it doesn’t have a direction to change. The essential change I’m making is to recognise that at the atomic scale the momentum vector is there and thus can be modified by a field. Not much of a change, really. Still, the ramifications of that are pretty huge.

  35. cdquarles says:

    One other thing or two I’d say. In the real world, no collision is elastic in the ideal sense; and no real gas acts fully as the abstracted ideal gas laws state. Close enough; yes, for most work given the limited resolution, accuracy and precision we are able to do. After all, instrumenting a system changes it. How much and if that’s relevant is another question.

  36. cdquarles says:

    Oh, another thing: that a process is ‘random’ simply means that we don’t know enough. That does not mean that any specific trial or even a set of trials will average to zero. Only when these are large and approach infinity does that happen; yet even then the ‘walk’ may still get you somewhere ;p.

  37. Simon Derricutt says:

    CDQ – yep, for gases the departures from ideals can be important, but here I’ll be dealing with electron gas where the departures from ideal are mostly negligible. For the random walk, the net movement is what gives us heat conduction, and the interesting thing that dropped out of that consideration is that heat doesn’t actually go from hotter to colder at the atomic scale, but instead it’s a random spreading out of energy densities. The heat of the destination makes absolutely no difference to the direction of a particle after a collision. The hotter =>colder direction of heat energy is simply an emergent property when we look at the averages after some timespan.

    I think that part of the problem in thinking about how to convert heat energy to electrical energy is that we can feel the heat with our fingers and we know from experience that heat always flows from hotter to colder. There’s still the treatment of heat as a fluid (Sadi Carnot’s Caloric) that flows from hotter to colder, whereas in fact we actually have particles carrying kinetic energy that are moving in random directions and so there is always an omnidirectional transfer of energy. We measure the net flow of energy and say therefore that the energy flows in one direction, but that’s not what’s actually happening. Also, kinetic energy cannot travel on its own, but is carried by a particle of some sort (atom, molecule, subatomic particle, phonon, photon, etc.) and so there is always that momentum vector of the particle that carries the heat energy. That particle direction will be affected by fields (at the least, gravity will change the direction, though a charged particle in an electric or magnetic field will be affected a lot more) and so the assumption that the directions remain totally random is obviously wrong. Those directions will be non-random and biased in the direction of the acting field. In most situations this inaccuracy of the basic assumptions of randomness upon which thermodynamics is based will make a very small difference that is essentially negligible. However, we should be able to engineer situations that magnify this “error” to a point where it is practically useful. A good example of this is the standard solar panel, which takes in random-direction photons and outputs single-direction electricity. For the conversion of (ambient) heat energy to electricity, there’s the nantenna array, though the actual power produced per m² isn’t that high.

    There is thus experimental evidence that direct conversion of heat to electricity is possible, but the current technology doesn’t deliver sufficient power levels to be economic. Despite the experimental evidence, the function itself is thought to be impossible by most people (apart from crackpots like me). However, it’s not actually impossible, just difficult to find the way of doing it economically. I may have figured out a way to do that, and I’ll find out fairly soon if that is so. However, since it is obviously possible (even MIT have made and tested nantenna arrays) then *someone* will manage it fairly soon and change how we produce the majority of our energy. This in turn will change the economics (and range problems) of EVs sufficiently to make them a cheaper way of getting around than ICE-based cars, and also solve the problems EM mentioned in charging the things.

    When we “lose” energy in heat, the scalar quantity of kinetic energy remains constant and no energy is actually lost. Instead, the momentum vectors of that kinetic energy become randomised, and when the momentum vectors are randomised we can’t use that energy to do net work in a specific direction. Since work is force times distance, and the distance must be in a specific direction, then work is a vector of sorts and the energy that does it must also have a specific direction. Those momentum vectors of heat can be de-randomised by using the relevant field, thus recovering “useful” energy again to do more work.

