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Thread: Renewable energy sources are useless... or not ?

  1. #1 Renewable energy sources are useless... or not ? 
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    I just would like to start this (once more) semi-trolling topic. I like a bit of provocation to force people to think outside the comfortable barriers they are used to.
    We are presently consuming 17 TW. The breakdown of the sources is the following:
    About 36% is from oil
    25% from coal
    24% from gas
    ----------------------------
    5.8% from nuclear
    3.9% from biomass (mainly tree wood)
    3.3% from hydroelectricity
    0.7% from solar non-photovoltaic
    0.3% from wind
    0.3% from biofuel
    0.25% from geothermal
    0.25% from photovoltaic

    Don't ask me for the remaining few 0.2 %, it's water engine or peat or whatever...

    So, from these number, we want to :
    1/ Decrease our greenhouse gas emission
    2/ Try to push back a bit the end of gas or oil
    3/ Allow growth of energy of emerging new industrial powers (China, India, Brazil)
    4/ Keep driving my Infiniti FX45.

    All these are short term objectives (especially the no.4).

    How much of this energy is effectively used ? Less than 40%. Every year, we improve by about 2-3 % our efficiency. So it allows us to eat more... Logic...
    Every year, we need 4-6% more energy despite the improvement of efficiency.

    Suppose we are multiplying by 3 our photovoltaic, wind, biofuel sources... I will allow this to happen in 5 years in a monstrous international coordinated plan of new energy deployment (even North Korea, Myanmar and Iran will participate).
    In 2015, we will need about 21 TW. And our massive deployment will bring......
    0.5-0.7 TW.

    You see me coming... Always focus on the variables which have the most effects on the final result, basic of sensitivity analysis...

    And this variable is ECONOMY / WASTE.
    This comes from 2 sides: you and me (now, I know I will have to convert my FX 45 in mass transport), governement.

    1/ We have to learn to save.
    2/ Governement needs to focus on research on economy of energy rather than alternative energies.
    This is a bit provocative but numbers are here.

    Your feedback is appreciated.


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  3. #2  
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    Not really so provocative. Anyone who's been half paying attention for the past 30 years or so knows the importance of conservation.

    Fossil fuel consumption grew from almost zero to its present level in about 200 years as a co-evolution of technology and fuel availabilty. Fuel availability from renewable sources (i.e. the sun) is, as far as it matters to human beings, literally inexhaustible. We may be just at the threshold of the kind of explosive development of technologies that occurred with fossil fuels in the 18th century. I wonder if windmill owners grinding wheat in the 18th century looked at steam engines and said "It'll never catch on."


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  4. #3  
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    While the numbers are daunting it's pretty obviously that eventually, probably within the next few decades we'll need to shift away from fossil fuels anyhow--regardless of Co2 emissions.

    Our greatest short term gains are improving efficiencies so we can get close to zero required growth for the next few decades. (It still bugs me homes in the US still don't employ simple efficiency improvements that have been proven for decades).
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  5. #4 Re: Renewable energy sources are useless... or not ? 
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    Quote Originally Posted by Makandal

    Suppose we are multiplying by 3 our photovoltaic, wind, biofuel sources... I will allow this to happen in 5 years in a monstrous international coordinated plan of new energy deployment (even North Korea, Myanmar and Iran will participate).
    In 2015, we will need about 21 TW. And our massive deployment will bring......
    0.5-0.7 TW.
    I don't get it.
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  6. #5  
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    Twit,
    Photovoltaic, geothermy, wind, biofuel : 1% of 17TW * 3 = 0.17 * 3 = 0.51TW

    My argument is that the call to 'renewable energies' is a simple way to tell people, especially countries wasting energy : "Don't worry, you can still consume and keep with your life. We are just shifting from one source to another."
    It's a lazy approach of a complex problem.

    I do not deny that in the long term, in the next 30-50 years, renewable energies might go from a meagre 1% to 20% or more. But our problem is not a long term, we need to react quickly.
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  7. #6  
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    Well, let's not forget that the solar energy input to the earth is just over 10,000 times that. 174 petawatts. In the end, energy is heat. This 17 terawatts adds about 0.01% heat to our climate system already.
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  8. #7  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Makandal
    Twit,
    It's a lazy approach of a complex problem.

    I do not deny that in the long term, in the next 30-50 years, renewable energies might go from a meagre 1% to 20% or more..
    HuH? By your own numbers we're already at 9%.

    In a related story, this article reports greater than doubling of solar electric in the US for 2010.

    http://www.solarindustrymag.com/e107...p?content.6467

    I think solar electric is just starting to get to the point of efficiency were it's worth it. Most are probably still unusual projects. For example I set up a 60Watt solar electric panel to power a small cabin I'm building a couple hundred feet behind my house.

