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Power Earth

Wind and Sun Beat Other Energy Alternatives 584

Posted by kdawson
from the think-of-the-birds dept.
iandoh passes along the news that researchers at Stanford University have completed the first quantitative, scientific comparison of alternative energy solutions by assessing not only their potential for delivering energy for electricity and vehicles, but also their impacts on global warming, human health, energy security, water supply, space requirements, wildlife, water pollution, reliability, and sustainability. Based on their model, they found that the best sources of alternative energy are wind, concentrated solar, and geothermal energy. The worst are nuclear, clean coal, and ethanol-based fuels. In other words, "the options that are getting the most attention are between 25 to 1,000 times more polluting than the best available options."
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Wind and Sun Beat Other Energy Alternatives

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  • Well of course (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AkaKaryuu (1062882) on Friday December 12, 2008 @06:47PM (#26097233)
    Of course the ones getting the most attention can be much more easily controlled by those who provide it. I would love to see a rise in energy costs because a "shortage" of wind or sun light.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by OrangeTide (124937)

      Shortage of solar cells might be a problem if production cannot meet demand, but I can't imagine it being more severe than a shortage of uranium or petroleum.

      What if you had less sunlight because you caused a nuclear winter?

      • Re:Well of course (Score:5, Informative)

        by Gat0r30y (957941) on Friday December 12, 2008 @06:56PM (#26097351) Homepage Journal
        Concentrated solar doesn't necessarily require cells, you can use the sun to heat up oil or water which drives a traditional turbine.
        • Re:Well of course (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Nadaka (224565) on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:42PM (#26097919)

          Yes, solar thermal plants can be made using the same steam turbines and generators used by coal, gas power plants to produce energy from high pressure steam.

          If one adds an additional component of a heat reservoir such as molten salt, a solar plant is even capable of providing electricity through night and cloudy days (depending on the duration of reduced insolation and the capacity of the thermal reservoir of course) without requiring any advancement in battery technology.

          However, I really do not appreciate him lumping nuclear power in with inferior bio fuels and carbon sequestering. Proper use of feeder-breeder reactors can effectively eliminate nuclear waste from uranium reactors and provide power for the entire world for many hundreds of years (all on its own). Add to that the potential of thorium reactors using a more plentiful fuel and nuclear power makes a perfect compliment to solar for regions not blessed with great weather.

          Meanwhile the drilling and pressure issues of carbon sequestering mean that the excess energy extracted is marginalized while the risk of a geologic release of billions of tons of CO2 due to fissures or shifting could kill thousands or even millions if close enough to a major city.

          Biofuel is not a renewable resource. To meet our gasoline needs alone we would need a corn field larger than the continental US. Even with switchgrass we would need ~25% of the surface of the US to meet our gasoline needs. Consider for a moment that modern farming is already devastating the aquifers that will take 10s to 100s of thousands of years to replenish naturally.

          Wind has some potential but can never be used for base load due to the fact that weather on earth is inherently unpredictable, producing squalls that can overload a power grid with to much wind or starve it with periods of calm over nearly continental spans.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by perlchild (582235)

            I object to your lumping any corn-produced fuel with "biofuel" the real biofuels are waste by-products(aka something that doesn't require "fields", except maybe junkyards) and restaurant grease is probably sufficient in most areas. Any crop used as a biofuel is just an attempt by that industry to get more subsidies, but intensive production is going the wrong way when it comes to energy efficiency.

          • by Tatarize (682683)

            Turn off the sun! We have all the solar and wind we'll ever need. Nuclear is a complete failure.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Ex-MislTech (557759)

            Biofuel is not a renewable resource. To meet our gasoline needs alone we would need a corn field larger than the continental US. Even with switchgrass we would need ~25% of the surface of the US to meet our gasoline needs. Consider for a moment that modern farming is already devastating the aquifers that will take 10s to 100s of thousands of years to replenish naturally.

            Corn is not the only bio fuel available and in fact is one of the
            worst available.

            The current top producer is algae using sealed vertical hy

      • Is the spent fuel from Nuke plants usable in a nuclear bomb? If it is not, then going all out for nuclear energy is the way to go. Use up all the uranium from the Earth, then all of it from the nuclear weapons stockpiles. Then when no more is left, use solar energy. No more nukes should mean no chance of a nuclear winter.

        Really though I was hoping for the space elevator to work. At the top of said elevator create a solar energy plant. Out in space the solar plant should be able to create energy 24/7 cause i

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by cmowire (254489)

          There are some reactor designs that are amenable for making weapons-grade materials and there are some that are not.

          The best weapons grade material comes from frequent replacement of fuel rods so you can maximize the amount of Pu-240 generated from U-238 and minimize the amount of Pu-241 generated from Pu-240.

          The intermingling of Pu-240 and Pu-241 is one of the best ways to prevent proliferation.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by cayenne8 (626475)
            I"m wondering if their evaluation of nukes..was based on the current 'laws and regulations' in the US (encacted by Carter I think?), that pretty much prohibit things like breeder reactors, that 'can' be used to manufacture weapons grade stuff, but, also can allow the fuel to be used much more efficiently, leaving much less waste than the first run we currently do?

            From my limited understanding, if we repealed those laws...we could really stretch the nuclear fuel in a massive way, and have much, much less ra

            • Re:Well of course (Score:4, Informative)

              by Moryath (553296) on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:50PM (#26098025)

              Yes, it was.

