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Earth Power The Almighty Buck News

How the Economy Is Changing Clean Energy 227

Posted by Soulskill
from the clean-energy-with-dirty-money dept.
Al writes "The economy has hit green energy technologies hard, but technologies focused on energy efficiency and clean coal are still attracting money. Over the next few years, venture capitalists say that the biggest winners in clean tech will most likely be companies with technologies that improve efficiency. Such ventures often take advantage of cheap sensors, communications hardware, and software packages to monitor and control energy use both in buildings and on the electricity grid. High-capital businesses are now more likely to succeed if they can attract foreign funding. For instance, Great Point Energy, based in Cambridge, which has developed a process for converting coal into natural gas, has attracted $100m in funding from China."
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How the Economy Is Changing Clean Energy

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  • If you ask me... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TFer_Atvar (857303) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @01:14AM (#27190547) Homepage
    ... the companies that will do the best will be the ones that can maximize their profit with a minimum amount of debt. How cool their toys are doesn't factor into it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Z00L00K (682162)

      And working with finite resources like coal is a dead end. You will end up with the dirty parts regardless.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cayenne8 (626475)
        "And working with finite resources like coal is a dead end. You will end up with the dirty parts regardless."

        Well, it isn't like these resources are going to 'go away' in any of our lifetimes....so, at this point in time, for reasonably short term (20+) years success and profit, it IS a good business move to work with these.

        The smart things to do for a company would be to maximize their profits on finite resources we still have plenty of today....and spend some of that profit on the next generation energ

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by HiThere (15173)

        Coal may be finite, but there's probably enough to last for longer than any of us really expect to be around.

        OTOH, "Clean Coal" is not something that's ever been demonstrated. There's no proof that pumping CO2 underground will cause it to remain there for any long period of time. Etc. (It's true that a lot of the places that they are planning on pumping it to once held various gases [including CO2] for very long periods of time, but that was before we drilled holes into it. When you take a lot of stuff

    • You definition of "do the best" seems strange to me. Of course companies need to maximise the profit. Why should they minimise debt is beyond me (if you are talking about maximising net profit and not turn-over, debt is not an issue). You don't even have to say "maximise profit and minimise costs" becase costs are already factored into profit. So you are saying that companies that are doing best are those, that maximise profit. That calls for a Nobel prize in economics. Furthermore you are saying that the c
      • Probably would've been better to say "minimize debt obligations," as in the amount due to the creditors in each payment period. Lately, we've seen more than a few otherwise healthy companies brought down by debt obligations due to interest rates suddenly going up or things along those lines.
        • No, the point is - if you maximise your profit, that already includes any debt obligations. So if I say "maximise (net) profit" it also includes optimise cost including cost of debt. Minimising debt may not be the optimum strategy. It is easy to minimise debt - just don't have any. But that may not lead to maximum profit. You may also want to talk about risk but then again - if you talk about middle or long term profit optimisation that includes risk optimisation - again, not minimalisation. World of busine
      • by jonbryce (703250)

        It is because there is this credit crunch thingy going on which is making it almost impossible for people to borrow money.

        Companies that don't need to borrow money to survive are at an advantage over those that do.

      • Of course there are different types of companies and associations. What is the difference of a public benefit, a party, and different sorts of companies or a website. An association of people can do whatever they want.

        You and your neighbors can e.g. own a cooperative that supplies electricity to your block. And a milk farm won't manufacture tanks and rifles because they are more profitable, just an allocation of free capital to these entities is guarded by greed because that is the essence of capital invest

      • Re:If you ask me... (Score:5, Informative)

        by xelah (176252) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @09:10AM (#27192161)

        Of course companies need to maximise the profit. Why should they minimise debt is beyond me (if you are talking about maximising net profit and not turn-over, debt is not an issue).

        Because investors don't just care about profit, they also care about risk. Average profit with above average risk is not good.

