Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Power of Fish

They do keep coming, don't they? One new and wild invention after another, with much promise to change the world. This one from the Daily claims to be a device when placed in water that can generate electricity more efficiently, less disruptively and with smaller water flow requirements than turbines and dams.

According to the article:

The new device, which has been inspired by the way fish swim, consists of a system of cylinders positioned horizontal to the water flow and attached to springs.

As water flows past, the cylinder creates vortices, which push and pull the cylinder up and down. The mechanical energy in the vibrations is then converted into electricity.

The technology was developed through funding from the US government. There is a prototype being dispensed currently in the Detroit River, which flows at less than 2 knots.

Read the full article.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Alternative Energy Report in Florida

This headline from the Miami Herald, "Solar power costlier for Florida than nuclear, report finds," signals the type of debate that will be going on more in more in the coming days, months and years.

The report was commissioned by the Florida Legislature, as part of an effort to come up with an alternative energy portfolio with a certain percentage of total energy mandated to be clean and renewable.

The focus of the report is the cost of various sources of energy, but the results are complex. Costs for various sources of energy are based on various government policies that might be implemented, and are unknown now. If the government does nothing to support alternative energy, the prices will be much higher than if policies are set to both assist renewable production and dissuade the use of fossil fuels.

Here's the projected breakdown money breakdown on different sources of energy.

Navigant [the hired consulting firm] said a company producing ground-mounted solar photovoltaic energy will need 30.63 cents/kWh in 2009 to make its investment worthwhile over the course of the plant's 30-year life. As the years go by, improvements in technology will mean that figure for solar will decline to 23.59 cents/kWh in 2020, the last year the study measures.

That compares to new nuclear costs of 12.97 cents/kWh in 2020. Natural gas base plants would be 10.09 cents.

But the study says that because solar is a intermittent power source, it would be more accurate to compare it with natural-gas turbines that turn on only peak times, which are expected to have costs of 17 to 23 cents/kWh over the next 12 years.

Wind costs could range from 17.55 cents/kWh in 2009 to 18.30 in 2020, but the report said there was not a lot of financially viable on-land wind power in the state. Much of biomass power would be considerably cheaper, with costs in 2020 ranging from 0.82 cents/kWh to 12 cents.

For power from ocean currents, power could be viable at 17.42 cents/kWh starting in 2015, declining to 13.72 cents/kWh for such plants built in 2020.

The article notes these figures will be hotly debated. The future cost of energy is a guessing game, and it's going to be interesting to see how those guesses affect policy and what the realities of the changing energy production picture will be.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Here's a fascinating geological study, coming at a time when humans are so desperately looking for ways to reduce greenhouse gases:

Rocks called peridotite, which are found deep in the earth in the mantle, but which are sometimes exposed to the earth's surface by colliding tectonic places, may hold a massive potential for absorbing and sequestering carbon dioxide produced by human consumption of fossil fuels. The ability of these rocks -- which appear on the surface of the earth in large quantities in Oman and in smaller amounts at other sites around the world, including the western U.S. -- to turn carbon dioxide into solid carbonates like limestone or marble, has been known for some time, but now it is believed the process could be made fast and effective for very large quantities of CO2.

The idea would be to pressurize CO2 in water and artificially transport it to places where the rock exists. By boring holes in the rock and piping in the water, a reaction would begin to absorb the carbon. Heat generated by this reaction would then cause the rock to crack and make it possible for even more carbon to be absorbed more quickly.

Accounting for engineering challenges and other imperfections, [the scientists] assert that Oman alone could probably absorb some 4 billion tons of atmospheric carbon a year—a substantial part of the 30 billion sent into the atmosphere by humans, mainly through burning of fuels.

The scientists believe this may be one part of a complete package for sequestering carbon. Trials involving another rock that absorbs carbon are beginning shortly in Iceland.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Barack Obama and Energy Policy

Here's a quote from an interview this week between Joe Klein and President-Elect Obama:
I think that the immediate economic crisis and the consequent decline in oil prices has led us to a dangerous point where maybe we start thinking in terms of business as usual again.

The biggest problem with our energy policy has been to lurch from crisis to trance. And what we need is a sustained, serious effort. Now, I actually think the biggest opportunity right now is not just gas prices at the pump but the fact that the engine for economic growth for the last 20 years is not going to be there for the next 20, and that was consumer spending. I mean, basically, we turbo-charged this economy based on cheap credit. Whatever else we think is going to happen over the next certainly 5 years, one thing we know, the days of easy credit are going to be over because there is just too much de-leveraging taking place, too much debt both at the government level, corporate level and consumer level. And what that means is that just from a purely economic perspective, finding the new driver of our economy is going to be critical. There is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy.

I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollen about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it's creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they're contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs. That's just one sector of the economy. You think about the same thing is true on transportation. The same thing is true on how we construct our buildings. The same is true across the board.
For us to say we are just going to completely revamp how we use energy in a way that deals with climate change, deals with national security and drives our economy, that's going to be my number one priority when I get into office.

Obama also pointed to a speech made early on in New Hampshire which laid out the blueprint for his energy approach. The full text of that speech, made October 8, 2007 in Portsmouth, NH, can be found here.

Obama discussed numerous points including raising fuel standards on cars and supporting research for energy efficient transportation and other technologies.

He discussed the need to reduce carbon emissions and said: "[A]ll polluters will have to pay based on the amount of pollution they release into the sky. The market will set the price, but unlike the other cap-and-trade proposals that have been offered in this race, no business will be allowed to emit any greenhouses gases for free. Businesses don't own the sky, the public does, and if we want them to stop polluting it, we have to put a price on all pollution. It's time to make the cleaner way of doing business the more profitable way of doing business." (my emphasis)

Obama urged use of ethanol, but also warned of limitations to that techonology. He supports clean coal technology and safer nuclear energy. He added, "We'll also invest in clean energy sources like wind power and solar power, so that by 2025, America can meet a new standard that will require 25% of all our electricity to come from renewable sources." He wants to lauch a fund to see that American inventions in these areas can be produced in the U.S. rather than overseas and imported.

Obama supports efficiency measures to reduce consumption significantly. He supports efforts to make American buildings more energy efficient, and to reduce household use. He also vows to reach out to nations around the world to make these efforts collective.

Here is the first part of that speech: