Thursday, July 23, 2009

Energy Follies

Energy Follies

There is a lot of loose talk going around on alternative energy, with advocates saying we can produce all the energy we need with wind and solar. From what I understand, there is not enough power potential for all our energy needs to be supplied that way, unless nuclear is included. Even with a solar cell so efficient that has not been invented yet, we would need to completely cover Arizona and half of New Mexico with solar cells or mirrors to come close to our electrical needs that are currently covered with coal. That does nothing for the energy requirements of future electric cars.

Wind and solar-electric power suffers from being unreliable. Conventional power plants would need to remain online to cover the periods of little wind. Entire seasons suffer from far less wind than others. Also sufficient wind exists only is a few locations. We will need a new technology of power transmission, and an entire new electric transmission grid, to properly power the entire country from the few sites with large wind resources.

Two big problems remain, and they are concerned with the balancing of energy needs and environmental concerns. One is - If we cover the desert southwest with solar production, what happens to the little creatures of the desert? What about our pristine areas? Monument Valley anyone? Water plants do damage to the fish populations. What about the Salmon lobby? What about little fishies we don't even know about yet? And some eminent scientists have postulated that if we install enough wind farms to make a real dent in our power needs, the power, which will be extracted from the wind, might very well make a substantial change to surface winds, affecting weather or (gasp!) climate.

The second problem is that advocates of Wind, Water, and Solar power generation schemes forget that all three are truly Solar power. Climate on planet earth has always tended to change. If we do this stuff and the amount of insolation goes down, where will we be then?

Clearly, with unlimited power within any old molecule in the universe, we must include some form of nuclear power in any intelligent discussion of solving our energy needs while cutting down emissions. We don't need to wait for quantum energy generation to become available, or fusion. We have useful and proven nuclear fission technologies available right now. What we need is the political will to allow them. In the meantime, anyone who claims to believe that carbon dioxide is causing us problems but is against nuclear power is either not serious, or has a hidden agenda.