        Debt and profit interact like this (ignoring tax, for now):

        Case 1: A company uses 100m of capital, all from shareholders, to make an average of 10m/year of profit. Return to shareholders: 10%, plus annual variation. The company goes bust if it persistently makes less than 0 profit.

        Case 2: An equivalent company uses 100m of capital, 50m from shareholders, 50m from 5% debt, to make an average of 10m/year of profit before interest, 7.5m/year after interest. Return to shareholders: 15%. The company goes bust if it persistently makes less than 2.5m/year from its operations, so the risk to shareholders is larger. If profits are a normal distribution - or anything like it - this could be quite a big difference in risk.

        So what matters is not profit, but risk-adjusted profit....and leverage increases risk. In theory, shareholders should care because they adjust the leverage themselves (owning 1000 of the share capital in case one, or 500 of the share capital and 500 of the debt in case two, is equivalent). However, the tax system encourages debt by taxing profit AFTER interest. This is a BAD thing, and may have contributed to our current mess, because it decreases shareholder returns in case 1 more than in case 2, encouraging otherwise pointless risky behaviour.

    • ... the companies that will do the best will be the ones that can maximize their profit with a minimum amount of debt.

      . . . that would normally be a very economically sound business plan. However, governments are now in the process of bailing out businesses that have minimized profit, with maximum debt, and are "too big to fail."

      So who gets to pay for that?

      "Ah, Mr. Bond, I was expecting you. I see that you have again made a tidy profit. I will forgo any unfeasible sharks-with-lasers-aimed-at-your-crotch death machines. Instead, I will simply tax you to death."

  • by icebike (68054) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @01:28AM (#27190601)

    There have been a number of ads by IBM lately pushing the idea that their new line of computers is needed to redesign the nation's electrical grid, claiming that half the power never makes it to any light bulb.

    In other areas power companies will actually buy you the new CCFL bulbs if you pay the tax on the bulb.

    The push for efficiency is long over-due.

    But realistically, will the replacement of a an entire power grid really save more than it costs? Is it really necessary?

    Wouldn't more energy be saved by taxing long haul trucking out of existence and putting the money into a resurgence of rail freight?

    • by ThePeices (635180)

      Well, when your grid ( and im assuming the US one ) is running right to its limits, something needs to be done. You have no real room for failure, look at the last chain reaction of outages there were. Increasing capacity of the grid will increase efficiency (to a point of course). But you gain from less losses, and increased reliability...how much did the last major grid outage cost you, as a country?

      The electrical grid is a critical piece of infrastructure for any economy. If you dont invest in it correct

    • by AuMatar (183847)

      Great- so with CFLs instead of putting carbon in th air we put mercury in the earth. Yeah, that's at best a sidegrade, at worst actively worse. If they really wanted efficiency they'd push for LEDs- bright, cheap, low polution to make, highly efficient, and they never burn out.

      • by jonbryce (703250)

        You get more mercury from the extra coal required to power an incandescent bulb than you do from a CFL bulb.

        My local borough council provides facilities for recycling CFL bulbs so the mercury doesn't get released into the environment, and I believe a lot of other councils do that as well.

        I think it will be another few years before LEDs are ready to replace CFLs.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Actually, CFLs have a higher energy cost of production than incandescents, due to their more complex shape and increased quantity and variety of materials. If you turn an incandescent off when you're not using it, you probably have a good shot at having a similar lifetime energy consumption (given how fragile both incandescents and CFLs are; the former to vibration, as is common in California where I live, while the latter succumbs to voltage spikes or especially from brownouts in record time.

        LEDs are much

      • by homer_ca (144738)

        The T8 fluorescent tubes used in commercial buildings contain far more mercury than a CFL, and I'd say we've learned to handle them safely. The additional mercury from CFLs is minuscule, even if we assume a slightly higher percentage are disposed of improperly.