              Without the stupid Jimmy Carter-style prohibitions on nuclear recycling, "nuclear waste repositories" would be completely unnecessary; we could re-refine our "nuclear waste" and the actual amount of real "waste" to date would be easily pit into a 100-gallon drum or two, stuffed into a rocket, and lobbed at the sun.

              Not just that, they don't evaluate the OTHER problems caused by the technologies. Making solar panels for solar electrical generation generates massive quantities of toxic waste, which has to either be chemically treated or otherwise disposed of. Wind farms have massive problems of maintenance due to fluctuating conditions, and are unreliable at the best of times.

              The most "reliable" of the lot is actually Geothermal, which is predictable. Solar and Wind both have weather-related (not joking here) problems; Tidal and Hydroelectric (river/dam-based) generation suffer whenever the water level changes due to rainfall or landmass motion.

              Now admittedly, Ethanol is a fucking joke, especially corn-based ethanol which wastes 1.8 units of energy just to produce 1 unit of "energy" in the form of whiskey in the gas tank (you think I'm joking: I'm not). And Ethanol is also MURDER on engines.

              And then there's the problem of burning food for fuel. I mean, seriously. That's an idea that came right out of the wrong side of an Animaniacs "Good Idea, Bad Idea" sketch if I ever saw one.

              "Clean Coal"? Well, no combustion-based energy source will ever be "perfect", but I don't think that completely eliminating coal use overnight is possible, so I'm all for cleaning it up as much as is reasonable until we can phase it out over time (one big problem with the envirowacko movement, they always want things RIGHT NOW, they never can understand that you have to change things over time).

              As for the rest... there's a reason that gasoline beat electrical batteries for automobile power sourcing in the early days and it still holds true today: our battery technology just has NOT caught up to where it needs to be. Gasoline allows for a fill-up to take 5-10 minutes tops, and a mobile range of a couple hundred miles before another fill-up. If you can't do that, then you can't compete with gasoline, and I'm sorry but that is just how it has to be.

              "Hydrogen" isn't a real fuel source: you have to extract it from something, and store it somehow. IF we had nothing but electrical from "renewable" sources or properly refined Nuclear, it could theoretically be made viable (better utilized in fuel cells than a combustion engine, but still). Since the majority of our generation is still fossil-fuel based, generating hydrogen to "replace" gasoline will actually cause MORE emissions than just putting the fucking gas in our cars.

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by mattack2 (1165421)

                Except for your anti-environmentalist rants, I agree with some of what you say. (I'm very much for nuclear power, as an environmentalist.)

                Except that "a couple hundred miles before another fill-up" is not needed for most people. From some results from google, ridetowork.org says 29 miles per day is the average, and another result from abcnews.com says that the average is 16 miles. As long as you can get to and from work, and do a little driving around town, that would be enough for most people,
                and that

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              I"m wondering if their evaluation of nukes..was based on the current 'laws and regulations' in the US (encacted by Carter I think?), that pretty much prohibit things like breeder reactors, that 'can' be used to manufacture weapons grade stuff, but, also can allow the fuel to be used much more efficiently, leaving much less waste than the first run we currently do?

              From my limited understanding, if we repealed those laws...we could really stretch the nuclear fuel in a massive way, and have much, much less radioactive waste to have to manage, that has a much lower half life, etc.

              THey do assume that. [rsc.org] (that's the "HTML article" in the second story link, in case they don't like direct links like this).

              They also try to calculate how much use of nuclear electric plants would increase the chance of a nuclear war (by giving more groups access to various nuclear technologies), and the environmental impact such a war might have.

              This turns out to be rather insignificant, at least as far a carbon emissions are concerned (table 3). "Lifecycle" emissions for nuclear are "9-70" which is about e

        • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Friday December 12, 2008 @09:01PM (#26098709)
          Here's TFA:

          "Once you have a nuclear energy facility, it's straightforward to start refining uranium in that facility, which is what Iran is doing and Venezuela is planning to do," Jacobson said. "The potential for terrorists to obtain a nuclear weapon or for states to develop nuclear weapons that could be used in limited regional wars will certainly increase with an increase in the number of nuclear energy facilities worldwide." Jacobson calculated that if one small nuclear bomb exploded, the carbon emissions from the burning of a large city would be modest, but the death rate for one such event would be twice as large as the current vehicle air pollution death rate summed over 30 years.

          So basically, to make Nuclear just fall off his chart, he assumes that building more powerplants will lead to nuclear war, and calculates how much stuff that will burn. Is that not completely absurd?

          Basically, the gist of what he's saying about Nuclear is this: "We have to pretend like it's a bad idea, because if we don't, other countries will want to do it, and then they might build bombs. So, say it with me: Nuclear is a baad idea."

          Does somebody want to break it to the guy that Iran and other states will pursue weapons programs no matter what sort of powerplants we build in the US? And besides, what's more likely to cause war: Clean and cost-effective nuclear powerplants that the rest of the world will want to copy, or an energy shortage which sends us looking to secure fossil fuels? I think the latter.

          Anyway, this calculating methodology is so incredibly bizarre that I suspect it's bought.

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      Problem is, electric cars aren't very practical right now. Battery capacity, charge times, etc., all need to improve by an order of magnitude.

      Carbon-neutral biodiesels could keep the existing vehicle fleet going until electric cars are fully developed. In Europe about 30% of cars could run on biodiesel right now. The USA has stupid laws which prevent diesel cars from being used there.

      • Re:Well of course (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Rei (128717) on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:16PM (#26097583) Homepage

        Battery capacity, charge times, etc., all need to improve by an order of magnitude.

