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Bill Gates On Energy 474

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from the agreeing-with-bill-gates-feels-dirty dept.
Sam the Nemesis submitted an interview in Wired with Bill Gates on the future of energy. Gates sees nuclear as the only feasible option for base load generation. His views on the current direction of energy funding are particularly distressing: "But the economics are so, so far from making sense. And yet that's where subsidies are going now. We're putting 90 percent of the subsidies in deployment — this is true in Europe and the United States — not in R&D. And so unfortunately you get technologies that, no matter how much of them you buy, there's no path to being economical. You need fundamental breakthroughs, which come more out of basic research."
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Bill Gates On Energy

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  • by Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:05AM (#36682448) Homepage
    Say waht you will about MS but to me it appears old Bill is mostly right on this one. Things like solar and will will eventually become economical, but not in the immediate future. This is mostly due to the rising cost of fossil fuels, but there are some economies of scale. More basic research is needed but renewables will become economical on their own eventually.
    • by sharkey (16670) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:06AM (#36682468)
      As long as no Microsoft products are used in nuclear energy generation.
    • by Sinthet (2081954) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:11AM (#36682498)

      Wind power is already pretty good depending on the environment. A local ski-resort around here (BerkShire East), already runs entirely on power generated from a single windmill they put up. Not only do they manage to run the entire place on it, they make enough to sell to the local electric company. Not only are they saving money by getting rid of what I'm sure is a huge electric bill, they're making extra money they otherwise wouldn't have. So, in some situations, these alternate forms of energy are already economically feasible.

      • by Tx (96709) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:31AM (#36682750) Journal

        That may be the case where you live, but in the UK, wind power depends on subsidies to exist at all. In fact on top of the subsidies, we've been paying wind farms to NOT produce electricity [dailyrecord.co.uk]. The trouble is our peak demand for energy is in winter, when we have a large stable high pressure zone over the UK, leading to very cold clear conditions, and that same high pressure zone means no wind. Hence wind farms are almost useless when they're needed most, but producing power when it's not needed. Until economically viable ways of storing energy from wind farms is found, they'll never be economically viable in the UK, and such storage appears to be a long way off at the moment.

        • by stiggle (649614)

          Pumped storage schemes (like Dinorwig http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinorwig_Power_Station [wikipedia.org]) - but you'll never get the planning permission in to flood a few more valleys to create them.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Yes, no one argue there are some specific uses for generating electricity from local sources. No rational person argues that concept However overall baseload power can't not be generated from alternative sources. It's a matter of power density.

    • by Stargoat (658863) * <stargoat@gmail.com> on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:12AM (#36682520) Journal

      There is not enough energy potential in solar power nor in wind / hydro-electric to match the energy potential from nuclear power and fossil fuels. As fossil fuels become more expensive, nuclear power will be the world's only option. Gates is right on this issue because physics dictates his correctness. No matter how much people may wish it, you cannot legislate past physical laws.

      • Really you actually believe this. We get more energy from the sun than we could realistically use. If you doubt me then how about NASA [nasa.gov]. They even do the energy to mass conversion for you so we literally are getting tons (metric or short) of energy from the sun each day.
      • by gnick (1211984)

        As fossil fuels become more expensive, nuclear power will be the world's only option.

        I'm a big nuclear proponent, but fossil fuels (coal at least) is still abundant and cheap. It's not a permanent solution, but the expense barrier is mostly moving due to new restrictions rather than a lack of fuel. For the large portion of the population that simply wants cheap power in the short term rather than short-term costly but long-term essential fashion, coal is still attractive unless we can continue to shift public opinion.

      • by TWX (665546) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:48AM (#36682972)

        What's the total life-cycle cost comparison though?

        With solar I see the following:

        up front:
        Mining raw material for the panels, batteries, and electrical converters
        manufacturing the components in a low-security factory
        transporting the components on standard truck
        installing the panels and conversion equipment to an existing structure or building frames to install on bare earth

        down the road:
        cleaning the panels
        maintaining the circuitry
        replacing batteries
        having an electrician or homeowner possibly replace individual components over time if things fail

        end of life:
        remove panels from frames
        remove frames from structure or earth
        remove switching equipment and batteries
        send panels, frames, and switching equipment to recycler
        send batteries to mild hazardous waste disposal for disassembly or recycling

        Potential problems:
        solar panels smashed en masse in a hail storm - solar is offline until panels are replaced and structure is back on grid power. If owner has insurance, that is used to pay for the replacement.
        Batteries leak, owner stops storing power for overnight use and goes back on to the grid, and replaces batteries and cleans up acid spill
        Absolute Worst Case- solar system causes a fire and the small structure burns.

        Contrast to nuclear:

        Startup:
        Spend billions to build obtain land, fight local opposition, and build the plant.
        spend millions to obtain ROW to install power transmission lines
        Refine nuclear fuel in a high security factory
        transport fuel in an expensive manner via truck convoy
        employ dozens, if not hundreds of engineers and technicians to fuel, power up, and baby sit the reactor

        down the road:
        continue to employ dozens, if not hundreds of engineers and technicians to baby sit the reactor
        spend millions to refuel reactor as necessary
        spend millions to store spent nuclear fuel in the proper fashion, forcing it to stay cool until it's no longer generating its own heat
        maintain security at the facility

        end of life:
        spend billions to decommission and clean up plant site
        find solution for storage of spent fuel?

        possible problems:
        contaminated water spills posing an environmental hazard requiring expensive cleanup
        mismanagement of the reactor leading to core meltdown and environmental contamination (worst case similar to Chernobyl, but without the graphite moderator)
        natural disaster leading to core meltdown and environmental contamination (Fukushima)
        attractive target for terrorism

        I'm for solar subsidy, especially once solar panel efficiency exceeds 40%, which they're almost to on the newest panel designs, especially for structures that can receive solar panels without spoiling the appearance of the structure. Commercial and residential structures with flat roofs, retrofitting houses with the backyard side on the south (as to no put the panels on the roof on the front of the house, for appearance), and building new structures with solar in mind from the planning stages all appeal to me. Give subsidy for Photovoltaics with battery storage, grid-tie-in, and intentional islanding (leaving the structure powered by the PV or batteries but separating from the grid when the grid itself loses power) and suddenly every home becomes a mini power plant. It might even cost more per unit of energy than bulk production like at large power facilities, but it also reduces or eliminates a need for more wiring infrastructure, adds failover, and in places like the southern portion of the country, provides power when it's needed most, during the sunniest days when the air conditioning is cranked down and when power grids tend to fail due to a lack of capacity. A big enough solar installation at a house can power the whole house and can sell back to the grid easily.

        If people are worried about safety, have cities implement an inspection regimen at installation, significant modification, and every ten years or so. Nothing really expensive, just something to make sure that everything is hooked up properly and safely.

        • Question for you: What do you think that the environmental impact would be to create enough batteries to store 1-2 GW of power for 8+ hours?
        • by Lifyre (960576) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @11:15AM (#36683328)

          I know I'm currently in the minority here but I personally don't think that solar panels detract from the appearance of the house especially if done in such a way that they fit the profile of the house. Ultimately I would love to be able to completely roof a house with solar panels in place of other materials like shingles.

        • by Solandri (704621) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @03:40PM (#36686662)

          Potential problems:
          solar panels smashed en masse in a hail storm - solar is offline until panels are replaced and structure is back on grid power. If owner has insurance, that is used to pay for the replacement.
          Batteries leak, owner stops storing power for overnight use and goes back on to the grid, and replaces batteries and cleans up acid spill
          Absolute Worst Case- solar system causes a fire and the small structure burns.

          You left off people falling off of rooftops during installation, maintenance, and replacement. That kills far more people per TWh than nuclear.

          Contrast to nuclear:

          Startup:
          Spend billions to build obtain land, fight local opposition, and build the plant.
          spend millions to obtain ROW to install power transmission lines

          Per TWh generated, solar is currently far more expensive to construct and takes up more land. The average generation capacity of a U.S. nuclear plant is a bit over 1.5 GW. With a 90% capacity factor, that means they generate on average 1.4 GW throughout the year. Cost estimates for a new 1 GW reactor range from about $1 billion (Westinghouse's estimate after production is ramped up) to $5 billion (high end estimate) excluding interest payments for financing. So for 1.5 GW of capacity you're talking $1.5 - $7.7 billion.