      • Great- so with CFLs instead of putting carbon in th air we put mercury in the earth

        Yes, CFLs contain mercury howewver coal fired power plants emit more mercury. Switching from incandescent lights to CFLs reduces the mercury released more than the bulbs contain. According to the Energystar [pdf] [energystar.gov] "Coal- fired power generation accounts for roughly 40 percent of the mercury emissions in the U.S." "As shown in the table below, a 13-watt, 8,000-rated-hour-life CFL (60-watt equivalent; a common light bulb type)

    • by aaarrrgggh (9205)

      Power plants are only slightly more efficient than your average car, and a little less when you add in transmission (excluding combined heat-power plants). There are a lot of things that need to be done.

      A lot of this technology is about implementing control logic for system optimization, which used to be too expensive. Differential and integral control algorithms are hard to impliment in pneumatics. Multi-variable real-time optimization requires much more processing and feedback than what your typical DDC

  • bugs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by plopez (54068) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @01:34AM (#27190631) Journal

    I read about how coal could be converted to methane via bacteria.

    here's a quick example.

    http://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/pubaf/pr/2003/bnlpr091103b.htm [bnl.gov]

    This is one way to convert coal to a cleaner form of energy. However there are implications since there is a question as to who owns the energy: coal companies or gas companies?

    So to create cleaner coal we just may need to pump some bugs and other chemicals into the ground but we also need to sort out some legal and policy issues.

    • Coal to methane, interesting. Methane is kind of implicated in the odor of flatulence, but it comes from it's own charcoal filter. I guess it should be odorless then?

      • by Quothz (683368)

        I guess it should be odorless then?

        Methane is odorless, yes. The smell second-most commonly associated with it, the smell of an unlit gas range, is added for safety.

    • by jonbryce (703250)

      In Britain we converted coal to gas up until about 50 years ago when we discovered a gas field in the North Sea.

      • by radio4fan (304271)

        In Britain we converted coal to gas up until about 50 years ago when we discovered a gas field in the North Sea.

        Yes, but not to methane.

        The old 'town gas' produced from coal was a mix of:

        * hydrogen 50%
        * methane 35%
        * carbon monoxide 10%
        * ethylene 5%

        wiki entry on coal gas [wikipedia.org].

        It was poisonous, and the production process was an environmental nightmare.

    • by Tweenk (1274968)

      The bacteria have to produce a lot of CO2 in the process of converting coal to methane, because the C:H ratio for coal is 1:1 at best, whereas for methane it is 1:4. The extra hydrogen has to come from somewhere, or the extra carbon has to be discarded. In the case of bacteria they most probably do the equivalent of coal gasification, converting coal and water to CO2 and extra hydrogen to produce methane. This doesn't change the fact that a lot of CO2 must be produced in this process, which negates any envi

      • by Tuoqui (1091447)

        I'm not sure that is entirely the case.

        The question is does this conversion to METHANE increase the efficiency overall? I mean does going from Coal to Methane double or quadruple the power burning it produces? Is CO2 created from methane conversion more easily contained/controlled/captured than say burning coal? A popular idea for capturing CO2 is to convert it into Sodium Bicarbonate which has been featured as an idea on Daily Planet on the Discovery Channel a few times. Maybe burning the coal wholesale wo

  • clean coal != clean! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by UltraAyla (828879) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @01:46AM (#27190667) Homepage
    Clean coal doesn't exist. Saying it is a clean energy form is like saying fusion is a clean energy form: regardless of whatever merits you can come up with for the system, carbon capture and sequestration (clean coal), like fusion, has no working plants (and probably won't for at least a decade) and is more a gimmick for public support and research funding than anything else. Money would be better spent on the efficiency efforts mentioned and commercially viable forms of clean energy that can be bought in the market today.
    • by timmarhy (659436)
      so you logic is: clean coal doesn't work becuase there are no working plants, so lets not put the inital captial into making any working plants?

      Bravo....