        So, just to use the Phoenix SUT as a starting point and improving it by an order of magnitude, you're saying that you want electric cars that go 1,500 miles per charge and charge to 80% in 30 seconds? Or are you still under the misconception that EVs only go 50 miles or so and inherently take hours to recharge?

        State of the art but commercially available battery tech is the titanates, which get ~70Wh/kg and can recharge as fast as you can provide the power and cool the pack (individual cells have been charged to 80% in one minute), or phosphates and stabilized spinels which get ~100Wh/kg and can recharge in 10 to 20 minutes. Traditional li-ion now gets nearly 180Wh/kg, but is limited to 1 hour charging minimum and won't last the lifespan of the car (unlike the aforementioned techs). To get weight/range parity with a typical gasoline vehicle, you need about 300-400Wh/kg, which is what about a dozen different next-gen battery techs are promising. Personally, all I care about is the ability to drive for about two hours on a charge; I don't see the point to more since I'm not going to want to have to be sitting down for that long in a row.

        As for chargers, the highest power EV chargers I've seen are 250kW. The highest I know of that are already installed for general use are the 60kW Aerovironment Posicharge chargers in Oahu. For a 200Wh/mi EV charging at 250kW, that's 21 miles range per minute of charging, meaning that charging makes up under 5% of your travel time.

        In short, while the state of the art tech isn't perfect yet, it's not half bad.

      • Re:Well of course (Score:5, Interesting)

        by cromar (1103585) on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:37PM (#26097825)
        I also heard a "rumor" that the ore used in the production of electric car/hybrid batteries is another big energy/carbon sink (fueld used for mining it, sending it somewhere for processing, sending it somewhere to produce the batteries, sending the batteries to the car manufacturers). Does anyone know if this is true or have any facts or references that would be apropos?
        • Sometimes the (non-science) environmentalists are overzelous and try to sell this argument. The fact is everything currently takes brown energy to produce so if you're making a nuclear power plant, that's brown energy because it takes carbon-based work to make the fuel.

          Solar panels? Those are brown energy because the wafers and cells take carbon-energy to produce.

          Electric cars? Those are brown energy because it takes brown energy to make the battery.

          It's true, but really it's false. The energy produced, sav

    • Re:Well of course (Score:5, Informative)

      by philspear (1142299) on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:32PM (#26097759)

      Of course the ones getting the most attention can be much more easily controlled by those who provide it.

      I smell a vague conspiracy theory that doesn't hold water compared to more simple explanations. Specifically that those which are attracting more attention are doing so in general because they're more viable in the short-term, or rather appeared that way.

      Ethanol got a lot of attention (read: subsidies) because of exactly one thing: the iowa primary. Traditionally, politicians hoping to run for president supported ethanol because Iowa grows corn. The thinking was "If I support ethanol, I'll get big numbers in Iowa, one of the first primaries, and that will get me big campaign contributions!" Who cares about whether it is a real solution. Although not a good reason, it's not that "THEY" can controll you better. And to be honest, you can add it to your current car and put it into the infrastructure, that's a plus it has over other energies. Of course as the article points out, it's a waste of time for numerous reasons.

      Nuclear: again, not evil white men out to control you, it was a big thing for a while. Of course it's going to get attention: we can do it right now.

      Clean coal: you know who is pushing big for this? Everyone who is currently supported by coal, which is a lot of people. Say you own a coal-fired power plant. Which is more attractive: being forced to dismantle your plant completely in a few years (IE if solar power wins) or spend a few million on researching "clean" coal and convincing congressmen on your payroll that you're on the way to making coal which has all of the upsides of renewables but none of the downsides without raising taxes? If your answer is "going bankrupt" instead of "clean coal" you are either a saint, a liar, or are badly deluded.

      In short, we can see it's not about population control, it's about money, laziness, and semi-corruption. It's not evil crafty men in suits trying to turn off your power if you stumble onto their secrets, its about fat lazy men in suits being greedy.

      Subtle difference I guess, but be realistic and you won't sound like you wear a tinfoil hat.

  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Friday December 12, 2008 @06:48PM (#26097241) Homepage Journal

    When a solution is safer, uses less resources, causes less polution. But costs more to scale to a useful size, then it tends to lose out.

    While electricity is a commodity, and is sold on a market as such, the cheapest producer wins. To fix this artificial constraints that artificially inflate the cost of the cheaper methods of electricity production have to be considered.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by reginaldo (1412879)
      You don't have to artifically inflate the cost of cheaper methods.

      Instead, make these cheaper, more polluting methods of electric generation pay for the environmental damage that they are causing. At that point wind, solar, and geothermal energy would become more cost-viable.
    • by RingDev (879105)

      To fix this artificial constraints that artificially inflate the cost of the cheaper methods of electricity production have to be considered.

      So you're saying we should stop subsidizing the coal, nuclear, and bio-fuel agriculture industries?

      -Rick

  • by John3 (85454) <john3 AT cornells DOT com> on Friday December 12, 2008 @06:49PM (#26097263) Homepage Journal

    The corn farmers are going to be upset by this but once again research shows that Ethanol made from corn is not an energy efficient way to create fuel. It's time to stop the ethanol subsidies and start spending money on energy sources with real potential. That way corn will now go back into the food stream, and farmers will also start growing hops again rather than switching to corn to make more money [yoursforgo...tables.com].

    Sincerely,

    Home Brewer who misses his hops

    • Hmmph, it works good enough for me and it's worked for Frank Sinatra, Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Benjamin Franklin!

