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Energy production / Consumption: Pros and cons


Off-Topic Discussions

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So, in another thread the discussion has drifted into the general use and generating of power.

Not wanting to fill up or side track some one elses thread, I have opened up this for people to chat about such things.

So, come one -come all ! Lets talk about all the different things we know...and learn about the things we don't know...when it comes to the many and varied ways people have and are thinking about in generating 'Power'. Be it electrical, mechanical or whatever.

*Bows* Much cheers to you and yours.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
, wrote:

So, in another thread the discussion has drifted into the general use and generating of power.

Not wanting to fill up or side track some one elses thread, I have opened up this for people to chat about such things.

So, come one -come all ! Lets talk about all the different things we know...and learn about the things we don't know...when it comes to the many and varied ways people have and are thinking about in generating 'Power'. Be it electrical, mechanical or whatever.

*Bows* Much cheers to you and yours.

Hmmm...in the other thread, someone made the comment that the sun is going to burn out in a few billion years, so we can't count on it as an energy source. Hopefully that was sarcasm and I just missed it, but in case it wasn't: I hate to spoil the ending, but eventually the universe is going to end up a wasteland of useless heat...entropy is a b_i_t_c_h. :P

Back on topic: I think the U.S. should build the heck out of nuclear reactors. Discuss. :)


bugleyman wrote:
I hate to spoil the ending, but eventually the universe is going to end up a wasteland of useless heat...entropy is a b_i_t_c_h.

But enthalpy shall marshall its forces in local areas; THUS THE BIG BANG!!


*Laughs* :) Yes, that was I, pointing that out.

And indeed...entropy is a b!tch.

Though, by then, we may have discovered how to punch worm holes into other dimensions. (Now I'm sounding like something from 'Buckaroo Banzai' :P)

Nuclear reactors are good for providing 'Base line' power. Since they can be 'throttled' to cater for peoples constantly fluctuating demands for power.

Need more lighting at night. Certain times of the day need more power to run domestic appliances etc.

While solar is as good as the acreage covered and the amount of photons hitting the plate. The side effect is possible change of local albedo and effecting weather patterns.

Wind is good...when it's windy. :P

Tidal is good....at both ends of the cycle....but when the tide is all the way in or all the way out you get nothing.

Then we have the more 'esoteric' ideas.

Lift the solar collectors out into space, put them in such an orbit that they are never deprived of photons and convert said power into something you can transmit back down to your grid.

Another idea is the side effect of the 'Space Elevator' or 'beanstalk'. The huge pylon/cable stretches from the ground to well past the Geo-stationary mid point. In so doing it passes through the Van Allen belts'. So, much like the parts of a motor. With something conductive being passed through a magnetic field, as a side effect you generate electric current.

The Nasa tether experiment that produced so much amp-age it was blown off its mountings was the teeny-tiny proof of concept for that one.

(At the moment these are just some of the ideas off the top of my head. Not going to go into the factoring of producing these many and varied ideas. )

*Bows*


Build a Dyson sphere. Seriously, we need a Dyson sphere.

Lantern Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Sissyl wrote:
Build a Dyson sphere. Seriously, we need a Dyson sphere.

It might be more productive to keep to things that we can actually come up with some engineering for. Theory is fine, but the engineering is what gets done.

Besides, RingWorld over Dyson Sphere any day of the week.


It's kind of a White Stripes day for me.


I am an energy creating machine! The only downside is the waste gases, solids, and liquids...


While an actual 'Dyson sphere' is definitely beyond our current engineering abilities. Lots of large space stations placed in orbits which form a 'cloud' at the right distance from the sun is a posibilty.

Lantern Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
, wrote:

While an actual 'Dyson sphere' is definitely beyond our current engineering abilities. Lots of large space stations placed in orbits which form a 'cloud' at the right distance from the sun is a posibilty.

Have you seen how much it took us to build one ramshackle framework in low Earth Orbit? Let's keep it to something that's conceivable within my lifetime. Because the problem can't wait that long.