      Please by all means invest in your solar panels that cost $10 a watt. let me know how the goes for you.

      • by UltraAyla (828879)

        I may not have made it clear there, but that's not quite the logic. The logic is that we have an environmental crisis and limited time and resources to put into fixing it. We have technologies that can help us get off of it now for far cheaper than CCS, while CCS is going to be a good decade before anything is viable. The argument is that we should spend as much of our limited capital on the proven technologies while letting the technologies that aren't as likely to help immediately get less funding. If you

        • The logic is that we have an environmental crisis and limited time and resources to put into fixing it. We have technologies that can help us get off of it now for far cheaper than CCS, while CCS is going to be a good decade before anything is viable.
          Actually, as I read it, this idea IS a good one. It allows coal to be converted to something that we can feed the pipelines with right away. It lowers the costs. More importantly, we are likely to build many more power plants shortly. The question is, do you
    • by ArcherB (796902)

      Clean coal doesn't exist. Saying it is a clean energy form is like saying fusion is a clean energy form: regardless of whatever merits you can come up with for the system, carbon capture and sequestration (clean coal), like fusion, has no working plants (and probably won't for at least a decade) and is more a gimmick for public support and research funding than anything else. Money would be better spent on the efficiency efforts mentioned and commercially viable forms of clean energy that can be bought in the market today.

      So all of the other posts here explaining technologies that convert coal to another, cleaner form of energy are all wrong, and you are right? Even if it's something as simple as taking the scrubber technology we've had since the birth of the space program and attaching that to smoke stack to remove the CO2... it doesn't exist, right? (how do all those space guys breath?)

      Guess you are the only smart one here, as usual.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        (how do all those space guys breath?)

        They don't, they breathe. In any case, making those scrubbers is a high-energy-cost activity and would be a net loss. Instead, you use the CO2 output to produce Algae, a process already tested by the USDOE at Sandia National Labs [nrel.gov], where they were able to capture over 80% of the CO2 output in the algae. Then you can in turn make the algae into biodiesel and fertilizer, fixing some of the carbon and getting a second use out of the rest. In other words, your idea is stupid, and slashdot is a stupider place for

        • by ArcherB (796902)

          (how do all those space guys breath?)

          They don't, they breathe. In any case, making those scrubbers is a high-energy-cost activity and would be a net loss. Instead, you use the CO2 output to produce Algae, a process already tested by the USDOE at Sandia National Labs [nrel.gov], where they were able to capture over 80% of the CO2 output in the algae. Then you can in turn make the algae into biodiesel and fertilizer, fixing some of the carbon and getting a second use out of the rest. In other words, your idea is stupid, and slashdot is a stupider place for having to hear it - but there is a similar, working solution.

          My idea was an example, and yes, your idea... or should I say the idea you mentioned is much better. The point I was making is that even if you could make 100% clean, with no CO2, no mercury or anything else, these guys would still oppose it for no other reason than they've been brainwashed to think that it's evil.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            My idea was an example, and yes, your idea... or should I say the idea you mentioned is much better. The point I was making is that even if you could make 100% clean, with no CO2, no mercury or anything else, these guys would still oppose it for no other reason than they've been brainwashed to think that it's evil.

            It IS evil because CO2 is destroying the oceans! This is the really relevant part you don't seem to get. That CO2 is sequestered and has been for hundreds of millions of years. If we put it into the atmosphere all at once it causes overacidification of the oceans which will eventually kill basically all marine life except for perhaps brittle stars and whatever's hanging out at the ocean vents. It doesn't MATTER how efficient your process is, at SOME point that CO2 WILL be released into the atmosphere, and w

            • by ArcherB (796902)

              While I do agree that plants are the best way to recycle CO2, the rest of your post is complete crap. When there is more CO2, plants do better. More CO2=more plants=more CO2 converted to O2 and CARBOhydrates. It's a cycle that has been going on since nature invented photosynthesis.

