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Power Science

Milestones and Trends in Renewable Energy 295

Sterling D. Allan writes "Some reflections and projections: The year 2005 saw large wind power installments come into a price range where they are now competitive with traditional grid prices. 2006 could see several solar designs do the same. Cold fusion was boosted with two, concurrent and independent sonofusion breakthroughs, though the stigma in the name is still deeply seated. 2006 could see floating wind turbines arrive on the commercial scene -- floating in the water like oil rigs, or floating high in the air, courtesy of helium. 2006 will see at least three companies offering after-market kits for adding Brown's gas (H and O from electrolysis, common ducted) to the air intake of vehicles for enhanced mileage and performance. Many other fuel economizing systems are slated to mature in the marketplace. Climate change evidence will continue to mount. It will yet be years before we harness lightning, but stable tornado systems prototypes that tap waste heat from power plants could arrive this coming year. Will 2006 be the year that clean energy becomes more the vogue than cool computer gadgets?"
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Milestones and Trends in Renewable Energy

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  • Gadgets (Score:3, Insightful)

    by edgr ( 781723 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @10:04AM (#14378135)
    Clean energy sources will become as cool as cool computer gadgets because they are themselves cool gagdets. I mean, come on, how cool is a wind generator floating in the air?
    • Re:Gadgets (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jacquesm ( 154384 )
      I spent a good year designing and building a 2.5 KW wind generator, I wished NL wasn't so anal about 'horizon pollution' or I would have it up today.

      mandatory viewing, MS vs IBM :) [ww.com]

    • I think the author of the article is a little optimistic. In his paragraph about Tesla, he writes that public interest in 'the free energy genius' will increase because David Bowie is portraying him in a new movie. Then he said that the 150th anniversary of his (Tesla, not Bowie) birth will increase international awareness.

      No...nobody cares about Tesla.

      It's like the George Foreman Grill. Nobody knows who really invented the thing. But we all know that some ex-boxer turned nice-guy advertises it.

      In Ameri
      • or Jerry Lewis.

        Zing! Maybe it's just me, but that "Jerry Lewis is popular in France" joke just never gets old. Keep the chuckles coming, bigman2003.

  • Yes. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Zarhan ( 415465 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @10:04AM (#14378137)
    Finland and France are constructing new nuclear power plants - first new ones in Western Europe for many years, and China and Russia are also going to nuclear (with 40 pebble-bed reactors coming to China in the coming decades).

    So yes, we're finally starting to see some clean energy.
    • Re:Yes. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Da Fokka ( 94074 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @10:16AM (#14378193) Homepage
      Pebble bed reactors are inherently safer and make efficient use of nuclear fuel. And they can be a lot smaller than conventional nuclear reactors, which makes them more attractive for smaller scale use.

      However, PBRs have a very large drawback. It is nearly impossible to extract useful material from the spent fuel pebbles. Manufacturing these pebbles is not a trivial process, by the way.

      Personally, I'd like to see more development of integral fast reactors. They are not modular in design, but these plants are designed with the entire fuel cycle in mind and can burn up nuclear fuel so efficiently that the waste degrades to background radiation in just 300 years.
      • Re:Yes. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by pfdietz ( 33112 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @10:43AM (#14378296)
        It is nearly impossible to extract useful material from the spent fuel pebbles.

        It's also impractical to extract useful materials from spent fuel rods of conventional reactors, unless you're running a weapons program and don't care about the cost. Pu from commercial reprocessed fuel is expensive to separate, and it has a negative value once you've separated it -- the extra hassle of designing your fuel fabrication plant to be able to handle Pu (which is much more radioactive than enriched uranium) dwarfs the cost of the uranium you save.

        If you're concerned about uranium running out, the incremental approach will be to go to cycles with higher burnup and fuel efficiency. CANDU reactors are like this, particularly if used with thorium-uranium fuel elements.
      • by Flying pig ( 925874 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @10:51AM (#14378347)
        You don't mention the biggest benefit - the ability to use the spent fuel from the slow neutron reactors currently in use, with reprocessing. They are actually part of the solution to the mounds of nuclear waste we already have.

        There is only one thing worries me about modern nuclear plants, and that is the access to cooling water. If you plan on using rivers or lakes, you need to be pretty sure that global warming will not dry them up.

