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Clean Power The Economist

Published on August 25th, 2008 | by Michelle Bennett

9

Tech Today or Tech Tomorrow? Energy Debate 1

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August 25th, 2008 by
 

The EconomistThe “Economist” debate involves journalists, industry gurus, investors, bureaucrats, and of course economists who have all long been involved in renewable energy. The question:

“Can we solve our energy problems with existing technologies today, without the need for breakthrough innovations?”

This is the defining question of our time.

New innovations, improvements, or breakthroughs are happening all the time in clean tech, especially among renewable energy technologies. Yet technological limitations still plague the various industries. These hurdles include energy storage, energy efficiency, transmission infrastructure and technology, hydrogen power, CO2 capture and sequestration, and producing bio-fuels at an industrial scale. Economics is also a potent issue that both hampers and launches these technologies, hence the host of this debate.

The Scale of the Energy Problem

Both sides agree that meeting energy demand is a central issue. We don’t just generate a lot of electricity on fossil fuels, we thirst for a lot more. They agree that renewables can do the job today, despite issues with transmission and intermittent supply/ energy storage. Yet even those issues will probably be overcome within the next few years or decades. Where they differ is on strategy and focus.

The problem is time and scale. According to Joseph J. Romm on the Proposition’s side, we’ll need at least 1,600 gigawatts peak power of CSP within 30 years. That’s about 53GW per year, and that’s just CSP; there are other renewables and technologies included in his estimates as well. Compare that with projected estimates of 28GW of CSP to be installed by 2020. That’s a lot of clean tech construction in the near future, and a lot of policy decisions that will be required to make it possible.

Peter Meisen on the Opposition’s side is concerned that the technology exists, but our existing infrastructure is not designed to make best use of it. He argues that without a “design revolution” and expansion and improvements in transmission technologies, renewable energy can’t reach the places where it’s needed when it’s needed. Some major infrastructure construction and renovation, to share energy across political boundaries, would eventually solve this problem. He’s also a big fan of hydrogen cars. Naturally, policy and social change are also necessary to make it happen.

DebateI was surprised to find that both sides agree on the problem. The urgency and scale of climate change is not the topic under debate. I was also surprised that they agreed upon the present day: technologies that can revolutionize our energy industry exist today, if even in imperfect forms. Both sides agree that deploying them now, rather than waiting for “the next big tech” is vital.

Rather, where do we begin to act? Do we begin the task of remaking our current infrastructure, which is part of this problem? Or do we start with renewable and sustainable technology deployed on a massive scale?

Voice your opinion below, and on the “Economist” webpage.

The debate will continue through this week, so I’ll update again next week.

Image credit: Typecasting by toxi via the Flickr Creative Commons. Ford/Carter Debate via US Federal Gov. public domain.

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About the Author

is an environmentalist who loves to write. She grew up across the southeastern USA and especially love the Appalachian mountains. She went to school in the northeast USA in part to witness different mindsets and lifestyles than those of my southern stomping grounds. She majored in English Lit. and Anthropology. She has worked as a whitewater rafting guide, which introduced her to a wilderness and the complex issues at play in the places where relatively few people go. She also taught English in South Korea for a year, which taught her to take nothing for granted.



  • Pingback: Ultrasound Cleans Polluted Water, Makes Catfish Tastier : CleanTechnica

  • http://barrier-busting.com Nils Davis

    “Do we begin the task of remaking our current infrastructure, which is part of this problem? Or do we start with renewable and sustainable technology deployed on a massive scale?”

    Ummm, both? For each of these aspects – infrastructure and generation (as well as efficiency – huge opportunities there!) – we have steps we can start right now. For example, for the big transmission problem – how to get wind energy from where the wind blows to where the energy is needed, which is currently not feasible with the existing grid – we need to start right now to get policies, regulations, agreements, and whatever else is needed in place so that by the time gigaWatts of wind power is available, it can be used.

    And I want to second Jeff’s comments as well – a large part of the successful transition to sustainable energy will be decentralization – putting solar PVs on the roofs of office buildings is just one example. And note that there are double benefits in doing this, if it’s done right – engineer the solar panels to shade the building effectively, and not only do you get electricity, but you also reduce AC requirements, because the building is cooler. We need to find all these compounding benefits to be successful (this is what Amory Lovins calls “barrier busting” – hence the name of my blog).

  • http://barrier-busting.com Nils Davis

    “Do we begin the task of remaking our current infrastructure, which is part of this problem? Or do we start with renewable and sustainable technology deployed on a massive scale?”

