• Feb 14, 2011
Back in December of 2009, Sustainable Business reported that no new coal-fired power plants were erected that year. In fact, SB indicated that 26 coal plant proposals had been either "defeated or abandoned." Well, it appears that the trend to shift away from coal power will continue.

Late last week, Energy Secretary Steven Chu spoke at a renewable energy conference in Washington. Chu told conference-goers, "We're going to see massive retirements within the next five, eight years. Much of our fleet of coal plants is 40 to 50 years old."

Furthermore, President Barack Obama proposed that the U.S. should require that 80 percent of its electricity comes from so-called "clean" sources by 2035. Under Obama's proposal, most coal-fired power plants would give way to wind turbines, nuclear reactors, natural gas-fired power plants and renewable energy sources.

While it's obvious that a shift away from coal to cleaner energy sources could reduce well-to-wheel emissions of plug-in vehicles, it's worth pointing out that renewable energy options are often more expensive, which could drive up costs of recharging battery-powered autos.

[Source: Bloomberg | Image: brownpau - C.C. License 2.0]


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  • 56 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      There are some very safe designs for nuclear reactors. There are proven technologies that have been developed, but it unfortunately hasn't gotten much government support, in part because the design doesn't produce weapons-grade byproducts like conventional reactors. Sorry, I forgot what it's called. Google it :) I hope our pres loses the "clean coal" rhetoric. Dr. Chu certainly knows better.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Two words for nuclear power to answer:

        Yucca Mountain.

        Neil
        • 3 Years Ago
        Finally, another person who understands the value of thorium reactors!

        I believe they're called molten salt reactors or liquid fluoride thorium reactors. They were pioneered by the US in the 1950's. From what I've seen, they solve all of the problems of current nuclear plants.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Glad to see others supporting my post #35.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Mike!!ekiM :

        Thorium! Yes, that's what I was referring to - thanks. Couldn't remember the term :)
        • 3 Years Ago
        Neil, that's why we're talking about Thorium.
        It drops the need for Yucca, as Thorium Reactors can be used to process Uranium nuclear waste.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Yeah, right. We all sadly know that they will extend the operating life-time of all those coal plants.

      If we want to replace them, we better start building new generators now. Wind, nuclear, and natural gas, please. But we will still be using coal. Lots of it.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Coal-gas powered stationary fuel cells, to be specific.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I think the best combination is binary geothermal plants for the short haul liquid fluoride thorium reactors for the medium haul and fusion for the long haul- something I've wondered about is using concentrated solar and geothermal together, I think a geothermal resource can be depleted over a long time line so if you could use concentrated solar as the heat source during the day and geothermal as the heat source at night of cloudy days you could increase the useful time of power generation and the length of operation..
        • 3 Hours Ago
        Bill,

        geothermal is often overlooked when people talk about renewable sources of energy, which is a shame because it's a great potential source of base load power generation. There was a great study published by a researcher from MIT in 2006 (J.W.Tester, et al) showing that enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) could provide about 200 zettajoules (that's about 2000X annual energy demand in the U.S.) of energy.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enhanced_geothermal_system#EGS_potential_in_the_United_States

        Geothermal wells have usable lifespans of 20 to 30 years, and then, if they are left to sit for a few decades, they can be tapped again as heat from the surrounding rocks flows back into the area around the drill hole.

        If EGS can be successfully developed, there should be no need for fission or fusion reactors.




      • 3 Years Ago
      Why doesn't the government pursue LFTRs? Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors were invented in the 1960s at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. They ran one for almost 5 years. LFTRs use cheap thorium, are inherently safe, do not produce long term radio-active waste and were abandoned because they are not suitable for making bombs. See:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWUeBSoEnRk
      and
      http://energyfromthorium.com/
      Although the principles are proven, there is still some research required for the best materials to have long 50 year plus life. This should be our highest priority to solve our energy and pollution problems.
        • 3 Hours Ago
        I agree.

