Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The U.S. can be energy self-sufficient within a decade

Two weeks ago I ran three articles here that talked about "peak oil":The gist of these articles is simple: As oil gets more expensive, we will replace it with less-expensive technologies in a completely natural way. Therefore, peak oil will be a non-event.

Then I started collecting a large quantity of material showing all of the different energy technologies that are currently being researched and deployed. You can find the material here:What you can see is that the United States can be completely energy self-sufficient within a decade. We simply need to make the decision to do it. We do not have to create any new technological magic. Here is one example that uses some of the simplest technology possible.

The technology is called CSP (Concentrating Solar Power). And this technology is incredibly simple -- you use mirrors to reflect lots of sunlight at a single focal point. The mirrors can be arranged in a trough configuration, a dish configuration or a tower configuration. At the focal point, you use the heat of the sunlight to create steam, and use the steam to drive a steam turbine and electrical generator. This page provides a very nice, easy-to-understand overview of the concepts:There are two great quotes in this article:Clearly, if we make the decision to do so and put our minds to it, the United States can become energy self-sufficient in a decade or so. This problem is much, much simpler than putting a man on the moon, and we did that in about the same amount of time. The fact that we are not actively doing this already is sad.

In all likelihood we will never make that decision. What will happen instead is that normal economic forces will cause the transition to happen in a natural way. The cost of electricity and gasoline will rise as oil gets more expensive. The cost of solar electricity, nuclear power, wind energy, etc. will fall as technology advances and economies of scale kick in. There will come a point where companies find it quite profitable to build power plants using these other technologies rather than fossil fuels. So they will. Oil will come to play less and less of a role in our economy, and peak oil will be a non-event.

See also Simulated oil meltdown shows U.S. economy's vulnerability

Right on Marshall. I am also an optimist on peak oil.

However, the situation is not sad.

Solar concentrating technology seems to have great potential but it can only replace coal/natural gas for now, not oil. If there was a way to turn electricity into gasoline, we would surely have done it.

Hydrogen fuel cell cars currently cost something like $1,000,000. Unless there is some major breakthrough, it could be a long road to get them down to $20,000. Hopefully it just takes 10 years, but realistically it might be longer.

Personally, I'm exited about plug-in hybrids. They could let us use some electricity, some bio fuels, and some gasoline. Since we have plenty of all three, there's nothing to worry about in the event oil peaks.

Bring on the solar concentrators though. They would benefit the US greatly, but probably the developing world even more significantly. What a great gift they would be to 3rd world countries if they work.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if all our dreams could come true and the real world never got in the way? I don't need to repeat some of the comments made against what Marshall writes but perhaps he could address some of them instead of staying fascinated by the future, blinded to real-life problems. A full, rounded analysis please, taking into account ALL objections and then we might have something worth taking seriously.
I love the way you're giving the truth to the PO-crowd, Marshall. Keep it up.
Marshall, it's NOT sad that the government doesn't solve the energy situation. It could, yes, but instead we'll wait, and private industry will do it in the normal way, by responding to price, and it will get done much much more cheaply, and probably more robustly, and there will be no huge externalities associated with collecting taxes or increasing government debt.
I would like to know what the ENERGY payback (EROEI) of this system is.

"The market" alone will not deliver because these projects take years to construct; these projects require energy in their construction which will push up its own costs.

To think that its costs will remain stable whilst everything else goes through the roof is a dream.

For Y2K a lot of awareness got out and massive amounts of effort went into "preventative measures"; thus the risks were heeded and thus it became a non-event.

We are NOT seeing the same kind of approach to Peak Oil and Gas. So I don't share your optimism that PO will be a "non-event" as such.
I really like your enthusiasm, Marshall. Let's all hope, and work, for the realization of a positive outcome.

One nit-pick is the term "non-event." The aggregate of the changes you envision is not trivial. Even with successful post peak oil accommodating technologies, our economies and the way we live our daily lives are going to be quite different.

Peak oil is one global issue that has our immediate attention. Supposing we weather peak oil in good shape, may I propose consideration of what comes next?

This precious globe is a finite place with finite resources. We have used many technologies to expand its carrying capacity of human beings to a fantastic number, but infinity is impossible.

Can the world's population continue to grow exponentially forever?

Beyond peak oil, what other "non-events" are on the horizon for billions and billions of voracious, consuming humans?

