Geeks With Blogs

News
Jason Coyne Jason Coyne's blog

Reader J.Pickens replied to yesteday's post on Are Hybrids Really Green?, with some followup items for debate. I think I shall indulge him!

... the comment that solar cells being "just near the point of breakeven" has been claimed for at least the last thirty years. I'm sorry, but photovoltaic electric power generation just isn't the answer. I personally was a member of a team which produced the first thin film photovoltaic cells able to get greater than 10% energy conversion in large area cells. This was back in the mid '80's, and the cells haven't gotten much better since then. Thermodynamics and Quantum Mechanics are a bitch. Even if we were able to use 20% efficiency cells, and plaster them over all the available land in the sunny southwest, we still wouldn't produce as much electricity as the current nuclear power plants in the US. In addition, the energy used to produce, mount, and maintain the cells would not reach breakeven for many years, so you'd actually CONSUME all that power BEFORE you got any of it back.

And the "peak oil" comment is laughable. There are many times the amount of hydrocarbon fuels available in the ground in the US than has already been consumed. It is a matter of political will and cost per barrel to get at them.

Now, maybe we can talk about other "Green" pseudoenvironmentalist disasters, like the need for thousands of daily round trips by diesel fueled trucks to remove municipal garbage from population centers like New York City and deliver the refuse to places like Ohio and West Virginia. If this refuse were burned in incinerators to produce electricity, you would offset more in energy use in one day than all the windmill generators in operation in the US produce in one year.

My comment on solar panels was not meant to imply that solar panels would be a good choice for powering cars, or for massive implementation to power the US grid. As you pointed out, the surface area required would be huge. I do however think that solar cells on a small scale basis may be viable, for example reducing (or eliminating depending on where you live) a home's energy bill by using cells on the roof. 

The point was that the break even point in terms of energy required to produce a cell, vs the energy generated by that cell over its lifetime has just recently been met.  In essence, the first generations of a new technology are ALWAYS inefficient, and more expensive than what they replace - but that doesn't mean they aren't worth pursuing. This went hand in hand with the horse argument, but I can think of lots of other examples, most of which have nothing to do with being green. IE The first electric lights probably cost more (and provided worse light) than the oil lamps or gas lights they replaced, but the were still the wave of the future.

Your peak oil response is somewhat weak I think. Firstly, nobody knows how much oil is really out there. Clearly there is more oil out there, and areas that we haven't tapped yet like the Alaskan preserve, but there is good reason to think that the mideast (and other) supplies are declining, and they have good reason to over-estimate over there. But, for the sake of argument assume there is a significant amount  (centuries) of oil out there- you already gave the problem in your own response. Of course it is a matter of will power and cost per barrel. The point is that that cost per barrel might be more expensive than switching to a new source energy (not even counting the enviromental effects of burning petrol). Already we are at the point in terms of traditional oil costs where technologies like oil shale extraction, and conversion from coal to oil are starting to pick up momentum. It doesn't need to go much higher before battery power  (with the ultimate source being solar, nuclear, hydrogen, etc) becoming a viable alterative.

As for burning refuse - it is an interesting idea. Certainly there would be savings in terms of transporting the refuse, and you would also get some land reclaimation out of it; in addition to the energy created by the burn - but the enviromental impact might be huge. From a clean perspective burning refuse I would imagine is somewhere on par with burning coal, and even worse perhaps, because you would be burning plastics, dyes, chemicals of all sorts, vaporizing mercury in the air, etc. You could do some sorting to reduce this, but that sorting and seperating (particularly if you tried to break down items into smaller components to get the maximum extraction) would be a logistic nightmare, and significantly reduce the cost effectiveness.

My personal thought, unless some major breakthrough like cold fusion or zero point energy comes around, is that nuclear is the only viable option long term. New generation pebble reactors significantly reduce the danger of nuclear power, and nothing else is scaleable to the level of meeting current world demand long term, plus the additional load caused by adding billions of Chineese and Indians as power consumers. Hydro power is good, but it is only usable in a localized area, solar (at current and near term efficiencies) takes too much surface area, wind also takes a lot of surface area - and may do more ecological damage than good.

update 7/12/06 4:37 pm : CWilliams asked for some detail regarding the ecological impacts of Wind Power. I would suggest http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power as a good source. In the “Arguments of Opponents” section, it lists out several problems with wind power. Primarily the ecological impacts of wind power deal with destruction of wildlife habitats due to the area required, and injury (often death) of birds, bats, and other flying animals near the turbines. In Scandanavia, the enviromentalists often protest AGAINST wind power...

update 7/13/06 2:14pm Part III of Are Hybrids Really Green

Posted on Wednesday, July 12, 2006 12:22 PM gadgets , politics | Back to top


Comments on this post: Are Hybrids Really Green? - Part II - Alternative Energy Sources

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green? - Part II - Alternative Energy Sources
Requesting Gravatar...
Yo... I have a question for ya. Please don't take this as picking a fight or a debate... I honestly don't know.