        While I am not a nuclear science, if you believe the Google Talk youtube videos it does sound doable, sustainable and relatively cheap to operate.

        I think these Gen 5 nuclear reactors (for base load) with a mix of renewables (including home PV solar & wind) is the long-term sustainable & clean answer.
        • 3 Hours Ago
        All nuclear reactors have to be maintained, so they have to be shut down periodically. They are not cheap, either. And they make much more tempting targets for terrorists, than do wind turbines or wave power buoys.

        Neil
        • 3 Hours Ago
        I believe Thorium Reactors require additional R & D investment at this time.
        GE would need to answer, why and how much investment they are making in a clearly superior Nuclear Technology, that significantly reduces their Risk of Operation.

        But, in US Nuclear operations, isn't the Government taking on all Liability Risk of the current nuclear fleet? Does that mean that GE as NO Incentive to R&D Thorium?
        • 3 Hours Ago
        LFTRs should be cheaper than coal. The ideal place to build them is at existing coal power plants because the power lines are already routed there. Also there is enough thorium in coal tailings to power the country for 100 years.

        We think the powers that be would like this low cost system, but that is not true. It is much easier to justify high profits in a high cost system. Standard nuclear power plants require enriched uranium and precision built reactor rods. This is a very expensive process, both of which are not required in an LFTR. They could just mark up the electricity 200% from an LFTR plant, but when the public found out about it they would complain, but a 10% mark up of a much more expensive process is acceptable. Wind and solar cells are also very expensive, and so do not threaten their ability to make high profits.

        Companies like GE will fight LFTRs tooth and nail with every argument against they can think of.
        • 3 Hours Ago
        Mike!!ekiM: It never ceases to amaze me that the prime argument against bringing out something new and better is that it will cost research dollars and time. EVERY power generating system we use required R&D by someone at some time. The fact that LFTRs have been suppressed all these years is no reason to not work on them.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Wind power does almost nothing to reduce the need for coal plants.
      Germany is looking to build 24 more of them, as you can't rely on the wind.
      Almost all that you do by having it as more than a minor component of the grid is to make your burn of fossil fuels less efficient as instead of using energy sources as baseload they have to dance to the tune of wind, and fit in around it.
      A nominal 10% of the grid from wind can mean, as in Spain, that when the wind blows hard it is 100% of the needed power, but on the other hand it drops to effectively zero.
      This is hidden by not charging the intermittency to the wind resource, but instead mandating utilities to take the wind power, so disguising it's true costs.
      Now some areas of the US have a fine wind resource, and as a minor part of the grid and in some locations it is a perfectly reasonable resource.
      Trying to provide any substantial part of US power by wind is simply nuts, and economic suicide.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Windpwr,
        I know a number of people who work in both the wind and the solar industries.
        The ones who are worth listening to are those who provide power in very specific locales, accurately assessing the real potential of the very variable resource in that particular spot.
        For instance, in the residential home market a very few installers provide wind maps and ask their customers to check before they even send out a surveyor to check the home's suitability.
        For 95% of homes in the US wind speeds are far too low to make them economic.
        For most of the rest the supposed 'economy' of home wind turbines depends on feed in tariffs, artificially high electricity prices caused by mandates etc as in parts of California.
        That has not stopped a bunch of cowboys charging a fortune to stick in turbines where they will be both useless and expensive, so those deserving respect in the renewables industry are a rare breed, as it is over-run with sleaze and con-men.

        The few who are sincere work towards what is practical, and do not involve themselves in fantasies like:
        'Wind is an ideal energy resource in combination with other renewables. There are dozens of studies detailing scenarios in which 100% of our production capacity can be safely fulfilled by these "intermittent" resources.'

        You can do lots of things in theory, and yes I am for instance aware of the German experiment in a small connected grid using solar, wind and biogas. It ended up burning mostly biogas, and hang the impact on phosphates and food. In terms of practical engineering at any less than ruinous cost what you can do is more limited.
        There are perfectly practical ways of generating all the power we need at reasonable cost without relying on complex systems which we can't currently build and that would be very fragile even if they could be made to work.

