What Will Real Energy Innovation Look Like?

Back when Barry Soweto pretended to be an American president, he spent his terms in office trying to convince us that solar and wind powered electric generation installations were the future of the American energy strategy.  Because he was just an actor playing a part, he can be partially excused for espousing a policy that is pathetically absurd.

If you covered the planet with wind turbines, land and sea, besides killing off the bird population of the planet you would not solve the energy problems of the human population.  Wind by itself is a fluctuating power source.  As are photo-voltaic solar panels.  On their own they will not provide the kind of consistent supply of electric power that we expect from our electrical utilities.  That is why California, the land of fruits and nuts, that despises fossil fuels, has recently installed many gas turbine generators to augment the unreliable and inadequate “renewable” wind and sun-based generation.

None of this is to say that wind and sun-based power is valueless.  In places where there is substantial wind and plentiful sunny days there is power to be harvested.  But it should be used in an intelligent manner.  Storing that energy in a recoverable form would allow it to be accumulated into a valuable commodity.  For instance, if it was the power source for an electrolytic process for separating water into hydrogen and oxygen then that hydrogen could be stored and used later as a vehicle fuel, chemical raw material or for combustion to fuel electrical generation.

Or sun and wind generated power could be used as a source of power for water desalination plants.  The output of the plant would be controlled so that at night when only wind power was available a lower out put would be maintained and likewise in the day when clouds limited the amount of solar energy available.

But with these environmental energy sources careful attention should be made to the cost of maintaining the generation infrastructure.  I have been told that the replacement cost of the solar panels had been ignored in the Obama era installation of these panels willy-nilly across the roofs of unsuspecting Americans.  Just because the government decides to “give” you something for free doesn’t mean that the cost of these items make them sensible investments.  And the cost of maintaining wind turbines also must be reckoned in the calculation of their desirability as an energy choice.

And there are other energy sources that must be explored.  Geothermal energy has only seen limited exploitation because of the scarcity of obvious geothermal hot spots.  But if resources are made available to study how a more general approach could be taken there might be great gain to be made on this front.

But the most obvious source of energy has been available to us for almost a hundred years.  Nuclear fission thermal power stations provide enormously dense energy supplies in almost limitless capacity.  The fact that there are safety and waste management challenges in such a complex and new technology is hardly surprising.  The fact that people around the world have allowed themselves to be panicked into abandoning this technology says more about the low morale of the current human population than it does about the difficulty of harnessing this amazing natural resource.  After all radioactivity is the source of the sun’s power and in fact the nuclear fusion that powers the sun is a much more technically challenging process for humans to harvest than the heat coming off of a fission pile.  To think that radioactive energy is any more mysterious than electrical or chemical energy is to be a primitive undeserving to utilize modern technology, one who should be relegated to living in a cave and warming himself by wearing furs and daubing himself with mastodon lard, too stupid to harness the frightening technology of fire.

The good news is that more confident humans at some time in the near future will return to nuclear power.  If the West fails to be the ones to do it then they will see themselves eclipsed and will deservedly sink into the lower echelons of third world nationhood.  Hopefully before that happens the modern humans among us will rally the people and admonish them to man up.

Guest Contributor – TomD – Thoughts on Energy

In Reply to Energy Equates to Wealth

and Guest Contributor – Chemist – Thoughts on Energy

You don’t need to be all that intelligent to realize that the entire green movement is built on extremely shaky engineering underpinnings. And I’m pretty sure those at the top fully realize the sheer unreality of the movement. But, I think it’s a decoy and that the base impulse behind the entire thing (at the top levels anyway) is Malthusian in nature. There are just too many people, increasing at an exponential rate and that trend will not end well.

I have sorta had those leanings myself for a good portion of my live. Decades ago, I remember watching some documentary showing the world population through history. During the Napoleonic wars in 1800, it was around 1 billion, with the GREAT majority of that in China. Over 200 years later, during WWI, it had only grown buy around 15%-20%. I remember thinking that, whatever the problems of the early 20th century world, very few people ascribed them to a lack of population.

When I was born after WWII, the number was around 2.75 billion. What’s it up to now? 10 billion?

I’m not wise enough to know if there is a optimum human population or what it is. I do know that if there is a provable optimum and that population level is significantly below current (as I suspect), I am not aware of any method of getting from here to there by any means that I could condone or tolerate.

I’m not sure that last statement applies to the top elites of the green movement. I think they just may want to bring the whole structure down and let the chips fall where they may as long as they are protected.

Eggs, after all, must be broken.

Guest Contributor – Chemist – Thoughts on Energy

In Reply to Energy Equates to Wealth

You are more correct than you know. The green revolution is powered by oil. Oil to make diesel fuel for the giant tractors and combines that plant and harvest the crops. Oil to make energy to make the fertilizers that turn marginal soils into high yield soils.
Without petroleum we would be poorer, hungrier and there would be fewer of us. Millions would have starved to death over the last 100 years that, instead, thrived due to petroleum.