What happens when an earthquake eventually hits a nuclear reactor? IF the cooling system goes down I am not so sure emergency cooling works that well. Condoms can help energy in the future by making there be less people and with the same energy demand use less energy.

Osirion

Oil sands are not the answer because it takes almost as much energy to make them as they produce (the rate of return is 3:1). Compare that to drilling in which you get roughly 90 btu for every 1 btu used.

In order to make oil sands useable increases the amount of green house gases produced.

Andoran

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
LazarX wrote:
Sissyl wrote:
Build a Dyson sphere. Seriously, we need a Dyson sphere.

It might be more productive to keep to things that we can actually come up with some engineering for. Theory is fine, but the engineering is what gets done.

Besides, RingWorld over Dyson Sphere any day of the week.

But ringworlds are unstable.

Back to the original topic. To leading order, you can treat power demand in an industrialized area as the sum of three components: a constant (well, it tends to have a seasonal variation, but it's approximately constant from day to day), a component which varies on a daily cycle (with some variation depending on weekday vs. weekend), and a random/rapidly varying component. Big nuke plants and big coal plants are good for that constant component, and are also the least expensive per kWh. Smaller coal plants do OK for the daily cycle, and gas turbines are very good for the random stuff. To make things like wind or solar work well, there has to be an efficient power storage mechanism to balance things out. Or a hella efficient, fast-responding power grid to balance supply and demand across a wide area. (Once you have that storage mechanism, btw, you can use it to eliminate the cyclic component plants, by ramping up your base load generation and storing it during the low-demand part of the cycle, then running the increased demand off of the batteries.)

My personal preference for solar is to use it on a local area or household level to charge electric vehicles, decentralizing storage to people's cars. But that's just me.


Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Pawns, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber

The best solution would probably be decentralized solar power networked in a world wide smart grid. There have already been some tests of paving sidewalks and driveways with photovoltaic materials, and the really ambitious efforts are looking at integrating solar into all roads. Even without the roads if you covered roofs, sidewalks, and driveways then most neighborhoods would produce enough electricity to meet local demand... include the roads and we'd have more than double what we use currently. With no additional land usage. Make the grid big and efficient enough and the intermittent nature of surface sunlight becomes irrelevant... the Sun is always shining somewhere.

That said, the most likely solution is decreasing coal and petroleum being replaced with increasing natural gas, nuclear, and centralized renewable (mostly solar and wind). This approach will allow power companies to continue gouging consumers as much as possible for a long time to come.


Actually a large scale mix of wind and solar, spread out over a large area provide a good baseload. They tend to compensate for each other and average out over a wide area.
The thing about them is once built, there's essentially no short term marginal cost to keep them running. No fuel to buy. You're still paying off the construction loan and maintenance, but shutting them down for the day doesn't save on any of that. Once they're running, they're baseload.


I saw a project a couple of years ago where some people were exploring building a huge inflatable silo. Midway up this silo was a set of fans which powered a dynamo.

During the day, the sun would heat the air at the bottom of the silo, powering the fans. At night, the cool air would come back down.

I don't know what happened to this project, but it sounded pretty cool when I read it.


A critical factor in the behavior of a nuclear reactor when it experiences a loss of cooling is its size. Currently, in the US, reactor design engineers (I work with these guys, no I don't do the designs for the nuclear reactors, but I do do the designs for electrical distribution equipment)are investigzting the potential of smaller reactors. According to the design concepts, so far, smaller reacotrs will not experience the sort of massive "steam explosion/expulsions" characteristic of larger scale plants. This may be the way to go.


I'm certainly not an expert on this, but there are also other reactor designs that claim to be passively safe. That is they will not melt down if not actively cooled, but will instead shut down. Pebble bed reactors seem to be the version that's farthest along.

Lantern Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

All of these reactor types however still have the problem of long-term waste management.

