Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed ~ Neil Armstrong Apollo 11 Lunar Module, Sea of Tranquility , The Moon July 19, 1969 UTC
Energy & Science.. American style
The current climate and energy conversations are centered around renewables and pledges from countries but it is obvious we are failing. Winning slowly in this battle is the same as losing.
How many times have you heard from someone handing out scientific advice in government or looking for an elected position tell you what a tenuous energy situation we’re in and the only way we can fix it is by giving you a solar panel or taxing you for a government moonshot project to produce cheap carbon free energy that usually is preceded by the word ‘renewable’ and is only likely renewable by their own definition and not yours. How many of these people can name one Scientist besides Einstein, one Astrophysicist besides Neil Tyson or Carl Sagan? How many know anything about General Theory besides E=MC2 or maybe the fabric of space and time? Can they name one person responsible for the Manhattan project besides FDR? Wouldn’t you like your elected leaders to have the most fundamental knowledge of science when it comes to making scientific decisions that ultimately get funded with your tax dollar and are developed for your living standard?
The truth is next generation technologies and research & development in ALL the sciences are going on everyday and it’s happening in, you’ll find this hard to believe, the private world! SpaceX just put a Tesla Roadster in space and on it’s way to a Martian orbit of the Sun. NuScale Power in Corvallis is developing a 4th generation modular nuclear energy plant that will replace coal but keep the coal energy producers and their employees in business, carbon free. At the Newberry Crater east of Bend we are developing Geothermal energy. TAE Technologies in California is perfecting the same type of fusion of Hydrogen atoms that happens at the core of the Sun’s corona. Bill Gates and his company Terrapower and their ‘Traveling Wave’ pool type reactor will burn today’s nuclear waste and uses technology we developed in the 1950’s.
Meanwhile in India they are close to going critical with the Fast Prototype Breeder Reactor. In China more of the same but in America we are behind in almost all the sciences. In medicine we are way behind in Stem Cell Research but we are closest to Sequencing the Human Genome and Novartis has the only approved Gene therapy for cancer treatment. In Energy we have gone nowhere fast. Our do gooders expect this to just happen overnight with a solar panel or a windmill that generate nothing other than costly energy that is highly subsidized. If we just taxed you a little more this could all be sorted out because the government knows better right? The only thing the federal government knows how to do is to turn your tax dollar into tax pennies.
The truth is out there. To simply cut today’s emissions you could shut down every coal plant and burn natural gas. After that you’re much freer to work on carbon free energy. Unfortunately there’s a reason coal is used and its not because it’s pretty or convenient it’s because it works. It has energy density and it’s abundant. If you want to progress towards carbon free energy you put government funds into private research and development and you don’t have to do it with a carbon tax or the ultimate scam of scams ‘Cap & Trade’. You do it the old fashioned way by genuine investment into American ingenuity and know how. Whether fortunate or not the federal government isn’t in this business anymore. If we pass up on the opportunity we have in front of us then foreign countries will use our technologies of the past unconstrained by our rules and regulations and then perfect & patent them. If we end up using these technologies we will be paying royalties on technologies that were developed originally in the USA. How does that grab you?
Science is the engine for wealth creation so lets get out of reverse and get this show on the road.
Renewable Energy – Why it Doesn’t Work
Renewables of the holy grail, solar and wind, simply don’t make enough energy or in the case of wind don’t make enough consistent and reliable energy. The electrical grid needs a base or static load, the former types of energy just don’t provide that kind of power to keep the grid stable on their own. We all know that if it’s dark out or the wind isn’t blowing that you get zero energy from these sources but what if the wind is blowing and the sun is out and you try to power industry during work hours? Without enough power the grid becomes imbalanced and lead to drops in frequency of electricity down the line which equates to broken electrical equipment, tripped breakers, fires, brown outs, black outs you name it. The grid needs a solid power base to drive it whether that be from equally renewable sources like Nuclear & Hydropower and not so renewable sources like fossil fuels.
Solar Cells aka The Solar Fallacy
This one is the most perplexing. How did the weakest form of energy generation somehow become the utopia of environmental crusaders? Solar cells haven’t seen any scientific progress in ~ 30 years, the efficiency ratio is still hovering around 20%. The only thing that has changed is the price. Putting a solar cell(s) on your house is a great idea if you have access to southern skies but to think powering the nation and the world with it is completely absurd and the proliferation of the idea is nothing short of deception. The International Space Station has a lot of solar cells but doesn’t hover in a geosynchronous orbit so how does it not fall to earth from 250 miles high? It does it the old fashioned way with a service module that burns chemical fuels to keep it there and adjust its translational movement when necessary. Deep space probes rotate in zero gravity for a reason even though they have solar cells, the further you move away from the sun the less intensity. The craft’s use centrifugal force via rotation to keep the fuel in the tanks pushed up against the inlets when they need to use power for course adjustments. Otherwise the fuel could be anywhere in the tank, as they get closer to empty even more so. Check out the temps on any planet closer to the edge of the Solar System and you’ll grasp the picture very quickly.