    That’s why recognising the momentum vector of heat is pretty critical, in that changing that foundation definition makes the equivalent of perpetual motion actually a possibility even though we’ve always been taught that that is impossible. It’s also of course possible I’ve made a cock-up in the logic somewhere, which is why I’ve published it. Maybe someone will find a hole in the logic somewhere that invalidates the rest, but so far no-one has even though I suspect very few people have gone a lot further than believing it’s theoretically impossible and so doesn’t require further thought. I figure though that EM and friends here will likely find such a problem if it exists, and maybe bring up things I haven’t thought of.

  38. H.R. says:

    @Simon D – I have read your linked article (despite what you say about length, it’s not very long and it is well written and clear, at least to me). Your comment just above this is just as clear (nicely done).

    I don’t have much to say yet – or maybe never – because my career was focused elsewhere and I assuredly don’t have the knowledge to weigh in on solutions or dispute your logic. It holds up with what knowledge I acquired years ago.

    But for now I’m just letting your point about the momentum vector, which is plain to see, ricochet around in my head. So far, I can’t visualize any way to ‘pluck’ the usefulness out of it. Of course, you’ve already pointed out that the problem is exactly that. Everyone else is stuck on that problem too, at least the economics of it all, since you mention experiments where it has been shown to be at least possible.

    You’ve plonked down the idea, but I’m fairly certain that a lot of others with considerably more knowledge and experience than me are in the same boat as I am; what to do with it? How does one pluck the usefulness out of it?

    Oh, the one question I’ve been pondering that might jog someone else is, what field might there be that hasn’t been thought of, or perhaps even discovered, that could be applied? What field would we have to invent if there’s none known that would work? Maybe such a field is out there but no one has looked for it. So perhaps the effort to invent it would lead to the discovery that it is already there.

    OK. Back into my cave. I haven’t had my coffee yet and I’m just posting brain lint :o)

  39. A C Osborn says:

    Simon Derricutt says: 23 December 2019 at 10:55 am
    “A good example of this is the standard solar panel, which takes in random-direction photons and outputs single-direction electricity”.

    Are you sure about that?
    Are Solar photons travelling in “random directions”?
    The reason that I ask is that Solar panels do not work with DWLWR which are distributed random direction photons.
    Also a lens will focus solar photons, but not random photons.
    In fact if you use a Solar Collector to collect DWLWR it actually cools objects.

  40. rhoda klapp says:

    If down-welling long wave was a source of energy capable of heating the ground, why wouldn’t it be available to exploit? Could it be that it is not real? Bearing in mind that one explanation of global warming requires it but another does not?

  41. A C Osborn says:

    Larry Ledwick says: 22 December 2019 at 6:04 pm

    Larry, I like the sound of your Solar Thermal system.
    I did some very simple experiments back in the 90s using a 3″ parbolic reflector from a torch.
    When the sun’s rays were focused on a a piece of steel at the reflectors focal point it got up to 400 degrees C. If that had been a copper tube with heating fluid it would heat up a tank of water quite quickly.
    I had intended using a WW2 Searchlight Reflector to see what happens when you scale it up, but didn’t find the cash or time to do so.
    The problem of course is that the reflector has to track the sun, so a telescope star tracking system would need to be added.
    For anyone that doubts the heating ability of solar, just put out a standard black plastic refuse sack and see how quickly it heats up and how hot it gets, even here in the UK.

  42. A C Osborn says:

    Rhoda, I have asked that question of “warmists” many times and the only answer I ever get is that it is too cold to do any actual work, the machine that would use it would have to be even colder.
    That said it all for me.
    Dr Roy Spencer took the results of cooling as the opposite effect, ie that focusing the photons cooled the object less than if it was focused on deep sapce at 3 degrees K, thereby proving that DWLWR warms the earth.

  43. Simon Derricutt says:

    H.R. – that first bit of seeing the momentum vector being there is the most critical point, and the bit that it seems most people find to be a step too far because the books define heat as a scalar. Once you’ve seen that bit, though, it’s difficult to see why other people can’t see it.