    Disappointing is solar thermal that still has slow growth. Solar thermal space heating and water heating is proven tech widely adopted in some other nations, but has barely made a dent in the U.S.
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    Nuclear and hydro are proven winners. I understand why nuclear has not spread so well as agreed under the NPT. Politics.

    Less understandable is the failure of hydro. We have some regions (e.g. Cascadia) that are perfect hydro powerhouses. And the only folks protesting this are some hippies and whitewater kayakers. With the hydro capacity of British Columbia and Chile combined, we could be cracking water and shipping compressed hydrogen by tanker, fueling all the world's "green" SUVs, forever.

    Is it that hydro's "old tech" and not sexy enough? I'm frustrated that discussions about renewable energy rather overlook hydro for a focus on costly gizmo appliances like photovoltaics and wind turbines.

    Ack, Makandal, you said "trolling" and you were right.
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  10. #9  
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    Hydro power is not necessarily as green and clean as usually claimed. Organic matter carried into the reservoir decays on the bottom in anoxic conditions and produces methane. The greenhouse emissions can be at least comparable to and sometimes exceed those from fossil fuel burning for the same amount of power generation. This is more of a problem in warm climates, but there’s at least one dam reservoir in Switzerland where this has been documented. In addition, copious amounts of CO2 are produced in the manufacture of concrete for dam construction.

    There are serious cost and benefit issues that require detailed technical analysis before writing off objections to dams as the whining of “hippies and kayakers”.
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  11. #10  
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    I was gonna cite the natural anoxic reservoir (lake) coverage of these hydro regions, arguing that our addition would be miniscule. But you're right, for the same reason burning biomass is not exactly helpful even where we save trees from natural fire, for use as fuel.
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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  12. #11  
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    I'm not saying hydro isn't worthwhile - just that you have to do a cost-benefit analysis for each case. There are other issues, like silting up behind dams that renders some of them far less effective over time, and deprives the downsteam agricultural areas of the nutrient rich silt. Fish and recreation issues are maybe harder to put a value on but can't be ignored. There once were plans to dam the Grand Canyon. How do you evaluate that?

    Wind and solar generally have a much smaller environmental impact and they don't bother the hippies and kayakers either. :P

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    Exploring all forms of renewable energy are not useless. You only gain expertise by doing and by doing you focus thinking on resolving problems and improving the working systems and that creates an environment that breakthroughs happen in. At the very least we learn where we need to put most of our resources and brain power as we become more desperate to solve our energy problems.
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    I still think renewable source of energy can be decisive. we need to act fast but if we could get a source say nuclear fusion ready till 2050 then we can turn the tables. With some some more conservation efforts we can wait till then.
    Automobile fuel research can add to that
    This can change the coal and oil to nuclear etc. Thats 50% it now seems quite impertant.
    the problem is that we have not reached a big breakthrough in alternative energy yet.
    After that the problem will be to get this alternative to developing ang underdeveloped who cannot dream about a nuclear fusion reactor nor about minimizing their already low energy consuption when they have started sensing a hope of economic development. After all they too want to drive Infiniti FX45.
    Import > Export. That the favourable Economic Ratio for the human mind .
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  15. #14  
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    Quote Originally Posted by E(i)lusiveReality
    the problem is that we have not reached a big breakthrough in alternative energy yet.
    Or large scale energy storage which would also solve the base loading problem even with current alternative energy production technology.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bunbury
    Wind and solar generally have a much smaller environmental impact and they don't bother the hippies and kayakers either. :P

    As a hippie I've got to agree

    But, anyway, @Makandal, whats the point in using our energy wisely if we have nothing more to use?
    "Be the change you want to see in the world"
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  17. #16  
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    I think we imagine productive capacity within the bounds of current political indecision, and underestimate what is possible when governments really want to do something and do what is required to.

    On the outset of WW2 Germany was able to get from a crumbling depression state to an industrial powerhouse, even Canada with a relatively small population was popping out ocean merchant ships like hot-cakes.

    We probably have the potential to produce solar panels on an industrial scale we presently are unable to even imagine (while developing photovoltaic paint).

    We are just choosing to waste time and human activity on stupid things. Canada just flushed a billion dollars down the toilet for a 3 day G8 photo op and police state parade.
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  18. #17  
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    The problem with efficiency as a solution is that there's an immovable upward ceiling of 100%. After you reach that point, you could invest infinity dollars, but it won't get you any more results. And, on the way to it, each additional 1% costs you exponentially more than the last.

