Nuclear is out. How best to generate the power we need.

July 3, 2011 § 9 Comments

This is a blog on energy. More specifically on electrical energy IE electricity. When we talk about energy we are talking about electricity, the single most used and necessary for of energy in our lives. From heating, cooling, cooking, transportation, medicine, security, fire, communications, light, water, sewer, garbage disposal, transportation and on and on. There are very few aspects of our lives that do not depend on electricity.

If you want to know what life without it would be like, think the late 1800s. And in cities and metropolitan areas life could be very brutal indeed.

The main way of generating electricity has remained unchanged since the days of Nikola Tesla, where ether water or steam is used to turn a turbine which is coupled to a generator. And the two most prevalent ways of generating the steam today is the burning of fossil fuels or nuclear fission. Fossil fuels put a great deal of CO2 into to atmosphere and nuclear fission has proven to be far, far to dangerous to continue to use as Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima have prove beyond the shadow of any doubt.

http://www.theatlanticwire.com/global/2011/07/meltdown-what-really-happened-fukushima/39541/
http://japanfocus.org/events/view/100
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2011/jul/01/nuclear-power-british-government-fukushima
http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/07/01/18683384.php
http://www.ratical.org/radiation/Chernobyl/HEofC25yrsAC.html

Which leaves with us with having to make some very difficult decisions. The first is easy – abandon nuclear power for the foreseeable future. This would eliminate around 18% of our electrical generating capacity at present. And would have to be made up by other means. Next is to make a concerted effort to 1: Reduce our need for electricity through more efficient use. 2: Address this shortfall by using alternative means of generating electrical power and increasing the efficiency of our current modes of power generation.

The top contenders here are photovoltaic and wind. Both have their positives and negatives.
Wind turbines or wind mill type generators will produce electricity as long as there is sufficient wind blowing. Day or night. But they take up a good deal of space and generate a noise when in operation. They are also proving to be a hazard to birds and other fowl. Which is why most wind farms are over vast stretches of land or sea.

Photovoltaics generate electricity when in direct sunlight but their efficiency drops with the rise in temperature.

Which can make them unsuitable for some of the sunniest areas. There is also work being done on solar heated steam generation but few of these plants have been built since they also require constant sun light to work effectively and even larger areas of land. But are well suited to those hot sunny climates where photovoltaics may not be.

All of these also require the use of batteries to store the electricity for future use and inverter technology to transform the electricity to the 60 HZ AC we currently use. The best part of wind and solar is that they compliment one another. In general, when there is little sunlight do to weather, there is generally wind and when the wind is light there is usually a good deal of sun light.

One of the more exciting approaches I see is the implementation of rooftop photovoltaic arrays.

And rooftop wind turbines. Rooftop designs to me offer some big advantages over ground base installations. For one thing the solar panels themselves would shield the roof from direct sunlight there by lowering the temperature of the roof and reducing the energy needed to keep the top part top the building cool in the summer. And if designed right may also help insulating from the cold in the winter. They could help to reduce the power needed in the cities from hydrocarbon generators where it is used the most. They would be less prone to damage because do to their location than that of ground based systems. And anyone who has looked at the satellite view of any of our large cities will see that there are a lot of roofs that could be covered with solar panels and/or wind turbines.

These are but a few of the items we need to look at and they would require a firm commitment to implement. To my mind though well worth the effort and resources. Until such time as some other way of generating the power needed for our continued way of life is found, we need to be looking more seriously at this technology.

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§ 9 Responses to Nuclear is out. How best to generate the power we need.

  • I found this to be a really good post. You’ve shown me some facts that I was unaware of. Such a the end of nucs will bring an 18% reduction in electricity usage. That is amazing. I’ve known for awhile that we are running at full usage and any little hiccup can unravel the whole system. With the coming(arrival) of Peak Oil we would need to find real answers right now. The race is on. Thanks.

  • Of these technologies offshore wind has a lot of promise. Wind blows pretty steady offshore and increases availability quite a lot. But it’s also very expensive. Wind, by far, has had the most KW generation growth for a few years running.

    PV may the best long term bet. Materials science has been making steady improvements in the amount of sunlight converted to electricity. Research in photo voltaics by government and private industry is full speed ahead. Unfortunately congress has cut U.S. funding for this research. This means the U.S. will be less well positioned in the global race to move to clean energy sources. The research is being undertaken quite a lot more vigorously by competing nations.

    It’s too bad that nuclear has had the setbacks. Current reactor designs are of a nature where they can’t meltdown. That may sound nutty but France is about to start construction of plants utilizing this technology.

    • cmaukonen says:

      Current reactor designs are of a nature where they can’t meltdown.

      I am very suspicious of this statement. There was a saying that I first heard or rather read after the Challenger Disaster.

      “When a fail safe system fails. It always fails by failing to fail safe.”

      And more to the point. What do we do with the used material. Most of which remains highly radio active for thousands of years. Nobody wants it stored anywhere near them. That is why all or nearly all of our current reactors have spend fuel stored at the reactor. And more than they are designed to have stored.

      • You’d have to follow this much like I do C. The new designs use different nuclear isotopes of different elements. They also have a seriously reduced amount of waste material per unit of energy. The reductions are on the order of 50%. There is an awful lot going on with this technology.

        Unfortunately it’s like many things that people don’t know about. They let their fear get the better of them.

    • Correction: China, not France, is making an experimental Class IV reactor.

      I don’t know if they have altered their plans since the Fukushima disaster or not. I’m sure if they’ve altered their plans it has been publicized. My guess is they have at least delayed if not shelved their experimental programs.

      You can read about one of the Class IV reactor designs here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pebble_bed_reactor

      At the link you can find other references to the Class IV designs in general. The research is ongoing and as you will find some prototypes have been constructed and tested. None are currently operational that I can tell.

  • ~flowerchild~ says:

    Dow has come out with a photovolatic shingle called “Powerhouse”. It installs like a regular shingle. It has been in the news here locally (Mid-Michigan) because of it going into production in the area and creating some much needed manufacturing jobs.

    http://building.dow.com/media/news/2010/20100119d.htm

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