Osirion

From what I've seen of solar power, if done right, can actually net you money. My step-dad's ex-wife and her husband were making money from their solar set-up. And this was early to mid-80's. With newer tech, it maybe far more feasible now.


They do. Though as I suggested above, any radioactive waste by definition still has usable energy in it. There are other (breeder/burner) reactor designs that can process the waste and use far more of the energy.

Lantern Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
thejeff wrote:
They do. Though as I suggested above, any radioactive waste by definition still has usable energy in it. There are other (breeder/burner) reactor designs that can process the waste and use far more of the energy.

It's not necessarily usable energy. (you can have highly radioactive waste which is not fissionable) The other problem with breeder reactions is that the fuel they produce tends to be bomb grade material.

Andoran

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Re waste management, yes and no. Spent nuclear fuel from current reactors can be separated into the high radioactivity/short half-life waste products (after a few years, that's mainly Sr-90 and Cs-137, both of which have half-lives ~30 years, give or take), the transuranic waste products (which can be "burned" in an accelerator), and the uranium/plutonium. That sort of separation is a mature technology; the problem with it in its current form is that IIRC one of the outputs is high-purity plutonium. Yes, it can be used as a reactor fuel. It's also a significant proliferation risk. There's a chemical separation method that basically keeps the uranium and plutonium together such that the output is mixed U/Pu oxides that can be used as reactor fuel, but I'm not sure how the scaling works with that.

tl,dr: The fuel isn't that much of a problem.

OTOH, the reactor buildings, the pressure vessel, the primary coolant loop--when a reactor is decommissioned, there's a huge amount of radioactive material to deal with, ranging from mildly unpleasant to screaming hot. Granted, the screaming hot stuff (cobalt-60 in the steel) has a half-life less than 6 years, so after a century there won't be much left, but you still have the problem of stewardship. Can we rely on those buildings sitting untouched for a century while the radioactive components decay? Or do we tear them down and transport them to a place like the Nevada Test Site (or whatever it's called these days) where they can sit and decay for a century? Decommissioning the reactors at Hanford was an incredible project, and it'd have to be done for every reactor out there.


Probably not Nevada, possibly, but uncertain, WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant). That is where we are shipping the TRU waste now (Transuranic). Google WIPP


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The normal fission plants were never meant to be all of the nuclear energy grid. The other half was the breeder plants and other pieces that would extend the fuel cycle by several orders of magnitude. Today, people are complaining that making more nuclear plants is only a short term solution because there is not enough fuel... Go figure.

Next up comes the arguments about safety. Fact is, not many power plants were made for some 30 years or so, and most of the old ones are really pretty old by now. For safety to work, you would need to update the technology, not just use the old crap you already have. And when plants built to spec and properly maintained have been involved in accidents, they have held up wonderfully. Tjernobyl, well, considering the soviets couldn't supply maintenance and education enough to handle anything else properly, why should it surprise anyone that they f%*%ed this up?

It's well past time to put in a honest and proper discussion about nuclear energy, hopefully this time we can ignore the bleating masses who think everything nuclear is bad, and judge the possibilities that exist today with unbiased eyes.

Andoran

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Terquem wrote:
Probably not Nevada, possibly, but uncertain, WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant). That is where we are shipping the TRU waste now (Transuranic). Google WIPP

I'm passingly familiar with WIPP, and they're not AFAIK set up to accept civilian reactor waste. Getting them to take actual pieces of spent fuel instead of just the drums of incidentally TRU-contaminated items that we'd been shipping them for twenty or so years took some doing.

Sissyl wrote:
Today, people are complaining that making more nuclear plants is only a short term solution because there is not enough fuel... Go figure.

I haven't heard that particular argument at all; do you have a cite? Closing the fuel cycle is a good idea for waste minimization, but with the amount of uranium we have currently available my understanding is that the fuel supply is not an issue. At least, that's what I got from a talk by a guy named Pete* Miller, who used to be the DOE Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy.

