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Some Renewable Energy Calculations

How many renewable energy facilities covering how much area are required to meet the electrical energy demand of the United States? The following will identify some critical issues along with a possible solution, while demonstrating that renewable energy resource installations could be available to meet the required demand, should sufficient will be exerted to actually install them.

One of the major dilemmas facing the widespread implementation of renewable energy resources is resolution of how to distribute the newly installed resources. The existing grid is predicated on the use of very large centralized generation sources, like dams and power plants, while most renewable energy resources, like solar photovoltaic and wind, are conducive for distributed generation.

Existing large generators produce a great amount of power per unit area. Renewable sources require much more land area for a comparable power production. A major benefit of this conundrum could be the installation of a large number of small generation sources at existing sites -- houses, businesses, ranches and farms -- with no requirements to install additional distribution capacity. The downside is how to plan for the transfer of energy from where it is generated to where it is needed when the renewable energy generators are not firm.

This is exacerbated by the financial consideration that nonrenewable generators are generally most efficient and cost effective when operated at full capacity. A model for solving the problem, or more accurately, debugging the solution, is to initiate the widespread use of renewable energy generation in rural areas. Although the largest markets will be in urban areas, virtually all problems could be resolved first on a small scale by implementation in rural areas. Rural areas have a small fraction of the total population; however, this fraction is highly independent and well skilled in solving-problems.

Unfortunately, this is also the segment of the population that has the least disposable income to invest in anything, much less energy with a long term payback. Thus, some sort of cash flow assistance will be required, noting tax credits are of little benefit to those whose income is not sufficient to pay much in taxes.

In order to understand the magnitude of the task, one must consider how much electrical energy is going to be required to be converted from nonrenewable to renewable sources. The United States consumes ~ 7.5 trillion-kW per year, not including fossil fuel energy consumption for transportation, heating, and other uses.

There are four primary sources of renewable energy generators in operation today; three sources can be used for large commercial (e.g., light industry or towns) generation and two sources that are primarily for residential use. Depending on size of the installation, two of the sources can be in either category.

  • Geothermal, usually available in ~ 5 MW increments for commercial use. Note, geothermal is generally considered a firm source, so would be preferred for ease of compatibility with existing distribution systems.
  • Wind, usually available in 1-5 MW sources for commercial use and 1-25 kW sources for residential use.
  • Photovoltaic (PV), usually available in 100-200 kW for commercial use and 1-10 kW for residential use.
  • Hydro, usually 1-3 kW for residential use; commercial use is generally not considered renewable since dams and reservoirs that fill up are needed for larger hydro units.The following is a rather arbitrary assignment of expected capacities from the various generator types, small hydro is not included for convenience and lack of data on how many streams are available:

    • Geothermal, 20 billion-kWh/year.
    • Wind, 20 billion-kWh/year
    • Photovoltaic (PV), 20 billion-kWh/year
    For geothermal, assume each 5 MW module operates 24 hours per day for 300 days per year (allowing time for maintenance and any possible variation in steam flow). Each module then provides 36 Mega-kWh/year. Thus, approximately 560 modules would be required. Note, most geothermal locations in the U.S. would support the use of either larger modules or multiple modules; therefore, the total number of needed geothermal locations is much less than 500, e.g., ~100.

    For wind, assume that 19 billion-kWh/year are produced by commercial size windmills and the rest with residential. Assume that each 1 MW windmill operates 8 hours per day for 300 days per year (allowing time for maintenance and variations in wind velocity and duration). Each windmill then provides 2.4 Mega-kWh/year. Thus, approximately commercial 8,000 windmills are needed. If each windmill occupies ~ 1 square mile, then ~ 8,000 square miles are needed, noting that almost all the land near a windmill can be used for ranching or farming purposes. Use of newer larger wind turbines would produce more energy in the same land area.