        Much as I like relatively low overhead technologies like wind, solar, bio-Diesel and bio-ethanol, I have to admit that I'm a convert to the idea of fast neutron sodium-cooled non-breeder plants. They even seem to be relatively terrorist-proof. And they would provide some well paid tech jobs that are not just in moving bits around.

    • Re:Yes. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @10:38AM (#14378275) Journal
      And yet, strangely, in France and Germany, ecologists want to revert to coal plants to prevent nuclear pollution.
      • Re:Yes. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Guppy06 ( 410832 )
        "And yet, strangely, in France and Germany, ecologists want to revert to coal plants to prevent nuclear pollution."

        First off, you're confusing nuke-happy France with the United States. They're continally building new nuclear power plants while I don't believe the United States has built a new one (outside of Newport News, at least) since the 1970's. We're the ones that want coal*.

        Secondly, I was under the impression that the Germans had already devised the greenest option yet: buy electricity from France
    • America (Score:3, Interesting)

      by WindBourne ( 631190 )
      It pissed me off when I saw that GWB was giving the oil industry HUGE tax breaks while cutting alternative energy research. The two industries that need a jump start are nuclear and alternative. As it is, California wants to build huge coal plants in eastern states and then ship the electricity back. Worse, California is not insisting on tight environmental laws be applied. I would rather that America offer huge tax incentives to start building nukes, wind, and solar.
      • I was under the impression that California wouldn't import electricity that wasn't created following the same criteria as the electricity created in state. Is this no longer the case?
        • Re:America (Score:3, Informative)

          by WindBourne ( 631190 )
          Is this no longer the case?

          Sadly, yes. They are going to build several monster coal plants at the Wyoming/Colorado border and IIRC, another by the Colorado/Utah border. In both cases, the emissions standards will be even more relaxed than they would have been just 5 years ago. This has been a big concern in Colorado as it is showing that it will probably bump the mercury in the lakes/stream up to being illegal (which is already considered way too high). In colorado, the vast majority of our drinking water

        • I just had to google a bit. Apparently, this is still on the board, and possibly not a go. [denverpost.com] Apparently, arni needs to make the final call. Considering that he is pushing the solar industry in CA, it is possible that he will not approve the importation of Coal-based electricity. Wait and see time.
  • by User 956 ( 568564 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @10:06AM (#14378149) Homepage
    They didn't mention bio-diesel [biodiesel.org] that I could see. Though I have to admit, that's not really a technology I'm rooting for. I'm not sure if I could stomach a $50,000 mercedes that smells like french fries.
    • Would it be better if your $50,000 Mercedes smelled like a truck stop?
    • Bio-diesel, if produced in large enough quantities to be significant, would be an ecological disaster. Much better to let the enormous areas of land that would be needed lay fallow or remain in a wild state.

      To satisfy ultra-low sulfur requirements, Fischer-Tropsch diesel makes more sense. Converting stranded natural gas capacity around the world to FT diesel production would add 4 million barrels of oil per day equivalent liquid fuel production.
      • why? (Score:2, Informative)

        by zogger ( 617870 )
        Why would it be a "disaster"? Really, expound on this a bit. All the proposed methods and techniques and crops are "wrong"? It is not useful to use the sun and photosynthesis (our only practical fusion power at this point) to make biodiesel and other bio-derived fuels? What's wrong with using some of the huge quantities of biowaste produced every year to make fuel? What's wrong with putting more farmers to work and expanding crops? Using permaculture and low till ag techniques combined with some solar and p
        • Re:why? (Score:4, Informative)

          by pfdietz ( 33112 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @12:02PM (#14378732)
          Why would it be a "disaster"? Really, expound on this a bit. All the proposed methods and techniques and crops are "wrong"?

          Because it would cause very large areas to be replaced with unnatural monocultures instead of natural ecosystems. The underlying cause is the great inefficiency of photosynthetic energy conversion.

          Biodiesel is fine as a boutique-scale touchy-feely fashion statement for those who don't think too much about what they are actually proposing. As a real solution to the problem of producing significant amounts of liquid fuel, it's a ghastly crime against nature.

          What's wrong with using some of the huge quantities of biowaste produced every year to make fuel?