        For many years I have been an advocate of high altitude wind, which is a different ball-game. It is spending a fortune on utterly impractical and immature technologies that ticks me off.
        We are continually told that throwing these huge sums at uneconomic resources will lead to wonderful results as the technology improves.
        Well, the news is that nuclear power has the capability to improve it's efficiency by a factor of a hundred.
        It is both more practical and efficient now, and has far more potential in the future.

        'Those that don't are either pursuing an agenda dedicated to preserving their interests or are sadly, like you, misinformed.'

        Perhaps it would be easier to show an agenda in your own case, if one were uncharitably inclined.
        You appear to be sadly uninformed of the actual environmental damage caused by many of the so-called 'green' alternatives.
        However, the fossil fuel industry loves renewables, as it makes their future secure.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Spec,
        There is little evidence that wind does anything much to reduce fossil fuel burn.
        In fact since it needs to have plants built to take over when it is not blowing it builds in fossil fuel burn for decades into the future.
        It does however put up electricity prices to the point where it is impractical to use for heating, so that whilst in the US, the UK or France many use electric for this, in Germany and Denmark with rates of $0.30kwh and $0.45kwh respectively this is utterly impractical, unlike nuclear France with electric at $0.12kwh.
        This means a lot of the 'savings' from wind are simply displaced to natural gas for heating.

        With nuclear heat pumps are practical and space heating can be done at good cost via electric.
        Alternatively we are now getting to the stage where either fuel cell or mechanical combined heat and power can be used in the home, leading to much more efficient fossil fuel burn.
        You can't afford nuclear if you are messing around making up for the inefficiencies of wind, nor can you go to combined heat and power when you have to take the electric output of the wind turbines.
        Wind has a proven track record of increasing costs, but not for reducing fossil fuel burn or reducing CO2 emissions to any substantial extent.
        It simply gets in the way of doing either.
        Germany and Denmark's CO2 emissions are some of the highest in Europe, France and Sweden some of the lowest.
        Both the latter use nuclear and hydro where available.
        • 3 Years Ago
        While everyone has their sights on wind power, everyone overlooks hydroelectricity! Like wind power, hydroelectricity is only viable in certain locations. But hydroelectricity is far more steady and predictable than wind power. And there are still untapped locations - a new $6.5 billion hydro generation plant is being built in Quebec.

        We need more research into creating hydro facilities that are less disruptive to the local waterways, and micro-facilities that can generate electricity from smaller changes in elevation.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Wndpwr:
        And here are our circumstances regarding phosphate use and supply:
        'Recalculating the global use of phosphorous, a fertilizer linchpin of modern agriculture, a team of researchers warns that the world's stocks may soon be in short supply and that overuse in the industrialized world has become a leading cause of the pollution of lakes, rivers and streams.'

        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110214163110.htm

        The solution to the imbalances imposed in the fantasy of an all-renewables grid are typically said to be to burn more biofuel.
        The immense damage to the environment caused by such an unrealistic agenda are passed over.

        From the access roads over peat bogs in Scotland destroying the habitat, to the rainforests being cut down for biomass and the huge coal burn occasioned by the opposition to nuclear power and it's lack of development in the last 30 years, perhaps leading to global warming, the 'renewables' movement continues to swing it's wrecking ball through the environment.

        Here are the consequences of rare earth mining in China:
        'Just outside the heavily polluted industrial city of Baotou, Inner Mongolia, surrounded by smokestacks, lies a lake with no name.

        At this time of year the lake bed freezes into waves of solid mud. In summer, locals say, it oozes a viscous, red liquid. It is a “tailing lake”, where toxic rare earth elements from a mine 100 miles away are stored for further processing.