    This represents a small fraction of the land under cultivation in the western United States, where much of the wind resources are. For residential windmills, assume that each 3 kW windmill operates 6 hours per day for 250 days per year (allowing for conversion efficiency, time for maintenance, and variations in wind velocity and duration). Each windmill then provides 4,500 kWh/year.

    Thus, approximately residential 225,000 windmills are required, which is significantly lower than the total number of farms, ranches, and rural residences in the U.S.. With larger residential windmills, especially for farms and ranches, not so many windmills would be required. A 25 to 50 kW windmill is much more appropriate for farm or ranch use, noting some farms that use well irrigation would need several windmills, e.g., a large windmill at each corner of the quarter section containing a pivot.

    For residential PV, assume a panel conversion efficiency of 10 percent from the nominal solar radiance of 1000 W/m2size="1">. Assume a DC to AC conversion efficiency of 60 percent and operation for 5 hours per day for 300 days per year (allowing for variations for systems installed at a wide variety of locations). Thus each m2size="1"> of solar panel area will produce 90 kWh/year. In order to generate, 20 billion-kWh/year, there needs to be ~225,000,000 m2size="1"> of photovoltaic panels. This is about 140,625 square miles of solar PV panels, about the size of the state of New Mexico. Assuming that the majority, say 150,000,000 m2size="1"> are directly used on single family dwellings, with the availability of 75 m2size="1"> per dwelling (still allowing room for solar hot water heating), then only 2,000,000 homes are necessary.

    The remaining PV generation would come from commercial facilities, the panel conversion efficiency is 12 percent and the DC to AC conversion efficiency is 80 percent, assuming a capacity of 200 kW operating 6 hours per day for 300 days per year (allowing for variations for systems installed at a wide variety of locations) each location would generate 360,000 kWh/year. There would need to be at least 18,500 such installations, with each installation having about 2,100 m2size="1"> of PV panels (a little over 1.25 square miles or 700 acres).

    All of these estimations are just that, estimations; however, the numbers clearly show that renewable energy resources can provide all of the electrical energy needs of the U.S. As renewable energy resources are installed, no new fossil fuel power plants need be built. Eventually, all fossil fuel plants can be allowed to retire, starting with the least efficient first. The transition cannot be smooth, since both nonrenewable and renewable energy sources are only available in discrete units; however, by starting with implementation in rural areas the methods and techniques can be fully developed, which will ease large scale implementation in urban areas.

    Reference http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epav1/elecprod.html for information
    on USA electrical energy production and usage.
    David Sweetman
    P.O. Box 189
    Dyer, NV 89010
    775-572-3359
    E-mail David

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    "tax credits are of little benefit to those whose income is not sufficient to pay much in taxes." -- This is a key issue in structuring of support for technology development. If you want to maintain BAU, make sure all subsidies are provided as only tax credits which only profitable businesses and wealthy investors can access. Direct cash subsidies to anyone willing to act are no more costly to the government than foregone income due to tax credits to the wealthy, but the result will be dramatically different.

    According to the CIA Factbook, US generates 4.167 trillion kWh (2007 est.). Where did you come up with your figure of ~ 7.5 billion-kWh per year?

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    Very good point about the tax credits.

    The number should have been trillion not billion. The reference is the link at the bottom of the article. The point is that rural residential (& geothermal) could provide ~1% of the demand, with no requirements for new transmission (maybe some for geothermal) and be a great learning curve for when utilty scale systems are more economical.

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    Mr. Sweetman,

    In your article you stated that the US consumes 7.5 trillion "kw" not including transportation and heat. I suppose by that you meant to say KWH electric, but even then it is conflict with the 2007 data provided by EIA.

    http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epa/epaxlfilees1.pdf

    Nor could I find your 7.5 trillion number in your quoted source. So is it possible that you meant a PROJECTED 7.5 trillion kwh at some future date? Or did you perhaps mean 7.5 billion kwh in GROWTH?

    Another confusing point in your article was your conclusion that the 60 billion kwh in 3 major renewables (at 20 billion kwh each) are capable of replacing the 4.156 trillion kwh now provided by all sources (2007). Obviously 60 billion is not even close, nor even close to the ~3 trillion kwh provided by fossil, much less 7.5 trillion kwh.