          Well, aside from the fact that if organic waste is not recycled into the soil it can cause the soil to degrade, the biggest problem is that even if all of it were converted to fuel, it would not produce more than a small faction of fuel demand. US refineries produced about 125 billion gallons of gasoline in 2003; using all US corn stover (for example) for cellulosic alcohol production would produce maybe 12 billion gallons. And that's just gasoline, which accounts for just a third of the output of an oil refinery.
          • Re:why? (Score:2, Insightful)

            by zogger ( 617870 )
            A collection of strawdog arguments at best. I follow this subject a lot, the techniques being developed now are outstanding and are working well, and all the indications are it will be getting better. You propose to tell some nation "sorry, you can't have farmland and grow crops"? You are telling farmers, "sorry, I have determined that you shouldn't grow XYZ, only ABC? You insist that everything remain in stasis? How are humans around the planet supposed to live? We're humans, we will be altering the enviro
          • Biodiesel & Algae (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Zobeid ( 314469 )
            You shouldn't dismiss biodiesel with the assumption that SOYBEANS are the only thing you can make the stuff from. We naturally look forward to advances in solar cell technology, we look forward to advances in nuclear fission and fusion technology, but for some reason people hit a mental wall with biodiesel and can't imagine any technological advances happening.

            The US Govt conducted studies on the cultivation of algae with high oil content, using open-raceway ponds. Greenfuel Technologies [greenfuelonline.com] have an enclosed
      • Have you looked at natural gas prices in the US and in the UK. Both are running over $10/million BTU. The developed world is nearly out of their natural gas reserves worldwide production is likely to peak within two decades.

        Those 4 Mbpd of stranged gas are very much needed in the form of gas and the market is likely to outbid what gas to liquid producers are hoping to pay for their gas. Right now in the USA, the margin is in favor of liquids to gas as the gas actually sells for more than crude oil. With US
        • The price of natural gas is highly variable across the world (by more than a factor of ten) so the pricess in the US or UK are irrelevant. Natural gas, unlike petroleum, is difficult to transport. OF COURSE you wouldn't use US or UK natural gas to make FT diesel! You'd use Nigerian natural gas that's being flared off, or Siberian gas, or gas in Bangladesh, or other such places. These places don't have pipelines that can deliver the gas to markets paying those high prices -- that's what 'stranded' means.
      • Not necessarily. Recent articles in a number of magazines mentioned that if we do make biodiesel fuel on a large scale it will be done using certain types of oil-yielding algae in special vertical tanks that won't impinge on valuable arable farmland. The benefits of such production is that not only do you get biodiesel fuel, but the waste from the processing can be processed further into animal feed and/or ethanol fuel! :-)

        Imagine hundreds--perhaps thousands--of these biodiesel production facilities all ove
        • certain types of oil-yielding algae in special vertical tanks that won't impinge on valuable arable farmland.

          The cost of the tanks will very likely render this uneconomical. Farmland doesn't have to be built, typically.
          • The cost of the tanks will very likely render this uneconomical.

            I disgree. We're not talking the need for massive-sized tanks like those used at oil refineries to store petroleum products. The tanks for oil-yielding algae production would be about the size of tanks already in use by the commercial beer-brewing industry.
  • Until It Hurts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ehaggis ( 879721 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @10:09AM (#14378160) Homepage Journal
    Until it hurts, U.S. consumers will not switch anything. The market will drive change. Gas prices are currently inconvenient but it is not something that keeps people from getting to work. When prices are prohibitive, maybe we will see changes.

    U.S. citizens must also get out of the "grid" mentality. Electricty on site, not relying on the grid is a shifting in thinking for most. Lori Ryker addresses this in her book, "Off the Grid" [amazon.com]
    • I heard on Marketplace this morning that new sulphur regulations are going to push gas prices up by about 60 cents/gallon.

      I totally agree about the 'grid' mentality. But a grid can be a good thing. If systems were standardized and people had home generators (PV or hydro or something), then electricity could flow out of a house as easily as it flows into a house.

    • The market is good at eventually seeking the best answers, however the market cannot handle very large shocks very quickly(obviously nothing can handle huge shocks perfectly but) the problem is, oil is so ingrained in our current economy it's going to take the market a long while to find adequate substitutes for all its uses without an outside shove. I know that I personally would probably starve to death if tomorrow I woke up and all the oil supplies were cut off. Oil is essential in not only the product
      • "oil is so ingrained in our current economy it's going to take the market a long while to find adequate substitutes for all its uses without an outside shove."