We are at a very interesting time in history. How we deal with the issues today will be studied for many years to come.

I wrote my dad about this and asked his opinion. He was an engineer with Nevada Power for about 25 years. Now he services power plants all over the country and is one of only a few specialists in his field. He is very educated to answer these questions. I asked him if it was possible, and beneficial. Here is his answer.

"There was a test plant near Barstow CA, where a solar plant was built in the 80's. It consisted of acres of parabolic mirrors that all focused on a large boiler in the center of the site. the main problem was keeping the thousands of mirrors aligned correctly to focus the suns energy on the boiler. It also had major problems with keeping the mirrors clean so the energy was not diffused each time it rained, the wind blew dust on them, etc. This site was probably 40 acres big, and it was constantly down for maintenance and cleaning. This plant produced about 100 megawatts, the same as one small gas turbine. About enough power for 1000 homes. (Alot of employees would have to be hired to keep a site as large as Marshall estimates, 13,000 sq miles, clean and aligned properly to the boilers).

That's not saying it couldn't work. With enough money, anything we think up can eventually be done. However, energy must be used as it is generated, unless you also have large battery type systems built to store it. Or convert it to some other form of stored energy. They have looked at compressing air and storing it in huge underground caves. Then when they need energy, they release the air through windmill type thing to generate electricity. You can imagine the problems they run into. They pump water up hills to reservoirs during the time when there is extra electricity. Then when they need power, they run it back down the hill through hydro generators. They have built many of these around the country, and they work well. Tree huggers though file endless lawsuits and stop it however because it is not "natural". A company wanted to build one near Blue Diamond,NV but was stopped by politicians because it uses water. (They never seemed to realize it uses the same water over and over, stored in a covered reservoir both on the hill and down in the valley). Meanwhile, more golf courses are built in the desert that waste acre-feet of water daily for the benefit of the idle rich and pampered politicos.. (A little soap box there). So, these methods would require that conventional power plants continue to be maintained and available as a backup, unless everyone agrees that they don't need electricity when the conditions are not appropriate for generating.

In the end, the plant in Barstow cost about $2 per kilowatt hour to deliver electricity on average. Nevada Power bills you $ .07. Do you want your power bills to rise 30 times, even for just a few years while the technology is perfected. In about 1996, a control problem occurred that made the boiler overheat and it blew up, dispersing the salt solution that was used in the boiler all over the desert. The environmentalists didn't like that either.

Until the politicians and the lawyers step aside and allow the engineers of the world make the technical decisions, companies will be afraid to make long term decisions and investments. The investors in these companies will not stand for it either Especially when the inevitable problems that will come up with new technology become lawsuit fodder for the "heavy hitter" types.

The long term solution that eventually will be revisited is Nuclear plants. Probably another 10 years from now. More people have been killed in Nevada Power power plants than have been killed in all the nuclear plants in America since the technology was first developed. If Harry Reid would get his head out of wherever it is and look at what is best for the State, he would be working with the DOE and have them building a nuclear power plant at the test site, new roads and mass transit, as well as the storage facility for spent fuel rods. The feds would happily build all this for a little cooperation. It is ironic that he won't support storing radioactive material now where he lobbied hard to continue to perform nuclear test just 15 years ago. Talk about radioactive release."
Cool post Brian.

Perhaps the mirrors could be coated with a solution that prevents anything from sticking to it. There were news reports of something like this being invented awhile ago designed for high-rise windows to eliminate window cleaners.

If they're non-stick, they might not need any cleaning or perhaps they could install a hose to spray them top down once a day.
On second thought, this whole situation is a little SAD.

Why do we subsidize nuclear and coal plants? If we hadn't done so over the last few decades perhaps a technology like CSP would have developed on its own decades ago.

No more government intervention and central planning. Even if oil peaks, it will work itself out.
Dubbya is waiting for word from JEE-sus. -- blzbob
and JEE-sus told him recently nuclear is the way to go
it's Dave from sydneypeakoil.com here.
I take issue with Marshall's estimated 10 years to switch off oil.

Robert Hirsch recently submitted a 96 page report commissioned by the DOE, which basically says it would take 20 years to even mitigate the effects of peak oil. I wrote to him and asked for the bottom line of his report. This is what he said...
No one knows with certainty when the world production of conventional oil will peak, but a number of experts think it will happen in the next 5-15 years. Our work illustrates that the oil peaking problem can be mitigated with available technologies, but the time required for implementation is measured on a 15-20 year time line, at best.