        Seepage from the lake has poisoned the surrounding farmland. “The crops stopped growing after being watered in these fields,” said Wang Cun Gang, a farmer. The local council paid villagers compensation for loss of income. “They tested our water and concluded that neither people nor animals should drink it, nor is it usable for irrigation.” '

        http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article6946038.ece

        Wind turbines typically use 600kg of rare earths for every MW of nominal output, so the insane 'cunning plan' to build 33GW in the UK would result in 20,000 tons of rare earths being needed, which would have considerable environmental consequences even were they to be had.

        There are of course ways to mitigate this damage, ranging from cleaning up the process to substituting induction motors.

        The point is though that the renewables industry remains entirely disingenuous about the actual damage it is presently causing.
        Not surprising really, as were they to admit to their true costs both environmentally and in money they would revert to the small contribution to energy in some locations the technology warrants.
        Too many people are on a 'nice little earner' to allow that to happen, and the fossil fuel industry loves renewables as they are well aware that they will ensure fossil fuel burn for decades.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Wind turbines that are geographically spread out can very reliably provide 33-45% of their rated maximum output, consistently all the time, with almost zero down time.

        Coal plants on the other hand, need to shut down for weeks of regular maintenance every year.

        Nuclear to needs to be shut down regularly for maintenance and for refueling -- I think they are required to be offline for about 45 days every 18 months, or so?

        Nuclear has another make or break problem: look up Yucca Mountain.

        +++++++
        Solar plants are quite predictable, and the daytime is when peak loads are highest, anyway.

        Other very reliable renewable sources are not often mentioned: wave power is entirely predictable and consistent for many coastal areas -- and are close to a majority of people. Same for tidal power -- the moon orbits the Earth and the tides come in and the tides go out...

        Geothermal drilling is something we need to explore.

        +++++++++
        So, distributed and diverse renewable energy sources are much more consistent and much more reliable than conventional power plants. And their cost will go down over time; whereas fuel consuming plants will always have higher and higher costs over time.

        Storage for any renewable power, for when there is an excess, are completely possible with existing technology:

        Elevated water storage (or underground hydro plants and tanks) are one existing method.

        Underground compressed air, using spent natural gas fields, is another method.

        Underground heat storage for solar heat plants, using molten salt is very possible.

        Sincerely, Neil
        • 3 Years Ago
        S/be: 'An energy flow of 1.5kw per person'
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Eideard:
        It is not an argument to state 'You haven't a clue' and list a selection of places.
        To take one you name, Texas: It has a fine wind resource. However, Pickens did not go ahead with his vast planned park. Why was that?
        The economics of his plan depended on the interconnections being paid for by the utilities, Government, anybody but the him.
        That is a problem.
        If you assume a wind park with a 33% capacity factor, which you might just about do although high winds are as big a problem as low for turbines as they get damaged/can't run in very high, especially gusty, conditions, then you still have to build the interconnections to cope with 100% capacity or you will need to throw power away when wind is plentiful.
        So they need to be rated at 3 times the capacity that you would need for an equivalent average power natural gas, coal or nuclear plant.
        Not only that, but the widely dispersed nature of wind means that you need to build an extremely expensive, widely dispersed network.
        Most of those costs the wind industry consistently tries to land the public with, save some of the bits which refer to the individual wind turbine, and are not normally part of their supposedly wonderful cost figures they quote, as they avoid proper costing by seeking to mandate the authority to take the wind power.

        The real problem with wind in Texas though is that there is very little in the summer, when the need is highest and the air conditioning is running flat out.
        That means that at vast cost you have built a system which does not in fact contribute to peak power, and you have to run fossil fuel plants to make up.
        Most 'renewables' as I said are a fancy way of using fossil fuels, but expensively instead of cheaply.