      Now about my vehicle, that's another story...
    • by pimpimpim (811140)

      In theory, you could make bioethanol in a way that doesn't affect food crops (algae etc). BUT: with the laws of economics at work, farmers WILL make sure they'll grow the highest-profit crop. This will most likely be corn for bioethanol then.

      I think that solar panels are not likely to become useful enough for heavy use. Solar concentration maybe, but you still need a lot of space for that. Wind energy is relatively easy but probably not economical yet. In the windy region where I live, they didn't build any

    • by Duradin (1261418)
      Which food stream? The animal food stream where the overall majority of corn goes or the much smaller human food stream?
    • by philspear (1142299) on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:38PM (#26097849)

      Why don't we just put all the state primaries on the same day? The importance of the Iowa primary is no longer vastly inflated, presidential canidates no longer have to pledge to Big Corn, and ethanol stops getting subsidies.

      Farmers can get mad all they like, it's bad for the rest of us.

  • Nuclear (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PitaBred (632671) <[gro.sndnyd.derbatip] [ta] [todhsals]> on Friday December 12, 2008 @06:49PM (#26097267) Homepage

    I love it. He only doesn't like nuclear power because of them there terr'ists. And that it's completely reasonably possible to get weapons-grade uranium from any nuclear reactor.

    And he completely ignores the effects of wind power on things like bats and birds.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by DesertBlade (741219)
      The impact on bats and birds are minor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power#Environmental_effects [wikipedia.org]

      Storing that nuclear waste for the next million years is the problem. Who wants that stored in their backyard?
      • Re:Nuclear (Score:5, Informative)

        by MarkusQ (450076) on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:18PM (#26097599) Journal

        Storing that nuclear waste for the next million years is the problem. Who wants that stored in their backyard?

        The only reason most of it "needs" to be stored is regulatory. 99% of the so-called primary wastes are perfectly usable as fuel for future cycles. If reprocessing were permitted (like in France, etc.) most of our "nuclear wastes" would become "nuclear fuel reserves."

        Almost all of what's left is either commercially valuable / recyclable or harmless.

        The nuclear waste "problem" is a creation of our fossil fuel industry driven political system.

        --MarkusQ

        • Re:Nuclear (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Retric (704075) on Friday December 12, 2008 @08:03PM (#26098149)
          Carter decided to avoid breeder reactors in part because they can blow up and new fuel is cheep enough that reprocessing is not that big a deal. Also by letting the fuel cool off it becomes cheaper to reprocess in the future. It's not like we are dumping the stuff into a volcano so it's gone forever so when we get really well tested and safe breeder design we will have plenty of high grade fuel waiting around ready to be used on the cheep.

          PS: Carter understood a lot more about the industry than most lay people. "He was assigned to Schenectady, New York, where he took graduate work at Union College in reactor technology and nuclear physics, and served as senior officer of the pre-commissioning crew of the Seawolf, the second nuclear submarine." So it's not like this was some idiot deciding something based on an uninformed whim.
          • Re:Nuclear (Score:5, Insightful)

            by MarkusQ (450076) on Friday December 12, 2008 @08:15PM (#26098263) Journal

            Carter decided to avoid breeder reactors in part because they can blow up and new fuel is cheep enough that reprocessing is not that big a deal.

            I'll agree that Carter knew a lot about nuclear power, and for that reason I doubt that he thought that breeder reactors can blow up. 'cause it isn't true.

            And while new fuel may be cheap the real question is how much does storing the fuel after extracting less than 1% of the energy cost?

            --MarkusQ

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Um, actually "hot" nuclear fuel only needs to be stored for around 40 years (depending on the type of fuel) to drop to a radiation level less than 1/1000th of the original fissionable material and after about 10,000 years the radiation level is nothing more than background radiation.

        At the 40 year mark the radiation levels are still something to be cautious of, but short term exposure isn't a major problem at that point so as long as you don't take long naps on the stockpile, you should be fine. The thi
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by WCguru42 (1268530)
        To put it plainly "There are a lot of reasons why birds die." [robinnixon.com]
    • Re:Nuclear (Score:4, Interesting)

      by roc97007 (608802) on Friday December 12, 2008 @06:56PM (#26097349) Journal

      Yes, it sounds like the author had an axe to grind. Being in the Bay Area, he's got to be aware of activists trying to shut down the wind farms near Stockton because they're killing birds. And I remember reading that the manufacture of photovoltaic cells uses some of the same processes that are already poisoning the groundwater in Silicon Valley.

      • Re:Nuclear (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris.beau@org> on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:40PM (#26097877)

        > Yes, it sounds like the author had an axe to grind.

        Of course the author had an ax to grind. Green gets grant money, nukes get you shunned from elite society.

        The horrible truth is that for hard core greens the only solution is eliminating a couple billion excess humans and forcing the remnant to live a 'reduced' lifestyle to satisfy their self loathing. Thus no proposed solution to the 'energy crisis' is going to be acceptable if it has the potential to actually produce energy at affordable prices in quantities anywhere close to current levels. As you correctly note the greens are already mobilizing against wind and solar on the fear that they MIGHT become practical someday. There are even efforts to stop geothermal! What could possibly be wrong with geothermal? Google it if you want to be sickened.