    Ummm, both? For each of these aspects – infrastructure and generation (as well as efficiency – huge opportunities there!) – we have steps we can start right now. For example, for the big transmission problem – how to get wind energy from where the wind blows to where the energy is needed, which is currently not feasible with the existing grid – we need to start right now to get policies, regulations, agreements, and whatever else is needed in place so that by the time gigaWatts of wind power is available, it can be used.

    And I want to second Jeff’s comments as well – a large part of the successful transition to sustainable energy will be decentralization – putting solar PVs on the roofs of office buildings is just one example. And note that there are double benefits in doing this, if it’s done right – engineer the solar panels to shade the building effectively, and not only do you get electricity, but you also reduce AC requirements, because the building is cooler. We need to find all these compounding benefits to be successful (this is what Amory Lovins calls “barrier busting” – hence the name of my blog).

  • http://url.ie/h1b?154345628/154345628154345628/154345628/154345628/154345628/154345628 web design

    yes.

  • http://url.ie/h1b?154345628/154345628154345628/154345628/154345628/154345628/154345628 web design

    yes.

  • http://cleantechnica.com Michelle Bennett

    Wow Jeff, thanks for the comment.

    I love the idea of local power production, and of a non-centralized grid. However, there’s always the issue of locations where some or several of these strategies simply won’t work. Consider communities in the far north (or south) that receive an overabundance of sunlight one part of the year, but very little in the winter. Even Germany, renowned for its solar policy, had some trouble with its chronically cloudy skies and had to adjust technology accordingly.

    There’s also the not-so-small issues of power storage and streamlining some of these technologies. Some, like algae farms/ fuel production, are just getting up and running. These technologies still have a lot of practical hurdles to overcome, which can only take time. In short, money cannot solve all of these problems.

    I’m not disagreeing with you (actually, I love these ideas), but I do love to play “devil’s advocate”. Hoping you and some other readers will take the bait. ;)

  • http://cleantechnica.com Michelle Bennett

    Wow Jeff, thanks for the comment.

    I love the idea of local power production, and of a non-centralized grid. However, there’s always the issue of locations where some or several of these strategies simply won’t work. Consider communities in the far north (or south) that receive an overabundance of sunlight one part of the year, but very little in the winter. Even Germany, renowned for its solar policy, had some trouble with its chronically cloudy skies and had to adjust technology accordingly.

    There’s also the not-so-small issues of power storage and streamlining some of these technologies. Some, like algae farms/ fuel production, are just getting up and running. These technologies still have a lot of practical hurdles to overcome, which can only take time. In short, money cannot solve all of these problems.

    I’m not disagreeing with you (actually, I love these ideas), but I do love to play “devil’s advocate”. Hoping you and some other readers will take the bait. ;)

  • Jeff Baker

    LEAP – LOCALIZED ENERGY ADVANCEMENT PLAN

    (1) Southern California Edison (SCE) is leasing commercial rooftops and installing solar panels on them to feed the local grid in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. This is the very best bang for the buck. Look at the advantages: No land is used. No transmission lines need to be built. No waiting 4 to 5 years to build them. No power loss to transmit electricity long distances to where it is consumed. The power is fed directly into neighborhood grids. No need to shell out big bucks to upgrade the National Grid which would drive your electric bill higher. Take every city where there is enough cost effective sunshine, and do the same. Cover all commercial rooftops with solar panels. Then do schools, colleges, hospitals, government buildings, and residential rooftops, either leased by the local power company or installed by the owner. This is LOCALIZED electric power generation.

    (2) Pass a “Uniform Net Metering Act” to guarantee that anyone generating surplus electric power will be paid at least the going wholesale rate for it by local power companies. Some power companies already have variations of net metering, but many do not. The impact will be that solar, wind, biogas to electric, and other home and business power systems will be installed larger than they need to be, thus adding peak load and generating surplus power to the local grid and also creating quarterly revenue for the private owner.

    (3) Massive installation of solar roof panels on plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, cars and trucks, including long haul trailer roofs. Theses would interface with localized V2G parking systems that would either charge the vehicle or produce peak load power for the grid while parked. The vehicle owners local electric power account would be electronically debited or credited accordingly. Solar roofed vehicles in mass, parked in the sun all day long, would generate a sizeable amount of peak load power, which would generate energy credits or even revenue for the vehicle owner. This combined with the rapid development of next generation translucent solarvoltaic window panels and entire vehicle bodies covered with hi-tech solar paint, with long haul trailers generating a significant amount of solar power. Again, no land or transmission lines needed and no National Grid needed. Cost per mile: ELECTRIC way is cheaper: 7 to 1 over gasoline and 7 to 2 over natural gas as auto fuel.

