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Thread: Hydro versus solar

  1. #1 Hydro versus solar 
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    Reference, New Scientist, 7 August 2014, page 26

    This article discusses the 'wrongs' of small scale solar power. In Kenya, for example, some 300,000 homes have been fitted with solar cells to give poorer people electricity, without harming the environment. Sounds good? What is not mentioned is that the amount of electricity generated is barely sufficient to charge cell phones and provide some lighting, and there is totally insufficient for most of the things we use electricity for in the west.

    A big dam is due to be built on the Congo River to give power to the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Assuming it goes ahead and is completed, it will generate enough power to give electricity to 90% of the people of that benighted land, and give them enough power for all their needs, including cooking. That makes private domestic solar cells look pretty lousy.

    The argument here is that large scale electricity production and distribution via national grids is still the best way to give enough power to everyone to raise their living standards. Solar cells will not do it.

    Personally, I like the idea of hydroelectricity supplementing solar and wind energy, all on the national grid. Solar panels cannot, for example, generate power at night. While it is possible to store solar energy for use at night, this both increases the cost substantially, and causes a lot of the energy to go to waste. However, hydroelectricity by its very nature is storing energy all the time, as water flows into a dam. When a lot of power is being generated by solar or wind, the dam can be closed to store energy instead of generating power.

    My opinion is that the best option for the future, and for poor nations, is a combination of nuclear power to provide steady baseload power, plus solar and wind to produce power when they can, plus hydroelectricity to store energy when the sun shines and the wind blows, and to generate power at night and when the wind stops blowing. This mixture of generating methods will not pump out the CO2.

    One thing is for sure. To lift the poorer peoples of the world into prosperity, a lot more electricity generation will be needed. How we do it, and the best combination of methods, is up for debate.


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  3. #2  
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    This article discusses the 'wrongs' of small scale solar power. In Kenya, for example, some 300,000 homes have been fitted with solar cells to give poorer people electricity, without harming the environment. Sounds good? What is not mentioned is that the amount of electricity generated is barely sufficient to charge cell phones and provide some lighting, and there is totally insufficient for most of the things we use electricity for in the west.
    That sounds great, actually. Giving people light and connectivity without burning fossil fuels? Excellent. We could learn from them.
    A big dam is due to be built on the Congo River to give power to the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Assuming it goes ahead and is completed, it will generate enough power to give electricity to 90% of the people of that benighted land, and give them enough power for all their needs, including cooking. That makes private domestic solar cells look pretty lousy.
    ?? Why? I use solar for all my needs, including water heating and transportation. Looks pretty good to me.
    The argument here is that large scale electricity production and distribution via national grids is still the best way to give enough power to everyone to raise their living standards. Solar cells will not do it.
    Your story is an excellent example of how solar DID raise the stanard of living of a lot of people. Don't commit the common Western conceit of assuming that unless everyone is like us, they are unhappy.
    Personally, I like the idea of hydroelectricity supplementing solar and wind energy, all on the national grid. Solar panels cannot, for example, generate power at night. While it is possible to store solar energy for use at night, this both increases the cost substantially, and causes a lot of the energy to go to waste. However, hydroelectricity by its very nature is storing energy all the time, as water flows into a dam. When a lot of power is being generated by solar or wind, the dam can be closed to store energy instead of generating power.
    Agreed. In places that can build dams, solar and hydro complement each other quite well.
    My opinion is that the best option for the future, and for poor nations, is a combination of nuclear power to provide steady baseload power, plus solar and wind to produce power when they can, plus hydroelectricity to store energy when the sun shines and the wind blows, and to generate power at night and when the wind stops blowing. This mixture of generating methods will not pump out the CO2.
    In areas where that works, sure. In many places nuclear is not an option due to poverty. In such places solar is an excellent option since it scales very well.


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    Hydro looks good on paper but turn out to be usually be quite expensive with frequent overruns and often tremendous unintended environmental damage. (see comprehensive study posted last month) And often such massive projects commit multiple generations to dealing with those problems. In the congo everything has to be built from scratch--there's virtually no infrastructure: few good roads, virtually no power distribution system, and little to no expertise to run of build such a system.

    We shouldn't pretend solar cells are a completely good path either, they are the most destructive of the renewable options by a long shot.

