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 happen at the Sun’s core. 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. Swiss 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 that hits you at the gas pump 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 and license fees 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 environmental 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 leads 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, Geothermal & 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 maintain the proper speed to avoid orbital decay 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.
The Earth’s solar sweet spot, anything 27 degrees further north or south of the Equator forget it. Insolation ~ the amount of solar radiation reaching a given area.
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.
You can’t just put up a Solar Panel and pretend it makes a difference
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 subsidies 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, fly into the windows of homes and office buildings or become cat food. 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
Generation IV Nuclear Reactors ~ What’s it all about?
It’s known by many names Gen IV, 4th Generation Nuclear Energy or Advanced Nuclear according to Wikipedia are multiple different designs that burn all kinds of nuclear fuel like nuclear wastes of today, Uranium 238, weapons grade fuel stockpiles from dismantled weaponry and the most popular fuel yet to be used, Thorium. There’s really nothing new about Gen IV technology, it was considered going back to the days post WW2 when scientists figured out that harnessing the atom was the most effective way to generate electricity and these style reactors were built and run for hundreds of hours. Their drawback of the time was that they didn’t produce Plutonium needed to make weaponry and that didn’t go with the flow when it came to melting Soviet cities. In fact they burn most everything put in them to a crisp, almost 99% calculated efficiency, where Gen 1 through 3+ pressurized models of today burn only 2% – 3% of the fuel put into them and then the rest is removed as spent fuel even though it is still full of potential energy.
In Gen 1 through 3+ reactors the concepts are essentially the same. You split Uranium 235 atoms by bombarding the fuel rods with neutrons and then moderating the reaction with gases, light or heavy water and then circulating that irradiated moderator with pumps into a heat exchanger that heats regular water in a separate system and turns it into steam and then turns a turbine connected to a generator. After the steam turns the turbine it is then cooled as is the irradiated moderator and then the process restarts via circulation. It’s a two stage system so to speak. The problem is that on the irradiated side you have to keep the moderator, in most cases today, light water pressurized to 600 psi or it will boil inside the reactor. Although pressurized water reactors or PWRs as they are known are extremely safe and some people might say that no one in America has ever been killed by one they are limited by their longevity when you account for a plant that’s under enormous amounts of pressure. Not only can things go possibly wrong in a horrendous way ie. Fukashima and Chernobyl the bigger issue is that the plant is just not resilient enough to be a long term asset and are very costly to construct. They also have to be refueled fairly often as in once every 6 years. In addition the amount of Uranium 235 on the planet is very low, maybe enough for 200 years and if we increased reactor construction to offset for fossil fuel usage less than that. If you held a chunk of 100% Uranium Ore in your hand then only .7% of it would be Uranium 235 and that has to be removed by a centrifugal process that was made famous during Iran’s attempt to build a weapon. The other 99.3% is Uranium 238 and it is still radioactive but instead of being fissile and unstable enough to sustain a nuclear chain reaction it is more stable but fissionable. Still able to be split by the bombardment of a neutron but not able to sustain a chain reaction on its own making it ineffective for use in a pressurized water reactor.
Basic schematic image of a Pressurized Water Reactor
A Gen IV reactor on the other hand eliminates the pressurized ‘moderated’ side of the reactor and the fuel is liquefied via dissolving in acid and mixed with a coolant, like molten salts that don’t absorb neutrons, and acts as a more efficient moderator, is circulated through the heat exchanger to turn regular water into steam. There are many favorable aspects of this type of reactor. It is safe to say it is fairly proliferation free, can burn all types of fuel including the wastes of today which, albeit wildly overstated, is not something we need to leave behind and it is much simpler in construction and is only mildly pressurized. Likely by a non explosive gas such as Nitrogen, to make sure it is not leaking radiation. The cooling aspect gets covered by convection and circulation through a heat exchanger. These plants also ‘speed’ up the neutron flow so the reactor runs deeper into the critical range versus being slowed down in a pressurized reactor which makes for more efficiency and the ability to create more heat and energy in a smaller sized reactor. In addition all advanced reactors will be built underground.
Basic schematic image of a pool style Gen IV Reactor
Nuclear Fusion, Thermonuclear Fusion maybe even Gen V or Advanced Nuclear you can call it anything even true Solar Power. It is the light at the end of the tunnel, energy’s holy grail. The fusing of the Universe’s most abundant element and lightest gas Hydrogen; the same nuclear fusion that happens in our Sun’s Core and every Sun’s core throughout the Universe. There is no greater amount of power or energy density known to physics than the fusing of two positively charged Hydrogen Atoms. It can not only be used for energy it has medical uses and could be used to propel spacecraft upwards of the speed of light.
If the Hydrogen isotopes on the left are compared to the element Helium and one spare neutron on the right, post fusion, we still have the same number of neutrons & protons but they lose weight in the process. The sum of the original parts are heavier than the whole. The excess nuclear weight that escapes to fulfill Einstein’s equation E-MC2 is energy in many forms but for us it will be heat to turn water into steam and spin a turbine. While it seems inconsistent that both building up and breaking down of atoms releases energy it is only possible at the far ends of the ladder of elements. Where fusion produces energy through the combination of the lightest elements and fission splits the heaviest.
Take this for a short and sweet definition: ‘In the sun’s core, gravitational forces create tremendous pressure and temperatures. The temperature of the sun in this layer is about 27 million degrees Fahrenheit (15 million degrees Celsius). Hydrogen atoms are compressed and fuse together, creating helium. This process is called nuclear fusion.