              The idea that CO2 will destroy all life on earth is absurd. Yes, coal, oil and other fossil fuels are carbon syncs, but where do you think that carbon came from? Here's a hint... where do you think fossil fuels came from? Yu

              • by drinkypoo (153816)

                So, please, stop trying to insult the intelligence of people on slashdot until AFTER you have educated yourself about how the world works.

                Never in the recorded history of the planet which goes through several ice ages (recorded in the ice that didn't melt - it never all goes... so far) have CO2 levels been remotely this high. The oceans are becoming more acidic over time, not less. The Earth uses (among other methods) subaquatic, exposed limestone to sink the CO2 out of the ocean. Problem is that it can't handle it as fast as we can put it into the atmosphere. If we continue along these lines, what do you think the end result is going to be?

              • CO2 (Score:3, Informative)

                by falconwolf (725481)

                When there is more CO2, plants do better.

                Some plants grow better with higher CO2 levels, like poison ivy [blogspot.com]. However other plants grow slower. There are winners and losers [cababstractsplus.org] wherein some plants grow faster and others slower under high CO2 levels. The same is true under higher temperatures. [mongabay.com]

                Oh, BTW, "The jolt of carbon dioxide [highbeam.com]also boosted the most-toxic forms of poison ivy's rash-raising oil".

                So, please, stop trying to insult the intelligence of people on slashdot until AFTER you have educated yourself about

      • by UltraAyla (828879)

        We certainly have technology to capture CO2, but not on the scale of a powerplant. We also do not know the proper technology for sequestering it safely for 1000s of years. And the energy required - my goodness. It requires an extra coal plant for every two coal power plants you want to sequester just to power the sequestration process.

        I never said sequestration didn't exist. I said safe (I'm adding this part), cheap, carbon capture for power plants does not exist yet and is not worth our while compared to t

  • by fluffy99 (870997) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @01:49AM (#27190677)
    Great Point Energy has been unsuccessfully trying to drum up investors since 2005. Andrew Perlman is not a scientist, but is better described as an adventure capitalist. In venture capital, you don't actually have to have a technically sound idea. You just need to convince investors that you have some magic formula for creating a profitable business and they give you money. They still do not have a working prototype that shows a positive return on energy. They are only drawing up a proposal for a $100m plant for China. China has not committed to any funding.
  • by dj245 (732906) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @01:59AM (#27190707) Homepage
    I work for a company that is retrofitting 30-40 year old steam turbines at coal power plants. Its such a difficult and expensive process to get a new power station built (of any fuel) that the power companies want to keep these coal plants running for another 40 years. You can blame the NIMBY folks, or the environmentalists that require environmental study after study before ground is broken.

    I'm in the business, and the cost of electricity is going to continue to rise pretty spectacularly. Most of the plants built in the past 15 years or so are natural gas, which is now expensive and continuing to rise in cost. Many of plants built in the 60's running on cheap fuel are getting near their end of life. Some are being retrofitted but many aren't worth it. Nobody can build a nuke plant these days and coal is equally taboo. Few people are studying engineering so the manpower is also getting scarce. Its not a crisis yet but most of the power industry is aged in thier 50s and 60s.

    We aren't in a crisis yet, but in another 10 years its going to start getting ugly.
    • by dbIII (701233)

      Few people are studying engineering so the manpower is also getting scarce. Its not a crisis yet but most of the power industry is aged in thier 50s and 60s.

      A lot of that is really due to management shifting to an emphasis on economics and a phobia about paying wages even when they are under one percent of operating costs. I was in the power industry at 24 and was one of the three technical staff under 50 years old in my division of around a hundred scientists, engineers and technicians. (That was 15 year

    • I dunno. Manpower issues seem to resolve themselves to a certain extent. As demand for a profession rises, the salaries of those in the profession also rise. This attracts more people to the profession, thereby meeting demand. Of course, there's usually a few years of lag time, a la the 1990s boom in IT salaries, but it resolves itself and everyone can go back to being broke again.
    • If we used LESS power, wouldn't the approaching crisis be lessened, perhaps averted?