    No need for any “new” fields, though. We can use electric fields and electrons, but setting up a field that goes in one net direction around a circuit is not easy to envisage (and we need to have a circuit). However, that’s actually what happens in a thermocouple circuit, where the work functions all exactly balance when the junctions are at the same temperature but, because the work functions are temperature-dependent, when the junction temperatures are different we end up with a net electric field around the circuit and thus current flows. The question is how we can get a similar imbalance of work functions when the junctions are at the same temperature, and the judicious use of tunnel junctions looks like it can do that. A tunnel junction is around 2nm of insulator, and that is the technical difficulty for making this sort of thing on the kitchen table. This however looks like the cheapest way to mass-produce, and needs depositions of thin films that can be done roll-to-roll in the right factory.

    An alternative method is to replicate the PV structure but using a semiconductor with a band gap of around 30meV or so rather than the near-IR 0.9eV or so of Silicon. The IR photon then produces a photoelectron/hole pair, and we need an electric field sufficient to produce a depletion layer (no carriers) in the semiconductor so that the photoelectrons are swept out to the electrode before they recombine. It looks like the field needed to produce the depletion layer in such a semiconductor will be pretty high, and though I have found the right semiconductor I don’t yet know how to get a sufficient PN junction to produce that depletion layer. Still, get a semiconductor professional on the job and it’s pretty likely that a solution would be found, and the device would then obviously work since it’s analogous to a “normal” solar cell.

    Once you’ve got the point of heat being carried by particles, though, it’s also obvious that we can do the same thing using gas molecules. Gas pressure is regarded as continuous, but it isn’t, since it’s the average momentum exchange of gas molecules with the wall of the container. Once you get down to the scale of the mean free path, you can resolve each individual collision. More importantly, if you use a piezo “microphone” and a diode to rectify the signal, you can you can take energy out of a single container of gas. For standard air at NTP, we’re talking about a “microphone” of around 70nm diameter and a frequency of around 7GHz, but by reducing the pressure and using a heavier gas (Argon, Krypton, or Xenon) we could use a bigger “microphone” and the diode wouldn’t need to be as fast or as sensitive. The container of gas would cool down and deliver energy down the wires. Needs some precise masks, but not anything beyond current technology. Unfortunately it does need a lot of money invested, so I won’t be trying that. Still, we’re talking about a kW per square metre being easily available just from atmospheric pressure. Note that again we talk of air pressure as a scalar, but down at the molecular level those particles have momentum.

    One of the hidden assumptions of thermodynamics is that transfer functions will be symmetrical. In electronics we have many non-symmetrical transfer functions, with diodes being the simplest. Once we get a diode into a thermodynamic situation, the basic assumptions are no longer valid.

  44. rhoda klapp says:

    ACO, the significance I take from the Spencer experiment is that he hasn’t done it and doesn’t necessarily believe it is equivalent to what happens in the real atmosphere. Which means there is still no experimental proof in the lab or outside it that the mechanisms used to explain GHE are correct. What I meant in my previous question was that the height-of-emission / lapse rate explanation does not seem to require DWLWIR at all. I tend to think that if you want to spend trillions to avoid disaster and re-jig civilisation you really ought to be able to show the effect you are claiming. But that’s just me.

  45. A C Osborn says:

    Rhoda, and me.
    ps Roy did do the experiments as well as some to show Cold objects warming warmer ones, none of which proved it for me.

  46. A C Osborn says:

    Simon Derricutt says: 23 December 2019 at 12:52 pm
    THe idea of a microphone taking energy from gas is fascinating, as you say the gas will cool and I assume that the energy of the molecules will reduce.
    What happens if you supplement the pressure by adding heat, ie Solar?
    Would that make the setup more efficient than Solar Panels?