        The truth is there is no 'energy crisis' there is only a political movement to change our lifesysle. Nukes can be built perfectly safe these days, the fuel can be reprocessed to minimize the waste storage issue and we have more than enough Uranium to power any lifestyle we want until we finally perfect a practical fusion reactor. Saying this in public will end a scientist, politician or TV pundit's career though so we hear endless bleating about an energy crisis, running out of energy and global warming bullcrap intended to frighten us into doing things sane people would never do otherwise.

    • Re:Nuclear (Score:4, Interesting)

      by MpVpRb (1423381) on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:12PM (#26097553)

      The study claims to be quantitative and scientific. But when he goes into his anti-nuclear rant, it's all just opinion.

      We currently have no perfect energy sources. I for one think nuclear sucks less than most of the others.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by booyabazooka (833351)

      He only doesn't like nuclear power because of them there terr'ists.

      I believe these statements are also relevant:

      • "nuclear emits about 25-times more carbon and air pollution than wind energy"
      • "coal and nuclear energy plants take much longer to plan, permit and construct than do most of the other new energy sources"

      Weird... It's like you tried to read the article... but then just read a random paragraph from the middle and stopped.

      • Re:Nuclear (Score:4, Informative)

        by MarkusQ (450076) on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:36PM (#26097803) Journal

        He only doesn't like nuclear power because of them there terr'ists.

        I believe these statements are also relevant:

        * "nuclear emits about 25-times more carbon and air pollution than wind energy"
        * "coal and nuclear energy plants take much longer to plan, permit and construct than do most of the other new energy sources"

        Well given that he computes the carbon footprint of nuclear by dragging things like "terrorists could steal the fuel to make a bomb which could be used in a city which would burn and release lots of CO2," and that one of the reasons nuclear plants take so long to license is the regulatory hurdles designed in part to prevent terrorists from doing just that, I'd say the GP's summary, while glib, was accurate.

        --MarkusQ

        • Re:Nuclear (Score:5, Funny)

          by Shatrat (855151) on Friday December 12, 2008 @08:44PM (#26098561)

          Well given that he computes the carbon footprint of nuclear by dragging things like "terrorists could steal the fuel to make a bomb which could be used in a city which would burn and release lots of CO2,"

          Man, that's such a stretch my back just popped.

    • Re:Nuclear (Score:4, Insightful)

      by GradiusCVK (1017360) <originalcvk@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:29PM (#26097717)
      Just finished reading this garbage, and you're 100% right. The "study" was conducted to prove a certain worldview (that solar and hydro and wind are the only possible solution). Take for example the following:

      Estimates of future (c. 2020) US premature deaths per year from vehicles replacing light- and heavy-duty gasoline onroad vehicles and their upstream emissions assuming full penetration of each vehicle type or fuel, as discussed in the text. Low (solid) and high (solid+vertical lines) estimates are given. In the case of nuclear-BEV, the upper limit of the number of deaths, scaled to US population, due to a nuclear exchange caused by the proliferation of nuclear energy facilities worldwide is also given (horizontal lines). In the case of corn-E85 and cellulosic-E85, the dots are the additional US death rate due to upstream emissions from producing and distributing E85 minus those from producing and distributing gasoline (see text) and the slanted lines are the additional tailpipe emissions of E85 over gasoline for the US

      Essentially, they are assuming that converting to nuclear power results in global nuclear warfare. Yes, it's only the "upper limit" for the range of possible deaths that they throw into their calculations, but let me break it down for you... they have a weighted average of factors used to calculate what is the best solution, and each factor is actually a probability distribution, and they set the upper 10% (or whatever) of potential deaths per year (one of the factors in their model) for one of the solutions (nuclear) to infinity (essentially infinity.... a number so high as to completely skew the resulting weighted average), then guess what... they stated nuclear wasn't an option.

      This isn't research, this is propaganda.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by GradiusCVK (1017360)
        Whoops, just re-read that part and I realize I got it wrong, they weighted average is of the RANK of each solution in each category, so for example the ridiculously high difference in mortality between nuclear and the truly dangerous technologies is lost. Because of the global nuclear warfare scenario, it even moves down a place against a technology which is actually LIKELY to kill many more people (CCS) than nuclear realistically would.

        Only a fucking idiot would use a blind ranking system like that. If o
    • Just make sure that you first rub the lotion on it or else you will get the hose again.

      And do please PUT THE FUCKIN' LOTION IN THE BASKET!!! after are finished with it.
  • Windbelt (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheLazySci-FiAuthor (1089561) <thelazyscifiauthor@gmail.com> on Friday December 12, 2008 @06:53PM (#26097307) Homepage Journal

    I am happy to hear this: Wind (and solar) does seem to be a very elegant energy solution.

    I do note, however, that the report seems to assume wind-based power generation as taking place with traditional turbines.

    The question arises in my mind if the use of the windbelt technology might offer additional gains in this respect?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windbelt [wikipedia.org]

    My searches for use or deployment of the windbelt seem to garner sparse results...any info out there?

    is the windbelt indeed a more effecient method of wind-power generation? Or are turbines still the way to go?

    • by Rei (128717)

      You must have mixed up capitalization when reading about the Windbelt, because its power output is measured in mW, not MW. ;) Yes, he updated his estimate to saying his latest version costs "$2 per watt", but then he makes himself look like an idiot by saying that this is cheaper than solar. These price per watt figures are per watt under a given set of standard conditions (25C, 1000W/m^2, etc), and the standard conditions for solar are in no way related to whatever conditions he used for wind. Judging f

  • Yes, I read the fine article.

    With the way the grid is currently set up anything that wants to provide baseline power needs to be a very stable and very controllable source of energy.

