Category Archives: Renewable Energy

The World Never Thanks Naval Architects

Guest Blog by S. A. Shelley: For almost all of human history, trade has been facilitated by water borne craft. Mesopotamia? They had boats on the rivers and in the gulf. Egypt? Boats on the river. Rome? Boats hauling grain from Egypt to Rome. China?  The Chinese were sailing and trading along East Asia for thousands of years.  By the time of the Clipper ships, naval architects had mastered wind power such that a clipper ship could make a transatlantic voyage in about 12 days . A modern fossil-fueled container ship can make the same voyage in about 8 days.  By 2018 goods carried on ships amounted to nearly 11 billion tonnes with some economists estimating that between 80% to 90% of all goods produced globally travel by ships across some water at some stage of production.

Ships today tend to be powered by fossil fuels, and when looking at the amount of CO2 emitted per tonne of cargo moved per kilometer, ships are by far the most efficient way to move goods (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 – CO2 Emissions by Various Transport Methods

The problem is that because there is so much world trade moved by ships, the shipping industry itself emits more C02 (around 3% of global emissions) and other pollutants (18%) than most countries. The European Union foresees the problem getting much worse by 2050, expecting CO2 emissions from shipping to increase by another 50% over current levels. This presents a problem as the world tries to limit and maybe even reduce CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. The simple solution of course is to shut down global trade.

The other solution is to implement new technologies to make shipping less reliant upon fossil fuels. We’ve noted in a prior blog that Japan has started to build liquefied hydrogen carriers to transport hydrogen from Australia to Japan. Now, some shippers are starting to look at new ships to run on hydrogen fuel, both in combustible form and in fuel-cells. In spite of push back from LI-Ion proponents, hydrogen fuel makes a lot of technical and economic sense for big things that move slowly over vast distances. Things like ships, super yachts, trains and inter-city trucks. This is all good if the hydrogen is green hydrogen, sourced renewably.

Alternatively, some shippers are looking at returning to sail power. This might work well if customers will accept slower crossing times (from 8 to 12 days, for example).

But will this be enough?  There are over 40,000 registered ships plying the world’s seas, and many thousand more of dubious status hopping about from port to port. In some areas, ships that are 100 years old still trade (see note 1). Returning to the European Union estimate that CO2 emissions will increase 50% by 2050, then let’s assume that ship numbers will also have to increase by the same percentage. That means that by 2050, about 20,000 new ships will be navigating the seas in addition to the 40,000 registered ones now afloat. If we’re really serious about stopping all forms of CO2 emissions growth then we better start building nothing but hydrogen or wind powered vessels from here on at the rate of about 500 a year. Boom times for the shipyards that figure this out.

Vive l’Alberta Libre!

S.A.Shelley (see notes 2, 3, 4 and 5)


(1) I can confirm this because I’ve surveyed such vessels in my working life and I’ve had the adventure of actually sailing on such vessels in some of the more remote parts of the world

(2) Being a true Naval Architect, when I first moved to Houston, I was puzzled by some of the unorthodox offshore oil and gas engineering practices until I realized that those practices were a continuation of near-shore, coastal civil engineering practices that just followed the fields into deeper water.  

(3) In the movie Titanic, I cried when the ship sank.

(4) Recently, Germany had some delivery problems with their newest frigate design. The problems included being overweight with a permanent list upon delivery (not much different from oil and gas platforms at times). I’ve worked on and had the chance to inspect a lot of naval vessels from many different navies, and for a small stipend to a Swiss account, I’d be happy to tell folks which ships have similar problems, as well as problems with gearboxes, propellers and weapons systems. Other information about real vessel speeds and maneuvering capabilities can also be provided for a good bottle of whisky or two.

(5) There goes my security clearance.

Money Laundering and Renewable Energy – A Great Opportunity

Guest blog by S. A. Shelley: If the world wants to move quickly to a lot of renewable energy, then maybe money laundering is the key to getting it done.

It’s been well known for some time that money laundering is a significant driver in real estate  ( see and   Such shenanigans with real estate began way back in the 1980s in Florida, with cocaine cowboys literally knocking on home-owners’ doors and offering cash for homes at above market value.  From there, it moved to California, Hong Kong and Dubai, Vancouver, and of course London…until a large chunk of high-end real estate was infected somewhat by illicit money. There are of course other means to launder money. Cash flow businesses such as restaurants or car washes have also been havens, i.e., anything that can provide a large, difficult to trace production output and revenues versus costs and volumes of input: Was that 1lb of pasta used to make 5 dishes or 6?

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Do Renewable Portfolio Standards Increase Electricity Rates?

I live in California. That gives me a front seat to virtually every new initiative and trend related to saving the planet, whether it is about turtles and plastic straws, banning single-use plastic bags, electric vehicles, or green energy. Although not the first state to adopt a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), California has been one of the most aggressive in its timetable for replacing fossil fuel based electricity with carbon-free. In 2018, California updated its RPS to the requirement to achieve 60% of electricity sales from renewable sources by 2030 and 100% by 2045. Of course, California’s aggressive push toward renewables has triggered a wide range of reactions. For example, Michael Shellenberger of Environmental Progress has been pushing the idea that California’s electricity rates are significantly higher than the rest of the US (see Figure 1) and rising significantly faster because of its dependence on renewables. His culprit is renewable energy and his solution is to keep nuclear plants open. In contrast, Roger Sowell, who blogs about renewable energy issues, argues that California’s unique climate, geography, and large population make such differences to be expected.

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Recent Interesting and Unusual Energy Stories

Guest blog by Mr. R. U. Cirius: Here are some interesting and somewhat offbeat energy stories that haven’t gotten much media attention during the first three months of the year.

California wind turbines contribute to unprecedented wildflower outbreak

This year California has experienced what many are calling a “superbloom” of wildflowers that hasn’t been seen in decades (Fig. 1). While most attribute this to heavy winter rainfall following several years of drought, Dr. Marko Ramius from the National Wind Energy Laboratory (NWEL) has identified another contributor to the phenomenon – California’s ubiquitous wind turbines. Dr. Ramius has released his surprising findings that show the role of what he calls the “turbulence boundary interface”. This is the boundary of the turbulent mass of air downstream of the turbine’s rotor that generally hovers just off the ground. He has found that this boundary traps moisture close to the earth, which then enhances and prolongs the period of flower bloom. He is currently in discussion with major turbine manufacturers to incorporate blade tip misters into their designs that could provide moisture during drought periods and hopefully make such superblooms a more common occurrence.

Fig. 1 – Wildflowers under wind turbines near Palm Springs, CA

Click here to learn more about wind energy.

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California Does Not Need Big, Very Expensive Floating Offshore Wind Farms

Guest blog by S. A. Shelley Californians do not need big and very expensive offshore floating wind farms. In fact, nobody needs big and very expensive offshore floating wind farms. Fixed offshore wind farms started out very expensive, requiring significant government subsidies, but small. They have since matured to allow for big inexpensive offshore wind farms with no government subsidies of any kind. The latest fixed offshore wind farms are producing and supplying electricity to their grids at a cost competitive rate compared to the current supply, and this is a result of technological evolution, improved execution strategies and increasing turbine size (power output). However, floating offshore wind technology is still in the nascent, small and heavily subsidized phase of the technology lifecycle. Yet, for some reason, various consortia are pitching huge floating wind farms right off the bat to California. That’s a big problem and folks in California need to watch that they do not get forced to subsidize those projects.

Continue reading California Does Not Need Big, Very Expensive Floating Offshore Wind Farms