*I don't know why he goes by Pete; his name is actually Warren F Miller.


Well, in Sweden it's a common enough argument from the wind and solar-only crowd, who dislike anything remotely efficient regarding energy production.


There was a problem in the construction of a plant by the French company, Areva, that would process uranium for commercial reactors. Construction was supposed to begin in Idaho, of this year, so there may be some truth to the availabilty of fuel being an issue. Oh and yes, I was way off the mark there, no spent fuel goes to WIPP, now.We only ship compacted legacy waste, and by we, I mean the US government of course.

Andoran

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Sissyl: The argument makes a bit more sense when you have to import your uranium; I can see not wanting to make your energy economy completely dependent on foreign suppliers. The US is something of an object lesson in how foreign policy winds up hostage to energy imports. Besides, the coastal winds in Sweden could potentially make you a net exporter of electricity--no bad thing.

Edited to make it clearer who I was replying to; when I started, Terquem's post hadn't yet appeared.


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I haven't read every comment on here, but I'd like to add my 2cp:

I don't think there's a single miracle solution. Which is to say that the best solution to sustainable energy is diversified energy production. Live near a big river? Hydroelectric. Live near geothermal vents? Awesome. Solar/wind as a general consensus baseline, but decentralized. Neighborhood solar "plants"/farms. I've seen some other far fetched solutions, but if it can be made economically viable then do that too!

Despite my often environmentalist bent, I think nuclear has to be part of the equation as well, at least as a stopgap.

We're not likely to be weaned off oil in the near future, even if 100% sustainable energy was achieved tomorrow, because of all the consumer products made by the petrochemical industry. Coal, however, can definitely be obviated as a fuel source.


I'm PRO Energy Production, and I am PRO Energy Consumption.

Carry on.

.


meatrace wrote:

I haven't read every comment on here, but I'd like to add my 2cp:

I don't think there's a single miracle solution. Which is to say that the best solution to sustainable energy is diversified energy production. Live near a big river? Hydroelectric. Live near geothermal vents? Awesome. Solar/wind as a general consensus baseline, but decentralized. Neighborhood solar "plants"/farms. I've seen some other far fetched solutions, but if it can be made economically viable then do that too!

Despite my often environmentalist bent, I think nuclear has to be part of the equation as well, at least as a stopgap.

We're not likely to be weaned off oil in the near future, even if 100% sustainable energy was achieved tomorrow, because of all the consumer products made by the petrochemical industry. Coal, however, can definitely be obviated as a fuel source.

Conservation often gets neglected. Better efficiency. Higher fuel standards for cars. More energy efficient buildings, passive solar, things like that.

Also, given sufficient energy, all the petrochemical products can be thru from bio-diesel type processes.


... or just reduce the world population back down to, say, half a billion -- we had no worries about pollution and resource scarcity when the footprint was that much smaller. Maybe introduce a universal contraceptive into every water supply on Earth, and add the antidote after 50 years.


The best solution to sustainable energy is a global epidemic.

I realize it probably isn't the nicest thing to say, but I think, in this age when people are seriously considering federal health care, we need to think about all the problems that global and national population increase brings with it.

Taldor

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I've got to agree with meatrace that one cannot make a legitimate argument that a single energy source will be the "solution". We (the collective "we", as in planet-wide) should be investigating any potential energy source.

One other thing to consider is that as far as energy production goes, it does not need to be of the type that runs through the grid or powers any other thing. Passive solar collectors, even low tech options, can have an impact on overall energy consumption by supplementing or even replacing traditional energy use for the same purpose.

Osirion

thejeff wrote:

Conservation often gets neglected. Better efficiency. Higher fuel standards for cars. More energy efficient buildings, passive solar, things like that.

Also, given sufficient energy, all the petrochemical products can be thru from bio-diesel type processes.