    As you can tell I know very litle science but I do like asking questions, sorry if the answers are obvious.

  47. Simon Derricutt says:

    ACO – Though solar radiation is obviously directional, a solar panel will take photons from any direction and if the photon has enough energy (higher than the band gap) then it will produce a photoelectron from that photon. The photoelectron is also produced with a random direction, and the electric field from the PN junction (or Schottky barrier) is what redirects that photoelectron to the right electrode. Some PV constructions use a thinner layer of semiconductor and a mirror at the bottom to enable a bit more absorption of the photons – if you don’t catch them on the way in, you’ll catch them after reflection on the way out.

    The DWLWR (down-welling long-wave radiation) photons will have too small a quantum of energy to produce a photoelectron in a standard PV. The “long-wave” bit is the clue there. There are types of PV that will however detect it and thus deliver energy from it, such as the MerCat (Mercury/Cadmium alloy semiconductor with Tellurium doping) sensors, with a band gap of around 100meV. Cost of these is around $1500 for an 0.5mm² die, so it’s not really an economical way to get power but it does show that the principle works.

    The reason a PV works is that the photon’s energy is transferred to become a photoelectron/hole pair within an electric field. The photon is not affected by the field but the photoelectron is, and so any reverse fields around the rest of the circuit won’t affect the result for the photoelectron when it is produced. It’s produced, sees a field, and gets accelerated in one direction by that field. If there is no current drawn, then the electrons build up on the +ve side to negate the field (it tries to achieve an equilibrium), and once the field is negated then new photoelectrons stay where they are.

    One of the things about this discussion of thermodynamics is that it appears to be possible (both theoretically and experimentally) to produce useful work from a single-temperature heat sink. You don’t need a hotter one and a colder one. Once we can redirect the thermal energy by changing the momentum vectors, then no cold-sink is needed and (because energy is conserved) the conversion of energy is 100% efficient rather than being Carnot-limited. Given that the best steam-turbines are around 70% efficient and that overall efficiency of power-stations is generally 40-50%, using direct conversion rather than thermodynamic conversion would double the power delivered by any power station that installed it. It would also remove the need for cooling water and cooling towers. Quite a large benefit if it works, therefore, since even for a car (where we started) where you’re burning fuel to get enough power, you’d get around 3-4 times the miles per gallon and could use clean-burn technologies to produce almost-zero pollution emissions. For fuel, all you need is something that burns, so you could have wood-fired cars…. Gets a bit revolutionary when you follow the rabbit-hole far enough.

  48. Simon Derricutt says:

    ACO – yep, any other source of heat added would increase the power delivered from the microphone/diode combinations. You can regard the gas pressure as the source here, so anything you do to raise the pressure will deliver more power out. As you take energy out, the local temperature of the gas and the pressure will drop. Open to atmosphere, the pressure will not drop but you’ll see a temperature drop, but if you’re using an enclosed gas (to take advantage of the larger dimensions with heavier molecules and lower pressures) then you’d need to find a way to get heat energy into that enclosed gas.

    Once you see heat as individual particles with kinetic energy, rather than as some Carnot-inspired perfect fluid, then the whole situation changes.

    Part of the thinking here shows that all objects are shedding energy as fast as they can (limited by Stefan-Boltzmann law for radiation, and Newton’s rules for conduction) and they do this independently of everything else. The reason they don’t all cool down to absolute zero is that they are receiving energy from all the other objects around them. It does not take work to cool things, but instead that cooling will deliver energy.

    That also gives another idea for how to drive cars, and there are examples in operation too. Since liquefying air will also deliver energy and cost us nothing to do, you can use the evaporation of that liquid air to drive an engine. Gives you a fast “charge” since it’s a liquid you’re transferring, so could be better than an EV for some circumstances. If you set up an air liquefaction machine at a certain power production (it doesn’t consume power, after all) you can accumulate the liquid air and fill up when needed.