    Your exact quotes are these:

    "....the numbers clearly show that renewable energy resources can provide all of the electrical energy needs of the U.S."

    and

    "As renewable energy resources are installed, no new fossil fuel power plants need be built. Eventually, all fossil fuel plants can be allowed to retire,..."

    Given the vast disparity in numbers, I am inclined to think this was a case of saying one thing and meaning another. At first I thought you maybe you were referring only to growth, in which case billions may be correct --- that is until I read the last quote above.

    Please clearly state your meaning to correct any unintended errors and resolve any confusion.

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    Not sure why you think geothermal will displace electricity from central power plants. Much more likely to displace gas and oil heating systems. Geothermal is just a fancy name for a heat pump. Heat pumps need compressors - big ones - and they run on electricity. Their output is heat (NOT electricity). Therefore the installation of heat pumps will INCREASE electricity demand - unless you heat with electricity. Typically home sized heat pumps use compressors and pumps in the 1 - 2hp range. Plus the cost is ridiculous in contrast to the "savings". I priced a system for my house at nearly $50,000 there is no way that will ever pay for itself and it will only reduce my GAS bill - not my electricity bill....that will increase.

    So I don't think that will resolve any or our electricity system woes.

    Malcolm

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    Better keep quiet about reality, Malcolm. The young ladies in the Swedish discos apparently want to be told that wind and wave will resolve all electric system woes,

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    Another insightful and deeply-researched comment from Ferdinand, representing the interests of the "can't do" crowd.

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    Jeffrey. Perhaps a better name for the "can't do" crowd would be the "I've done the arithmetic" crowd.

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    I am still not sure how 60B kwh can replace 7,500B kwh. Also, 2100 m2 equates to 22600 ft2, or .5189 acres. Multiply that times the 18,500 installations, and you get 9600 acres, or 15 square miles. At least, I think I am reading this properly.

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    Malcolm,

    I think that you are confusing geothermal heat pumps with geothermal power plants. Last time I looked, the US led the world in geothermal electricity with over 50 plants operating (mainly California and Nevada). Most of these are flash steam plants (hot pressurised water from the ground flashed into steam at surface to drive a turbine or reciprocating engine). Between them, the existing plant generated 14.6 TWh in 2007 (source DOE, http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/solar.renewables/page/trends/table1_11.pdf), which is 73% of the figure David Sweetman used in his article.

    I think the point that is being made is that this is an underutilised resource at present which could be exploited further. Unfortunately it tends to be located away from population centres, away from transmission lines and more often than not in protected areas (e.g. Yellowstone). My personal view is that 20 TWh of geothermal electricity generation is perfectly doable, but a further 20TWh on top of what is already generated? Only if the power lines are put in place, zoning restrictions are eased and the economics improve.

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    Malcom Big compressor ?? are needed I have conducted research regarding Underground Thermal Energy storage and I have come up with the conclusion that we dont need any compressor at all if we designs the Ground Heat Exchangers in a more clever way than the economics mananged old slow big industry do today and inplementing low exergy buildings. Current building distribution system is a joke when it comes to thermodynamic adaption

    Ferdinand. Have you made any new accounting ?

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    A couple of comments: Firstly, I think the 7.5 trillion "kw" is meant to be 7.5 GW installed capacity. With that view, his numbers make "sense" although still way off with his math. The biggest trouble I see with the authors assertion that rural areas would be a great place to work out the does not take into account the large transportation distances rural applications require. Solar and wind require storage or conventional generation for backup; the former making RE even more uneconomical and the latter requiring investment in grid and generation. The authors math about the actual output also shows a naieve and common mistake made by non-professionals, namely, generation must be considered by time-of-day. All the kwh generated by solar PV is not going to help at night. Wind is not constant and neither is geothermal (for power gen, Malcolm). I'm also concerned about his expertise when he refers to a "windmill." And I resent the comments of Mr Jeffery who assails those who have the temerity to object to the notion that renewable generation technology is the panacea to global warming. We as a country cannot afford to pay more than what other countries and still have a place in the global economy. You can't generate a solar PV kwh in San Diego and transport it to NY or even economically to Kansas City. A kwh generated by a wind turbine in West Texas can't even leave the state. EC: I wish the editors would screen these articles better.