        Or at least as long as it takes the oil companies to figure out how to package and sell these new energy sources to the consumer.
      • Re:Until It Hurts (Score:4, Interesting)

        by syphax ( 189065 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @11:21AM (#14378513) Journal

        I think markets are good things, but I remember learning about external costs and market failure in like week 3 of microeconomics class.

        Energy markets have HUGE externalities (national security, environmental impacts, etc.), so government involvement is actually necessary to achieve the 'right' solutions. Of course, that leads to the topic of governments' track record at successfully correcting externalities and market failure...
      • Re:Until It Hurts (Score:5, Interesting)

        by swillden ( 191260 ) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Monday January 02, 2006 @12:10PM (#14378766) Homepage Journal

        The market is good at eventually seeking the best answers, however the market cannot handle very large shocks very quickly

        Luckily, the oil is not going to disappear overnight. Even as we approach the end of the available reserves, the flow of oil will just slow, not stop. Long before that, as the easy-to-reach oil reserves are depleted, the price will rise as the needed oil is drawn from less and less accessible sources. At some point extracting oil from shale and tar sands will become cost-effective.

        As the price gradually rises, more and more alternatives to oil will become cost-effective. As use of alternative sources increases, the investment into them will improve their efficiency, through process improvements and through mass production, making them even better competitors.

        the problem is, oil is so ingrained in our current economy it's going to take the market a long while to find adequate substitutes for all its uses without an outside shove.

        The transition from oil to other energy sources will occur naturally, through normal market forces, and without any extreme shocks. No "outside shove" is required to make the energy source transition. That said, I think there is value in governmental influence pushing toward cleaner energy sources, since market forces won't naturally push us in that direction. I think "pollution taxes" (or pollution credits, which are similar) are a good idea as they can both bring market forces to bear on keeping the environment clean and can also provide funding for alternative energy research.

      • However, with large-scale production of algae that could produce substitutes for many petroleum products, that could change a lot of things.

        Imagine hundreds--if not thousands--of these production facilities all over the USA. They will grow the special algae in special vertical tanks, which means the production facilities won't impinge on valuable arable farmland. These algae could be refined into biodiesel fuel and possibly kerosene fuel, which means a potentially unlimited source of fuel for motor vehicles
    • Re:Until It Hurts (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Toby The Economist ( 811138 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @10:37AM (#14378271)
      The problem is that the deadly cost of using oil and gas is globally distributed.

      It is one of the roles of the State to ensure the people who ought to bear a cost *do* bear a cost.

      In this case, carbon taxes would be the solution.

      However, this requires willpower on the part of the State.

      When this is lacking, the people who ought to bear a cost do not and as such the fuel they are using is cheaper than it ought to be and so has a competitive advantage in the market.

      • Taxes... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by benjamindees ( 441808 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @04:09PM (#14380177) Homepage
        Taxation is such an awful way for governments to "correct" market failures.

        They never do it correctly. I'm sure if there were carbon taxes today, they'd manage to make you pay to burn renewable fuels like wood, ethanol, methanol, and biodiesel along with fossil fuels.

        Tax revenue never goes to correct the problems it was meant to correct. In a democracy, politicians will always find a way to divert funds to pork projects or buy votes with dubious social programs.

        In the long run, governments become dependent upon taxes from sources that they were originally meant to discourage. Taxes then become the perfect way for harmful industries to become legitimized in the eyes of their regulators. History is rife with examples of corrupt governments becoming one with those who profit from harming others.

        What's really better, your neighbor spewing pollutants into the air and water, or him doing so with the backing of the government and military?
    • Until it hurts, U.S. consumers will not switch anything.

      There are two responses the U.S. government may take to tightening oil supplies: one is to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in energy research, perhaps setting an idealistic, Kennedy-esque goal of full reliance on cheap, clean renewable energy by 2025.

      The other is to do everything in its power to suck the very last drop of the black stuff out of the ground, no matter who or what happens to be living on that ground at the time, and no matter what
    • The other thing that could drive the adoption of renewable energy sources is the issue of national security and our dependence on oil from the Middle East. The situation with Russian gas and Eastern Europe is a prime example of the dangers of dependence upon energy sources from states that might seek to use these as weapons against their political adversaries. We need to seek renewable energy sources, for the health of our economy and for our own security, not to be brought to our knees by would-be despot

    • I bed to differ. The grid allows one to get the maximum bang out of the buck of renewable equipment. It allows extra power to be absorbed by the system. It allows people to forgoe expensive and polluting batteries. It allows people to install less than the total needs of their home to run.