    (4) Advanced, super-organized recycling systems to channel all local organic waste from homes, commercial buildings, restaurants, institutions, government offices, agricultural, food processing, wood working, building industry, municipal sewage and landfill, etc. into forms of localized energy production, such as biogas methane. With the fuel burned as natural gas for the local grid, and the exhaust and the nitrogen-phosphorous liquid effluent mitigated and fed to adjacent Algae production systems. With the oil in the algae made into locally produced biodeisel; the byproduct algae starch made into locally consumed ethanol; and the protein made into locally consumed animal feeds.

    (5) The mitigation and exploitation of all sources of sewage and manure from septic systems, dairy farms, poultry, hog and livestock operations into biogas digesters producing methane to generate electric power for local grids and surplus regional transmission. With the effluent again being used to feed adjacent algae production for additional power, liquid fuels, or animal feed.

    (6) The mitigation and exploitation of all existing fossil fuel and biomass burn power plants by the cycling of CO2 rich exhaust to feed adjacent algae production, with the potential to co-fire all or part of the algae as onsite power plant fuel, in the form of combustible ultrasound fractionated oil-rich algae slurry, to replace a portion of the conventional fuel being consumed by the power plants.

    (7) The mitigation and exploitation of all existing corn ethanol refineries, by leveraging the waste products of CO2, waste heat, waste water effluent, natural gas exhaust (or other onsite exhaust), to feed adjacent algae production: To create feedstock for biodeisel, providing localized fuel for agriculture. To generate biogas to replace natural gas or to replace whatever fuel was being used for plant production power. To cogenerate electric power for the local grid. Thereby generating additional waste heat for the algae. With the option to produce additional ethanol from algae starch, and or high protein algae animal feed, to parallel and enhance the existing distillers grains market. These algae products, produced in whatever proportion would be advantageous to supply local and regional markets.

    Again, the emphasis is on localized electric power production, localized liquid fuel production, and localized animal feed production, mitigating and exploiting waste products into value added algae based fuels and feeds.

    (8) Consistent long term tax credits for renewables such as solar, wind, wave, geothermal, biomass and biogas to electric, and hydrogen and clean fuels to electric, etc.

    (9) Fast Tracking the award winning clean burning multi-fueled GREEN REVOLUTION ENGINE. This engine can burn any liquid or gaseous fuel, including hydrous ethanol, powdered biomass, and ultrasound fractionated oil-rich algae slurry (with any exhaust recycled to grow more algae).

    (10) Hydrous Ethanol (ethanol mixed with 4% to 35% water) fuel and technology, with engines optimized to exploit it. Louisiana has an experimental hydrous ethanol program that could be expanded to other states.

    (11) Fast Tracking the ultra clean GEET Fuel Processor that runs existing internal combustion engines and gensets on vaporized mixtures of 75% water and any combustible fuel. This includes oil rich ultrasound fractionated algae slurry and powdered biomass slurry. Search: GEET Fuel Processor. Search: BingoFuel (one word).

    (12) Fast Tracking hydrogen on demand for fuel cells from (A) Reforming ethanol (onboard vehicles) into hydrogen for fuel cells; (B) Water splitting (onboard vehicles) using Ultrasound and or Pulsed Width Modulation current, generated by conventional vehicle electric systems and vehicle solar body panels. QuantumSphere recently announced a breakthrough that increases hydrogen gas output in electrolysis systems by 300%, at 85% efficiency.

  • Jeff Baker

    LEAP – LOCALIZED ENERGY ADVANCEMENT PLAN

    (1) Southern California Edison (SCE) is leasing commercial rooftops and installing solar panels on them to feed the local grid in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. This is the very best bang for the buck. Look at the advantages: No land is used. No transmission lines need to be built. No waiting 4 to 5 years to build them. No power loss to transmit electricity long distances to where it is consumed. The power is fed directly into neighborhood grids. No need to shell out big bucks to upgrade the National Grid which would drive your electric bill higher. Take every city where there is enough cost effective sunshine, and do the same. Cover all commercial rooftops with solar panels. Then do schools, colleges, hospitals, government buildings, and residential rooftops, either leased by the local power company or installed by the owner. This is LOCALIZED electric power generation.