    Sure, you can try to mimic that with wind or wave stations all over the place but then you have the problem of getting all that power to act like it was a single stable controllable source and still get that power to where it needs to go.

  • by MSTCrow5429 (642744) on Friday December 12, 2008 @06:56PM (#26097363)
    The rankings are based on a model, not empirical, real-world science. You can stuff whatever you want into a model, and make it say whatever you want. All we know from this is if you make some wild assumptions on XYZ, options ABC line up in the order of 123.
    • by fm6 (162816) on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:22PM (#26097647) Homepage Journal

      And yet the word "model" appears nowhere in TFA. It refers instead to "quantitative evaluation". You can certainly disagree with the way evaluation was carried out. But you're not doing that. You're claiming that there are "wild assumptions", something I see no evidence of.

      Advocates of a given technology tend to be pretty blind to its downsides. This is particularly true for advocates of nuclear power (waste disposal, weapons proliferation, high costs, high NIMBY factor) and biofuels (environmental degradation; diversion of cropland from food production). All this study does is point out these blind spots. The way you dismiss the study out of hand is all too typical of the river-in-Egypt approach to environmental debate.

      One caveat with respect to biofuels: most of the objection to it don't apply to plans to extract it from oil-rich algae [renewableenergyworld.com]. But this emerging technology doesn't seem to get much press, probably because it doesn't have the entrenched businesses lobbying for it that nukes and fuel crops do.

  • by pizzach (1011925) <pizzach AT gmail DOT com> on Friday December 12, 2008 @06:56PM (#26097371) Homepage
    Moon energy. I know there must be some way that we can harvest this great natural resource. Maybe attach a rope to it that pulls a gear or burn it or something.
    • Moon energy. I know there must be some way that we can harvest this great natural resource. Maybe attach a rope to it that pulls a gear or burn it or something.

      It's called "tidal power". There are some large power plants running on it already, and more being considered.

      The moon's gravity drags the oceans around, creating a bulge on the side of the earth toward the moon and one on the side opposite. The earth rotates faster than the moon so the oceans appear to go up and down. This creates massive flows o

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Deadstick (535032)
        until the Earth stops rocking back-and-forth relative toward the Moon (as the Moon still does a little bit relative to the Earth)

        The libration of the Moon is not a rocking motion. It's almost entirely a perspective effect caused by, in descending importance:

        1) Eccentricity of the Moon's orbit. It spins at an essentially constant rate, but it does not move round the Earth at a constant rate.

        2) Inclination of the Moon's spin axis. It's not parallel to the Earth's axis; when it tilts toward us we see the n

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Friday December 12, 2008 @06:57PM (#26097379) Homepage

    I love how it's dismissed out of hand because of the bogeyman argument.

    TERRORISM!!!!!! Oh crap.

    We better rule out anything that is efficient and can be used RIGHT NOW.

    No let's pick the ones based on Unobtanium.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by iandoh (1151627)
      Take a closer look at this table in the paper [rsc.org], since it reveals a more nuanced approach toward quantifying the potential impact from terrorism. It seems that from the paper, the main reason why nuclear is pooh-poohed is because of the opportunity cost due to time-to-implementation (59â"106 lifecycle CO2e emission per kWh of electricity generated). Relatively speaking, the impact from a potential terrorism activity is quite low (0 to 4.1 lifecycle CO2e emission per kWh of electricity generated). The
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MarkusQ (450076)

        It mostly takes so long because of all the regulatory hurdles. If the other technologies were held to the same paperwork standards, they'd take as long (or longer) to get online.

        --MarkusQ

  • Nuclear? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) <obsessivemathsfreakNO@SPAMeircom.net> on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:01PM (#26097429) Homepage Journal

    When I was young and savvy, I always knew that nuclear power was bad. Polluting. Toxic. Dangerous. Wrong. But now that I'm older, I'm not so sure. In fact I think it's pretty safe. But, I can't objectively confirm this. My current opinion is still just as uniformed as my previous one.

    Trouble is, it's difficult to separate the facts from the rhetoric, and it is danm near impossible to find an unbiased introduction to radioactivity, its uses dangers and safety limits. I would like to learn more, but there is precious little information available. I mean real information, with numbers. Without them, I'm just getting gas. And no, I am not going to rely on wiki-trips.

    It's easy to find information on astronomy, chemistry, physics, mathematics, radio, electricity, etc, etc, etc. But radioactivity? Not a chance. How close to I have to be to an exposed nuclear rod before I am "at risk"? 10 meters? 100 meters? A kilometer? In orbit? Give me graphs. Give me numbers. Help me understand. I'm not stupid, nor are most people. But without hard numbers, I can't confirm or deny my suspicions?

    Or you could just keep making Radioactive super-mutant movies and promoting candle wick alternate energy sources. Whichever.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Wow, shame I can't mod this comment up because it's extremely thoughtful.

      Any radioactivity associated with N.P. is inherently assumed to be bad and probably rightfully so. ( I don't know either )

      Nuclear however appears to be the ONLY fuel capable of supplying our needs. It gets a bad rap because of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Nuclear today is not your father's nuclear. I wish people would realize THAT.

      Every other unrealistic idea has us completely shutting our energy usage down and replacing i
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Obfuscant (592200)
        Any radioactivity associated with N.P. is inherently assumed to be bad and probably rightfully so. ( I don't know either )

        Radioactivity from nuclear power is no different than radioactivity from any other source. Alpha, beta and gamma radiation is alpha, beta and gamma radiation. Radioactivity occurs naturally all around us. Every day. Trace amounts of radioactive materials are found everywhere. It used to be common to practice radiological monitoring skills using the mantles from Coleman (and other) gas

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sjames (1099)

        The only drawback is what to do with the waste and I'm not sure so sure we have the time to figure this one out before we start using it.