      Just sayin'...

      This mindset, where we can (and must) always consume, and always consume MORE. It just might kill us.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      You can blame the NIMBY folks, or the environmentalists that require environmental study after study before ground is broken.

      For which you can blame the power industry, since if they had just fucking kept things clean on their own, none of this shit would be necessary.

      I will fight to the death any attempt to put a coal, oil or natural gas burning power plant anywhere. They are destroying the biosphere and putting more of them in is hastening our own demise. If the energy industry wants to be responsible and put in some cleaner power plants, then perhaps it will see more support. Don't act like these people don't have a valid agen

      • by dj245 (732906) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @09:37AM (#27192317) Homepage
        Oh please. I bet you're the sort of person who believes that we can replace all our coal plants with Wind and Hydro by 2015 if we spent enough money.

        First you have to get the liscensing for all these power plants. For Hydro, this is mostly impossible since someone will stand up and say that the turbines chew up fish at a ridiculous rate and destroy the river. For wind, people will complain about the birds. These drawbacks were true in 1960 but they aren't anymore. You'll be tied down for at least 3 years trying to get the permits and approval to build. And that's being optomistic.

        Then you need to build the things. But the lead time for many components is pretty long and still getting longer, even in this economy. We're buying forgings and bearings 3-4 years in advance. And then you have to machine it. These are big forgings and bearings, so not a lot of companies make them.

        Finally, you need to install and run the plants. As I said, the manpower is getting a little short. Startup engineers make a minimum of 60k base salary a year and it goes up from there. That's not incuding overtime, which is excessive. So its not at all about the money. Most companies that are installing wind turbines are running flat out too along with everyone else.

        Coal is mostly clean now, and it's a huge resource that the US has Right Now. I just spent a week in New Cumberland PA, right next door to Three Mile Island and several huge coal plants. And you know what? The air quality was excellent. There are tons of trees in that area and the scrubbers on all the plants are excellent. The ash is recycled into various useful products and the stuff that comes out of the scrubbers (mostly gypsum) is turned into Gypsum board.

        As for natural Gas, its completely clean. I went to one plant in Wallingford Connecticut that was in a heavy residential area. The turbines were abour 400 feet away from a bunch of houses, but nobody who lived there knew they were even running because of the sound wall and the clear exhaust. It's even burning a renewable resource. Most people don't realize that Natural Gas is 99% Methane with a hint of Hydrogen. Sure its not coming from renewable sources *now* but there's no reason it couldn't.

        I *want* one of these plants in my backyard. The taxes on 250 million dollars of equipment makes my taxes less. The highly paid employees have to eat, sleep, and socialize somewhere. The electrical costs are less because less energy is wasted in transmission.

        If you want to turn this country into Vermont, maybe you should just move to Vermont.
    • by Thng (457255)
      As someone in the field, what about the issues surrounding retrofitting these older plants with new equipment?
      IIRC, there are certain changes/repairs/upgrades that can be made, but if they go beyond a certain point of improvement, don't they have to then comply with the Clean Air Act of 1970?
      What kind of efficiency improvements could be made to these old plants if they didn't have to comply, or maybe not fully?
      It seems like you could decrease pollution overall if you could eke out a few % (eg, burn less
  • You know Sid's Civilization: "You found... FISHER TROPSCH in scrolls of ancient wisdom."