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    Adrian, You are right. In Canada there are few sites that could be used for the type of geothermal electrical generation of which you speak so when the term geothermal is used here it is generally meant to mean ground source heat pumps. Nothing wrong with steam geothermal except only a few places in the world have any useful sites.

    I also note that in New Zealand and Iceland which probably have the highest amount of this type of electrical production the output is falling off...NZ quite significantly...so I would not bank on it being available forever. But OK where and when available.

    Peter, Did not understand your post. Ground source heat pumps do indeed require a compressor and compressors require electricity to drive them. If you have come up with a method that does not use an electric (or gas) compressor I highly recommend you run down to the nearest patent office and file your patent as you will have a winner on your hands. However I suspect like most things I have seen it would require the breaking of all the laws of thermodynamics. And my tired old big industry ideas are what is keeping your lights on right now....so don't knock it.

    Malcolm

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    Well nice to be lumped in with the can't do crowd. Currently the can't do crowd in Ontario os producing over 10,000 MW from CANDU nuclear power plants. The "can do" wind farms are producing 27 (twenty seven) megawatts.

    I think I'll stick with nuclear. The can't do folks appear to be doing a much better job of things.

    Nuclear capacity factor 97.4% Producing nearly half of current consumption.No emissions.

    Wind capacity factor 2.71% Producing 0.1% (yes that is zero point one percent) of consumption.

    And you think we should rely on windmills? You must have a few very important screws loose.

    Malcolm

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    ....sigh. I think Dr. Knowles above hit the nail on the head regarding this poorly vetted article. However, we should not indict the concept that a cost-effective arsenal of renewables can supply 20-30% of peak-shaving and intermittent resource, as well as baseload of hydro and geothermal (as we have today)

    Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

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    It is entirely possible to substitute renewable energy for fossil fuels. Whether doing so is wise or cost-effective is another question.

    Even if you don't subscribe to the theory that fossil fuel use is a factor in climate change, the amounts of oil, gas, coal, and other fossil fuels that are recoverable is finite and no one knows how big or small that number is. Whether it's our generation or our children or their great grandchildren, at some point we will have to develop substitutes of some kind.

    Dr. Banks and others are fans of nuclear power, but it also has drawbacks. Public acceptance for one. Cost for another. You can argue that the public is naiive but the public votes and elected officials tend to like their jobs.

    When all is said and done, every form of energy conversion has its strengths and weaknesses. Suggesting we should rely on one and throw all of the others away is not productive, reasonable or cost-effective in the long run. A strategy that encourages multiple alternatives ensures that no one form of energy conversion corners the market and holds consumers hostage.

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    Jack, This oft cited "public acceptance" is not supported by facts. In my lovely Provinc of Ontario public acceptance of nuclear power is high and around the nuclear installations at Pickering, Darlington and Bruce is very high. There is not exactly public acceptance of wind - in fact the opposition to wind is so fierce the Government saw fit to introduce legislation to restrict the use of the legal system to prevent installations. Recently another bill was tabled to limit installation to no closer than 500 meters because of the low cycle annoying buzz they produce. Wind can never be more than a small player in the power business. It will always need a back up source simply because we cannot control when the wind decides to blow. So the installed cost of wind energy is very high because for every MW of wind capacity installed another megawatt of installed capacity is needed to be there when the wind is not. That is at least double the cost. There is only one long term solution if you are allergic to CO2 and that is nuclear.

    Wind is not worth the effort.

