The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

So called “alternative energy sources”

What about electric cars? What about 'em? Present battery technologies do NOT support 200 miles at freeway speeds for two people and luggage. Fifty or a hundred miles, just maybe. That takes care of a short commute and a trip to the grocery on the way home every day. And then you have to plug it in and recharge it. And where, dear reader, does that electricity come from? 77% of it comes from powerplants that burn those nasty hydrocarbons like coal, oil and natural gas. Another 10% comes from nuclear, and 7% comes from hydro, you know, those dams that are killing our rivers? And when you plug in your eco-friendly electric car, that's where the electricity comes from. Except for the 7% that's lost in the lines bringing it to your house. Short answer? If everybody goes to electric cars, we're gonna need more electricity. And right now, more electricity is going to take more carbon.

The whole energy/carbon/ecology discussion is filled with little corners of knowledge like these that I've just dipped into briefly. Many of us out here in the blue states know about this stuff and we know how bad policy, based on bad science is going to hurt this country.

Folks, another thing to consider is that energy, synonymous with carbon, already costs. You pay for it. The people who run the factory have to pay for it to give you what you want, and YOU pay for the energy. And now Obama and the eco-whackos are trying to make it more expensive to use energy. and guess who will pay. Can you afford it?

Mostly Cajun, All American and Opinionated » Carbon and more

Mr. Cajun works for the power industry, so he knows this stuff. And what he's saying is scaring me. But his article is just the tip of the iceberg. Years ago, Steven Den Beste wrote a series of articles on energy production and what we, as a society, realistically need. It's a lot to read, but the entire series below is really worth reading.

But there is a synopsis of the articles below for those that want to get to the meat of the argument. Basically, it boils down to:

In order for “alternate energy” to become feasible, it has to satisfy all of the following criteria:

  1. It has to be huge (in terms of both energy and power)
  2. It has to be reliable (not intermittent or unschedulable)
  3. It has to be concentrated (not diffuse)
  4. It has to be possible to utilize it efficiently
  5. The capital investment and operating cost to utilize it has to be comparable to existing energy sources (per gigawatt, and per terajoule).

If it fails to satisfy any of those, then it can't scale enough to make any difference. Solar power fails #3, and currently it also fails #5. (It also partially fails #2, but there are ways to work around that.)

The only sources of energy available to us now that satisfy all five are petroleum, coal, hydro, and nuclear.

My rule of thumb is that I'm not interested in any “alternate energy” until someone shows me how to scale it to produce at least 1% of our current energy usage. America right now uses about 3.6 terawatts average, so 1% of that is about 36 gigawatts average.

That was true in 2003 (when the original articles below were written), and it was true in 2008 (when the above was written) and it's still true today.

Anyway, the full set of articles:

Two more articles that were listed in my links along the Den Bests articles:

And as a refresher course, a slang definition of the Three Laws of Thermodynamics:

  1. You can't win.
  2. You can't break even.
  3. You can't even leave the game.

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