    Renewables, on the other hand, have no upward limit at all.
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    But efficiency allows you to meet the demand using renewables much more quickly. If you have efficiency, you need less renewable, and hence can attain it more quickly and with less up front.
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    Internal combustion engine vehicles are around 15% efficient. Coal fired power plants are about 35%. Natural gas power plants with combined cycle are about 45%. There's a long way to go to get to 100% (which of course is theoretically impossible anyway).
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    The really nice thing about renewables is that many people can afford to invest in them. Many home owners could justify investing in solar panels even though they are not a complete solution. They will save on the electric bill and in most cases increase the value of the home. If enough people did invest in them it would help delay the building of a new power plant and that's a difference that can be made visible to the public who can then take pride in being involved. This is the kind of pride that will spread into a trend. Once a person makes that commitment to be involved, they would do other things to save on their carbon footprint, such as better insulation, florescent or LED lighting and investing in hybrid cars or even all electric cars.

    I believe each one of us can make a positive deference in some way and no matter how small, becomes very noticeable when multiplied by millions of people.
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  22. #21  
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    Yes, we can all help, but since grid energy is consistent, constant, and ubiquitous, that's really where the most impact can be made. We need to be thinking large scale solar farms and wind arrays as the source of distributed energy... People don't care where their power comes from, just that it's always available and doesn't cost a whole lot. We need to replace the source, and improve efficiency of the demand.

    We just care that when we put our plugs into the wall it turns on. We can work to make it more efficient and require "turning on" less, but we must also replace the source, and provide solid storage solutions for when it's not present (i.e. batteries which really really really do a good job).
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  23. #22  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lance Wenban
    Many home owners could justify investing in solar panels even though they are not a complete solution.
    I don't know about "many." If they could justify it most already would. Even in sunny places it would take upwards of a $100,000 to completely power your house with solar panels and you'd still need either an expensive battery systems (and inverters) that needs replacing every five year or so, or be connected to the grid that often won't pay you the same for putting power back as taking it out (which should illegal).

    Start up cost is very expensive which means a long payoff that's shorter than the average time we move onto the next house. Many people don't want the hassle of maintaining them (businesses like AC people and plumbers for comprehensive solar don't exist yet). Others consider them ugly or live in a community where it's not allowed (which should be illegal).

    For now they are a niche market for people with extra money or folks living far off the grid like a few folks that I know in rural Maine. Those folks that I know are also living off something like 30amp service, not the 200amp of most modern homes. They make up the difference with alternative lighting (one uses oil lamps), managing what they do when and use wood and passive solar heating--they are also very handy with tools.
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  24. #23  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lynx_Fox
    I don't know about "many." If they could justify it most already would. Even in sunny places it would take upwards of a $100,000 to completely power your house with solar panels and you'd still need either an expensive battery systems (and inverters) that needs replacing every five year or so, or be connected to the grid that often won't pay you the same for putting power back as taking it out (which should illegal).

    Start up cost is very expensive which means a long payoff that's shorter than the average time we move onto the next house. Many people don't want the hassle of maintaining them (businesses like AC people and plumbers for comprehensive solar don't exist yet). Others consider them ugly or live in a community where it's not allowed (which should be illegal).
    I was really thinking something more reasonable than what you suggested, like maybe a $10,000 or less system that might knock $100 or more off the monthly bill. Also I thought it was a law that the power companies had to pay you at the same rate they charged you at. That way you don't worry about batteries. But maybe I should try shopping around and see what I can find out. After all the picture you painted looks very uninviting.
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  25. #24  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lance Wenban
    I was really thinking something more reasonable than what you suggested, like maybe a $10,000 or less system that might knock $100 or more off the monthly bill. Also I thought it was a law that the power companies had to pay you at the same rate they charged you at. That way you don't worry about batteries. But maybe I should try shopping around and see what I can find out. After all the picture you painted looks very uninviting.
    You can't get there yet. To save $100, at an average cost in the US of about $0.12/KWH puts you at having to generate about 833 KWH for the month.

    To get an idea I looked at a whole sale dealer who sells solar panel kits. http://www.wholesalesolar.com/

    If you match their closest kit it's a 6400 Watt and has a cost of about $20,000. Add to that whatever structure you're going mount it on, physical installation, and the electrical work to tie it into your control panel. Say conservatively another $10,000. You've spent $30,000 to save $1200 a year; that's a pretty dang long payback. In really sunny places perhaps you could do better. There's also some pretty big tax incentives out there right now as well. On the other hand we haven't considered that most solar panels lose a bit of efficiency over the years and those big inverters aren't going to last as long as the panels.
    --
    I probably overestimated a bit on the whole house solution and think I could do it for $50-75K. Prices are slowly coming down. That's still a huge chunk of change, with a long payback and not as carefree as just hooking up to the grid.
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  26. #25  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lynx_Fox
    You can't get there yet. To save $100, at an average cost in the US of about $0.12/KWH puts you at having to generate about 833 KWH for the month.