          Commercial panels are only about 15% efficient. Some are up to 16%, and I've seen 18% ones available if you're willing to pay (a lot) extra. Go with 16%. Sunlight hits the earth's surface with about 700-800 W per m^2 perpendicular to the rays. Go with 750 W. So one square meter of commercial panels has a peak generating potential of ~120 Watts.

          Capacity factor, taking into account night, weather, changing angle of the sun throughout the day, etc. ranges from about 12% in the northern U.S. to 18% in the desert southwest. Assume you build in the best areas for solar and go with 18%. So the average annual production of of a square meter of panels is 120 W * 0.18 = 21.6 Watts.

          To match the average annual power generation of one nuclear plant (1.4 GW) at 21.6 Watts per m^2, you'd need 64.8 square km of PV panels. So already you can see solar is going to require acquiring a lot more land than nuclear. In terms of cost, if your construction budget matches that of the nuclear plant with the same power output ($1.5 - $7.7 billion), the panels have to cost $23 - $119 per square meter. No commercial panels are close to that price point yet, and this is ignoring the cost of batteries to time-shift your electricity production to match demand.

          Refine nuclear fuel in a high security factory
          transport fuel in an expensive manner via truck convoy
          employ dozens, if not hundreds of engineers and technicians to fuel, power up, and baby sit the reactor

          The U.S. currently uses about 2000 tons of enriched uranium as fuel each year in its 3-4 decade old heavy water reactors which don't reprocess. By volume that's about two tractor trailer's worth. The amount of high-risk material we're talking about to power the entire country is minuscule compared to alternatives. To power the average U.S. home for 30 years would require just 2.5 tablespoons of uranium, vs over 150 tons of coal.

          Personally, I don't see what the problem is. Nuclear is great for baseline load but sucks for daily load variances. Of the green renewables, only hydro is able to provide baseline load, but its real strength is being able to respond almost instantly to variable load. Solar's variable production coincides with daily load variances. So you start with nuclear as your baseline power source, add wind on top of that, add solar to compensate for some of the daily variance, and use hydro to top it off and make generation exactly match demand. Any solution which relies only on nuclear, or only on renewables adds considerable expense and engineering obstacles because you'd be using the technologies for things they suck at. And all of them are much, much better than coal.

    • by poetmatt (793785)

      Solar won't become economical? Is that a joke? Have you looked at how far solar has come in the last...5, 10 years? That's not exactly a long time. Building more nuclear plants in the immediate future is not a solution when solar is getting pretty significantly efficient.

      • by bmo (77928) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:19AM (#36682588)

        >Solar won't become economical? Is that a joke?

        No, it's not a joke. And in places like here in the Northeast, it's totally out of the question.

        Solar only works when the sun is out.

        --
        BMO

        • Solar only works when the sun is out.

          I present to you several interesting concepts:

          1. Batteries and other storage forms
          2. Transmission lines
          3. There has to be some good that came from stealing Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah from the Mexicans a couple of centuries ago.

          • by gnick (1211984) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:43AM (#36682922) Homepage

            1. Batteries and other storage forms

            If your goal is to save the environment, please don't bring up batteries. Although I will grant that there are other efficient and interesting power storage mechanisms (molten salt vats are kinda cool.)

            2. Transmission lines

            I think you underestimate transmission cost when collecting in Texas to power Maine.

            3. There has to be some good that came from stealing Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah from the Mexicans a couple of centuries ago.

            Texas is good for wind and the whole area is OK for solar if we can figure out how to do it right. But again, the postage necessary to transmit power from Texas to, say, NYC is non-trivial.

          • by Rakishi (759894)

            1. Batteries and other storage forms

            Go look up how many batteries you'll need to power the north for 20 hours a day during winter. We're talking about a scale where you use water and gravity as storage mediums because nothing else is really economical. Even that one is hard due to environmental and practical contraints.

