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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 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.

  • 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 danbert8 ( 1024253 ) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @10:44AM (#36682938)

    http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html [nextbigfuture.com]

    It IS the safest... How many have died in Fukushima? How many of those were from radiation?

  • by Digital Vomit ( 891734 ) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @11:07AM (#36683228) Homepage Journal
    If you're referring to the cost in human lives, at deaths/TWH [nextbigfuture.com], nuclear power is *still* the safest power source, even when you include Fukushima.
  • 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 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 bberens ( 965711 ) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @11:30AM (#36683538)
    Technology is improving dramatically. Fast forward about 5-6 decades and it's feasible that virtually every roof will have been replaced with solar shingles, every sidewalk, every road... all huge surface area and all potential places where heat/light can be trapped and converted to electricity. It's not cost efficient today, but with improved technology and more efficient solar cells this type of system would produce huge amounts of power. Wind and geothermal can take care of quite a bit more. Unlike some others, I don't feel it's necessary to get rid of nuclear power to help out with the baseline and/or seasonal issues where wind/solar do not provide enough local energy and the various large scale storage systems simply aren't pragmatic.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 07, 2011 @11:36AM (#36683614)

    SO panel are out

    How does that mean panels are out?

    Using your math:
    612355359 sq meters * 3 (to get all night) * 2 for storage = 7348264308 sq meters
    That is approximately 53 miles by 53 miles for the entire united states.

    That is a relatively small chunk of southern Nevada to provide power to the entire country given we have only one power plant and one type of power supplying the entire United States.

    Honestly I would rather see advanced nuclear tech and hydro maxed out since they are cheaper and easier to maintain, but solar alone could definitely work if it was our only possible source of energy.

  • by Nadaka ( 224565 ) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @11:57AM (#36683860)

    A lot. At current levels of efficiency a square 100 miles on a side in the US southwest could provide more than 100% of the US power needs including transportation.

    Put other such squares in the sahara, gobi, patagonia and austrailian outback and you can far exceed the total energy production of the entire world a couple times over. using a fraction of otherwise unused deserts you could elevate all 6.whatever billion people to an American standard of energy consumption and still have space left over for growth.

    All that said, a couple bad storms could devastate a purely solar powered grid. Nuclear power is a safe, clean alternative that should be used alongside solar to provide the worlds power.

  • by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @12:13PM (#36684094) Homepage Journal

    It looks like you're having a nuclear meltdown. Would you like help?

    o Get help with shutting down the reactor
    o Just shut down the reactor without help
    o Don't show me this tip again

    If that's the pop-up tip for someone starting off a broadcast email with the words "Nobody panic, everything is under control" then maybe it would have actually helped in a few nuclear events in recent history. Human error (or moreover, lack of timely intervention) is almost always the culprit, and not any sort of insurmountable hardware or software malfunction.

  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @12:21PM (#36684194) Journal
    The storage mechanisms that you suggest are fine for short-term storage. They let a wind farm produce a slowly changing output, irrespective of moderate changes in wind. Some of them are even okay for allowing solar power plants to keep generating (some) power overnight. The grandparent is talking about moving energy from the summer, when wind and solar have a surplus, to the winter, when they're not generating enough. That requires a staggering amount of storage.

    In the UK, the average person uses about 12MWh of power every year, or about 43GJ. Assume half of this is in the winter (optimistic) and you need to supply 10% of that from energy stored in the summer. That gives about 2GJ per person. Hydrogen has an energy density of 143 MJ/kg, meaning that you'd need 14kg per person. Well, actually, that's assuming 100% efficiency of the fuel cells. Commercial fuel cells are about 50% efficient, so you'd actually need closer to 28kg, just to convert about 20% of the base load over to renewables.

    To put that in perspective, you're talking about storing about 1.5 billion kgs of hydrogen, just for the UK. Compressed, that's about 42840000000000 litres. Or, to put it another way, you'd need a cubic tank over 2km on each side to store it.

10.0 times 0.1 is hardly ever 1.0.