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Bill Gates On Energy 474

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 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 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 []

    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 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 []. 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 mellon ( 7048 ) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:36AM (#36682834) Homepage

    Wind can actually be a base load power source—there are lots of places where the wind blows all the time. The problem is that the grid isn't tuned to make that work. Solar PV can't be a base load source, but solar thermal can, because of thermal mass. And you can build pump-storage power systems that pump water uphill when there's excess power, and then drain it back downhill through turbines when there's excess load []. These systems are good for moderating load on the grid, but we don't have very many of them.

  • 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...
  • Also try selling your power to your neighbors, they eat cheese and live a short swim away.

    Those neighbours you talk about are entirely on nuclear and sell their excess power to their neighbouring countries. Selling electricity to the French is like selling snow to the Inuit.

  • 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 AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <> on Thursday July 07, 2011 @11:40AM (#36683674) Homepage Journal

    Educate thyself: []

    About 3% of the Sahara will power all of western Europe easily. Storage is built in, works 24 hours a day 365 days a year. You guys in the US have it even better because you have space in your own country you can use. DC long distance transmission is more efficient than moving coal or gas about and safer than transporting with nuclear material. Worried about being reliant on Africa for power, well it is no worse than being reliant on the middle east (less so in fact).

    The technical problems are largely solved with existing concentrated solar plants, we just need to sort the political situation out so we can get on with building the things.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 07, 2011 @11:49AM (#36683766)

    That means we need 612,355,359.6 sqr meters just to get what we need for 6 hours. Now you actually need off paek sun, so triple it.

    Yup. That's about 0.007% of all the land in the US (all included).
    or 1% of the Mojave desert. Triple it all you want - available space is not the problem :)

  • by artor3 ( 1344997 ) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @12:05PM (#36683960)

    I know those numbers are supposed to be big and scary, but they add up to less than a tenth of a percent of the national landmass. Put another way, about the size of your typical parking space per person. With some wind power to supplement the big cities, it is entirely doable. The *only* issue is inventing a way to store power for the nights.

BLISS is ignorance.