            So no, it's not a solution.

            2. Transmission lines

            These incur transmission losses, are somewhat prone to outages and most importantly don't help you at night. Or when a giant storm covers a significant chunk of your solar cells. So now you got to ad

        • by lupine (100665) *
          Pumped Water storage is 80% efficient, energy stored only depends on the reservoir size. Molten salt solar concentrators can be designed to provide power around the clock.

          But the great thing about solar is that it's production curve is very similar to our electrical demand curve. Which means that expensive solar plants can replace expensive fossil fuel peaker plants.
        • by frdmfghtr (603968)

          No, it's not a joke. And in places like here in the Northeast, it's totally out of the question.

          Solar only works when the sun is out.

          But the sun is very strong in other areas (southwestern US for example). The problem then becomes one of storage (how do you power the country overnight in stored energy?) and transmission (line losses, physical construction and routing).

          I think that part of the solution, as has been discussed here and elsewhere numerous times, is the idea of a distributed solar grid. If every building is covered with solar panels, part of the transmission problem is solved since the energy generated by the panels goes fi

        • by Rockoon (1252108) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @12:08PM (#36684020)
          Please name the solar cell manufacturer that powers its factories with solar power. These people get the solar cells at cost, and if THEY wont use it.. then what the fuck?
      • I never said that solar won't become economical, actually just the opposite it will become economical. I was saying that it isn't economical now and won't be in the immediate future. Give it probably another 10 to 15 years and it will probably be able to compete without the subsidies in most of the US. The majority of the article also focused on other stuff as well such as misguided farm policies and differences between the rich nations and poor ones.
        • by ArsonSmith (13997)

          The problem Bill Gates is outlining is that all the subsidies are going to deployments which means that solar companies can sell what they have right now with no need to increase efficiency. The government is stagnating the solar industries research and development because of this. In 10-15 years, if trends continue, we'll have a bunch of rich solar companies that got rich of of government money deploying existing, old tech and not bothering to develop anything new.

      • "Getting efficient?" So you want us to throw up a bunch of energy inefficient plants because we think in the future we will eventually have efficient ones? I don't understand why we would want to build the inefficient ones at all. Why not take that money and use it to get the efficient plants more quickly? That's what Bill Gates is suggesting, and it seems sensible to me.

        Even if we get the fundamental technology in the next ten years (not guaranteed), plants do not spring up magically and instantaneously

        • by poetmatt (793785)

          Nuclear plants have significant long term impacts. We can always replace a solar cell. You can't so easily get rid of the nuclear waste from a plant, and even when buried in concrete requires significant long term maintenance costs.

          So no, spending more on nuke plants aside from fixing the maintenance that we don't even do [huffingtonpost.com] is a horrible and shortsighted idea.

      • by LWATCDR (28044) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @11:04AM (#36683196) Homepage Journal

        It doesn't work at night.
        Battery technology is limited by physics and chemistry.
        Very little of it is in many places where you need it. The North East US for instance and all of Canada.
        Transmission lines are not a total solution. You will loose a lot of power shipping it from Texas to New York for example. Plus you have the NIMBY and the issues with massive centralization. If lots of power is sent over a few very good power lines from Texas to the North East those lines become a single point of failure. Since you will not build only one Nuclear plant to power the North East you have at least some redundancies compared to a thousand mile long power line.
        Solar cells will not follow Moore's law. Moore's law is based on things getting smaller. The amount of power a solar cell can produce is going to be tied directly the size of the cell.
        Economies of scale is also a mixed bag. Economies of scale fights with supply and demand for production to go up you must have the demand, high demand drives up prices which gets more people to start producing which should drive down prices in the long run the problem is that we are not there yet so demand goes up more than supply prices will first rise that will create a barrier to since it must compete with mature energy sources like natural gas.
        I am not anti solar or anti nuclear. I think that nuclear has a very bright future as a base load provider. I am also all for Solar as well. In the south every home should have a solar roof to help out with peak AC loads. However the pro solar and wind spout off buzz words like "Smart grid" and "Economies of Scale" without really understanding the problems or the meanings of the terms.
        Today I would have to agree with Mr. Gates that Nuclear is the way to replace Coal fired plants and to reduce CO2 emissions. I would love to see more research into Thorium cycle plants as well. I also want to see more funding for the Polywell reactor. In the county I live in we have two nuclear reactors and they are looking into building a wind farm as well. I am good with both. The fact is that Solar and Wind can not today or in the foreseeable future replace Coal, Nuclear, and or Hydro. It can and should be part of our current energy plans and future but so should nuclear.