    The lesser evil completely depends on the local situation.
    Last edited by Lynx_Fox; August 12th, 2014 at 12:49 AM.
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    That is true, Lynx. However, hydro is also the most long term of all such investments. Some hydroelectric power stations, with regular minor upgrades, are still operating more than 100 years after they were built.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    That is true, Lynx. However, hydro is also the most long term of all such investments. Some hydroelectric power stations, with regular minor upgrades, are still operating more than 100 years after they were built.
    Few, while there are many far less old with are grave threats to their populations...the Mosul dam for example fails every inspection and would kill over a half a million if it fails. Not sure where they'd build such a dam in the congo, but the east side is very geologically active. And it's almost a sure thing that it would not be maintained well after it was built, because few dams actually are, even the US.
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    Thanks skeptic. One of my pet-peeves is that arguments for sustainable green power, typically omit hydro. I think the gee-whiz appeal of wind and photovoltaic is being sold... as these are products most appealing to a consumer mindset.

    Anyway, the best solution really really depends on where you are. For most people, *any* local energy resource is weak or bad. That's why they ship or pipe fuel from parts of the Earth where it's cheap if not sustainable. But it is possible to ship and pipe fuel that is sustainable & green, and still cheaper than local resources.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pong View Post
    I think the gee-whiz appeal of wind and photovoltaic is being sold... as these are products most appealing to a consumer mindset.
    In fact, they are about the only products practical for a consumer mindset. Almost no one can implement a hydro power plant; most people who own houses can install solar. Hence hydro is generally not touted to consumers.

    Anyway, the best solution really really depends on where you are. For most people, *any* local energy resource is weak or bad. That's why they ship or pipe fuel from parts of the Earth where it's cheap if not sustainable. But it is possible to ship and pipe fuel that is sustainable & green, and still cheaper than local resources.
    Definitely! Hydro will almost always be a better idea in Washington; solar will almost always win in Phoenix.
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    We should definitely expand our discussion to include wind. It is the most scale-able because you can build a basic wind system using primitive materials - all except the actual turbine.

    So if we gave villagers turbines and let them figure out what to do with them on their own, then they might start building systems that they can maintain using the technology and resources locally available. Maybe a classic windmill or water wheel, like in Medieval times.
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    Wind has the same major drawback as solar. It is intermittent.

    An ideal system will include several generation methods. The original reference I quoted pointed out that small scale systems like domestic solar, but also small wind turbines, will not supply sufficient power for all the electrically based uses that the first world enjoys. A network distribution system with large scale generation will always be better.
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    There are so many problems with "green energy" that there would be zero investors in this if it were not for tax subsidies. The average wind turbine has a twenty year lifespan if maintained. Wind farms are traded by major corporations as tax shelters. Most of the "green equipment" for wind and solar energy is manufactured in China as EPA regulations make it very tough to manufacture these products in the USA.

    The new solar panel facility has had problems with wildlife kills recently. The heat seems to kill birds and ground animals. Wind turbines look terrible and because they are painted white and hum insects are attracted to them. Insects that are attracted to these sites then attract birds. I wondered why butterflies were not migrating in the huge numbers of the past and after looking at where these wind farms are concluded that these farms have interrupted the migration path.

    Electricity generarted by dams seems to be the cleanest and cheapest power we can produce today, imo.

    Hydrogen power will be the energy of the future. Hydrogen is renewable and can be used to replace oil products for transportation and can be used to generate electricity.
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  12. #11  
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    Quote Originally Posted by pineapple007 View Post
    The new solar panel facility has had problems with wildlife kills recently.
    It's not a solar panel facility, it's a solar concentrator. Two very different animals.
    The heat seems to kill birds and ground animals.
    It's only birds; only birds can get to the focal point. And they don't just kill them, they incinerate them! They leave smoke trails after they get incinerated.
    Wind turbines look terrible
    They look great. Much better than, say, cellphone towers.
    and because they are painted white and hum insects are attracted to them. Insects that are attracted to these sites then attract birds. I wondered why butterflies were not migrating in the huge numbers of the past and after looking at where these wind farms are concluded that these farms have interrupted the migration path.
    They are migrating in huge numbers. We had a painted lady migration here a few years ago; they covered everything. Of course climate change is affecting them a bit.
    Electricity generarted by dams seems to be the cleanest and cheapest power we can produce today, imo.
    Unfortunately not an option for most of the world.
    Hydrogen power will be the energy of the future. Hydrogen is renewable and can be used to replace oil products for transportation and can be used to generate electricity.
    We don't have any hydrogen. Of course we could always make it if we had enough wind power . . .
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    Yes, making hydrogen is one thing that solar and wind power would be suited to, since it does not matter much that the power generation is intermittent. You just more hydrogen one day and less another. As things stand with present day technology, you would need to then convert the hydrogen to something like methane or methanol, since hydrogen is so difficult to store, transport and handle.
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    Other countries have infrastructure and are using hydrogen to power vehicles. Japan is in the process of adding over 100 more hydrogen fueling stations for automotive use to its infrastructure. Iceland and some European countries are building hydrogen facilities including filling stations for automotive us. Hydrogen is currently used to trains in the UK. It isn't far fetched to believe that high speed trains and air planes will be powered by hydrogen in the future, imo.
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    Quote Originally Posted by pineapple007 View Post
    Other countries have infrastructure and are using hydrogen to power vehicles. Japan is in the process of adding over 100 more hydrogen fueling stations for automotive use to its infrastructure. Iceland and some European countries are building hydrogen facilities including filling stations for automotive us. Hydrogen is currently used to trains in the UK. It isn't far fetched to believe that high speed trains and air planes will be powered by hydrogen in the future, imo.
    When you say hydrogen is used in trains in the UK, isn't that a bit of an exaggeration? This is all I could find about that. It is a tiny demonstration engine at a university. New Scientist TV: First UK hydrogen train takes passengers for a ride
    Yes, Japan and some European countries are starting to build hydrogen fueling stations, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea.
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  16. #15  
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    Quote Originally Posted by pineapple007 View Post
    ... and because they are painted white and hum insects are attracted to them. Insects that are attracted to these sites then attract birds. I wondered why butterflies were not migrating in the huge numbers of the past and after looking at where these wind farms are concluded that these farms have interrupted the migration path.
    Do you have any actual citations for these insect assertions?
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    I will try to find the article I read about how the color white attracts insects and the humming of the turbine attracts butterflies. While these are not the articles I read years ago they provide some of the same ideas.