      Additionally, a grid with distributed generation can exceed 95% efficiency as energy doesn't have to travel far on average.

      Large renewable generating stations would only be practical for powering factories and other massiv
    • Until it hurts, U.S. consumers will not switch anything. The market will drive change.

      No, I'm afraid the market will not drive change, because "The Market" cannot drive change, because "The Market" does not exist. "The Market" is not a great Leviathan standing astride the conceptual econonomies of the world. It is not a thing. It does not exist as anything other than a concept or meme in human brains.

      "The Market" is nothing but a shorthand describing you, and a data-set including other humans like you

      • Re:Until It Hurts (Score:3, Interesting)

        by llefler ( 184847 )
        You have a narrow view of the market. I purchase gasoline with 10% ethanol. My purchase increases the demand for ethanol. That demand translates into the market price for ethanol. The market will find it's balance.

        From another aspect, I recently had a conversation with consumer relations at Chrysler. I have decided my next vehicle purchase will be diesel. Chrysler manufactures a diesel Liberty annd they are considering the Commander, but not the Wrangler. Wrangler is all that interests me, I won't be buyin
  • by sparks ( 7204 ) <acrawford AT laetabilis DOT com> on Monday January 02, 2006 @10:14AM (#14378179) Homepage
    Let's assume that wind, wave, solar, and even cold fusion will be able to provide all our energy needs - in fifty year's time. (I personally don't think that will be the case, but - hey.)

    How should we generate electricity until that happens? Let's assume that energy demand will not decline any time soon, but rather will continue to rise.

    Natural gas?

    Which of these is the least-worst to you?
    • by Claire-plus-plus ( 786407 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @10:40AM (#14378285) Journal
      Oil won't last, cheap enough to use for power generation, for 50 years.

      Coal is too damed poluting

      Nuclear is not that easy to set up and then switch off again, that is... the nuclear waste will always be there and after switching off the reactor it will stay hot for years.

      If I had to use one of the current technologies that provides most of our power (by no means all, Aussieland has quite a bit of wind power and solar these days) I would use natural gas, there's more of it than there is oil and it burns cleaner than coal.

      Oh and by the way, I think if we can't find renewable power in 50 years we are screwed. Saying "I don't think that will be the case" won't help.
      • Coal is too damned poluting

        That's only true if you're just talking about the coal power plants built in the 70s. Nobody is building them yet, but if new modern coal power plants were built today, they could have virtually no emissions except CO2, or, if you have a hydrogen source, no emissions at all, just gasoline as a byproduct.

        They're too expensive to build today, but maybe not forever. Don't rule coal out yet. Coal will be the last fossil fuel we use, if only because we'll have loads of it left when all
    • You bring up a very valid point. We'll be stuck with fossile fuels for a long time anyway, so research into CO2 sequestration is also very important.
    • Coal? Oil? Natural gas? Nuclear? Which of these is the least-worst to you?

      Natural gas, followed by nuclear fission (nuclear fusion being an unknown), followed by oil, with coal being the least preferred. There are many reasons to choose natural gas.

      Many houses in developed countries already have natural gas piped directly to their homes. For homes without piped natural gas there is well developed bottle technology which is only slightly more expensive than piped gas. The transportation and storage

    • Probably coal or nuclear. The other two are in very limited supply with oil around peak production and natural gas within two decades of peak. But in making such a bet the renewables had better be ready by 2050, because by then all fossil fuels will be becoming quite scarce.
    • Don't laugh.

      There are already serious research into producing certain types of algae in special vertical tanks that could refined into motor fuels (biodiesel and possibly kerosene). Because these algae are a true renewable resource just as long as they're fed water (including possibly seawater) and carbon monoxide, we could put up such production facilities almost anywhere on Earth.

      A big benefit of refining these oil-yielding algae into biodiesel fuel and kerosene is that the "waste" from the refining can b
  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @10:14AM (#14378181)
    Climate change evidence will continue to mount.

    Yes. In fact, depending on where you are today, it's colder or warmer, wetter or dryer, brighter or darker, calmer or stormier than normal. Some places are even foggy. It's all evidence of climate change.