        Of course, they come up with all sorts of fantastical schemes to counter this, such as huge, continent wide grids to transfer power.
        So you have an expensive basic way of producing power, which does not provide much when you do most need it, and where you have to build another vastly expensive scheme to supposedly cover it's deficiencies.
        Of course, they do not admit that, as the lunacy of their ideas would become plain.
        They go for false promises and false accounting instead, so that the need to run fossil plants is supposed to be temporary whilst they wait for their magic grid to cut in, or they hide the cost of the supergrid by means of mandates.
        If wind is economic, fine, you don't need either subsidies or mandates to take the power.
        It isn't, that is why the industry specialised in fiddling the figures.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @miles:
        Technically you can do all sorts of things. They all add to the costs though, and wind is already an expensive source.
        It all wastes money when we have perfectly good alternatives which we need to invest in.
        If we try to go the wind route then more coal and gas burning plants will need building for the ~80% of power which the can't provide, so we are on the fossil fuel treadmill for the next 30-40 years that the coal plants will last.
        Wind and solar are not an alternative to fossil fuels, they build it's use in.

        Here are figures worked out for the case of Holland to provide all power by nuclear plants save for some high grade industrial process heat, which we would need gas for, although in the quantities needed it could be biogas:
        http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=2827&sid=e170aff9540c94512b30c03d332fe2b2

        Read down to Cyril R's figures, and my costings.
        To power Dutch society you would need an energy flow of around 1.5kw, using heat pumps for space and water heating, electric trains for goods and electric cars.
        It takes around 10 years to train the personnel and the capacity for a nuclear build, then perhaps 15 years based on the experience of France and Sweden to move to nuclear for most or all of your needs, in their case for electric, but in the case we are looking at for moving to all electric.
        Based on the costs of construction in Finland, which was the first of a kind and so the costs are likely to be higher than for series production, this would cost around 220 Euros per person per year for 25 years.
        The costs of running the nuclear plant are only around $0.02kwh on top of this.
        That gets us almost completely off of fossil fuels.
        Wind power can only waste the money we need to achieve this.

        BTW, the 220 Euros a year includes much of the bill for running your car as well.
        There are distribution costs etc for the electric on top of this, but it boils down to an affordable solution with CO2 emissions of perhaps a tenth or less than at present.
        • 3 Years Ago
        The intermittency can be modeled and factored in. It is not economic suicide.

        It is not cheap . . . but it is hard to compete with just digging energy out of the ground like buried treasure. Actually, it literally is buried treasure. But in the long term, we have no choice. Between climate-change and fossil fuel depletion, changes have to be made.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Neil:
        There are all sorts of 'cunning plans' for renewables, with the demand that aerodynamics of flying pigs be taken seriously and demolished line by line in their latest schemes.
        They all have in common a lot of false accounting, ignoring subsidies as a cost, absurdly optimistic projections of technologies and so on.
        I am well aware that, at a cost, for instance molten salt storage may be able to make up for diurnal variation in solar incidence.
        That does nothing at all for the real problem in the US and Europe, annual variability, for which no conceivable amount of storage can compensate.
        So how do they make sure, for instance, that the Desertec scheme will continue to supply Europe when it really needs the power?
        Quite simple. They burn gas as they are in the pilot project in Algeria.
        Unfortunately that means that even in the loony economics applied to projects like this the cost of the molten salt overnight storage cannot be justified, so you just burn more gas.
        So you are burning gas every night, and also in the winter for peak demand.
        It works out that you basically have a natural gas plant, lightly assisted by solar, which nevertheless puts the cost up enormously.
        Of course, rather than incurring the cost of building the electricity cables to Europe, you could just pipe the natural gas to Europe and use it there in a combined heat and power setup.
        This will give you more power far more economically without building the solar array.

        Most 'renewables' are simply schemes to burn natural gas expensively rather than cheaply.

        You then ask if I am familiar with Yucca mountain, or rather direct me to 'look it up'.
        I am aware that Luddites demanded that for some odd reason an underground repository should be created, and that the nuclear industry has accordingly paid around $30bn into a fund for this.
        Perhaps you are unaware that all the stuff about 'radioactive for a hundred thousand years' ignores the reason why that is the case.
        It is because all the really nasty stuff is very energetic, so has half lives in seconds, minutes or hours, and some of the less potent for a couple of decades.
        So you stick it in a barrel of water for perhaps 30 years, and after that dry cask storage is perfectly adequate.
        That is really good news, as not only was the Yucca mountain project simply pandering to the ignorant, but the 'waste' is in fact perfectly good fuel, around 1% of which has been used.
        Only slightly more advanced reactors, whose construction the self-styled 'greens' have naturally done everything they can to obstruct, could use this fuel, which is sufficient to power the whole world for hundreds of years.