    BBC - Earth News - Wind turbines wrong colour for wildlife

    A study has revealed that a wind turbine's colour affects how many insects it attracts, shedding more light on why the turbines occasionally kill bats and birds.
    There is another article that claimed that bats are being killed by wind turbines. Bats are not attracted to the turbines but are attracted to the insects that are attracted to the turbines.

    Wind Turbines Kill More Than 600,000 Bats A Year. What Should We Do? | Popular Science

    Dead bats have been found at almost every wind energy facility where someone has looked for them, and researchers have tried to use these numbers to estimate how many bats die every year. Mark Hayes, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado at Denver, analyzed published findings and places the number at more than 600,000. This number is probably conservative, he says in a new paper published in the December issue of the journal BioScience.
    There is also a correlation of monarch butterfly migration and wind turbine sites on the migration route. While wind turbines do attract monarch butterflies there are other factors to consider in regards to the diminishing populations of this species like pesticide use and loss of habitat.
    Monarch Watch : Migration & Tagging : Fall Migration
    Map of wind power plants in North America | POWER Magazine
    Last edited by pineapple007; August 20th, 2014 at 11:19 AM.
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  18. #17  
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    The main issue is efficiency vs. scalability. Or rather, efficiency vs. growth. In economics, we always have to balance efficiency against growth. If you want absolute efficiency, then you're going to be talking about an economy that can only sustain a few people, because perfect efficiency would mean only farming the very most fertile land, only building dams on the fastest rivers, only mining veins of minerals that are big and very near the surface...... stuff like that.

    In order for the economy to become large, we inevitably have to accept some inefficiency. Mining minerals that only occur in trace amounts at a given location, farming land in less than perfect terrain, .... etc.


    Wind and solar are the only techs that aren't limited in the ability of their infrastructure to grow. Dams require rivers. Fossil fuels can only be extracted from location where there are deposits. Even nuclear depends on the abundance of fissionable materials.

    So, if we want to double or triple our economy's size from where it is, then wind and solar are the only way we're going to do it. The energy needs of a bigger economy will grow with it. If there is no other way to keep up with the growth, then our options are to either use it, or not grow. Is that even really a choice, then?
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  19. #18  
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    You can get efficiency in other ways also, and grow your production far more. For example, the least efficient way to gather gold is to wander around looking for gold nuggets. That is what our ancestors did for most of the 200,000 years our species existed. But the current method of grinding rock and mixing it with water and cyanide can produce millions of times as much gold. Efficiency!

    Nuclear power is essentially unlimited, if we accept that there will be technological developments. Currently, we use the inefficient and unsafe approach of uranium 235 or plutonium reactors, turning water directly into steam. Uranium 235 and plutonium are limited resources. However, there are trial reactors already in use (as prototypes) using thorium or uranium, 238. These can produce power for humanity for the next few thousand years based on proven resources. Beyond that, there is the possibility of deuterium based fusion power, which is good for 100 million years based on the amount of deuterium in the ocean.
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  20. #19  
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    Kojax

    You can get efficiency in other ways also, and grow your production far more. For example, the least efficient way to gather gold is to wander around looking for gold nuggets. That is what our ancestors did for most of the 200,000 years our species existed. But the current method of grinding rock and mixing it with water and cyanide can produce millions of times as much gold. Efficiency!
    Yes. Improved technology improves efficiency, and sometimes terrain that was less efficient using one technology becomes more efficient when another one comes along.