    Because that's what Fisher Tropsch is, ancient. I don't deny the novelty of Great Point Energy's process, but why did it take 70 years between Fisher-Tropsch and this technology? Lack of lobbying^Wmotivation, I guess.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tweenk (1274968)

      Fischer-Tropsch synthesis is currently uneconomical, and producing hydrocarbons through this process and then burning them in engines generates much more CO2 than burning oil, because some of the coal has to be used to generate the extra hydrogen present in gasoline:
      C + 2 H2O = CO2 + 2 H2

  • That's odd (Score:2, Insightful)

    I thought the idea of "clean coal" was finding a way to store the CO2 to prevent it from screwing with the climate. This "coal-to-gas" does nothing towards this goal, so I don't see how one would call it "clean coal" other than the obvious lack of sulfur or mercury.

    • by Thng (457255)
      My FIL works at a coal gasification plant.

      One way that this does help with reducing CO2 emissions is that the exhaust of the plant is primarily CO2. Standard coal plant exhaust is still mostly nitrogen, oxygen, CO2, SO2, etc.
      What does the plant do with it? Compresses it into liquid, and pipes it up to Sasketchewan. An oil company injects it into old oil fields to recover more oil.
      Basin Electric CO2 Sequestration [basinelectric.com]
      This is where the CO2 savings come in.

  • Shock and awe (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Knowbuddy (21314) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @06:02AM (#27191393) Homepage Journal

    If you enjoy being depressed, you may want to read "The Next Bubble [harpers.org]", an article in Harper's by Eric Janszen from February 2008. He predicted this green bubble over a year ago, and it's a pretty grim prediction:

    Supporting this alternative-energy bubble will be a boom in infrastructure--transportation and communications systems, water, and power. (...) Of course, alternative energy and the improvement of our infrastructure are both necessary for our national well-being; and therein lies the danger: hyperinflations, in the long run, are always destructive.

    Sound something like recent legislation? Then comes the bad news:

    The next bubble must be large enough to recover the losses from the housing bubble collapse. How bad will it be? Some rough calculations: the gross market value of all enterprises needed to develop hydroelectric power, geothermal energy, nuclear energy, wind farms, solar power, and hydrogen-powered fuel-cell technology--and the infrastructure to support it--is somewhere between $2 trillion and $4 trillion; assuming the bubble can get started, the hyperinflated fictitious value could add another $12 trillion. In a hyperinflation, infrastructure upgrades will accelerate, with plenty of opportunity for big government contractors fleeing the declining market in Iraq. Thus, we can expect to see the creation of another $8 trillion in fictitious value, which gives us an estimate of $20 trillion in speculative wealth, money that inevitably will be employed to increase share prices rather than to deliver "energy security." When the bubble finally bursts, we will be left to mop up after yet another devastated industry. FIRE, meanwhile, will already be engineering its next opportunity. Given the current state of our economy, the only thing worse than a new bubble would be its absence.

    Yes, you should read the whole article. It'll take some time, but you'll come away with a better understanding of how our global economy works these days.

    ObCredit: I found this article via Memestreams [memestreams.net].

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Increasing our grid-based electrical output is not the solution. We could probably halve our residential use just by adding insulation to houses and replacing light switches in certain rooms with timers. On the other hand, if we started installing inexpensive grid-tied wind generator systems at houses around the country, there would be no major regulatory hurdles to cross. It doesn't work everywhere, but we should be doing it every place that it will. The idea that we should continue expanding eternally is

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      You mean that R&D in alternative energy and efficience improvements will be overfunded by careless investors that may lose their risky investments ? What is the bad news again ?
  • Germans used a coal to oil process to satisfy 70% of their liquid fuel needs during the World War II. The process was initially invented at the beginning of the 20th century. See this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bergius_process [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fischer-Tropsch_process [wikipedia.org]

    Converting coal to methane is very similar in principle. However, you need an abundant source of hydrogen. The cheapest source of hydrogen right now is natural gas, mainly composed of methane, so the circle is closed. The only feasi

  • by Lawrence_Bird (67278) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @08:43AM (#27192025) Homepage

    The 'economy' didn't hit all these green energy projects, the plummeting price of oil did. Few, if any, of these projectcs are remotely competitive with oil/nat gas under $75 and in many cases still higher - and even with substantial subsidies and tax breaks.