    Malcolm

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    The USA consumes about 100 quads of energy per year. 1 quad is 293 x10e9 kWh. We generate about 20 quads/yr of electricity, of which about 7 to 8 is renewable including hydro. The balance needs about 37 quads of nuclear plus coal, NG and oil. If we don't try to replace nuclear we need to replace about 30 quads of primary energy in coal, NG and oil with renewables. But to do so we need only about 10 quads of renewable primary electricity. Thats 3 trillion kWh. It would be a good idea to rewrite the article with correct numbers and "calculations."

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    "Renewable sources require much more land area for a comparable power production."

    There is an exception to your statement, David. Space Solar Power would actually use no land at all - the earthside power receiving antenna (or rectenna , the correct term) would be elevated above farmland, ranches, orchards, etc., The difficult part is that the financing is all upfront, we have never built one of these giant satellites before and the wireless power transfer physics requires LARGE antennas to get the power transfer efficiency high enough to make SSP cost effective.

    http://www.sspi.gatech.edu/ssp_the_missing_cornerstone_isdc2009.ppt

    We believe the time is long past when we should charter a power satellite company to do this just as Congress chartered a communications satellite company - Comsat.

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    The public is going to accept nuclear, Jack Ellis. You see, they think that they have a choice as to what will provide them with the electricity they cannot do without, but in the long run they have no choice at all. Once they understand that the only choice they have is between nuclear and their standard of living, I think it is safe to say that they will not sacrifice their standard of living.

    And I notice that Peter Platell has a message for me. I'll take it at some point in the future Peter.

    Fred

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    In all fairness, let’s try to investigate the claims of the author with real data. According to 2007 EIA data (2008 data due for release in October) there were 4,156,745,000 MWh made and consumed in America by a total capacity of 994,888 MW. The overall capacity factor was [4,156,745,000 MWh ÷ (994,888 MW x 8760 hours) = .502], or 50%. The overall capability of the grid to deliver 4,156,745,000 MWh can also be viewed by dividing that number by 994,888MW, which is 4,178 MWh per MW of capacity. Let’s for now call that a capability factor so we don’t get hung up on touting capacity alone for making electricity.

    For simplicity, let’s represent all non-hydro renewables by the best contender, wind. For more fairness subtract out from the total the hydro that is already in service, but taxed to the limit and declining in share. In other words, it is already working as a renewable so subtracting it out gives it the credit it deserves while we evaluate the ability of all other renewables to fill in the total. We can lump all others together as one to give them all the benefit of living up to wind’s capabilities. This is just for demo purposes and the error will be conservative (too low) because all the other renewables in a future mix have lower capacity factors and lower capabilities in terms of ability to deliver MWh per MW, not to mention natural limitations in growth and total (e.g., geothermal-electric) and other constraints, such as cost.

    So here goes: (4,156,745,000 - 247,510,000) MWh = 3,909,235,000 MWh. Under present energy delivery capabilities, 16,515 MW of wind capacity provides electricity with a capability factor of 2086 MWh/MW. Dividing the capability factor into 3,909,235,000 MWh indicates that 1,874,034 MW in wind, or its equivalent, will be necessary to deliver the required amount of electricity. That’s “only” 1,246,894 wind generator equivalents at 1.5 MW per each and that’s at zero growth. Doable? Maybe on an unlimited budget. Don’t forget to figure in the cost of new T&D and storage. And would it be reliable?

    Source data: http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epa/epaxlfilees1.pdf

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    Malcolm no we dont voilate law of thermodynamics. At the contrary we exploit the second law of thermodynamic. We having distribution system in the buidlings that needs temperature of +50 C when you want +20 C and why having AC unit blowing in +10 C when you want +20 C in the buildings. yes we have patent the idea and we are moving forward but I have noticed that our situation is the same as always during the history . There is an establishement carrying out "sustain developement" ( sub optimising current technology and business models ( flat earth etc) and there is economics as Ferdinand that think that compiling figures from the existing business and extrapolatet this figures is the most cost effective society activity, despite there will be a array of new disruptive technology that changes all economics..