    (2) Pass a “Uniform Net Metering Act” to guarantee that anyone generating surplus electric power will be paid at least the going wholesale rate for it by local power companies. Some power companies already have variations of net metering, but many do not. The impact will be that solar, wind, biogas to electric, and other home and business power systems will be installed larger than they need to be, thus adding peak load and generating surplus power to the local grid and also creating quarterly revenue for the private owner.

    (3) Massive installation of solar roof panels on plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, cars and trucks, including long haul trailer roofs. Theses would interface with localized V2G parking systems that would either charge the vehicle or produce peak load power for the grid while parked. The vehicle owners local electric power account would be electronically debited or credited accordingly. Solar roofed vehicles in mass, parked in the sun all day long, would generate a sizeable amount of peak load power, which would generate energy credits or even revenue for the vehicle owner. This combined with the rapid development of next generation translucent solarvoltaic window panels and entire vehicle bodies covered with hi-tech solar paint, with long haul trailers generating a significant amount of solar power. Again, no land or transmission lines needed and no National Grid needed. Cost per mile: ELECTRIC way is cheaper: 7 to 1 over gasoline and 7 to 2 over natural gas as auto fuel.

    (4) Advanced, super-organized recycling systems to channel all local organic waste from homes, commercial buildings, restaurants, institutions, government offices, agricultural, food processing, wood working, building industry, municipal sewage and landfill, etc. into forms of localized energy production, such as biogas methane. With the fuel burned as natural gas for the local grid, and the exhaust and the nitrogen-phosphorous liquid effluent mitigated and fed to adjacent Algae production systems. With the oil in the algae made into locally produced biodeisel; the byproduct algae starch made into locally consumed ethanol; and the protein made into locally consumed animal feeds.

    (5) The mitigation and exploitation of all sources of sewage and manure from septic systems, dairy farms, poultry, hog and livestock operations into biogas digesters producing methane to generate electric power for local grids and surplus regional transmission. With the effluent again being used to feed adjacent algae production for additional power, liquid fuels, or animal feed.

    (6) The mitigation and exploitation of all existing fossil fuel and biomass burn power plants by the cycling of CO2 rich exhaust to feed adjacent algae production, with the potential to co-fire all or part of the algae as onsite power plant fuel, in the form of combustible ultrasound fractionated oil-rich algae slurry, to replace a portion of the conventional fuel being consumed by the power plants.

    (7) The mitigation and exploitation of all existing corn ethanol refineries, by leveraging the waste products of CO2, waste heat, waste water effluent, natural gas exhaust (or other onsite exhaust), to feed adjacent algae production: To create feedstock for biodeisel, providing localized fuel for agriculture. To generate biogas to replace natural gas or to replace whatever fuel was being used for plant production power. To cogenerate electric power for the local grid. Thereby generating additional waste heat for the algae. With the option to produce additional ethanol from algae starch, and or high protein algae animal feed, to parallel and enhance the existing distillers grains market. These algae products, produced in whatever proportion would be advantageous to supply local and regional markets.

    Again, the emphasis is on localized electric power production, localized liquid fuel production, and localized animal feed production, mitigating and exploiting waste products into value added algae based fuels and feeds.

    (8) Consistent long term tax credits for renewables such as solar, wind, wave, geothermal, biomass and biogas to electric, and hydrogen and clean fuels to electric, etc.

    (9) Fast Tracking the award winning clean burning multi-fueled GREEN REVOLUTION ENGINE. This engine can burn any liquid or gaseous fuel, including hydrous ethanol, powdered biomass, and ultrasound fractionated oil-rich algae slurry (with any exhaust recycled to grow more algae).

    (10) Hydrous Ethanol (ethanol mixed with 4% to 35% water) fuel and technology, with engines optimized to exploit it. Louisiana has an experimental hydrous ethanol program that could be expanded to other states.

    (11) Fast Tracking the ultra clean GEET Fuel Processor that runs existing internal combustion engines and gensets on vaporized mixtures of 75% water and any combustible fuel. This includes oil rich ultrasound fractionated algae slurry and powdered biomass slurry. Search: GEET Fuel Processor. Search: BingoFuel (one word).

    (12) Fast Tracking hydrogen on demand for fuel cells from (A) Reforming ethanol (onboard vehicles) into hydrogen for fuel cells; (B) Water splitting (onboard vehicles) using Ultrasound and or Pulsed Width Modulation current, generated by conventional vehicle electric systems and vehicle solar body panels. QuantumSphere recently announced a breakthrough that increases hydrogen gas output in electrolysis systems by 300%, at 85% efficiency.

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