If we could harness the power of the version of Hydrogen called ‘Atomic Hydrogen‘ there would be no climate issue, Arabia would be out of business, peace would break out all over the world and Al Gore would have to get a job. If we could conduct Hydrogen fusion with an energy excess we would be too busy trying to electrify every aspect of life & industry in the USA and selling and building the technology abroad. The persons involved with the mastering of Hydrogen fusion would be worth a trillion dollars overnight. Unfortunately Atomic Hydrogen, although the most prevalent element in the Universe is not so prevalent on Earth. Hydrogen in the atmosphere, as it exists in space, has 1 electron and 1 proton combined with a nucleus and likes to randomly bond with itself and other atoms. It equally takes more energy to separate the Hydrogen atom from combined elements like water than you get post the separation. The reaction that takes place uses very little of anything that is radioactive except for an isotope of Hydrogen called Tritium or 3H that has 1 proton and 2 neutrons and is bred inside the reactor. A meltdown of this kind of reactor is scientifically impossible, simple loss of heat stops any ability to sustain a chain reaction. Successful fusion creates energy in the form of heat that would be used to turn water into steam, as in any other energy production device, and Helium commonly used in industry that is currently becoming more scarce and costly. The big problem is although it can be done we have yet to conquer the process without having a net energy deficit on Earth. Simply speaking, it takes more energy to fuse the atoms than the energy derived from the fusion and it cannot be sustained with any real energy generation for more than milliseconds. Most people vaguely remember the two dopes who thought they had created Cold Fusion in the late 1980’s. This instead, is ‘Hot Fusion’. If we ever are to even consider creating cold fusion we will have to conquer hot fusion first. There are various private companies, as there are in Gen IV research, seeking triumph but the general rule is that we are always 30 years away from succeeding. The reality is that if we don’t pour enough money into research we will likely never know if success is even an option.
Most thermonuclear reactors are based on a design called a Tokamak or a similar design called a Stellerator with a chamber in the form of a torus and was created by Andrei Sakharov of the Soviet Union who was essentially their version of our Dr’s Oppenheimer, Teller, Ulam, Lawrence, Fermi, Seaborg, Szilard et al and helped out by numbers of traitors who sold our nuclear secrets of the time. In newer non Tokamak designs the design can vary but there is always some form of the torus where fusion takes place. Examples of private companies involved in fusion: TAE Technologies, General Fusion, Helion Energy and of course a multi nation disaster of an effort called ITER or the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor based in France, not even close to being completed, behind schedule, above cost and professionals deciding much like the Large Hadron Colllider at CERN it is already not likely large enough to succeed.
Basic Energy Definition Standards and Examples of Renewable Energys
A gigawatt is used as a per annum capacity measurement for an energy generating unit or station. In the examples below I will use the numbers expressed in megawatts which are defined by an energy generating plant’s capacity of output for 1 hour. 1Gw or 1 gigawatt equals 1000Mw or 1000 megawatts equals 1,000,000,000W or 1,000,000,000 watts.
It takes an average of 1000 watts to run a toaster or a medium sized microwave as an example
Back to the Future Delorean Time Machine
|Power needed to defy Einsteinian Physics, travel faster than the speed of light, backwards in time and live to talk about it: 1.21Gw or 1210Mw. Updated model powered by Mr Fusion, Home Fusion Reactor.|
Cost: ~ $1 per watt, amount needed to generate 1Mw ~ $1 million dollars, Ebay.com
Wholesale cost of 1Mw ~ $130 dollars
|Cons:InefficientCostlyPerformance subject to location on planet and seasonsFull of toxic materialsTotally ineffective during dark hours|
Safeway Windfarm, Tracy California
Generation capacity: 2Mw
Anheuser Busch Windfarm
(2 windmills + 7 acre of solar panels), Fairfield California
Generation capacity: 4.1Mw
The Geysers Geothermal Plant, Geyserville California
Generation capacity: 1517Mw
Lake Bonneville Dam, Colombia River Gorge Oregon
Generation capacity: 1242Mw
Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, Tonapah Arizona
Generation capacity: 3937Mw
Diablo Canyon Power Plant, San Luis Obispo California
Generation capacity: 2256Mw
|Pros:Solid base load energyNearly carbon freeHigh energy densityRuns @ 100% capacityLow cost energy production||Cons:Construction costsWaste disposalProliferation potentialAccident potential|
No crybaby’s allowed here. The knee jerk response to nuclear energy is either an association with nuclear weapons and/or nuclear waste. With regard to nuclear weaponry it is at its lowest levels of numbers and testing since its inception and will continue to be on the decline, hopefully someday just a memory. They are the most horrible weapons ever to be devised however nuclear energy has nothing to do with weaponry and the amounts of weapons grade fuel in storage post dismantling of weaponry by the USA and Russia is staggering. Waste is an issue, it’s an issue that I’ve formerly addressed as something that cannot be left behind but contrary to public opinion it is manageable as you can see in the informative video I’ve included below. Radiation will cause chromosomal damage but it also saves lives in medicine. If we want to move forward and sustain the human race then we can only look to the IPCC who has said the following straight out of the 5th assessment: ‘to stabilize the climate an an average global surface temperature no higher than 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level, scenarios without nuclear expansion would require global energy supply to be radically curtailed below currently projected demand. With an expansion of nuclear power, however, the climate could be stabilized with far more modest efficiencies’. Long and short of it is if you don’t like nuclear power you should get ready to go back to the days of candlelight which to me doesn’t sound all that bad.
China is currently building 40 nuclear plants; in the USA we are building 4 to replace 4. Energy will always be our greatest national security treasure.
One of America’s many finest moments.
As the great Carl Spackler once said, ‘it’s in the hole!’