        The fossil fuel industry must be very happy that it has willing dupes keeping it in business with their innumerate renewables projects.
        On any level playing field with both radioactive wastes ( around 100 times as great from a coal plant as a nuclear plant ) not to mention other wastes including arsenic and mercury with a half life of forever treated remotely the same as those from the nuclear industry the coal industry would cease to exist, and with it much of the renewables industry with it's total dependence on fossil fuels to cover up for the fact that it really can't do the job.

        The false prospectus of 'renewables ' touting themselves as able to run society when the most they can do is make a minor contribution has been instrumental in the desecration of the Alleghenies for coal, countless deaths from air pollution and billions of tons of carbon emissions by delaying nuclear which can actually provide clean safe power economically.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @ David Martin

        I work in the Wind Industry (my moniker kind of gives it away...) so call me biased but you really have a distorted view of the future of energy.

        Wind is an ideal energy resource in combination with other renewables. There are dozens of studies detailing scenarios in which 100% of our production capacity can be safely fulfilled by these "intermittent" resources.

        Renewable energy is currently limited by the fact that it must be built into a pre-existing and inefficient grid developed to handle conventional "burnt" energy. What wind is doing, more than just providing C02 free energy that does not require the consumption of fresh water, is pushing our grid towards the next century.

        Smart metering, vehicle2grid technology, supergrid interconnects, HVDC technology.... all of these technologies are underutilized now but will be a big part of our future energy scenario. The increased use of natural gas peaking plants is a stop-gap approach to handling the intermittency in local renewable energy production. Widespread installation of renewable energy plants will reduce that intermittency and the use of the technology listed above will eventually remove it altogether.

        100% of the worlds renewable energy experts understand this. Those that don't are either pursuing an agenda dedicated to preserving their interests or are sadly, like you, misinformed.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Mr Martin,

        The geographic differences between the sheer size and variety of weather patterns across the US makes wind power here a completely different story than in Germany, or Spain.

        The key is the grid. It provides balance for multiple sun/wind/hydro power sources across multiple regions.

        The drawbacks here are much less than what you are used to in Europe.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Mike,
        I get my information from sources like the DOE.
        Interesting that you should mention China.
        Here is the coal-fired back up China is having to install to cover for wind in just one province in China:
        'Nature is unpredictable: Sometimes there is no wind; other times, it's so strong the turbines have to be shut down. Because China's transmission power grid can't cope with the intermittent nature of wind, the government is adding back-up coal-fired power plants along with wind power to level out those peaks and troughs.

        In Jiuquan, new coal-fired power plants with 13.6 million kilowatts of installed capacity — the same amount of energy generated by Chile in 2009 — will be added by 2020. The need to add baseload coal-fired power plants has the effect of reducing the clean benefits of wind power. '

        http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121244275

        BipDBo
        • 3 Years Ago
        David,
        I share your enthusiasm for nuclear energy, but you need to know one of it's limitations. You stated, "With nuclear heat pumps are practical and space heating can be done at good cost via electric." Unfortunately, you share a misunderstanding about heat pumps with John McCain. Ground and water source heat pumps are very efficient and can work all year round, but they are very expensive and for a variety of reasons, they are very difficult or impossible to implement in most applications, and will therefore never make a large penetration into the HVAC market. Air source heat pumps are the most common type. They are only moderately more expensive than a standard air conditioning system and can save energy, but they have a major drawback. The efficiency of an air source heat pump goes down when you need it the most; as the outside air temperature goes down. Below a certain point, usually around 40 degrees F, the heat pump will not work at all, and auxiliary heat (usually electric resistance, but sometimes natural gas or propane) kicks in. A decently insulated building usually doesn't need any heat below around 50 to 55 degrees because the people and lights and electronics will keep it at 70 degrees. It needs relatively little heat even at 40 degrees ambient. If all of the buildings in an a city were equipped with heat pumps and auxiliary electric resistance heat, and during the night, the temperature is below 40 degrees, all of the buildings would be heated with electric resistance heat, creating an enormous peak demand on the power grid. Nuclear reactors are much better at providing constant power than being throttled. I'm not sure, but I think they are not really "throttled" at all, but just reject more or less heat depending upon the load. Anyway, back to heat pumps; because of their limitations, they are really only applicable in the south where it doesn't get too cold, and specifically, in older, not as well insulated buildings that need heat to kick in at a higher ambient temperature.

        It is very inefficient and extremely complicated to extract mechanical or electrical energy from the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, coal, propane or natural gas, but it is incredibly efficient and simple to extract heat energy from these fuels. That is why Volvo will be using an ethanol heater in their EV. Fossil fuels can also be throttled easily with high peak load. For these reasons, I believe that building heat will always be primarily done with the burning of fuels. For the time being, we will continue to use fossil fuels, but in the future, we could shift to renewable sources like corn ethanol.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Bip-D-Bo:
        You have not kept up with heat pump technology. Using CO2 as an operating fluid instead of the old fashioned fluids which are all I need in my air source heat pump in the mild climate of the UK, you are fine down to around -30C.
        Here is Hollowell, an American producer. Fujitsu, Mitsubishi and others also do them, in fact the Japanese have lead the way:
        http://www.gotohallowell.com/

        Here are the performance graphs for a Sanyo pump, which is rather old fashioned now, we can do better than that, but it gives an idea:
        http://www.airconwarehouse.com/acatalog/SANYO_CO2_ECO_Brochure.pdf
        • 3 Years Ago
        You haven't a clue. Look at Norway instead of Germany. Look at New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona - and we are states that can export wind-generated power as well as solar.

        And both are being built - just without the participation of the public utilities heavily vested in coal.
        BipDBo
        • 3 Years Ago
        David,
        I'm pretty sure that you're wrong about these CO2 heat pumps, but I would welcome a correction. First, my experience working with refrigeration vendors who have implemented CO2 is that it usually works itself out to be much less inefficient than conventional refrigerants. Also, a marketable heat pump will be a reverse cycle, not a dedicated heating unit. It needs to work well in cooling and heating. CO2 is not a good option for cooling. Secondly,the claim that it can operate in sub-freezing conditions should be taken with a big grain of salt. This is a claim also made by manufacturers of heat pumps that use traditional refrigerants such as R-410a. There is an unfortunate condition to these systems "working" is below freezing conditions. The outdoor coil in a reverse cycle system needs to be colder than ambient because it absorbs heat from the outdoors. This becomes more difficult as the ambient temperature drops because there is less heat to be absorbed. Below the freezing point, there is the added complication that water in the air will freeze on the coil, and before long the coil will be an ice sculpture. These systems keep "working" by reversing the cycle to go back into cooling mode long enough to thaw the ice. In this mode, the air handler cools the air, but then reheats it with electric strip heat. The overall efficiency through the periods of freeze/thaw is at best only slightly better than just using strip heat, and cyclic fatigue takes its toll on coils and compressors. Most of the time, they are just set up to go to 100% auxiliary heating below 40 degrees. This issue is fundamentally true no matter what refrigerant is used. Ground and water source heat pumps don't have this problem because the ground temperature fluctuates much less than air throughout the year.
        • 3 Years Ago
        What's wrong with storing the midnight wind for peak use? Can't we pump water uphill or something? Turn old salt mines into gigantic compressor bottles, things like that. I know you need geology to cooperate, but these features don't need to be right next to the windmills, right?
        • 3 Years Ago
        I believe, as is typical, many of you are getting your information from unreliable sources. BPL: Beck, Palin, Limbaugh work for Koch.