    Was that another rabbit or a squirrel?

  49. A C Osborn says:

    Simon, thanks for the explanation.
    I have never understood why cars/trucks/buses with hot radiators and very hot exhausts do not use thermo-electrics to generate elecricity for running some of the electrics.
    I actually suggested it to Ford motor co when I worked for them back in the 90s, but they were not interested. After all the heat is wasted and therefore free.
    At least someone is trying it
    I am sure that I saw somewhere that you can get Kws from a truck Engine

  50. p.g.sharrow says:

    @Simon, I know your concept can be made to work with Gravity used to create the Bias.I once created several Gravity Batteries but due to the crude nature of them could only get potential, about 50mv per and no measurable current flow. Or about 300 volts per Meter. Always positive on top and negative on bottom. This is due to gravity warpage of the atomic dielectric. The atom will become slightly more positive on one side of it’s electron shell due to gravity moving it’s nucleus off center.

  51. p.g.sharrow says:

    I guess I should point out that the warpage is in the battery material and not the plates. As in a flat plate condenser. As gravity warps the dielectric of the material between them, it pulls or pushes electrons that are part of the plates.

  52. A C Osborn says:

    Simon in the gas battery would having a piston arrangement with an additional weight on top which would continually compress the gas also improve it’s performance over simple Air pressure?

  53. Simon Derricutt says:

    ACO – yep, higher pressure will increase the power available per square cm of the device, but since a higher pressure means a smaller mean free path then the feature size would need to be smaller too. Since 70nm is already at the limit of current technology, maybe not a good way to go.

    Since this method, though obviously possible, needs too high a technology to make and will thus cost more, it’s worth more as a thought experiment than actually making it. There may be some niche situations where it could be useful, but I think we can probably get a cheaper device based on electrons and thin film deposition.

  54. Larry Ledwick says:

    A C Osborn says:
    23 December 2019 at 12:30 pm

    The problem of course is that the reflector has to track the sun, so a telescope star tracking system would need to be added.

    Not really, that is a complication that is easily avoided.
    The problem is people want to make things too complicated, and make the perfect the enemy of the useful.

    First of all you have to consider what the problem really is for a thermal solar power collector.
    The objective is to gather the maximum amount of energy with the lowest investment in materials and maintenance. You also have to consider what is the real world case of useful illumination, and highest heat demand for thermal heat.

    In the northern hemisphere your highest heat demand is from about November to March.
    Due to cosine effects useful sun only occurs from about 9:00 am to 3:00 pm at best to 10:00 am to 2:00 pm at worst.

    So to make best use of solar thermal in winter you need a system that effectively gathers solar irradiation for the central part of the day. That means it has to usefully focus the sun’s illumination on the panel over about a 5 hour window centered on local noon and accept that illumination from the elevation angles to the sun during that period.

    Now real weather temperatures lag about 30 days behind the sun’s angle at winter solstice so you want to optimize the panels for best effectiveness on about Jan 21 and let the rest or the winter season take care of itself.

    Using the solar angle calculator here ( )
    Here in Denver the numbers work out like this Latitude is 39.7 degrees. On January 21, the highest the sun gets in the sky is: 30.31 degrees above the horizon. At 3:00 pm it will be down to an elevation angle of 18.59 and the azimuth angle will have shifted west 44.80 degrees to 221.77
    the first useful sun at 9:00 am will come from an elevation of 15.57 and azimuth of 133.76 some 43.21 degrees east of local solar noon.

    Date Elev angle Azimuth

    Jan 01 27.30 179.15
    Jan 06 27.79 178.54
    Jan 11 28.46 177.97
    Jan 16 29.30 177.44
    Jan 21 30.31 176.97
    Jan 26 31.47 176.56
    Jan 31 32.78 176.22
    Feb 05 34.22 175.95
    Feb 10 35.78 175.76
    Feb 15 37.44 175.66
    Feb 20 39.19 175.64
    Feb 25 41.02 175.71
    Mar 02 42.91 175.86
    Mar 07 44.85 176.09
    Mar 12 46.82 176.39
    Mar 17 48.80 176.77

    As a result on Jan 21 you want the collector to effectively concentrate sunlight coming from a box in the sky that is 88 degrees wide east to west and only 3 degrees wide vertically.