The character of the oil peaking problem is like none other; without timely mitigation, the impacts will be dire, worldwide, and long-lasting. Prudent risk management dictates serious attention and massive action soon, which is difficult for most people and many decision-makers, who tend to wait until a problem is obvious before taking action.

Use this as you see fit.

I love all the alternative energies that Marshall mentions. I hope he is right, and we can get there so easily. But as another poster mentioned, there is no public acceptance of peak oil, even though Exxon Mobile just announced they see non-OPEC oil peaking in the next 5 years and then we'll all be relying on Saudi Arabia to supply any increase in demand. (See my website for Exxon details.)

Peak oil will not be a non-event. I have been studying this obsessively for close to a year now. The BEST SCENARIO is what will go down in the history books as "The Greater Depression". All it takes is the airlines to go bankrupt with higher oil prices, and there goes the world's biggest employer... international tourism.

The "Greater Depression" is my best case scenario. I can still see far, far worse.


"Free peak oil posters for your local notice board. By referring back to eclipsenow.org the posters can generate a positive feedback loop informing thousands."
You still haven't detailed any substitutes for oil byproduct derived fertilizers. You're also ignoring the costs it will take to implement and maintain these technologies on a large scale.

We may be able to generate enough electricity, and petrol substitutes are readily available. But what are we gonna eat?
The key question is, when will the transition happen? The earlier effort starts, the less pain there will be when the transition is forced. True, there are alternatives to petroleum and natural gas for all applications. Biodiesel and (m)ethanol can serve as alternatives for automotive fuels; with only modest difficulty, biodiesel can also be substituted as an input feedstock for petroleum currently used for plastics, and for natural gas currently used in the Haber process for fertilizer production. Nuclear, Solar, Wind, and Geothermal can be used for electric power generation. And the US has an excellent supply of Coal, which can be turned into sythetic petroleum.

But there are and will be problems with all of these that can lead to a rough transition. Increased coal usage has serious implications because of global warming-- even for those who dismiss the direct ecological fallout as overhyped, international political perception precludes ecological issues from being safely ignored-- and is also a finite resource. Electricity from nuclear fusion is no-where in sight. Nuclear fission is currently possible. However fission is also based on finite fuel resources, although possibly substantial enough to aid in a transition period; continued growth in global energy use (especially industrializing third world nations) quickly would necessitate the widescale use of uranium and thorium breeder reactors, with the nuclear proliferation questions that raises. Nuclear also has major political "NIMBY" problems, that make a 10 year lead time a laughably optimistic timeframe for construction of new nuclear facilities. Geothermal requires maintaining facilities in tectonically active zones, or deeper drilling than technology will allow by the time of the crisis. Wind and solar are sporadic, requiring efficient energy storage or altenative suplemental "rapid demand" generation to handle the dynamic pattern of daily electrical load.

Most importantly, Biodiesel and (m)ethanol production even by the most optimistic current estimates return less than 5 times the current conventional petro-energy input; 2 times is the generally accepted figure, and there are studies questioning if there is any net gain under current methods. Regardless, diminished Energy Profit Ratios compared to petroleum will provide an economic drag, even if not necessarily a fatal one.

I believe the problems can be solved, but the engineering challenges are massive. It will probably require development of a GM non-food (solar-to-)biodiesel source crop-- some of the research on algae looks hopeful-- and all of the ecological dangers that might entail. Space based-solar has the best long term growth potential; however, it will require construction of a fullerene orbital tether for economical materials transport (superconducting electrical transmission might be a side benefit; microwave transmission might also be technically viable, but politically more difficult).

The biggest problem is that all of these require infrastructure investment, the cost of which is contingent on large amounts of energy. The later we wait to attack this problem, the worse the crisis will be and the more luxuries-- or even necessities-- will be lost along the way. Furthermore, the even now increasing national debt and the likelihood of an economic slowdown similar to the 1970's oil crisis, both seperately and together imply major difficulties for starting a federal ""moonshot" type program to address the problem.