For a solar cell to have any success it has to be close to the Equator. For every degree you move north or south from the equator you lose 1.5% of the suns intensity, you also obviously lose seasonal sun. At the bottom of Oregon we are at 42 degrees latitude at the top 45 degrees and change. At 45 degrees we’re at 70% of the suns intensity max, when its out, and being that far from the equator you also need to work in the 100 year cycle of the Earth’s Precession or try to adjust for it. Solar cells also provide a weak link to the grid. With a weak link you lose Electrical Resistance. For any solar power plant that produces very little power you’ll see it’s output expressed in kilowatts. For hourly capacity energy plants outputs are stated in Megawatts, for annual capacities Gigawatts. When you read how a solar plant produces a million kilowatts per year it sounds impressive but it’s nothing more than 1000 megawatts or the amount of power that the US’s largest nuclear plant makes in ~20 minutes or the thermal plant in Klamath Falls makes in an hour and 20 minutes, Biomass One in White City OR maybe a day. The cost of this endeavor goes way past the return on it and simple science proves it.
Could we simply plaster solar cells across the Equator to power the planet? That would be an ixnay too and gets you back to why renewables don’t work. They simply don’t provide enough power to keep a grid balanced and then there are other reasons raw materials wise. Even with a Nuclear Plant that produced enough power to energize the planet you cannot balance the grid from one spot on the planet.
In addition solar cells are not green by any means, they are full of rare earth elements and heavy metals like Lead and Cadmium. Rare earth elements are almost exclusively China’s domain and although they may not necessarily be rare, they are regulated. A rush on the elements to make solar cells could lead to China upping the price on these elements. With regard to disposing solar cells once their life is complete don’t just think you can take them to your county landfill. No, this is hazardous waste and not very recyclable either. Think one landfill in the state that will accept them and the dump fees are at least triple the price. Consider transportation on top of that? Very costly.
Wind Power – Its not about Birds & Bats its about Tax Dollars
There are a number of pros and cons to wind power like does it really generate electricity. That answer is yes but it has to be measured against how the energy is delivered to the grid and what you need in addition to a wind farm to streamline its electrical integration. Wind farms only work when the wind is blowing, that is straightforward, but it has a lot to do with timing too. If there’s no demand in the middle of the night but we get a rush of energy from wind where does it go? Pretty much nowhere, computerized systems clamp down the brakes on the rotor blades and they sit still in the wind because there’s no way to store the extra energy if there’s no demand. Now if there’s a lot of demand and no wind during the day then how do you supply energy to the grid? You do it the old fashioned way via coal, nuclear, geothermal, hydropower or natural gas driven plant(s). Solid systems that deliver heavy duty energy into the grid. Besides geothermal or nuclear plants that almost always run at or near 100% capacity fossil fuel and hydropower driven systems can be throttled. Daytime demand and no wind, burn dead dinosaurs. Daytime demand and it’s windy then wind down the plant and let the windmills do their thing. Here’s the problem, it’s a two stage system, a yin and yang so to speak. To be a wind farm operator you need a generating station that’s available 24/7 too so how do you get into that position if you’re in the energy generation business? It’s quite natural really, you use the taxpayer’s dollar instead of your own because the taxpayer loves to give away money. It’s well known that Solar subsidies in total are greater than all other forms of energy generation combined. What isn’t so well known is that subsidies given to wind generators are 6.5~12 times higher than those given to nuclear and fossil fuel generators; and those subsidies aren’t even subsidies. They’re really more of a savings account for decommissioning that ends up coming out of the ratepayers pocket.
As an example of excess and taxpayer generosity lets look at the Caithness Energy Shepherds Flat Windfarm near Arlington Oregon and the shores of the Columbia River. The Windfarm consists of 3 sections that span 15.5 miles as seen in the picture below. The total capacity is 845mw as in per hour but the annual capacity according to Wikipedia is 2000gw. Translated to megawatts that equates to 2,000,000mw. When we divide that number by 365 days and then 24 hours we get down to the truer generation capacity of 228mw and some change per hour. Obviously quite a difference towards the bigger numbers that Caithness expresses on their website. Now what did we, the taxpayers not the ratepayers, have to fork over for the luxury of hosting this eyesore? Only $490 million Federal dollars in grants and subsidies for a whopping 35 jobs equaling $14 million dollars per job. Now take a wild guess how many homes and businesses in Oregon are powered by this illustrious plant? If you guessed 1 or more you’re too high. Every ounce of energy produced here is shipped to SoCal Edison for the next 15 years, for the simple reason that they can get more money for it than they can in Oregon where it’s produced. Compare the SoCal Edison tiered rate plan to your power bill here in Oregon and you’ll see the difference very quickly. I’m sure in 2032 Caithness will be more than willing to renew or extend their contract with SoCal Edison and most likely have extensions already built into the current contract but seeing as these are private companies I’m not sure how much of the truth they’re willing to extend to public inquiry.
Windfarms do kill birds but way less than the numbers that get hit by cars or fly into the windows of homes and office buildings. It takes up lots of space and sucks up lots of copper to generate the same megawatt of energy as a ‘non-renewables’ plant…. 2 to 5 times more copper. They are also very loud and cause deafening vibrations so you can’t put them near places where people live. So is it about Birds and Bats? No it’s just your federal government at work as usual and donating your hard earned money to places where it could be better spent.
Click on above for full size image
To be continued.