Posts Tagged ‘electricity’

Combined-Source Energy Farms

March 10, 2010 1 comment

We see more wind and solar farms popping up every day. What we don’t see (or at least I haven’t seen) are the two being built in the same place. Think about it: the only times that solar panels don’t generate electricity are at night, and when it’s cloudy. Generally it gets cloudy as a result of weather systems, which usually cause it to be windy. So why is it that we see wind farms and solar farms as totally separate facilities?

If the goal of building a renewable generation facility is to power a certain area of the energy grid, it only makes sense to utilize every source that we can. The biggest problem with renewable energy plants is their downtime. The sun only shines, and the wind only blows, at certain times. Building solar collectors and wind farms together could greatly reduce downtime of the facility by taking advantage of the weather, and prominent energy source at a given time. A solar farm that generally loses 30% of it’s uptime due to weather could greatly benefit from a wind farm that would make use of most, if not all, of that downtime by taking advantage of the weather systems passing through. With this method the capacity factor of renewable energy generation facilities could be increased to compete with current coal, oil, and nuclear plants.

The amount of generation capacity per energy source could be adjusted to suit a given area. For example, a wind farm located in a natural air stream would not see much necessity for incorporating a large solar collector, however a small one may be added simply to increase the efficiency and capacity factor of the overall facility. Likewise, a solar array in a naturally dry and sunny location may increase it’s capacity factor with a few wind turbines.

The biggest advantage of this setup, however, is that renewable energy generation facilities can be built in areas that do not favor one form over the other. Many towns and cities that do not have major wind currents, nor an exceptional amount of sun, can get reliable renewable energy from a plant that balances wind and solar sources. This now creates the opportunity for many cities and villages to generate their own renewable energy. Benefits could also be seen by building combined-cycle plants, generating both electricity for power and heat for the town or parts of the city.

There is a lot of energy out there just waiting to be harvested, we just have to build the facilities to use it. I think that all energy farms, being built for the sole purpose of powering a certain area, should take advantage of the different sources of energy available. What do you think?


The Flaw With Fusion

Fusion target implosion on NOVA laser

Fusion power is currently the undisputed ideal form of energy production. It is similar to the current widespread nuclear fission power, but instead of using enriched radioactive fuel, it works by focusing intense energy on a single point, causing several atoms to fuse into a single, larger atom. This is the same kind of energy that powers the sun. The easiest fuels to use are the isotopes of hydrogen: deuterium (²H) and tritium (³H), because they react at the lowest temperatures.

But you didn’t come here for a chemistry lesson. The fact of the matter is that fusion power has been marketed to the public as being able to use water as fuel and produce helium as a byproduct, which is true. But even though this form of production is incredibly efficient, we are still turning water into helium. I know what you’re saying, there’s a LOT of water on this planet, right? How much can we afford to lose? There is only so much water on this planet at one time, and we will never get that water back unless we invest the energy to turn the helium back into water.

These power plants are said to only need to consume one liter of water to produce the power we get from 500 liters of petroleum. But how much water do you think it will take to power the whole planet? In 2008, total worldwide energy consumption occurred at a rate of roughly 15 terawatts (source). If I did my math right, it would take 22,000 lbs. of water to power the Earth for one day on fusion power, that’s over 4 thousand tons per year!

That may not be very much water in relation to the amount on the planet right now, but we’re talking about permanently upsetting the balance. Once fusion power becomes economically and technologically feasible, and energy becomes more cheap and abundant, we will most likely start using more of it. That will result in a decrease in the amount of water in our ecosystem and an increase in the amount of helium.

That being said, fusion power will most likely be able to safely power our planet for at least a few thousand years, probably long enough to find a more reliable energy source, or a more abundant source of nuclear fuel. But people need to know what fusion power is all about before endorsing it. It’s not an end-all solution to the world’s energy problems, nor is it completely safe. It’s not even considered a renewable energy. I think that when fusion power becomes a reality, it should only be used to supplement renewable energy sources, not as the primary energy source. When you break it all down, the only true sources of renewable energy that we know of right now come from the heat of the Earth, or from the sun.

Nuclear Waste May End Up In Our Backyards

The Energy Department filed to withdraw an application for a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain Wednesday in an attempt to reverse a policy set and invested in by the Bush administration (source: Wall Street Journal). A new panel was created by the Energy Department and the Obama administration hopes to develop a new plan for disposal of nuclear waste.

The Yucca Mountain facility, located in the Nellis Military Operations Area in Nevada, was intended to be the first national repository for spent nuclear waste, a one-of-a-kind facility designed for this sole purpose. The government has already rewarded at least $2.5 billion in contracts to maintain the facility.

If the Obama administration wants to go all-out on renewable energy sources, then by all means, let them. But taking away the infrastructure for our existing energy generation facilities is not the way to go about doing it. The fact of the matter is that we rely heavily on nuclear power at this point in time. As of November 2009, 20.2 percent of energy produced in the US was from Nuclear (source: USEIA), a 2.5 percent increase from 2008. Despite all of the skepticism and hype about nuclear energy, it is one of the cleanest non-renewable energy sources out there. There have been far fewer incidents and deaths related to nuclear energy in the US than there have with coal power plants. Coal power still accounts for almost 45 percent of our annual electricity production, would we rather have coal power or nuclear? I, for one, would rather live next-door to a nuclear reactor than a coal power plant. We can’t just jump right in to an absolute renewable energy economy and expect it to work, we first need to phase out the other forms of production: coal first, then natural gas and oil, then nuclear.

The nuclear reactors aren’t going to go away. It makes more sense for the waste from them to be stored in a dedicated facility than to rely on individual companies to do it their own way, because you know that they will cut corners. If the Obama administration has a better idea, they’d better get going, because it’s just a matter of time before there will be an accident involving spent nuclear fuel that was not disposed of properly.