The longer we wait, the hairier it looks.
one problem not adressed is the current political climate. people in power and the super wealthy don't really have a problem, at least as they see it. what is happening under our noses is "feudalisation" in which islands of the privledged can live as they always have, protected and insulated from the traumas the rest of us will face. as a small example, the cost of health care does not effect them (the elite), so is not addressed in any meaningful sense, in terms of national policy or legislation. the same will be true for energy...anon
When I drive my Prius, I always look at the Hummer drivers, mainly because I wonder what they are thinking. It dawned on my after a while that they never meet my eyes. I think the have trouble coming to grips with their own denial.
LOL, I decided to test myself after that last (Prius) post, "Your speed was 64 WPM with 9 mistakes (adjusted speed 55 WPM)" ... better slow down.

The nuclear option really isn't an option.

In California, in the 60's engineers from PG&E actually went around declaring that if we passed Proposition 9, the "Nuclear Initiative," that electricity would be so cheap that they would be removing the meters from our houses.

Instead, 50 years later, we are still paying to store the waste created back then when someone turned up the heat instead of putting on another sweater.

The very same waste contains elements that must be kept out of living systems for tens of thousands of years. What is cheap about that?

And we do not yet have an adequate means of waste disposal, after 50 years.

All these costs must be borne by generations not yet born.

Then, flying neutrons rot everything they hit. Like stainless steel pipes, containers, power plants in general. (And like the workers' DNA, as well.) But to decommission the old plants costs many times what it cost to build them in the first place. Who pays for that? Then, again, what to do with all that radioactive stuff? Dump it in the ocean, like the Russian nuclear sub fleet? Who'll pay to clean that? Can you clean up an ocean?

Like the engineer said earlier, we can do anything we can think up, if we have the money.

That is why we stopped building nuclear plants. The power was not worth the cost. And we have yet to pay the costs of the plants already built. Or those already decommissioned, until the waste is disposed of.
"The cost of electricity and gasoline will rise as oil gets more expensive. The cost of solar electricity, nuclear power, wind energy, etc. will fall as technology advances and economies of scale kick in. There will come a point where companies find it quite profitable to build power plants using these other technologies rather than fossil fuels. So they will. Oil will come to play less and less of a role in our economy, and peak oil will be a non-event."

Let me see here. Our economy is setup to run on $20 a barrel oil. We are at $60 now and all these alternatives are still not cost effective all the while the economy is slowing. Now how in the world are these alternatives going to be cheaper when it takes oil to make them?
More technology will save us garbage.
Sounds Great . . .
A few problems though!

1 High efficiency transmission around the entire country

2 No sun at night, new battery technology is not there yet

3 Liquid fuels for transport

This is SOOOO annoying. Its like you have all been told you have a terminal disease and all that's left is to complain to the end.

Remember: We are talking about the peak of cheap, stupidly easy to find liquid oil. We are not talking peak of gas, condensates, non-gas liquids, coal, and the like. When the peak of easy oil comes then guess what? We have to go and make not so easy oil the next target. That will suck yes, but its not like it can't be done.

History shows incredible resourcefulness of humans and in particular Americans.

You don't think there are armies of people in government and industry that worry about such things? Well they are. And ExxonMobil is not going to sit on their asses and watch their 100 year old company just crap out.

This is exactly like Y2K in the application of fear, doubt, conspiracy theorizing, and the like. I remember vivdly reading almost verbatim the same arguments and defeatism at the time on the net.

You can grouse and complain and predict all day. The rest of us have to keep on going and making each day count.
Good comment D.

I seriously think that some people think that the second conventional oil his $100 a barrel, people are going to roll over and die.

They take into no account in anything else, except the price of a barrel of oil. It is a completely unrealistic approach to a complex issue.
How anyone can compare Y2K and Peak Oil shows that they don't know what is at stake in terms of energy? D said something about it not being Peak Gas...well sadly for the good ol' USA it is and the regional North American gas economy that will mask this briefly will also peak soon too.
If people are complaining it's because they are powerless...they see a problem but can't do much about it until price signals force more innovation (and by that time it will begin to hurt) or some far-sighted people try to force change. Most non-energy industry people are trying to do the latter but they worry it's too late...and it may be. For all your techno-optimists whining, all you are saying is more of the same but it might be the same that is the problem. I don't see any humilty, any concern for poorer countries who don't have what we have...just more of the same...for our benefit. All of your optimism is a drop in the ocean of time compared to the problems we are setting up for ourselves and all because you can't ever comtemplate having less. How to make a million dollars!!! Here's an idea...keep printing them, let the banks lend them to people to remortgage their houses and buy lots of goodies from China, then allow the Chinese to keep buying Treasury bills, then get the Chinese to devalue their currency which makes paying out on the bills a LOT cheaper..instant millions!!!
Have any of you at all changed your behaviour at the prospect of less plentiful oil and gas? Has anyone of you...well??
Frenchie: We are not talking peak of gas

Oh really? Well I have news for you.