    And to be clear, "efficiency" depends on what we measure it by. For the free market, the only measurement tool is money. If we measured it by natural resources, wind and hydro would top the list because they consume virtually no natural resources at all (at least not scarce resources). But if we measure it by dollars, then labor efficiency is important, and wind is very labor inefficient when compared with most of the other options.




    Nuclear power is essentially unlimited, if we accept that there will be technological developments. Currently, we use the inefficient and unsafe approach of uranium 235 or plutonium reactors, turning water directly into steam. Uranium 235 and plutonium are limited resources. However, there are trial reactors already in use (as prototypes) using thorium or uranium, 238. These can produce power for humanity for the next few thousand years based on proven resources.
    They would only last a few thousand years at present consumption levels. But if present consumption levels are still in place 1000 years from now that will mean our economy didn't grow in all of that time. That would be really bad. We really should hope that it grows, and grows a lot.

    I have to admit, though, that among the resource driven forms of energy production, nuclear has the most hope of lasting, and the most potential for expansion.

    Beyond that, there is the possibility of deuterium based fusion power, which is good for 100 million years based on the amount of deuterium in the ocean.
    Deuterium fusion is pretty speculative. If our strategy is to wait around for technologies that haven't been invented yet and which may never be invented, then we may never actually get around to building anything at all.
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    I did not explain, so this is my fault. Thorium would provide 100,000 years of power at current useage, and 10,000 years if power consumption increased ten fold. Uranium 238 is extremely abundant dissolved in the ocean, and it would provide more than 100,000 years of power at ten times current global consumption. Both are undoubtedly abundant in extraterrestrial locations, so the long term prospects may well be very, very long term.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    Kojax

    I did not explain, so this is my fault. Thorium would provide 100,000 years of power at current useage, and 10,000 years if power consumption increased ten fold. Uranium 238 is extremely abundant dissolved in the ocean, and it would provide more than 100,000 years of power at ten times current global consumption. Both are undoubtedly abundant in extraterrestrial locations, so the long term prospects may well be very, very long term.
    Even so, hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe. The focus for a future energy source should be hydrogen, imo.
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    Quote Originally Posted by pineapple007 View Post

    Even so, hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe. The focus for a future energy source should be hydrogen, imo.
    Irrelevant, since hydrogen is not a source of energy.
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  24. #23  
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    Yeah. Hydrogen is just a storage medium. And only about 25% efficient at that role.

    Still, if we want to expand our economy, we may simply have to accept some poor efficiencies. Is it better to expand inefficiently or not to expand at all?

    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    Kojax

    I did not explain, so this is my fault. Thorium would provide 100,000 years of power at current useage, and 10,000 years if power consumption increased ten fold. Uranium 238 is extremely abundant dissolved in the ocean, and it would provide more than 100,000 years of power at ten times current global consumption. Both are undoubtedly abundant in extraterrestrial locations, so the long term prospects may well be very, very long term.

    If we could make easy, regular trips into space, then the nuclear waste would no longer be a problem also. There are plenty of places we can store it out there.

    But the projection still sounds kind of optimistic. Realistically we can't recover very much of a chemical that is evenly dispersed in small quantities throughout a space the size of an ocean. U-238 also occurs at small parts per million in most terrestrial soil, but the cost of actually trying to filter a sizeable amount of U-238 out of the soil would be staggeringly great.

    Thorium sounds promising, though. I understand that India has done quite a lot of research into using it.

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    The Japanese are already extractiong uranium from sea water. They are doing it the hard way, collecting 235. If they only needed 238, it would be easier.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kojax View Post
    If we could make easy, regular trips into space, then the nuclear waste would no longer be a problem also. There are plenty of places we can store it out there.
    The nuclear waste is already a non-problem, except for the excessive fear such as you express. Read this.
    HAZARDS OF HIGH-LEVEL RADIOACTIVE WASTE — THE GREAT MYTH
    Here it is estimated that the risk posed by one year's waste from a large nuclear plant is .014 eventual deaths over 3 million years. This is much less than many other human activities even such as the production of solar cells which produce toxic chemicals. Toxic chemicals, unlike radioactive materials, do not decay away. They last forever.
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    Toxic chemicals will and do decay away harold, with similar lifespans to many of the radioactive elements.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kojax View Post
    If we could make easy, regular trips into space, then the nuclear waste would no longer be a problem also. There are plenty of places we can store it out there.
    If we could make easy, regular trips into space we wouldn't need nuclear power to begin with.
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