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.
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.