    What else could it be? Can we afford to wait to find out?

    Stop commerce now. Before the weather gets any less precisely normal.
    • by kamapuaa ( 555446 )
      He sticks his head in the sand, in the most hilarious of fashions!
    • Re:Climate Change (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Yeah, because developing new industries like wind and solar that could potentially fuel the world's energy needs is really bad for commerce. Put your Michael Chrichton down please.
    • Stop commerce now. Before the weather gets any less precisely normal.

      Err, my false dilemma detector just went off (it goes off a lot these days, esp. when I hear that we have to have illegal wiretaps OR surrender to the terrorists).

      Yeah, weather is variable. Climate is too. But CO2 concentrations are very high by historic standards and rising, and so are temperatures (don't even start with the satellite record). The fact that CO2 traps heat is not questioned. So I missed the part that lets us not be con
    • Re:Climate Change (Score:4, Informative)

      by LarsWestergren ( 9033 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @11:34AM (#14378584) Homepage Journal
      You are describing weather, and weather changes, correct. But when you measure weather over time, you get a climate average, and that average is shifting:

      CBS [cbsnews.com]: "The year 2005, the World Wildlife Fund said, is shaping up as the worst for extreme weather, with the hottest temperatures, most Arctic melting, worst Atlantic hurricane season and warmest Caribbean waters.

      It's also been the driest year in decades in the Amazon, where a drought may surpass anything in the past century, said the report by international environmental group. "

      BBC: "The area covered by sea ice in the Arctic has shrunk for a fourth consecutive year, according to new data released by US scientists. [bbc.co.uk]

      They say that this month sees the lowest extent of ice cover for more than a century.

      The Arctic climate varies naturally, but the researchers conclude that human-induced global warming is at least partially responsible. "
  • by dheltzel ( 558802 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @10:25AM (#14378225)
    Will 2006 be the year that clean energy becomes more the vogue than cool computer gadgets?"

    No, no, no!
    2006 will be the year that Linux takes over the desktop, 2007 will be the year that Duke Nukem Forever is released and 2008 will be the year that clean energy comes into vogue!

    Also, I think somewhere in there they discover the cure to the common cold, but that part of my crystal ball is still a bit fuzzy (probably due to that cheap antenna from Walmart).

  • by Toby The Economist ( 811138 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @10:33AM (#14378257)
    > The year 2005 saw large wind power installments come into a price range where they
    > are now competitive with traditional grid prices.


    The year 2005 saw oil come into a price range where it competes with wind.

    • Incorrect.

      Oil is not a dominant driver of the price of electricity. In 2004, the US got 3% of its electricity from oil, less than, say, conventional hydro, and not a whole lot more than non-hydro renewables (see here [doe.gov]). Natural gas, on the other hand, was responsible for 18% (coal was 50%).

      The cost of wind power has been steadily declining. Depending on the data you look at, it can be very competitive with traditional sources of electricity. In fact, because the marginal cost of producing electricity fro
      • It gets hairier - wind is general a cent or two higher per kWH than conventional, but that includes tax credits (and I'm discussing *only* the US here - I have no idea what the picture looks like in other countries). But then conventional power is subsidized too, it's just better-hidden in the tax structure.

        I looked into raising money and building a wind farm in the Western US over the last year, and I discovered a few things:

        1. No utility is interested in buying "green power" unless they are mandated to by
        • Interesting. When I last studied energy utilization, most was for transportation (good old cars, trucks, and trains), second, I think, was lighting (!?).

          I remember debates about whether electric cars really are greener since they rely on things like coal generated electricity to charge them. It's something to think about.

          Arguments pro generally said that large scale electricity generators were more efficient per unit energy than a single internal combustion engine and that their pollution controls wer

      • I went and read one of the refs, the other was inaccessible.

        The arguments were that the one wind turbine could produce the energy required to make them in 6.8 months, and then produced energy for a long time thereafter. Makes sense.

        Unfortunately, the real analysis necessary is to factor the total cost of the wind turbine. Then, factor the amount of gas that money would otherwise buy. Then decide on what timetable a gas generator would beat the wind turbine if you had some money and needed some energy...

    • in the UK NPower has a program called juice
      basically if you signup for this
      All your electricity is generated by renewable energy sources.

      Cost wise its exactly the same as non-renewable sources.

      So if you want to be part of the solution choose a supplier that gives you this option.