    To get an idea I looked at a whole sale dealer who sells solar panel kits. http://www.wholesalesolar.com/

    If you match their closest kit it's a 6400 Watt and has a cost of about $20,000. Add to that whatever structure you're going mount it on, physical installation, and the electrical work to tie it into your control panel. Say conservatively another $10,000. You've spent $30,000 to save $1200 a year; that's a pretty dang long payback. In really sunny places perhaps you could do better. There's also some pretty big tax incentives out there right now as well. On the other hand we haven't considered that most solar panels lose a bit of efficiency over the years and those big inverters aren't going to last as long as the panels.
    --
    I probably overestimated a bit on the whole house solution and think I could do it for $50-75K. Prices are slowly coming down. That's still a huge chunk of change, with a long payback and not as carefree as just hooking up to the grid.
    That was a real eye opener. I've been priced out of that market. Even with government rebates, I can't afford it. Somehow I had an impression solar was a better deal than that.
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  27. #26  
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    People do it because it brings a value well beyond just monetary. However, cost is an issue right now, and many companies are working to bring the cost per watt down rather significantly, while simultaneously improving the efficiency of the cells (amount of light translated into usable energy).


    In the meantime, I think there is a huge market for utilities to "lease" solar arrays to customers for a few bucks a month. This would help them to ease the burden during times of peak demand and would give the ability to cover areas where there is a valley of energy availability. Beyond that, it opens up new service arenas and business avenues.
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  28. #27  
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    The whole story is about the impact any action can have.
    Between the energy potential of 1 l of oil and the final energy given per person, there is a huge loss. Less than 50% is arriving to us.
    So if we improve that of just 5-10%, we will get 2.5 to 5% 'more energy' available.

    While, if we increase of 100% our use of solar panel, it will give us just 0.25% more energy available.

    I don't deny solar panels can be useful in some very specific cases but it is staying marginal. We are 6.8 billions human beings with an average GDP per capita of 10000 $. We are not 300 millions, contrary to the belief of some US citizens. So 10000$ solar panels will work for a minority of the population of this world.
    If we want to find a solution, it needs to be a global solution, not a bandage on a wooden leg.
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    Can you elaborate, Makandal? I'm not sure anyone was suggesting that solar power in its current form is the solution... merely that it must be a significant portion of it.
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  30. #29  
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    The main problem with developing anything is the buy in costs. People are waiting for a better tech to be invented so they don't spend a fortune on something that will already be obsolete by the time they pay off the mortgage.

    That's why efficiency talk kind of bugs me. The rules of entropy put certain limits on the degree to which anything can be efficient, and when you try to approach those limits you start needing exotic materials, like platinum in order to accomplish it, and that would lead to a whole new dimension of mineral dependencies. I think that most technologies today represent the max efficiency that's ever going to be possible. (Or they're pretty close.)

    We just need to build more and bigger.
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    As a personal perspective we use solar panels to power the entire academy I teach at. I've spoken with the technician and we've looked into the efficiency of our own power system. We find that the older and current generation models of solar panels are quite inefficient, especially under cloud cover. But that the newer generations of panel, ones that utilize thin film technology, are very efficient compared to other sources of power. We find that the up-front costs are more expensive than coal, oil, or gas; but in the long run it is much MUCH cheaper to run than all three (lower labour costs, no waste disposal, lower maintenance costs). The highest cost is replacing the batteries which happens once every 6-8 years, but given the current development of technology I strongly expect the next generation of batteries to come out by then which will be able to last a lot longer.

    Kojax is absolutely right about waiting for technology to get better. As I said the battery and previous generation solar panels are not anywhere near as good as could be hoped. But this is changing and should get much better in the next 5-10 years.
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    Sorry this might be a bit OT but I didnt want to make a new thread,

    Noticed something my sleepy head cant explain
    World energy consumption: 130.000 Twh
    World electricity consumption: 20.000 Twh

    Nuclear power provides about 6% of the world's energy and 13–14% of the world's electricity

    so nuclear is roughly 14% of 20.000Twh but 5% of 130.000 Twh ???
    Doesnt make sense