        There's a lot of mis-information surrounding nuclear waste. It only lasts for thousands of years when you don't reprocess to seperate the 5% that is useless in a reactor from the 95% that is useful. If you reprocess, the remainder needs to be stored for 500 years to reduce it's radioactivity to background levels.

        Reprocessing was banned in the U.S. as an anti-proliferation measure during the Carter administration. At the time, the reprocessing process would have produced a highly pure fuel that could have be

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      But radioactivity? Not a chance. How close to I have to be to an exposed nuclear rod before I am "at risk"? 10 meters? 100 meters? A kilometer?

      Define "exposed". Define "at risk".

      That said, if the fuel rod has sat in a tank of water for six months, you can store it safely under your bed with no risk whatsoever, unless you're worried about terrorists breaking in to steal it to make an atom bomb. Stupid terrorists, because there isn't enough fissionable in a fuel rod to make an atom bomb, and processing on

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hoeferbe (168081)
      ObsessiveMathsFreak [slashdot.org] wrote in comment 26097429 [slashdot.org]:

      It's easy to find information on astronomy, chemistry, physics, mathematics, radio, electricity, etc, etc, etc. But radioactivity? Not a chance. How close to I have to be to an exposed nuclear rod before I am "at risk"? 10 meters? 100 meters? A kilometer? In orbit? Give me graphs. Give me numbers. Help me understand.

      The study of protecting individuals and the public from the potentially harmful effects of radiation is known as Health Physics. Every industry th

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mako1138 (837520)

      How about this?

      http://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/radiation.html [nrc.gov]

      You could look at a nuclear engineering text if you wanted to know more.

      http://www.nuc.berkeley.edu/NE-39 [berkeley.edu]
      http://www.nuc.berkeley.edu/NE-101 [berkeley.edu]
      http://www.nuc.berkeley.edu/NE-124 [berkeley.edu]

  • It may be a bit slow in getting there as it's cloudy, and my solar powered network is a bit slow.
  • When I read "space requirements" my first thought was 'How are you going to use wind power in space?'. Then I went through about ten minutes of mental gymnastics re: solar wind, and radiometers before I realized they were talking about how much room the technology required, and not about space at all.
  • by greg_barton (5551) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {notrab_gerg}> on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:11PM (#26097545) Homepage Journal

    From TFA:

    Because the wind turbines would require a modest amount of spacing between them to allow room for the blades to spin, wind farms would occupy about 0.5 percent of all U.S. land...

    I wonder if the transportation necessary to reach 0.5 of all U.S. land was considered. You must transport 1) the windmills themselves to the site, 2) all maintenance materials, 3) all maintenance workers over the lifetime of the windmills, 4) the windmills themselves offsite once they're retired.

    Transport costs for windmills is undoubtedly large. I live in Texas and I've seen a few of these being hauled up I-45 from the port of Houston on the way to their destination in Midland. The blades are hauled individually by semi trailer and are about 2x as long as an 18 wheeler. And they're shipped to Houston from the Netherlands!

    So I suspect that the analysis has neglected to take these factors into account when rating the carbon footprint of wind power...

  • Economics? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tsotha (720379) on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:28PM (#26097711)

    I didn't see much mention of economics in the article. If there's one thing I would have thought environmentalists had learned by now it is that no matter what the politicians say, nothing is going to happen if the finances don't work out. From what I can tell wind and solar are still a ways from being competitive with oil and gas even though the $/KWH cost is very close. The real problem is you have to put all the money in up front with wind and solar, whereas gas plants are cheap, and a gas plant can start generating revenue with its first drop of fuel. So a fossil-fuel plant carries less debt and less risk for the power company.

    Also there's the problem of reliability. The wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine. So you either need lots of excess power generation capability, or you need to burn something. And yes, I know Germany has this tri-mode system with wind, solar, and biofuel. But the Germans couldn't keep the lights on without French nuclear power.

  • by sp3d2orbit (81173) on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:30PM (#26097735)

    Solar and wind are bad solutions because:

    - They require thousands of miles of new power lines to be built. Getting power lines approved and built is monumentally expensive (which is why Mr. Pickens wants the tax payers to pay for them instead of building them himself).

    - The wind doesn't blow all the time, nor does the sun shine all the time. You can store it (which is equivalent to running a hydroelectric dam) or build gas powered plants to run during the evenings.

    - Solar and wind are not as inexpensive as proponents claim.

    Nuclear is the only power source with a virtually unlimited source of fuel and that can be brought online without a massive new power grid and is nearly as cheap as gas powered generation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by euxneks (516538)

      - They require thousands of miles of new power lines to be built. Getting power lines approved and built is monumentally expensive (which is why Mr. Pickens wants the tax payers to pay for them instead of building them himself).

      I was under the impression we could just slap some solar panels on our house and take ourselves either off the grid or contribute back into it? How does that imply thousands of miles of new power lines? Now imagine _everyone_ doing it. Clean energy, plentiful, cooperation amongst neighbours - that sounds pretty good to me.

      [...]nor does the sun shine all the time.[...]