If you want carbon free energy you have to look at nuclear. The greens may not like it, but its the only real solution if carbon is the problem. The newly designed modular reactors are incredibly safe and the Thorium cycle reactors are not only safe but do not use nor do they produce material that can be weaponized.
Ah, but: Nuclear bad! (Insert image of Frankenstein’s monster near a torch.) Its dangerous right? Deadly even! More Americans were killed when Biden abandoned Afghanistan than have died due to Nuclear power accidents in the US since the first reactor. That’s a pretty damned good safety record.

Solar? Its a boondoggle. Here is something they don’t talk about a lot wrt solar panels: They only last about 20 years. And the output drops every year. So if you are getting 5KW your first year you are getting about half that a decade later.
Oh, and its damned near impossible to recycle a solar panel.
Its been a lot of years since I did the math (College undergrad research project) but the last time I ran the numbers, it took more energy to make a solar panel that it ever generated in it’s lifetime. It turns out that it takes a crap ton of energy to make, purify and melt silicon. Who knew?

Wind? Another boondoggle. Look into disposing of damaged or end of life turbine blades. There’s a nightmare for you. And the vibrations from the turbine destroy the land they are mounted on to the degree that you can never put another turbine there. If you love nature, don’t look at the number of birds and bats killed by these things.

Geothermal? Maybe. I don’t know how many locations are suitable for it though.

If we could get past the fear of nuclear power, we could build a golden age with cheap, plentiful power and yes, make long chain molecules from water and CO2.

Energy Equates to Wealth

Something that Environmentalists don’t want to admit is that fossil fuel has produced the modern world.  Without coal, oil and gas as fuels (and much, much else) we would still be living like the peasants in medieval Europe did in the 1300’s.  Coal was the fuel that made steam power possible which produced locomotives and steam ships.  Oil became the default fuel for electrical generation, automobiles, modern trains and also the basis for the myriad petrochemical products that make possible everything from pharmaceuticals and clothing to building materials and every other thing that’s made of what we call polymers.  Natural gas is the fuel for most of the modern electrical generation installations built in the United States over the last forty years or more.  And it heats a large percentage of homes and businesses.   Without these fuels we would literally be poor, cold, hungry and sitting in the dark.

And the Left knows that.  Now Jeff Bezos and the rest of the plutocrats are fine with this.  They know that they would still be able to reap the benefits of energy even if they denied it to the rest of us.  Bezos could have his own private solar collecting system and wind turbines with battery back-ups that could allow him to enjoy all of the modern comforts that would be denied to us.  His jet and helicopter and cars would mysteriously be able to use fuel while we would only be able to purchase a battery car that could only go a short distance and would be hard pressed to recharge by the next morning when we had to commute back to work.  Impoverishing and disenfranchising us is actually the goal of this whole exercise.  A new feudalism would replace a free country and the aristocracy and their minions would lord it over the rest of us deplorables.

Of course, we may not be happy about letting them do this.  Right now, $3.50/gallon gas and the inflation that causes in our economy is making Dementia Joe awfully unpopular.  When it reaches $5.00/gallon he may get tarred and feathered.  And that would be a wonderful thing.  Impoverishing the American people should be considered treason.  So hopefully the environmental insanity being pushed should create a strong reaction to the progressive agenda.  That would be a good outcome.

But there is something that needs to be faced.  There is a finite amount of hydrocarbon fuels in the Earth.  I’m not saying we’re close to the end.  I’m only saying there is an end.  And now is the time to be doing the basic research to find the next energy source for the modern world.  Maybe it’ll be nuclear fission plants, safer versions of the ones currently in place, maybe it’ll be better applications of solar power, perhaps solar collectors outside the atmosphere beaming microwave energy down to collection stations on earth.  Maybe it’ll be geothermal hot spots.

An inexhaustible energy supply solves one of our problems.  With it we can produce electricity to run our factories and if it is truly inexhaustible, we can even heat our homes with it.  But whatever it turns out to be we will still need a fuel for our cars and planes.

Airplanes will never be able to run on batteries.  The power density is too low.  And as we’ve seen battery powered cars are very limited in their range.  Unless there are large gains to be made in battery technology which is unlikely, the best solution is a synthetic fuel.

Maybe it will be hydrogen.  Hydrogen is highly energetic and when it is burned with oxygen its  combustion product is water.  It doesn’t get cleaner than that.  But hydrogen is a small molecule gas and it leaks easily and it blows up mightily.  So extremely fail-safe equipment will be a necessity if it becomes the fuel, we run our automobiles and planes on.  But hydrogen is not the only option.  With unlimited electrical energy engineers could very easily produce synthetic methane (natural gas).  Or with a little more work they could make longer hydrocarbons.  Octane is the optimal component of gasoline.  That could be the main product we produce as our global fuel.  Of course, we would be using water and carbon dioxide as our starting materials so at that point we would have a carbon neutral effect on the environment which unfortunately would make the environmentalists happy.  I wouldn’t feel so good about that but I guess it will have to be.

So, the exhaustion of supplies of natural hydrocarbon fuels is something we should be anticipating.  But instead of giving up the modern lifestyle we’ve gained from these energy treasures we need to use our ingenuity to invent replacements that enhance our ability to control our environment and improve our way of life.  And that’s my version of following the science.