    That is easily accomplished with a trough reflector. Here again people try to make this too complicated as they think about precise parabolic troughs like this:

    That style of reflector is very picky about its acceptance angle get it off slighty and its effeciency goes to near zero ( bad choice designer got to bed without supper).

    What you want is a design which is not picky about the acceptance angle and you don’t need hundred fold concentration to make things hot.

    Any temperature over about 140 deg F is useful for home heating. So you go to a design that is easier to build, much cheaper, and has a wide tolerance for illumination angle.

    The edge ray reflector trough.

    In the limiting case the edge ray design is two parabolic reflectors set at an angle so they focus their rays on the far edge of a narrow flat panel, by widening the side angles of the trough you can widen its acceptance angle at a slight cost of lowered efficiency. If you set the trough so its long axis is normal to the local sun angle (ie normal to solar noon) it is very a happy to accept illumination from far off axis in the horizontal direction.

    At low optical concentrations a flat panel reflector is a close enough approximation of the parabola section that it works just fine. The widest angle that is useful is with the wing reflectors at about 45 degrees to the panel surface and ideal works out to about 70 degrees. If you want to get fancy you can have two panels set at slightly different angles to more closely approximate the parabolic trough but not really necessary.

    The upper illustration here is what you are trying to approximate.

    (reminder flat panel reflectors are a LOT cheaper to build that the equivalent area of flat panel solar panels, so a 70 degree trough is considerably cheaper than a flat panel of the same effective width and has around 3x solar concentration so the panel will get to far higher stagnation temperatures at noon.

  55. Larry Ledwick says:

    Now make those trough reflector panels so they can periodically be adjusted for their vertical angle maybe 3 x per year and you have a high efficiency panel design that is very forgiving of sun angle and needs no tracking system is self shading in the summer so you don’t over heat the collector panel in July and because of the wing reflectors even is fairly tolerant of hail.

    As a final component of a compound system that successively feeds the incoming hot air into more and more effective panels you get the best of both worlds. The first panels would be simple flat plate panels which would raise the air temp several tens of degrees over outside temperature to preheat it with low cost panels, then move that hot air into the trough collector panels for a finishing pass that even on a clear cold winter day should be able to raise the air temperature up over 100 deg F and the high temperature area you need to insulate to reduce heat loss is a fraction of the area of the entire panel array. ( likewise the expensive glass cover sheets for the high temperature panels is a fraction of the size of the full array).

  56. A C Osborn says:

    Larry, thanks for that.
    When we had the old dumb gas boiler with a hot water tank that setup would have been ideal.
    Now with virtually enforced purchasing of Combi boilers, with no big tank we have lost our big tank of hot water.
    Neither of my much more complicated combi boilers are that much more efficient than the 25 year old dumb one they replaced that they pay for the extra cost, the first one never did and the more expensive second one may do depending on how long it lasts.
    Sometimes progress is actually backwards in some respects.

  57. jim2 says:

    A gas furnace it much easier to install and a lot less fussy about angles, as long as it is upright. And, it supplies heat in a fine-tuned manner all year round – and at night too.

  58. Larry Ledwick says:

    This is where heat storage using a rock bin seems to me to be the best solution from an overall perspective.

    Unlike water tanks a rock bin cannot leak and flood the basement. They also unlike water do not become aggressively corrosive at high temperatures.

