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News Energy independence for the US (or any other country)

  1. Jan 16, 2010 #1
    What is the best way for the US (or any other country) to generate 50% of its energy from renewable (or at least source that will last for 500 years) source in the next 20 years?

    My personal favorite is PV in the US Southwest with water->hydrogen as a storage medium for over night and for transportation.

    I am also a long time fan of solar power satellites but I think ground based is cheaper.

    I think the factor that is stopping the deployment is that both of the above are expensive. And for a country that can not even balance it's budget investing trillions of dollars in the future seems unlikely.
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 16, 2010 #2
    Currently, we are not investing in the future, we are borrowing from it.
  4. Jan 16, 2010 #3
    Good point. So in order to get a new renewable energy system we will need to move to a net positive investment in the future. How much pain will there have to be for that to happen and what form will the pain take?
  5. Jan 16, 2010 #4

    Ivan Seeking

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    Algae is probably our best hope

    Energy independence is worth [average over the long term] half a trillion dollars a year, or about 60% of our trade deficit, based on the cost and rate of importation of crude oil and other petro products. That is 10 million, $50K a year jobs. Currently, we might as well be burning that money. It is easy to justify a large effort to end our dependence on oil. Even an effort costing $5 trillion would pay back in about ten years.

    For perspective: In the current economic crisis, we have lost something over 7 million jobs.
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2010
  6. Jan 16, 2010 #5
    Yes, I have been impressed by the gene engineering of Algaes it does seem hopeful in fact there is an upcoming conference on the topic in Walnut Creek California by the federal gene folks.

    Thank God someone who understands the relation between energy independence and US jobs/standard of living.
  7. Jan 16, 2010 #6
    How much money would we save if we drilled for oil in northern Alaska? It has to be way cheaper than buying from the MEC.
    (we won't be over our oil dependence any time soon)

    I am a fan of the giant mirrors in the deserts and the geothermal steam energy plants. The Earth is going to be hot for a long time coming, and the sun will be there for also a very long time!
  8. Jan 16, 2010 #7

    Ivan Seeking

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    A bit of math makes it painfully clear. I can't think of a better reason for the political left and right to come together. One would think we could all agree on this one.
  9. Jan 16, 2010 #8

    Ivan Seeking

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    The arctic oil supply would barely make a dent.

    What is the MEC?
  10. Jan 16, 2010 #9
    Middle Eastern Coalition. I just call the oil countries the "MEC" because its easier, and they are the big nosed fellows in Battlefield 2 Project Reality.
  11. Jan 16, 2010 #10
    I like the mirror idea also.

    On the Alaskan oil it is my understanding that there is something like 180 days of oil supply there to be drilled. Not sure if this is 180 of oil usage or 180 days of total energy use (in which case it might be more like 365 days of oil use). But either way it is not enough to make much difference. That is why I am in favor of drilling Alaskan oil at a deletion rate of 2% so it will last for 50 years. At that rate of extraction there should be very little environmental impact. At that rate, each year, we will get 3.6 days of supply from Alaska.
  12. Jan 16, 2010 #11

    Ivan Seeking

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    You can go the the algae thread linked for pages and pages of discussion, but one critical difference between algae, and other options like concentrated solar, is that algae produces a fuel that can be burned in regular diesels. Solar energy produces electricity, but no fuel. To use it for something like H2 production is prohibitively inefficient.

    Algae might also be used to produce H2.
  13. Jan 17, 2010 #12
    I'm sorry to say solar is just a good publicity form of power generation. Take Cal-ISO (California's largest electrical supplier). They have an average baseline load of 30000-31000 MW in the off season and 37000-38000 MW during the peak session. Also being able to supply a 45000 MW peak load.

    The largest Solar generation field that I could find (Olmedilla Photovoltaic Park) only produces 60 MW and has a Capacity Factor of 0.16. I wasn't able to find out it's exact size but a smaller park (46 MW) using similar panels uses up 618 acres of land.