      • Solar won't become economical? Is that a joke? Have you looked at how far solar has come in the last...5, 10 years? That's not exactly a long time. Building more nuclear plants in the immediate future is not a solution when solar is getting pretty significantly efficient.

        Yet we still subsidize solar and wind [eia.gov] orders of magnitude more than nuclear, natural gas, hydro and coal. If it's so economical, why does it need 100 times the subsidies of natural gas? Why does it need 60X the subsidies of coal?

        Solar and wind have a LONG way to go... In 60, 80 years they may be reliable, efficient, cost-effective, and widely-deployed so they can be the majority of our power generation. But what about the intervening decades? Should we pay 15X subsidies for wind when we could use nuc

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:12AM (#36682524) Homepage

      Things like solar and will will eventually become economical, but not in the immediate future.

      As opposed to nuclear and it's ability to operate in the free economic market without government handouts, protections and subsidies? Ah, I get it. Or, rather not.

      While at some level I agree with Gates that nuclear has the best chance of serving our near term (20-40 year) base load generation AND that we're better served putting a bunch more money in R&D (or at least getting rid of the remaining Gen I BWRs and the like an figuring out what to do with those neat glowing blue pools of spent fuel rods), it's not like anything other than fossil fuels can 'compete with the market'.

      Now, we can argue about how fossil fuels don't count for external costs like running out of fossil fuels. pollution, gbobal warming^Hclimate change^Herrnevermind, but then we get into a discussion about economics and I don't want to ruin a perfectly good morning with that sort of unpleasantness.

      • I never said that nuclear can compete without subsidies and handouts. I think with the current public opinion nuclear is more or less dead in the country for some time to come. That leaves us with fossil fuels for which prices will rise due to either increased demand, lack of supply, or probably both. That is the funny thing about the market, right now nothing can really compete with fossil fuels, but as their price continues to rise due to scarcity (decreased supply or increased demand) other things will b
    • I bet he is also patenting this new technology of his....., so ok, he might be right, but unfortunately for him the renewables are actually viable once the long term storage problem is resolved (so you can store the peak output for later, today this power is wasted), technology like the new flywheel energy storage using magnetic bearings are making this possible, bringing solar and wind back to the game.
      • So what you're saying is that fundamental breakthroughs, like the magnetic flywheel, are what's needed? You should be interviewed by wired instead of Old Bill.

    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      he's describing the basic model of Windows - it's not quite ready now but it'll be great in the next version when yoyu've bought the upgrade.

      Also, performance is ok, but in the next round of hardware refreshes, PCs will become powerful enough to run the software well.

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:09AM (#36682484)

    The down side to nuclear is the waste where does it go? and Safety as all it takes is one MR burns cutting costs to make a big mess.

    • by compro01 (777531) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:19AM (#36682590)

      The down side to nuclear is the waste where does it go?

      Into another reactor, then into storage for 100-ish years.

    • by NevarMore (248971) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:33AM (#36682792) Homepage Journal

      You also need to recognize that there are wastes and negative impacts from all forms of energy:
        - copper windings for any rotational generator have to be mined
        - rare earths for solar arrays are also mined
        - heavy metals (\m/\m/) and acids for batteries are not exactly harmless
        - coal ash, great big mountains of it
        - smoke and other pollutants from burning fuels
        - alteration of waterways for hydro or cooling plus runoff

      The reality is we don't get energy for free and no current form of energy production is entirely without environmental consequences.To attack the challenges and consequences of nuclear power without honestly acknowledging the same from other forms of energy will lead to poor decisions.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:45AM (#36682948)

      No it is not you *stupid fool*. Nuclear is the ONLY technology that actually manages its waste. The only one. If you care one bit about the environment, you would support nuclear precisely because of its waste management practices.

