Inspired by a thread in the Science Forum on the comparisons between solar, wind and nuclear I notice there is no clear winner when it comes to implemenation. While they all have their own positives they also all have their own negatives. While we sit and ponder about our current problem one thing becomes abundantly clear – we’re not happy with the alternatives.
Is a miracle fuel or cheap source of energy really that difficult to find? I was intrigued by the list of articles found through Google on John Kanzius’s surprise discovery on setting hydrogen alight in a salt water solution while near a fairly high powered transmitter operating in the 15MHz band. Not so with the negative response through the “scientific” community. We just don’t seem to get it. Any discovery these days, whether hoax or not should be investigated thoroughly – Jahn Kanzius’s discovery is certainly not a hoax and his own findings never once concluded that it was a ‘miracle’ discovery. At present we seem to be more interested in a search for the holy grail where it may be sitting on our doorstep. Light is a definite source of energy, like heat from the sun or wind and wave motion through weather or other natural events. If one had to conclude that wind, sun or wave motion will never be successfully or more importantly efficiently harnessed what other sources of energy do we really have. Could underground volcanic activity be an answer? There are many ideas surrounding the geothermal factor, none so far been put to practical use (as far as I know) internationally. Is resonance an answer? Piezo crystals generate a small alternating current when flexed. I can think of 1001 ways to generate power but nothing which comes close to an efficient and alternative immediate solution to our power crises. Is red tape a problem? Are governments doing enough? Right now we have prizes to send us mere mortals into orbit but I know nothing about prizes for the first non-nuclear device to deliver power more efficiently than all the currently used systems e.g. hydro-electricity, solar, wind and possibly geo-thermal (if it exists – yes Iceland does spring to mind). Yes there are prizes for energy conservation. Oil and coal just seem to remain on the forefront. Although cars are more efficient than 30 years ago they still remain a problem because as we over populate and more cars are used isn’t this just off-setting the balance?
Cheap Energy – is this a myth?
In the 1970s there was an energy crises, indeed a plausible link between this crises and that of current cannot be discarded. War is a wonderful way to turn your oil into a gold mine. Would finding a cheap energy source bring about world peace? Like the largely negative sentiment shown to the likelihood of war over rare earth minerals, this has undoubtedly come under scrutiny but fortunately our government soothsayers deny that there will be conflict. Of course this is highly unlikely. Although the term ‘rare’ apparently is a misnomer, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Malawi, Russia and the US can hold their own against China, especially with more resources becoming available frequently, China shows us just how much we rely on these minerals. No, there will be friction at play.
Wind turbines have started to become more popular, some indicators show an increase between 5 and 7% per annum. At a price of about 1M$ per megawatt uninstalled these are not cheap – get your head around the figures in this interesting article from theenergycollective.com.
While we bounce those facts around let’s look at motor vehicle technology. We now buy a vehicle which stops and starts at every stop street and red traffic signal to save fuel. A beefed up starter motor does the trick, at a price of course. Note the same single occupant car. If my theory is correct more luxury cars are driven, single occupant, to work every day than the cheaper alternative. Stands to reason, doesn’t it – ‘because they can’ is the motto. In comes the road tax on luxury vehicles. So although luxury cars may have their advantages we have more drivers. I don’t need to look at stats to get my information – I’m on the freeway every day.
Like any business, your stock is oil and this is one helluva volatile product. It makes your business blue ocean and damned right we will be protective over our business. Right now wind energy seems to be a very likely saviour – but it’s not. Think of the space required to compete with just one nuclear power station. Many countries do not have this luxury. Solar energy is another, possibly more plausible answer but is hugely expensive. We need to focus.
Some interesting links:
- SOME FACTS ABOUT NUCLEAR, SOLAR AND WIND POWER 2001 – Nuclear, Solar & Wind Power -by Edward A. Keller -Copyright
Yes, wind and solar now already is cheaper than nuclear, it’s also faster to prepare, install and commission than nuclear. Currently solar panels cost in the vicinity of 100$ for a 17V 4A or 25$ per 1A or 17-20W. You will need 100 4A devices for 4KW = 10 000$. Plus regulator, plus batteries plus stand by generator (for emergencies) plus DC to AC inverter if you require 110V or 220V a.c. Not cheap, possibly in the order of 15 000$. Where I live the forecasted pricing from our national grid by 2015 will be in the order of 33c (U$) per KW/Hour. The first thing that must go is the electrically powered geyser, then the electrical cooker. Swimming pool pump. Any alternatives? 750VA is a lot of juice. What about the washing machine and dishwasher? Spending just a few minutes doing the maths you’ll realise that it doesn’t take a scientist to stay with the national grid. If you have the money then it’s a very interesting project – but you need to know how long your savings will pay off the installation. For many people it’s just not worth it. Being frugal in your electricy usage is a start but be careful of being labelled a miser. Having friends or family over for a cold candlelit dinner during winter may be the last time you see these people. At present, solar is the best solution for dwellings but the price is not right, wind is definitely not an option and gas driven generator costs more than grid power.
Professor Keller has it right – there is a huge wastage of solar energy. We need to be looking at this route and to be brutally frank, we may be heading in the wrong direction with solar energy. PV panels have been with us for many years – it’s time government stepped in and started *granting R&D funds to universities to come up with an alternative, whether PV or not, to make for the deploying of a safe and easily installed solar system for all buildings.
*Note: There has been a trend for the leaders in certain countries in recent years to step up grants to private companies doing research and development in alternative power.
Link: MNN.com – MIT