    The Nellis Solar Power Plant project in the USA is the most efficient with a CF of 0.24 and producing 14.02 MW. It is using 140 acres of land.

    From this point my simple math calculations were done using the size of the Nellis Solar Power Plant project and its numbers.

    To provide the peak load to Cal-ISO would require about 450 kilo acres of land or about half of Rhode Island

    The USA averaged 783 GW for a baseline load in 2008. Only 411 MW coming from solar systems. To get to that needed power production you would need 7.8 mega acres of land or about the size of Maryland.

    Renewablies can not supply the needed power to run heavy industry. Switching over wind/solar will make this nation turn into a service economy. I still firmly believe that nuclear power is the way to produce safe, clean, and practical infinite power.
  14. Jan 17, 2010 #13


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    The only thing that could possibly meet your criteria at a resonable price is nuclear power.
  15. Jan 17, 2010 #14
    Now, now Russ - it's not fair to go there.

    Remember (refocus - deep breathing), it's perfectly fine and understandable for the Iranians to develop nuclear to satisfy their energy needs - even though they are an ideal solar candidate - but it's not good for us.

    We have to develop alternative sources because it will create green jobs.

    Let's also not mention that China and Russia are tapping every source they can get their energy seeking hands around.
  16. Jan 17, 2010 #15
    "Only", is a very strong word. Why be so exclusive?

    And let's be realistic, Our economic model of unrestrained growth is the problem. Building fourth generation nuclear plants is something I am in favor of, but to replace existing generation, not to maintain the growth curve.

    PV is getting better and cheaper. Nanosolar is producing inexpensive, high voltage, thin film solar panels for commercial generation.

    The problem with the mirrors is that they build them in the desert where there is no water.

    Another great idea is to make carbon based fertilizer from coal plant exhaust. This way we can replace the carbon that has been depleted from the soil by industial farming.

    And there is nothing wrong with putting Americans to work in green jobs. In fact, it is preferable to the alternatives.
  17. Jan 17, 2010 #16


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    Because I'm assuming the OP isn't asking about fantasy or science fiction. If we want to discuss what can be done, nuclear power is the only possible solution that can do what the OP asks at a reasonable price (and that's generous: it may actually just plain be impossible any other way).
    All of those are hypotheticals. They have not been proven to be viable yet. Nuclear has. Why bet our future on maybes when we have a can available?
    I absolutely agree that green jobs are a good idea. So we should start immediately on hundreds of new nuclear plants. That would create hundreds of thousands of new green jobs.

    And, I might add, with the heavy push right now for electric cars, a resurgence of nuclear power is becoming more important.
  18. Jan 17, 2010 #17
    I could live with nuclear but every time I look at the world supply of uranium it seems about as short lived as oil. We have discussed this in a thread within the last two months. I do not remember the exact numbers. How long do you calculate the world uranium supply will last?
  19. Jan 17, 2010 #18
    I do not see this a a show stopper. Let's use Nevada.
  20. Jan 17, 2010 #19
    The world supply of Uranium will last till the sun burns out, or a bit longer. Right now the large suppliers are Canada from about 5 mines. The stuff they pull out of the ground is almost at the point of enrichment that it can be stuck straight into the ground. Australia has a very large reserve of uranium but current economic and the political environment have them only operating two mines. The USA has several very large deposits of low grade uranium ore that is relative untouched because of cost. Also sea water has 3.3 ppb of uranium in it. Taking into account the massive amount of sea water on the world the reserves in the oceans are limitless.

    Also given the use of breeder reactors and Integrated fast reactors thorium can be brought into the fuel cycle. Plus full burn up of all transuranics in the core of a nuclear power plant will allow for 20 years of operation before refueling, uranium will be around for a long time.
  21. Jan 17, 2010 #20
    What is the cost to extract uranium from sea water per kilogram of uranium?
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