      If fossil fuel energy managed all its waste, we would not be in the shit we are today. There wouldn't be catastrophic global warming. There would not be forest destroying acid rains. There would not be 1,000,000+ million people dying per year directly attributed to fossil fuel pollution and the diseases it produces. The ocean would not be polluted with mercury. Almost ALL lakes in the US are now so contaminated with mercury, it is not safe to eat fish from them! And the list goes on and on and on...

      Nuclear waste is so *little* that even if you had to guard and monitor the dump and renew its containers for a billion years, it would still be very cheap. We are talking a few tons a year per reactor, if we don't do any r processing. Reprocessing could reduce this waste by 98% and provide more usable fuel) Simply a fund with $1-2 billion in it would be able to fund all the personnel in perpetuity simply from interest.

      A coal plant burns *thousands of tons* of coal *per day*, producing hundreds of tons of toxic, carcinogenic waste *every day*, most of it going "puff" into the air you breath.

      • by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7&cornell,edu> on Thursday July 07, 2011 @11:34AM (#36683588) Homepage

        Let's not forget that in the United States, our nuclear waste management practices are WAY behind the times.

        France generates 75-80% of their power from nuclear, and they don't have a waste problem because they not only reprocess their own fuel, they have enough reprocessing capacity to reprocess fuel from their neighbors too.

        And that's just for thermal neutron based fuel cycles... Fast reactors have fuel cycles with even less waste. For example the IFR had the potential 100% of this country's electrical needs for a century using only existing nuclear waste as fuel - and the remaining waste would only be dangerous for 200-300 years as opposed to the thousands of years for current waste.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:12AM (#36682518)

    "640 kwh should be enough for anyone"

  • by erroneus (253617) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:17AM (#36682564) Homepage

    After the last discussion on energy options, I had since learned that many of the most desired alternative sources fail to be viable in the truest sense. Wind farms cost too much. They are expensive to maintain -- even more expensive than nuclear power plants. Solar just isn't there yet either though I feel that with more R&D, that will change... money spent on deployment of solar at the moment is wasted I think.

    Perhaps only geothermal has the potential to replace nuclear as a longer-term solution but I have my doubts on that too. At the moment, it is only available to specific regions and those are also potentially unstable areas meaning that the same areas where geothermal is of use in the US also have active magma circulation relatively close to the surface. (If deeper drilling techniques were available, perhaps that problem could be overcome.) Once again, more R&D needed to make it viable everywhere.

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:34AM (#36682808) Homepage
      Here is the base problem: It's not that everything else is too expensive, it's that fossil fuels are too cheap. Too cheap in the long run. We've had a something like 100 year run on FF and we're going to run out of cheap versions of it (the Peak Oil concept [theoildrum.com]). We're too stupid and spoiled as a culture to really put the money down for the next base power technology so we're going to run up the credit card now and really have to change our minds on how we live in the not so distant future.

      There is plenty of power around. We waste a perfectly enormous amounts of it and we know how not to, but it's not easy changing the way that billions of people do things.

      So the invisible hand will slap the ever living crap out of us in about 50-60 years. Our grandkids will wake up with one hella hangover.
  • Yes, strange things happen when we put aside our prejudices.

    • Nonsense. When Mr. Gates isn't talking about Microsoft or Windows, he seems to be a very likable and smart public policy nerd and philanthropist.
  • by Hartree (191324) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:25AM (#36682670)

    One of the links is to Donald Sadoway's research group at MIT. His group works on the very topics that will make or break the shift to better energy sources and greater efficiency.

    He's also a wonderful teacher who's put up a course at MIT open course ware. It's Solid State Chemistry 3.091 and it utterly rocks. If you want to understand how chemistry impacts energy efficiency and the properties of materials, this is the course for you. And, it's in a format that is great for self teaching.

    3.091 course link [mit.edu]

    I know it's a shameless plug, but give me a break. I work in a chemistry department that does a lot of work on improved energy related materials and methods.