    I have made presentation of our concept at ASHRAE meeting etc. and if you give me your e.mail adress I will send you description how to exploit law of thermodynamics and get ride of large centralised monopoly system. Ferdinand you can also get some interesting information , It is about law of nature rather than accounting By the way Ferdinand, what do you think about our ( Swedish ) HEAVY economics that tell us ( ignorant nature science and other citizen ) that climate change is nothing to bother about. When I study economics I didnt found any tools that makes me well positioned to evaluate such problems.

    Peter

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    You dont need any tools, Peter. Tools rhymes with fools. The people who talk about energy in Sweden (e.g. Naturvårdverket) can't add and subtract. Climate change is not an issue with me, because I understand that the voters accept it, and I don't see any harm in their choice. Besides, the sort of things that you want will never come about. I dont know of any country in the world that has talked so much about sustainable development using e.g. wind and done so little

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    "...because of the low cycle annoying buzz they produce."

    "Wind can never be more than a small player in the power business."

    "It will always need a back up source simply because we cannot control when the wind decides to blow."

    "So the installed cost of wind energy is very high because for every MW of wind capacity installed another megawatt of installed capacity is needed to be there when the wind is not."

    "That is at least double the cost."

    "There is only one long term solution if you are allergic to CO2 and that is nuclear."

    "Wind is not worth the effort."

    I just love completely ignorant rants like these, especially coming from an engineer type person. No allowance for technical improvements in wind with this guy. He's had one-on-one detailed explainations given to him at length about how a solar revolution is around the corner that incorporates storage to eliminate the above problems. Unfortunately he refuses to publicly acknowledge that he agreed with the concept back when it was just concept. Now he's knocking wind with the same strawman arguments. Too bad he has a history of not listening to where the next wave of innovation is headed because he'll never hear that these problems are being solved right now. Too bad the investors and the public have a history of listening to the current crop of energy experts and utility execs who think the same way.

    Proprietary agreements keep this information behind closed doors now, but you can bet they'll all be public in a few short years. Picture, if you can, quiet double-digit megawatt wind with built-in storage for a fully dispatchable output, still at half the current cost. With that in your head, now picture the energy investors listening to the comments above. Now picture you founding the company that got them to listen.

    Oh and Peter, I'd love to see your description. Please send it to mckissick@gmail.com if you can.

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    Ferdinand I accept that you dont want to go into nature science , Just add and substract and extrapolate, But I know what you should start to study. HISTORY .

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    Hello All,

    I apologize for the mixing of power and energy capacities; I should have just concentrated on energy. The intent was not to show that the listed renewable resources could replace all of existing resources, but that installation of the listed amounts in rural areas could supply the rural areas, with no new transmission or distribution lines for residential systems (wind, PV, solar thermal) and some new transmission lines for geothermal. These installations would de-bug the process.

    Sooner or later fossil fuels are going to run out, independent of the polution concerns. No single source, be that nuclear (fission or fusion), solar satelites in space, wind, PV, etc. will be adequate for the needs of the future. A combination of existing and new technologies is required to be used NOW.

    The issue is to start making progress on adding capacity (given the over population problem is only getting worse), especially where the infra-structure changes are minimized. There are scheduling algorithms available (in use already in Europe) that can mitigate the way over-emphasized problems with variability in supply and time of supply. Those could be further de-bugged by starting in rural areas that have minimal bureacratic and other obstacles for implementation.

    Thanks, David

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    James: I beleive a history lesson would be in order. In my experience, industry professionals shrug this stuff off until it's already built and then they claim that they've always supported it.

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    Todd it is hardly a straw man argument to state the fact that wind generators do not produce electricity when the wind is not blowing. It is a simple statement of fact. No technology can make the wind blow. Similarly it is a plain and simple fact stated over and over again here that solar power output is zero when the sun does not shine.

    Pleas explain to me why these are not valid arguments. You have never ONCE explained to how you overcome these problems. All I read here is nameplate ratings on generators that will rarely if ever produce this amount of electricity....pie in the sky.