Blackouts, rising gas prices, changes to the Clean Air Act, proposals to open wilderness and protected offshore areas to gas drilling, and increasing dependence on natural gas for electricity generation. What do all these developments have in common, and why should we care?

Because the natural gas is running out. It is finite.
Have any of you at all changed your behaviour at the prospect of less plentiful oil and gas? Has anyone of you...well??

Nope, not really. Gasoline would really have to get expensive for me to stop driving.

70% of oil use goes to transportation. What does it cost to drive to work? A few dollars? The average US citizen makes how much a day? $100, $200, or more?

It's going to have to be damn expensive for me to stop driving to work. By the time that ever happens, alternatives will be affordable.

So I guess I might never stop driving to work. Why should I change my behaviour then?
Argh, I'm reading the same uninformed comments about the "alternatives" everywhere I go. Wake up and do some reading, don't count on technology all the time. Electricity will be solved with nuclear plants, not with giant solar plants that will be visible from space. Gasoline will always be available but too expensive to use, and you'll end up not going to the Bahamas for your summer holiday, or buy that cheap shoe that was made in Nigeria. Or live a peaceful life...
Just for the record...if you quote me, can you quote correctly and read properly what I said? As for you, Drew, did I say 'stop' anything or anything like that? It seems that one of the calamities of our Western education systems is the inability to read properly, think objectively or put together a coherent argument. Is that what happens when there is too much information?
I have yet to see anyone take rising costs for agriculture fully into account in their analyses. As for those who say oil (or energy)is such a small percentage part of our GDP, you don't know what you are talking about at all! Agriculture is a small part of our GDP but you have to eat first and you can't eat cars, hairstyles, clothes or scrap metal instead. The opportunity cost of buying food is...well...what is it?
What a buch of intellectual idiots you all are!!!
It's going to have to be damn expensive for me to stop driving to work. By the time that ever happens, alternatives will be affordable.

So I guess I might never stop driving to work. Why should I change my behaviour then?

Because the amount of supply will not be sufficient, whether it be oil or its alternatives. That's why there were gas queues in the 1970s. That's also why there will be gas queues in the near future.
centralization. that's the problem. decentralization is the solution. why set aside XXX square miles for solar energy systems? decentralize. true, much of the US isn't conducive to solar for power. but how about the half of the lower 48 that is conducive? solar at the home. centralization just means more energy loss - what is it - 70% of the electricity that comes from a give power plant is lost through heat and resistance by the time it makes it to the end user? decentralize. lots of small solar 'plants'. there are houses in my neighborhood with photovoltiacs on the roof, supplying more than is needed during daylight hours - and that's when most energy is used.

did i mention decentralization?
70% of the electricity that comes from a give power plant is lost...did i mention decentralization?

Transmission and distribution losses in the USA were estimated at 7.2% in 1995.

Do you have a source for your 70% number?

It might actually be cheaper/more efficient to have solar farms then pannels on every roof. The cost of every house having it's own inverter and the associated energy loss might make farms a better choice.

Whatever is the cheapest option should win.
heck, i was only off by a factor of ten - wikipedia says it's about seven percent. i don't know if that takes into account losses from the substations on to the consumer or not. as well, there's an awful lot of waste in the conversion of AC to DC for computers, which are ubiquitous power consumers. but yes, perhaps localized 'village' sized solar generating systems would provide the best balance between overcentralization and losses from distant power stations, and the additional losses from lots of small DC<>AC converters at homes....
In the end we will go back to what we were given. We don't need manmade power sources. The earth has all we need, just live with it as it is. There's nothing to transition to, the earth is as good as it gets, just leave it alone.
In the end we will go back to what we were given. We don't need manmade power sources. The earth has all we need, just live with it as it is. There's nothing to transition to, the earth is as good as it gets, just leave it alone.

and you posted your comments using what then, smoke signals?

has some interesting statistics on the Supply of Uranium.

Short Answer: 50 years of the cheap stuff, at present usage levels.