    • by snl2587 (1177409)

      I was about to rip the summary for pointlessly linking to an MIT group (everything thing they do is gold and everyone else sucks, right?), but then I read the article.

      Apparently, Bill Gates backs Sadoway directly. Thus, the link makes sense.

  • Nuclear is a waste of time, too complicated & too costly. Thorium is where it's at baby.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LeM-Dyuk6g [youtube.com]
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nl5DiTPw3dk [youtube.com]

    • by Klinky (636952)

      Yes, I am aware that Thorium is just a different fuel & uses technique for nuclear reaction.

  • by Rob Riggs (6418) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:55AM (#36683072) Homepage Journal

    Politicians do not get enough kickbacks (I mean "campaign contributions") from the Basic Research crowd. Until this fundamental deficiency is addressed, the lack of public funding for basic research will not improve.

  • by Jodka (520060) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @11:14AM (#36683306)

    If you put Bill Gates, Vinod Khosla, and Sergey Brin & Larry Page in a room together it would be a massive love fest; From statements each has made independently it appears they are in close agreement on the subject energy. Bill Gates states the issue well. Compare to interviews with Khosla on the subject of his investment strategy and the google.org REC initiative.

    People who gained wealth and fame by bringing improved technologies to market instinctively apply the same approach to energy. That is the Silicon Valley approach. In contrast, the energy policy emanating from Washington D.C. is a combination of vote buying using cash handouts to favored constituencies, e.g. corn ethanol subsidies, and using government coercion to extort cash payments from the public directly into the hands of the politicians, e.g. Al Gore's carbon offsets business.

    Genuinely greener technologies do not require government handouts. In fact, it is the opposite, they are cash cows for private investors. That is because efficiency is inherently and simultaneously more green and more profitable than inefficiency. The higher the ratio of outputs the more you get for less. That means spending less money on inputs and impacting the environment less by consuming fewer inputs in production per unit of output.

  • by Scottingham (2036128) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @11:16AM (#36683340)
    How is there not a single post on the actual nuclear technology he is researching and advocating for! C'mon nerds!

    Traveling wave reactors (google them) are projected to run without refueling for 60 years on what is 'waste' now and then become the storage facility for the next ~500 years until it fades into background rad. Oh, and they're made to be put in the ground like missile silos. Think of them as nuclear candles. Without having to refuel by hand and taking people out of the equation as much as possible the chances for error get reduced significantly. They also have large negative energy coefficients so a loss of coolant does not lead to a meltdown.

    After researching as much as possible into TWRs I'd say the current stage of developement is trying to get the exact alloy of uranium, burnable poisons (look these up too, they're sweet), etc just right to create a long lived sustained reaction. I'd imagine that such work is really heavy on the super computer time.

    I hope that these researchers have access to lots of money and super computer time. If only there was some tech billionaire funding them...
  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @11:23AM (#36683416) Homepage

    Nuclear energy, the short version.

    Pro: there's plenty of uranium and thorium.

    Con: every 20 years or so you have to evacuate an area 50km across on short notice.

  • by Helpadingoatemybaby (629248) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @11:28AM (#36683492)
    So to sum up this thread, and how Slashdot is broken in general. "Bill Gates is right!" "I agree." "You're right and I agree with you." "Everybody above is right and I agree with them." Even though the Bonneville Power administration was running 100% with renewables already (without even using microhydro, solar thermal, or tidal), and is making money at it, it's important to notice that Slashdot's mod system says this can't be done.
    • by demonbug (309515)

      Even though the Bonneville Power administration was running 100% with renewables already (without even using microhydro, solar thermal, or tidal), and is making money at it, it's important to notice that Slashdot's mod system says this can't be done.

      A couple of issues here. One, at least according to their 2010 financial statement [bpa.gov] BPA isn't making money (they do have a small operating profit, but not enough to cover interest payments - not to mention that their operating profit was slightly less than the amount they received in treasury credits, meaning their operations were not profitable without government subsidies even before debt payments).

      Second, BPA doesn't just use renewables - they also get power from a nuclear power plant, and several "other

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