    I live in the real world where real people need electricity at a reasonable price. Not the pie in the sky world where much is talked about but nothing ever done.

    If these ideas are so wonderful they would be picked up by any serious investor. Clearly they are not as great as you make out.

    I am interested in Mr. Platells idea and will give it some serious consideration. If indeed one can extract heat from the ground without using compressors that would be an amazing feat.

    As Ferdinand says when people are faced with the choice of nuclear or their standard of living it will be obvious what they will choose.

    Malcolm

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    David, You must be kidding. As I drive to work in the morning I see row after row of wind turbines not turning because there is no wind. Presumably those poor souls in the rural area that surrounds these multiple wind generators are using electricity but as sure as eggs are eggs it is NOT coming from these generators. No scheduling in the world can cause the wind to blow. Each wind generator has a capability of about 2 mW. Each one was producing zero as I drove to work. Exactly how you get over THAT problem by scheduling defies logic. Nuclear can EASILY replace all fossil fuels used in electricity generation and when electric cars and trucks are available it can supply that load quite readily too. And I really do not get your point about population increase. Which country are you talking about since most people in the world do not have access to ANY electrical capacity. Adding more people to a population that does not have any electricity makes no difference to electricity demand. Of course if you are talking about the pampered few in North America (Todd included) that need more capacity to run important equipment like video games and big screen TV's then that's another story.

    To the dismay of many here nuclear power is the only long term viable power supply that has any credibility to provide the amounts of electricity the developed and more importantly the developing world will require. I have heard people like Todd and others espouse the next "breakthrough" technology that will change the world for the last 40 years. All I can say is it is a really really slow breakthrough. And if you have developed something that works I do assure you that power engineers around the world including me will beat a path to your door step. All you gotta do is show us it works.

    Malcolm

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    In all this learned discussion I don’t think I saw world population mentioned. Talk about denial! This is the problem for which all our other problems are corollaries. I was born into a world of less than 2 billion. Today we have 6.8 billion and growing at about 0.1 billion a year. We talk about generating electricity when billions have no electricity – how will they ever have electricity? If they couldn’t have power from coal burners how will they ever have power from much more expensive plants, and that is every other kind being proposed?

    Isn’t it foolish to discus smart grids and solar panels and wind turbines which do nothing about THE problem? Too many people - which will swamp all these efforts.

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    Malcolm. Sorry, you did indeed make a very good comment about population.

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    Peter, you want me to study history. Didn't I tell you ten or twelve times that in my first year in engineering school I failed everything, TWICE, except history and english, and as a result was expelled for poor scholarship.

    You might also be interested to know that in my finance book, and perhaps others, I suggest that the readers should try to get rid of the physics envy and study some history.

    Don Hirshberg, population is the subject that absolutely cannot be discussed - unless it is discussed by ignoramuses who do not believe that it is a problem. The late Julian Simon was a perfect example, since he believed that the larger the population the more persons would be available to solve problems such as those we discuss on this site. Julian actually had it backwards.

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    Prof Banks, It’s this taboo you recognize against even discussing population that I am trying to expose. I.e. you will not get zapped by a bolt of lightening. You all have my personal guarantee.

    As you point out the idea that more people means more brain power has been specious. Much of how we think today came from a mere handful of Greeks about 2400 years ago. Athens at the time had a population of no more than a few tens of thousands. Their entire world had no more than 0.3 billion.

    Many of the giants of brain power accomplishments we still recognize today were born into a world of less than 1 billion. (Today we have 6.8 billion.) Pick a field. Socrates, Pythagoras, Bruno, Galileo, Newton, Carnot, Shakespeare, Mozart, Franklin, Diderot, Thomas Payne, Darwin, even Einstein - plus dozens who might be listed.

    I’m an engineer and know little about the soft stuff. But to solve a problem one has to start with the present. I say without significant population reduction there is no solution to the energy dilemma, ever applying all the solutions du jour.

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