    Although rocks have lower specific heat than water, they have higher density.

    water specific heat = 1.0
    rock specific heat = 0.19 (granite) 0.18 (concrete stone) 0.30 (dry earth)

    Water density = 62 pounds per cubic foot
    granite density = 165 and 172 lb/cu ft

    one cubic foot of water stores 62 btu per deg F temperature change
    one cubic foot of rock stores 573 btu / deg F temperature change (165 x 0.19) x .66 (packing factor)

    The rock bin storage has about 1/3 of its volume being open space between the rocks so you can only figure about 66% of the volume being rock. Best rock sizes should be similar in size. Large rocks absorb and release heat slowly and smaller rocks more quickly so a mixture of rocks that range in size from about ping pong ball to handball sized rocks is best for mass to surface area and ease of air flow through the stack.

    Design the rock bin so the air meanders through the pile to avoid stagnation in pockets which get little air flow.

    The neat thing about rock bins is that they can also be used to store cooling by pushing cold winter air through them in the winter to chill the rock then use that cold rock to lower air temps in the summer. (there would be a condensation problem if the hot air being cooled was at high humidity though)

    You of course would have to work out the local economics. In some places truckloads of fist sized rocks are easy to find, others not so much. Is it cheaper to buy concrete construction rubble, or some other discarded building material like salvaged building bricks or broken cinder blocks.
    You could also use adobe bricks and “make your own rocks” of a custom size and shape for your needs. In the out back areas of the world where it is easier to make things than to buy them rock bin storage has a lot to go for it, if you are sufficiently handy to build your own also very affordable.
    You wouldn’t want to size it for 100% or your heat needs but it could substantially reduce fuel use by meeting a large fraction of your heat needs.

  59. jim2 says:

    Or, you could run clay pipe for the air, and fill with sand or gravel.

  60. Larry Ledwick says:

    Yes thermal mass can be created in endless different ways depending on what is locally available.
    The big issue you need to watch for is the fan back pressure needed to force air through the thermal storage bin (or underground pipes) in sufficient quantity to move the required heat load to provide heat.

    If the rocks etc. are properly sized you can provide most of your fan energy using solar panels, but high density media like small rocks requires industrial size electric motors to move enough air to make use of your thermal storage.

  61. jim2 says:

    LL said: “but high density media like small rocks requires industrial size electric motors”

    Yes, that’s why the clay pipes – to conduct air through the sand or gravel.

  62. Larry Ledwick says:

    You have to balance air back pressure, low thermal conductivity of the media, surface area to transfer heat and how fast or slow the air can move through the storage media and still transfer all the available heat.

    Simple tubes trade low back pressure at the cost of low surface area, that means airflow has to be very slow to allow heat transfer to take place. As mentioned above, with bare rock that works out to best compromise is with rock sizes near that of a hand ball. Lots of surface area, low conduction distance from the surface of the stone to the center of mass, sufficient porosity to allow reasonable air flow and very cheap for the mass in the storage bin (also easy to handle – just dump it in).

    Now if your storage bin was very long or you set up a zig zag path so the air had to travel down 50′ – 100′ of pipe you might get it to work, but all the clay pipe I have seen is pretty large bore stuff (6″ – 8″ diameter. Lots of open area but relatively small surface area per volume.

    For example if you ran several hundred feet of trench with buried clay pipe in the trench you could get good surface area and long residence time in the tubes for the thermal mass of the surrounding soil.

    If you had access to a bunch of cheap salvage metal pipe and used 3/4 inch pipe with rammed earth around it and a few hundred tubes like how steam boilers are setup it could also work in a bin design.

    You would have to do some experiments to see how far the air would have to go down the clay pipe tubes of a given size, to be exposed to enough surface area to transfer heat.

    In a baffled rock bin where the air has to zig zag back and forth, filled with handball sized rocks you would have several acres of surface area to the rocks, so some how you need to get up to that sort of heat transfer surface or use very slow air movement so it has time to pickup heat from the storage volume.