    As we saw with ethanol, energy 'policy' is just another boondoggle of lobbyists and special interest groups seeking government funds so they can make some bucks. Wind, solar, clean coal and so on all live off the government teat to one degree or another. Would they even exist without those tax breaks and direct funding?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Abcd1234 (188840)

      Few, if any, of these projectcs are remotely competitive with oil/nat gas under $75 and in many cases still higher - and even with substantial subsidies and tax breaks.

      And you know *why*? It's because oil/gas are, themselves, subsidized, you just don't seem to realize it. It's called negative externalities. I mean, could you imagine how expensive oil/gas would be if the companies were actually forced to run clean operations? But they don't. Instead, they destroy the environment around their operations

  • "Clean" coal (Score:3, Interesting)

    by smoker2 (750216) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @09:39AM (#27192333) Homepage Journal
    Just to chime in on the coal argument. Or to be more specific, fossil fuels.

    The only reason mankind as a whole has experienced explosive population growth and massive rises in standards of living, is that we discovered and exploited fossil fuels. We have taken out a massive "loan" from the earth and whether it runs out or not is irrelevant. We are basing our future survival on energy that was previously stored over billions of years. Patently, there is no point expecting coal or oil to renew themselves naturally in a useful timescale, and our population is still expanding.

    We must find sources of energy that do not rely on previously stored resources. Once those resources are gone, we are pretty much bankrupt, energy-wise. So get with the program, and finally accept that coal or oil in any guise, are only stop-gap solutions to keep us going until we can totally replace them. Spending time and effort on "clean" coal is wasting time and energy on something we will have to do without, more likely sooner than later. And I'm not even going to mention the specific environmental issues, or the myriad chemical/biological uses that fossil fuels could be put to instead of being burnt.

    Of course, nuclear fuels are a naturally stored resource too, but they are more efficient, cleaner, and hold possibilities that mere fire can never approach. Solar is the only energy source that is truly long term viable, simply because it is not produced or stored on earth. It comes from outside the system. Is it ready now ? Of course not, but it is the only answer in the universe. (Unless we can somehow harness dark energy/matter).

    I found the article about the magnetic spin battery concept interesting. Currently, all nuclear plants use nuclear material in place of fire, to produce heat and then steam to drive turbines. What if a nuclear reaction could be relied upon to directly induce a specific magnetic spin in a "wire" and thus supply the grid ? That has to be more efficient than converting heat > steam > kinetic energy > electricity. Imagine a small cylinder (0.5 " diameter) that you clamp to the power cable of a device and directly induces current to feed that device. Dreaming I know, but this is why that discovery has greater potential than many posters realise.
  • Have a look around at the current state of biodiesel in the USA, for example. Right now, despite a $1 a gallon subsidy, promising players such as Nova Biosource Fuels are shuttering their doors. The country has nearly 2 billion gallons of plant capacity for biodiesel, and a fraction of that is produced. The situation is the same for ethanol. And, just when things are gloomy for the USA, of course, along come our so-called European friends to jack up tariffs on American biodiesel and put the screws to ev

  • by grandpa-geek (981017) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @01:17PM (#27194133)

    ... in the commercial building sector is the triple-net lease. This is the most common lease for commercial space. The lease put all the costs, including energy, onto the tenant. The owner has no incentive to make energy efficiency improvements, and possibly a lot of disincentive. Even if the tenant is willing to pay for the improvements (as a trade off against their energy costs) the owner has incentives to disapprove them (such as avoidance of legal liability or any other kind of hassle).

    Only owner-occupied buildings tend to get energy efficiency infrastructure technology. I've heard that is about 10% of the sector. The only way around this will be to adopt laws that cause pain to building owners that is best relieved by making or agreeing to energy efficiency improvements.

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