      The more people that sign up the more investment npower has to make to meet the demand simple really.

  • Wind Farms (Score:5, Funny)

    by iBod ( 534920 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @10:39AM (#14378280)

    Beats me why so many people seem to keen to build wind farms [bwea.com].

    Surely, there is too much wind in the world already (witness recent events) and farming more of the damn stuff seems like utter lunacy to me.

    Anyhow, couldn't we just import some foreign wind from some windy place?

  • One should keep an open mind, but not so open your brain falls out.* I think some of the folks doing alternative energy research really need to keep this thought in mind a bit more. RTFA and see what I mean.

    Will we need to replace oil and its fossil fuel cousins at some point? Definitely.
    In our lifetimes? If we are talking strictly about oil, probably. Coal? Probably not.
    Does such a substitute exist that a) Can be stored, b) Can be transported, c) Can be used, and d) Is energy positive (meaning we get
    • by ThosLives ( 686517 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @10:55AM (#14378373) Journal
      You don't just need better technology to produce (more) power in a "clean" way. You also need better technology and awareness to consume less power. I'm proud of the fact that I only used an average of 3 kW-hr per day for the period between Nov and Dec of last year (That amounts to an average of only 125 W for the entire day). I'm not sure exactly what my transportation consumption was, especially because I'm travelling a lot because of work, but my "domestic" energy consumption has dropped quite a bit.

      Generally speaking, consuming less requires no technology or additional cost. Sometimes it might cost something intangible, such as moving closer to work (think about it - if everyone who commuted 30 miles one way was willing to move to only commute 20 miles one way, or, if possible, 10 miles, the aggregate reduction in transportation energy consumption would be quite large).

      The problem is the "consume less" mentality is not very popular, and, unfortunately, not a problem which is readily solvable through technological means. While more efficient devices are better, what typically happens is people just get more devices and use as much if not more resources than with the "less efficient" technologies. Ah, the wonderful ironies of life...

      • This is very true - we are living in an unsual period of human history, namely one where the Quality of Life of your average human has been increasing for several centuries. I think this has led to the near absence of the "consume less" vs. "more stuff/energy" mentality. The oil bump (Hubbard's Peak) has been responsible for so many of our advances this past century that it may not be possible to maintain the same increases in QoL once cheap oil passes, which it is doing. Sadly, I think the mental adjus
  • or floating high in the air, courtesy of helium

    Admittedly I don't know the details of this, but am I the only one who hears "floating wind generator" and thinks "Dipshits"? If it's tethered, you're going to run into a huge amount of problems. Small planes, birds, etc would all be problematic, as would the consequences of a broken tether. If it's NOT tethered, then I'd be curious as to how it functions, let alone safety. Large wandering structures floating through the upper atmosphere tend to not to
  • Imagine a wind turbine - under water. That is also something to look for in the near future.

    Tide currents have a much better predictability than wind, this is an important feature of this type of clean energy. The underwater turbines are below the surface so waves and ice won't hurt them (within some limits of course).

    Ultra-low frequency noise will be a problem, though.
    • Also hard to maintain, being underwater, and tend to need to be located on spots of coast that people would rather use as beaches. I also imagine a more avid tree-hugger than myself could come up with some marine creature whose habitat and livelihood is damaged by these...
  • Anyone writing that the hypothetical hydrino "exhibits traits promising for many applications" just lost a big deal of credibility. I see the same trend in his treatment of other subjects - he seems to like "free energy".

    I sure hope we can find better renewable energy sources, but this blog is hardly the one to take the pointers from.

  • The article is some mishmash of reality (wind power becoming competetive wrt fossil and the stirling solar systems are certainly interesting) and the most harebrained crackpot schemes around; Tom Bearden (Net loonie #1), "magnet power from vacuum", "blacklight power". Gee, it all sounds so credible.
  • by radtea ( 464814 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @11:32AM (#14378574)
    two, concurrent and independent sonofusion breakthroughs

    The big-news sonofusion results in 2005 were about neutron, not power, generation. There was some evidence that acoustically-driven cavitation could produce temperatures high enough to result in fusion-generated neutrons. This is quite exciting in terms of understanding the basic processes involved. However, in terms of the driving physics, this is hot fusion: a very small volume of material may be heated to extremely high temperatures for a very short time, resulting in a tiny amount of fusion occuring.