    If you could find it cheap enough, filling a bin with scrap re-bar bits would be fantastic, very high density, high thermal conductivity compared to stone, specific heat near 2x that of rock and lots and lots of surface area to transfer energy.

    (note aluminum has a specific heat almost as high as water at 0.91 – scrap aluminum would be spectacular if you could find it for free [crushed soda cans???])

    Over all however, just plain old rocks fist sized or a bit smaller turns out to be just about the best low cost thermal storage the average person can come up with.

  63. E.M.Smith says:

    There’s also eutectic salts:

    Phase Change Materials PCM Manufacturers Building & Electronic Air Condition ..

    T-series 18Cto29C: Phase Change Materials, PCM Latest TM 29T Brand with Melting Point 29°C and Latent Heat of fusion 175 KJoule/Kg or 260 KJoule/liter. Its best suited for Air-Condition Back-up to BT Shelter or Telecom Shelter. Temperatures from18°C to 29°C are used in Air Conditioning. Other M.P. grades are summarized in the link.

    S-series 32Cto48C: Phase Change Material PCM Latest TM 36S Brand with Melting Point 36°C and Latent Heat of fusion 260 KJoule/Kg or 357 KJoule/liter. It is best suited for Air-Cooled Telecom Shelters. Other M.P. grades are summarized in the link.

    Hot Pads and Solar Heating systems use our PCM Latest TM 58, melting at 58°C.

    Electronic or Telecom Enclosure: PCM are widely used in Electronic or Telecom Enclosures (BT Shelters) is LatestTM29T for Air-condition AC Air Conditioning with PCM and you may also visit our page AC Backup by PCM or Phase Change LatestTM36S for Free Cooling. We also offer Polymer-based PCM-Filled Profiles Panels and Aluminum PCM-Filled Profiles or any other Container like Balls or Bottles or Heat Sinks and so on. We also supply Telecom Shelters and provide engineering services for Back-up Cooling in Existing and New Shelters. If your interest is only in PCM for Telecom Shelter then go to our Page Telecom Shelters PCM.

    Freezer Salt: PCM used for maintaining the temperature at 0°C, you get it free; use tap water.
    Ask us for other target temperatures like 4°C, 7°C, 10°C, 15°C or minus 5°C, minus 30°C and so on.

    I like their sense of humour ;-)

  64. Larry Ledwick says:

    I played with Glaubers salt many years ago, interesting stuff.

    Fun to play with it, but really expensive (about $10 / lb) in comparison to a box of rocks or even a tank of water.
    There are also some issues with the salt slowly degrading and changing its behavior due to issues like changes in crystal sizes as some but not all the salt dissolves during repeated melting and freezing cycles.

  65. jim2 says:

    LL @

    I think you have nailed it. Smallish rocks probably are the cheapest way for heat storage available to the average human.

    RE clay pipe, it comes in 4 inch diameter.

  66. Larry Ledwick says:

    Unfortunately no one I can find lists even approximate prices for clay pipe, so very difficult to determine if there is any break even point cost wise.
    It would also be interesting to find out if clay pipe manufactures have much in the way of manufacturing scrap or blemished pipe you could use for this sort of project at near haul away prices.

    How do they salvage damaged goods in manufacturing, do they pulverize the bad pipe segments and add them back into the clay mix?

    Lots and lots of pipe pieces would be comparable to rocks and being thin section would probably have higher surface to mass ratios for faster heating and cooling cycles.

  67. jim2 says:

    I couldn’t find a price list either, but search on fixing the sewer line from house to road, and you can find some comparative prices. And here is a list of companies if you want to contact them:

  68. jim2 says:

    Here’s one with a clay price comparison:

  69. Larry Ledwick says:

    I have no interest in actually buying any clay pipe but was just curious what a 10′ stick of 4″ clay pipe cost to compare it to the same volume of cobbles, but thanks for the pointer anyway.

    The apartment management would get upset if I started digging holes and filling them with rocks or clay pipe.

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