        Spain, Today, is getting 75% of it's wind from renewable sources.
        http://newsongreen.org/renewables-supplied-75-of-spains-electricity-on-january-6/

        Wind power is now as cheap or close to coal and natural gas Today. At 11 cents per kilowatt.

        China planning a boom in Wind Power:
        http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2010-11/19/content_11577875.htm

        Coal requires constant mining, shipping and burning of coal, which produces Mercury Pollution: Every Lake and Stream in America is now polluted. Bird study's are showing birds turning GAY because of mercury pollution. Put 2 and 2 together. What's it doing to you. What's the real cost of coal.

        Fracking is a local cancer, and lung damage source, it also destroys the downstream aquifer. In states like PA, that's the drinking water for millions of people in PA, NJ and Delaware. Nobody adds the Destructive cost to the fracking equation though, is that smart policy.

        Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas are 1900 technology. It's 2011, and time to move on to This Century's Clean and Smart power sources.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Dumbest thing ever. Shut down the plants so we have to be dependent on energy from other nations? No wonder we're in decline. We are being governed by complete idiots.
      • 3 Years Ago
      They can be replaced cheaply with natural gas. This won't be the end of the world.

      Then we can sell all that coal to China. So then can send their pollution to our west coast....and the world goes round.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Fracking? or did you leave it out of the conversation b/c it has oil implications as well?

      Coal plants will be converted to gas now that the EPA has allowed new controversial fracking techniques which will expand the supply of natural gas in the United States. The same new fracking techniques will allegedly raise US oil production by 20%.

      Green energy cannot sit around and rely on peak oil or onerous taxation to win the day. Green is going to have to compete and win.
        • 3 Years Ago
        If they leveled the playing field and stopped subsidizing fossil fuels more than they subsidize green energy then maybe it could win.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Over the past few years, as demand for wind turbines has grown, manufacturers have lowered their prices, meaning the cost of wind power has fallen and will likely continue to remain competitive with fossil fuel power. The Bloomberg study says that last year the cost per megawatt for turbines hit $1.33 million, which is 17 percent less than in 2007.

      In regions of Brazil, Mexico, Sweden and the U.S., wind power now costs $68/MWh and coal power costs $67/MWh. Natural gas remains cheapest at $56/MWh.

      http://www.ecogeek.org/component/content/article/3430

      I'm betting in a few years Wind will be cheaper then natural gas as well.


      And then there's Climate Change.
      The 2010 conservative estimate for Climate Change damage is a minimum of $60,000,000,000. That's 60 Billion.

      China, Pakistan and Russia, ( Plus Australian Flooding would add another 20 billion. )

      But, the Mid-West and the South should take a close look at the Russian heat wave destroying Wheat Harvest. We were very lucky it wasn't the US that was the first nation to lose 1/2 it's wheat harvest to climate change.

      Can you imagine the damage, destruction and farm bankruptcy this kind of event would inflict out the US Bread Basket?

      Factor that into your Carbon Fuel Sources.



      • 3 Years Ago
      Please consider the "Dependability" of your solutions/propositions.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dependability :

      "The wider use of this noun is in Systems engineering.

      Dependability as applied to a computer system is defined by the IFIP 10.4 Working Group on Dependable Computing and Fault Tolerance as:

      "[..] the trustworthiness of a computing system which allows reliance to be justifiably placed on the service it delivers [..]" [1]

      an alternative and broader definition is provided by IEC IEV 191-02-03:

      "dependability (is) the collective term used to describe the availability performance and its influencing factors : reliability performance, maintainability performance and maintenance support performance"[2]
      "
      • 3 Years Ago
      As for Climate Change, the US has been in severe drought conditions for the Last Three Years.

      You can track it yourself here:
      http://www.drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html

      I'm concerned with the US, but there's also a Global Drought going on as well.
      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=farmers-in-sahel-beat-back-drought-and-climate-change-with-trees
      • 3 Years Ago
      Pffft Scotland is aiming for 80% renewables by 2020.
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