    Due to fundamental physical constraints it is very unlikely that such a process is scalable in a way that will produce more power than is required to generate it. The bottom line for hot fusion is that the cross-sections for loss processes are orders of magnitude larger than those for the fusion process itself, and the losses scale as the surface area of the hot volume while power production scales with the volume. This means that the cube-square law strongly favours really big hot-fusion reactors (something the size of a star seems about optimal).

    So while it is not impossible that one day we'll all drive cars powered by sonofusion, I don't think anyone working in the field is suggesting that.
    • > There was some evidence that acoustically-driven cavitation could produce temperatures high enough to result in fusion-generated neutrons.

      FWIW, we've known for decades that collapsing bubbles can generate extremely high temperatures, though I think attempts to get fusion out of it are just a few years old.

      > However, in terms of the driving physics, this is hot fusion: a very small volume of material may be heated to extremely high temperatures for a very short time, resulting in a tiny amount of fus
  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @11:49AM (#14378664) Homepage Journal
    Good grief it is full of more pseudoscience than a Kansas biology class.
  • This is Science..? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ancil ( 622971 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @12:25PM (#14378867)
    Climate change evidence will continue to mount.
    Well I'm glad we settled that up-front.

    Research goes a lot smoother when you decide ahead of time what the results will be.

  • They didn't mention much about Geothermal Energy, and specifically Geothermal heating/cooling for your home. The new systems on the market today have a payback of 4KW of energy from the ground for every 1KW of energy put into the system. This is a huge deal and saves you a lot of money over the long run. Typical installations are $20K Canadian but you will see a payback in 3-7 years depending on the type of system.

    More information, at least for Canadians, can be found at http://www.nextenergysolutions. [nextenergysolutions.com]
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday January 02, 2006 @02:24PM (#14379573) Homepage
    Wind power is now working quite well. [gepower.com] General Electric has over 2800 of their 1.5 megawatt turbines installed, so big wind machines are finally working commercially. The wind turbines of the 1980s were typically in the 50KW to 100KW range. By comparison, a big commercial power plant (coal or nuclear) is typically in the 500 to 2000 megawatt range.

    These things are big - the towers are 200 to 300 feet high. It takes 500 of them to equal one coal plant. And bigger wind turbines are coming. The latest General Electric 3MW turbines are so big they're only being considered for offshore installations. The Cape Cod Wind Farm project [capewind.org] has produced much grumbling: [capecodtoday.com] "A 24 square mile industrial park the size of the island of Manhattan, 40 story turbines permanently scarring our ocean horizon, 580 lights destroying our nightscape, 130 air and sea navigation hazards in the middle of some of the foggiest air and waters in the world..." This is a generic problem with wind and solar energy. Once it starts really working, the installations are huge, because the energy densities are so low.

    The downside of wind power, of course, is that it's intermittent. Typically, average power is only 30% of rated power. Of course, you don't get to pick when you get power. So you either need energy storage (like a pumped storage plant) or excess capacity in non-wind generation. Which means building more plant.

    Still, wind power is real. Unlike much of the other stuff mentioned, like the "magnet engines" (an entry-level bozo idea), the "neutron generator" (a misunderstanding of a well-understood device), and "blacklight power" (generally considered to be a scam).

    Tidal power seems attractive, but there are only about 20 good sites worldwide [worldenergy.org].

    The Athabasca Oil Sands projects [oilsands.cc] are already producing 1 million barrels of oil per day, and that should double by 2010. The scale of the operation is huge. It takes two tons of sand to yield one barrel of oil. That's one Panama Canal every ten months. Want a job as a heavy equipment operator? Move to Fort McMurray, Alberta. They're hiring. Rents have passed Silicon Valley levels, and the apartment vacancy rate is zero.

    The future looks like coal. Too much coal. China is building about 50,000MW of coal-fired electric plants per year. US coal consumption has been roughly constant for a while, but will probably go up as oil prices increase.

    Nuclear may make a comeback, probably when coal gets too ugly.

  • Oil dependency (Score:3, Informative)

    by Trogre ( 513942 ) on Tuesday January 03, 2006 @01:48AM (#14382486) Homepage
    Unfortunately technical issues aren't the only hurdle to overcome in getting the world off petroleum. Many of the more influential world leaders believe the demon Allah has given them control of the world's energy.

VMS must die!