Thing is, even with newer fuel efficiency and higher fuel standards people will only use more fuel. We had this discussion in class and those that went out and got more fuel efficient cars just ended up making more trips.


Sanakht Inaros wrote:
thejeff wrote:

Conservation often gets neglected. Better efficiency. Higher fuel standards for cars. More energy efficient buildings, passive solar, things like that.

Also, given sufficient energy, all the petrochemical products can be thru from bio-diesel type processes.

Thing is, even with newer fuel efficiency and higher fuel standards people will only use more fuel. We had this discussion in class and those that went out and got more fuel efficient cars just ended up making more trips.

There's evidence for that. Depends on the situation, I guess.

The majority of peoples drive time is the commute. You don't make that longer just because it's cheaper.

There's only so hot you're going to keep your house in the winter and only so cold in the summer. You have to hit limits.

Quote:
The Jevons paradox has been used to argue that energy conservation is futile, as increased efficiency may actually increase fuel use. Nevertheless, increased efficiency can improve material living standards. Further, fuel use declines if increased efficiency is coupled with a green tax or other conservation policies that keeps the cost of use the same (or higher). As the Jevons paradox applies only to technological improvements that increase fuel efficiency, policies that impose conservation standards and increase costs do not display the Jevons paradox.


Still...in regards to the comments about increased efficiency. There must be an upper (Lower?) limit to just what is the 'maximum' possible efficiency there is.

Now, while there have been some comment about "Have less children." Other than certain dictator ships, who wants to infringe upon others rights to do with their bodies as they see fit?

One of the things about increased efficiency in electricity would be transmission, would it not? I remember seeing a trail of Nitrogen temperature 'Super conductors' installed in a high-rise building, but have heard nothing about such technology since. Would any one be able to shed light upon this aspect of the 'Power' discussion?

Much cheers to you and yours.


, wrote:


Now, while there have been some comment about "Have less children." Other than certain dictator ships, who wants to infringe upon others rights to do with their bodies as they see fit?

Um, I do!

But, even if I didn't, the fact is that our society already does.

Our society (every society) imposes a cost on raising a child to the point of being a productive adult. That cost is an infringement upon others restricting how many children they can have. That cost is different for different societies (which is why some societies have lots of children and others, such as first world countries, have relatively few).
Plus, the whole argument that we shouldn't infringe upon others rights to do with their bodies as they see fit falls immediately on its face the moment we realize that requiring people to pay child support does exactly that - infringe on their rights to do with their bodies as they see fit.

So, to your question, "who wants to infringe upon others rights to do with their bodies as they see fit?" the answer is, "um,..hello?..we already do that. Its part of the cost of living in a society."

Andoran

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

High-Tc oxide superconductors are still under investigation, but they won't be used for conventional wiring--too expensive to keep cooled. I remember some research into extremely high-voltage DC power transmission for low loss over long distances; that was in the context of running solar farms in Northern Africa for European markets.


, wrote:


Now, while there have been some comment about "Have less children." Other than certain dictator ships, who wants to infringe upon others rights to do with their bodies as they see fit?

It's not necessary to infringe.

Education, access to birth control and empowerment of women lead directly to lower birth rates.
Give women a choice and most will choose not to die giving birth to their tenth child at 30.

Of course, some religious movements fight this for all that they're worth: by opposing birth control or preaching how it's every woman's duty to "be fruitful and multiply". See the Quiverfull movement.
In the US, generally also tied to white power groups who believe whites are being outbred by lesser races.


thejeff wrote:
, wrote:


Now, while there have been some comment about "Have less children." Other than certain dictator ships, who wants to infringe upon others rights to do with their bodies as they see fit?

It's not necessary to infringe.

Education, access to birth control and empowerment of women lead directly to lower birth rates.
Give women a choice and most will choose not to die giving birth to their tenth child at 30.

Of course, some religious movements fight this for all that they're worth: by opposing birth control or preaching how it's every woman's duty to "be fruitful and multiply". See the Quiverfull movement.
In the US, generally also tied to white power groups who believe whites are being outbred by lesser races.