Nukes are not the long term solution.
Lots of different view points on this issue for certain. The emotional element should be restrained while we calmly discuss the issues at hand. As we all know by now, the peak event/s will only be known after they have passed. Thus action to prevent or soften peak effects must be take now, no matter how anyone feels on the issue.

Now, lets look at this issue in the simplest of terms. All nations are trying to GROW. China has publicly stated that it will double it's GNP by 2020, putting it over Japan and just under the US GNP. They have over a billion people, that's a lot by any counting.

Helping all the developing nations to develop, saving starving people in Africa, etc. These are all the goals of our current humanity. But all of this depends on one thing, the plentiful existence of our energy supply.

I do not believe it is possible for the rulers of any country to simply say 'we will now have a planed reduction in our GNP of 10% in an attempt to reduce our countries energy footprint on the earth'. Some bogglers will probably say we can maintain growth while reducing energy consumption, I don't think so. Then there is the issue with saving here, using there. So, for example, all the savings in America would probably be used in Asia to assist their growth.

Back to simple. I have seen calculations (sorry, no link) showing the net Energy we use EVERYDAY from crude oil and it's products (not including the other uses of petroleum, i.e. fertilizer), and what is available from non crude oil sources, there is clearly a problem to substitute any decrease of crude oil. Substitutions must always take into account the EROEI, like the tar sands of Canada and the massive amount of natural gas and water that must be used to process the sands to a useful product.

The transportation issue is the largest one. One I think about every day. If I don't drive myself to work, how do I get there? I could car pool with my neighbor, but then we will use his or my car !! There is no public transportation from my house, and the taxi (a car) costs more than 8 days of fuel cost for my car alone.

I am a strong believer in the resourcefulness of the human being, but also a believer that the human being does not always do the rational or humane action when in difficult position. IMHO that is where most of the PO fears come from.

Solar concentration, hydrogen, electric cars, fuel cells, fusion, all fail the laugh test.

There is no national infrastructure to use them, and even if it somehow takes a mere ten years to build such an infrastructure, we won't be living the commute-happy suburban American dream at the end of it. That's not an non-event, now is it?

Everyone in America will have to move to localized, semi-agricultural towns in order to live the electrified/hydrogen lifestyle, IF we can create it.

Everyone will need to grow food without the massive input of fossil-based fertilizers. That means distributed gardening and a rebirth of Agri . . . Culture. Soil know-how. As opposed to following the instructions on a fertilizer bag.

You can't eat electricity. You can't eat hydrogen.

Beyond all that, you still talk as if it was perfectly okay to keep right on growing our populations, our industries, our use of the planet's resources.

The planet has limits, which we are exceeding, as a species.

For you to refer to PO as a 'non-event' is a sophomoric stunt to attract attention. PO is a set of problems; the key problem will be growing enough food without oceans of oil to make fertilizers and pesticides with.
When I was a small child, I used to fear being in an airplane, or atop a tall building, or on a bridge, when it would fall. I would console myself with the thought that as the crashing structure approached earth, I would wait until the last moment, and then simply leap off, clear of the wreckage, and walk away. Various Bugs Bunny and Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons validated this approach.

Marshall's optimism sounds similar. "Just" hop off and put up 13,000 square miles of mirrors in the desert and switch to electric cars! Shiny new cars for everybody!

The time to come down from the tower safely is before it begins to collapse.
There is one energy source which is available across the world and which will have no greenhouse gas or footprint issues: geothermal. Simply drill down about 40km and start extracting lots of energy.
Peak Oil is so yesterday, so not cool.

We need more people like you, mike. Just tell us more enginereing facts like this!

Can't you tell us stuff about Iraq also? You know what we want to hear!

Thanks for the good work, keep it up!
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That's a damn lot of land!

Can I just point out that peak oil has nothing to do with electricity, at least not in the US. Almost no electricity is generated with oil, so while building a giant solar plant like that would help the environment (by replacing coal and gas), it really is not necessary to solve Peak Oil. Oil is a transport fuel. You would really only need half the area to replace it. Probably even less, since if you were replacing the entire car fleet you might as well fix the efficiency of the cars, which is currently atrocious.

That said, it would be a massive task to deploy a centralized hydrogen infrastructure. In the meantime, people would have to make do with higher gas prices by carpooling and driving less. It would take a lot more time to put hydrogen everywhere than it would take to just build the plant. You're better off waiting 10-20 years until people can profitably generate hydrogen at home from solar panels.
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