    So what am i missing, energy conversion %'s or what?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lance Wenban
    Exploring all forms of renewable energy are not useless. You only gain expertise by doing and by doing you focus thinking on resolving problems and improving the working systems and that creates an environment that breakthroughs happen in. At the very least we learn where we need to put most of our resources and brain power as we become more desperate to solve our energy problems.
    I agree. Just an addition, it will become useless only when no sectors/agencies/government would support discoveries and projects concerning renewable energy.
    Interested on ENVIRONMENTAL TRAINING or WASTEWATER TRAINING? Check out my profile website.
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  34. #33  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tachyon
    Sorry this might be a bit OT but I didnt want to make a new thread,

    Noticed something my sleepy head cant explain
    World energy consumption: 130.000 Twh
    World electricity consumption: 20.000 Twh

    Nuclear power provides about 6% of the world's energy and 13–14% of the world's electricity

    so nuclear is roughly 14% of 20.000Twh but 5% of 130.000 Twh ???
    Doesnt make sense

    So what am i missing, energy conversion %'s or what?
    An example of energy vs. electricity would be using propane to heat your home, or oven. It's not electricity, but it's still energy. They may also be counting automobiles as energy consumption.

    Nuclear is used almost exclusively for just electricity production. (Not quite exclusively, since it also powers some Navy ships). So, if you count all the energy together, including electricity, heating, automobiles, and other non-electric forms of energy, it will be contributing a smaller % of that than it would be if you only look at electricity specifically.
    Some clocks are only right twice a day, but they are still right when they are right.
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  35. #34 Re: Renewable energy sources are useless... or not ? 
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    Quote Originally Posted by Makandal
    I just would like to start this (once more) semi-trolling topic. I like a bit of provocation to force people to think outside the comfortable barriers they are used to.
    We are presently consuming 17 TW. The breakdown of the sources is the following:
    About 36% is from oil
    25% from coal
    24% from gas
    ----------------------------
    5.8% from nuclear
    3.9% from biomass (mainly tree wood)
    3.3% from hydroelectricity
    0.7% from solar non-photovoltaic
    0.3% from wind
    0.3% from biofuel
    0.25% from geothermal
    0.25% from photovoltaic

    Don't ask me for the remaining few 0.2 %, it's water engine or peat or whatever...

    So, from these number, we want to :
    1/ Decrease our greenhouse gas emission
    2/ Try to push back a bit the end of gas or oil
    3/ Allow growth of energy of emerging new industrial powers (China, India, Brazil)
    4/ Keep driving my Infiniti FX45.

    All these are short term objectives (especially the no.4).

    How much of this energy is effectively used ? Less than 40%. Every year, we improve by about 2-3 % our efficiency. So it allows us to eat more... Logic...
    Every year, we need 4-6% more energy despite the improvement of efficiency.

    Suppose we are multiplying by 3 our photovoltaic, wind, biofuel sources... I will allow this to happen in 5 years in a monstrous international coordinated plan of new energy deployment (even North Korea, Myanmar and Iran will participate).
    In 2015, we will need about 21 TW. And our massive deployment will bring......
    0.5-0.7 TW.

    You see me coming... Always focus on the variables which have the most effects on the final result, basic of sensitivity analysis...

    And this variable is ECONOMY / WASTE.
    This comes from 2 sides: you and me (now, I know I will have to convert my FX 45 in mass transport), governement.

    1/ We have to learn to save.
    2/ Governement needs to focus on research on economy of energy rather than alternative energies.
    This is a bit provocative but numbers are here.

    Your feedback is appreciated.
    Efficiency does not necessarily lead to reduced consumption, in fact it tends to lead to more applications and therefore greater consumption- early steam engines were notoriously inefficient, for example, yet here we are with boilers galore and being run by all manner of fuels.

    Nobody is AGAINST efficiency, but barring the end of life as we currently enjoy it demand WILL rise and the problem becomes how best to meet the demand.
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  36. #35  
    Time Lord
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    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    Nuclear is used almost exclusively for just electricity production.
    All Middle Eastern countries have grand schemes to desalinate ocean water by nuclear, though. A nuclear plant is a big boiler/condenser after all. The fresh water goes to irrigation. The need is inevitable. Some countries will be barred from this. :|
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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  37. #36  
    Time Lord
    Join Date
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    8,046
    Quote Originally Posted by Pong
    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    Nuclear is used almost exclusively for just electricity production.
    All Middle Eastern countries have grand schemes to desalinate ocean water by nuclear, though. A nuclear plant is a big boiler/condenser after all. The fresh water goes to irrigation. The need is inevitable. Some countries will be barred from this. :|
    That's great. Then there isn't all that loss involved from trying to convert heat into electricity.
    Some clocks are only right twice a day, but they are still right when they are right.
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