Its not women having 10 children that's the problem. More than three is going to be a problem (assuming the third child makes up for gays, early death, infertility, etc.). We're not that far away from two being a problem (especially when you factor in the fact that our government refuses to get some courage and do something about restricting immigration).

Qadira

So stop having kids and kill most of the population of the planet? That is the answer to the global energy crisis. Wow I could so pull a Godwin right now, it just would be way too easy.


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Crimson Jester wrote:
So stop having kids and kill most of the population of the planet? That is the answer to the global energy crisis. Wow I could so pull a Godwin right now, it just would be way too easy.

No, no one is saying kill most of the planet. They're saying reduce the population. Through disincentivizing reproduction, among other things. It may not be pleasant, but our current technological and geo-political paradigm cannot sustain the current population, let along unchecked population growth. At some point you may just have to not treat a disease or two.


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Darkwing Duck wrote:

Its not women having 10 children that's the problem. More than three is going to be a problem (assuming the third child makes up for gays, early death, infertility, etc.). We're not that far away from two being a problem (especially when you factor in the fact that our government refuses to get some courage and do something about restricting immigration).

I'm not terribly interested in starting an immigration debate, Citizen Duck, but how is keeping the starving, wretched masses out of our borders going to stop the worldwide population increase?


Well...this is an interesting little side trek all of its own. :P

So....as for power. We all kind of agree that better infrastructure fro distribution is a good thing. That having as many, varied types and access to different power generation systems is a good thing. That, in the possible future, spreading our population out, beyond the boarders of our planet is a possibly good thing.

(Which reminds me of a series of science fiction novels I once read where humanity was building Dyson shells. 'Cage World' I believe it was called)

Anything else? Which points on the power side of the discussion should we delve into further?

*There has been some talk of a solar panel system achieving something like 40% power generation having been developed in Australia. Any one have any more details?

Much cheers to you and yours.

Grand Lodge

Any American energy gurus know much about General Electric's laser enrichment program and how it's progressing over there? Sounds pretty amazing:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/science/earth/21laser.html?pagewanted=all


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
thejeff wrote:


Education, access to birth control and empowerment of women lead directly to lower birth rates.

And they're the right thing to do anyway.

Andoran

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Continuing the digression, for a moment.

Darkwing Duck wrote:


Its not women having 10 children that's the problem. More than three is going to be a problem (assuming the third child makes up for gays, early death, infertility, etc.). We're not that far away from two being a problem (especially when you factor in the fact that our government refuses to get some courage and do something about restricting immigration).

More to the point, talk of Third World overpopulation by those of us in the developed world smacks of concern trollery. The environmental impact of the average US citizen, e.g., is something like an order of magnitude greater than that of the average Third Worlder. If we're grousing about the problems caused by having ten kids in a largely preindustrial nation somewhere, well, we should also be complaining just as loudly about families with more than *one* kid in the US. Besides, worldwide birth rates are trending down (even in Islamic countries, which is kind of interesting in its own right). Yes, population is increasing, but if the current trends hold it'll level off somewhere around 2060-2080 and start gradually dropping.


The environmental impact of the average US citizen is something like an order of magnitude greater than that of the average Third Worlder.

It follows from that that importing large numbers of Third Worlders into the First World where their environmental impact will increase by an order of magnitude is probably not good for the environment.

But, its also worth noting that that impact is on a per person level. What we need is to reduce the number of people living in the First World. And, if you control for immigration, that's exactly what's happening - the First World population is decreasing.

This decrease is a good thing for the environment, but what's causing it? Specialization of labor. That specialization of labor requires people to be in school longer before they have children of their own. This decreases the reproduction rate.

How do we get third world people to increase their specialization of labor? By stopping the brain drain from the third world into the first world. By using the power of economic circumscription to the human race's benefit.

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