      Whnuh..?? The sun is constantly barraging us with energy! It doesn't just blink out. Do you mean clouds? There is still energy getting through - maybe not as much but it's still there

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by NerveGas (168686)

        The awesome thing about solar is that when installed on houses, it actually DECREASES the demand on the "grid", because power is generated locally and does not have to be transmitted. And... it does it when demand is highest!

  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:38PM (#26097833) Homepage
    While I generally agree that 'clean coal' doesn't work and that non-production waste ethanol creation is foolish, I disagree with the basic premise of this article.

    The problem is it is NOT comparing everything in one area. It uses multiple different measures, including pollution, cost, etc.

    But when you that kind of study it requires you to make judgments about which is more important. These are value judgments, NOT scientific ones. Basically all this study does is tell you what a few scientists at Stanford want, not what is true or factual.

    P.S. While ethanol as done in US is stupid, Ethanol as done in South America makes sense. They take all the production waste from agricultural and make ethanol from it. That would be the leaves, etc. the things we don't eat. In the US on the other hand they put the stuff we actually EAT into the pot. South American plan makes sense, but the US version does not..

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by poot_rootbeer (188613)

      In the US on the other hand they put the stuff we actually EAT into the pot.

      As I understand it, the primary biofuel crop in the United States is dent corn rather than sweet corn.

      It is not the stuff we eat. It is the stuff our food eats before its trip to the slaughterhouse.

  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Friday December 12, 2008 @08:10PM (#26098223)
    Tell me again how nuclear is (at minimum) 25X more polluting than wind or solar please. I think I missed that part.
  • All power (Score:3, Insightful)

    by symbolset (646467) * on Saturday December 13, 2008 @03:12AM (#26100817) Journal
    is nuclear power. We're arguing about storage technologies.
  • by cartman (18204) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @03:28AM (#26100873)

    This "study" is not really a study, but a model. As such, it's only as good as its assumptions. Unfortunately, many of its assumptions are completely wrong or totally implausible.

    For example, the model predicts that nuclear power emits 25x as much carbon as wind power. You may wonder how that could be possible. It's possible because that conclusion follows from the model's assumptions which are all wrong, as follows.

    First, the model compares the carbon output of new windmills, versus the carbon output of obsolete ways of refining uranium as an average over the last 40 years. Since refining uranium is far less carbon-intensive than it was, we should use the new figures only. It does not matter how much carbon was emitted by uranium enrichment for plants in the 1960s. Nobody is suggesting building those. We are debating whether we should build new nuclear power plants, or new windmills. As such, we should compare the carbon output of new uranium enrichment against new windmills. In this case the author clearly commits the "sunk cost fallacy", and the assumption is totally wrong.

    Another mistaken assumption behind carbon emissions of nuclear plants, is carbon emissions from delays in plant constructions. The author assumes that nuclear power plants will take 10+ years to construct, and in the mean time, we will continue to generate electricity by burning coal. On the other hand, he assumes that the delay associated with windmills is "zero". However, that assumption is totally wrong. Windmills will lead to "zero delay" only if the United States throws away every coal-burning plant we have and replaces them with windmills this year. Since that will never happen, the assumption is wrong. In actuality, those coal plants will be decomissioned at the end of their useful lives and will be replaced by either wind, nuclear, or something else. So, the delay associated with nuclear or wind would probably be quite similar. Since this factor alone accounts for most of the "25x as much carbon" which nuclear is said to produce, that figure is refuted.

    And there are other assumptions which are wrong. For example, the model assumes that nuclear power will lead to nuclear weapons which will cause a nuclear war with a resulting environmental catastrophe. Since nuclear power cannot be used to construct nuclear weapons, this assumption is mistaken. Unfortunately, the author makes many errors when he discusses the relationship between nuclear power and nuclear weapons. In actuality, nuclear power has almost no probability of starting a nuclear war.

    The paper states that "Worldwide, nine countries have known nuclear weapons stockpiles (US, Russia, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea)" and shortly thereafter concludes that "Thus, the ability of states to produce nuclear weapons today follows directly from their ability to produce nuclear power". But that is entirely wrong. It's a spurious correlation. The reason some countries have nuclear power plants, and the same countries have nuclear weapons, is because those countries are technologically advanced, which causes both nuclear weapons and nuclear power; not because nuclear power causes nuclear weapons.

    And there are other assumptions about nuclear (not related to carbon emissions) which are equally unrealistic. For example, the model claims that nuclear "produces fuel rods that are usually stored on site for several years in cooling ponds pending transport to a permanent site" and somehow concludes that nuclear has as much of a detrimental effect on wildlife as coal power. I honestly have no idea how he derived that conclusion (he doesn't say). It seems to me that mass strip-mining of the countryside (including mass-strip mining for serpentine rock if we intend to use that for mineral sequestration) every year, would greatly outweigh nuclear power's single kilometer of radioactivity buried deep beneath a single mountain in an isolated arid desert in Nevada, once. In fa

  • by SharpFang (651121) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @11:21AM (#26102807) Homepage Journal

    While solar "heat oil/water -> turbine" approach may be plausible, with the common "ecological" solar batteries, it takes more (usually "dirty") energy to produce such a battery than it can produce in its lifespan. Meaning solar is just a hype which in fact is bad for environment.

  • by crmarvin42 (652893) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @04:38PM (#26105471)
    Any attempt to use a model to describe a complex situation is wrong, and only as accurate as the assumptions made by the researchers. The authors of this research made a fair amount of assumptions that are obvious judgement calls that invalidate the model if any one of them are shown to be innacurate. This paper looks to me to be an attempt to justify ones own opinions by the use of modeling.

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