You said: wind also takes a lot of surface area - and may do more ecological damage than good.

My Q: I get the first part, but not the second. Can you explain it?
Left by Blogus Maximus on Jul 12, 2006 1:31 PM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green? - Part II - Alternative Energy Sources
Requesting Gravatar...
That was an interesting and informative article. Thanks!
Left by Blogus Maximus on Jul 12, 2006 1:53 PM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green? - Part II - Alternative Energy Sources
Requesting Gravatar...
We agree on Nuclear power.
It is the best answer to the replacement of CO2 emitting energy production processes.
Too bad the pseudoenvironmentalists closed down that option thirty years ago. I wonder if they will ever admit to being wrong and "permit" new plants to be built?

Please link to these supposed "breakeven" solar cells. I have yet to read an unequivocal analysis showing meaningful net energy production for a large array. The rooftop panels which my state of New Jersey is heavily subsidizing with our tax dollars will NEVER EVER break even, no matter what technology they use. We just don't get enough sunlight to let that happen. More rampant pseudoenvironmetalism.

As to my peak oil comment, I was, indeed referring to all hydrocarbons, including oil, natural gas, oil shale, oil sands, and coal in the US. Last I read, we have a three hundred year supply of these, even when growth in usage are extrapolated into the future. I'm not advocating their total use, but I don't accept the peak oil hypothesis that we will run out of oil anytime soon.

In the case of burning garbage for energy, more innocent people will die in garbage hauling accidents caused by the increase in total garbage truck miles due to "green" requirements to transport the stuff farther and farther away than would be extrapolated to "die" due to the health hazards of garbage incinerator emissions in my area of the Northeast.
Left by J. Pickens on Jul 12, 2006 9:19 PM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green? - Part II - Alternative Energy Sources
Requesting Gravatar...
The problem with nuclear isnt that it is "dangerous" because it isnt. The problem with nuclear is that there are extremely large amounts of nuclear waste that we currently have absolutely no use for. Since nuclear already composes 20 % of all of the current US energy needs and we are STILL having a hard time trying to find a place to put it at 20 %, think of how bad it is going to be at higher levels if it replaces coal or oil. Nuclear = not good. If we could find a use for the radioactive waste, then nuclear would be better, but then you are also not taking into account that nuclear is still a nonrenewable resource and that it must be mined. Nuclear is better than most but it is still too bad to use as the main energy source of the US or even the world.

Secondly, about the oil reaching its peak in a couple of years. You obviously do not understand the issue. In all reality, we have not even used half of the hydrocarbon products in the world. But, as we use up the readily available fuel sources, it becomes harder to find and extract the more difficult sources of fuel. This will drive up the costs of oil exponentially. So far there is no economically viable way to use oil shale, oil sands, or convert coal to oil. Those options just cost too much. But by saying that the oil production is going to peak is actually somewhat accurate. Soon it will be too difficult to get the remaining oil and stay even with current production. Current estimates suggest that this will be sometime in the next 25 years.

Also, if you are going to condemn wind power because it kills birds and bats, then how can you support hydroelectric? It does the same thing except to marine life.

Solar is going to be horrible for at least another 10 years. It will be our only viable solution, but it is no where near ready.

Hydrogen is completely bad unless you have a clean source of electricity and since we are currently using coal for the majority of that it doesnt really help.

Finally about the burning of garbage comment. This is already done on a small scale in certain areas of the US. But this is not really going to do much good. First of all, after burning all sorts of bad things are let into the atmosphere. I really dont care that much about CO2 right now, I am talking more about SOX's and NOX's. So now we will have acid rain just like in the seventies, which will kill tons of trees and lots of marine life, especially fish. I dont think that I need to really go into this, if you disagree with me on the harms of acid rain then read a book about it. This will cause a lot more of "uncatagorized" deaths and in the long run will kill a lot more people than your current estimates.

The only thing that is going to stop all of these problems is reducing, reusing, and recycling. We are not going to be able to keep our current lifestyles and until the US (mostly) understands that we will never come up with an answer to the problem.

Next time please do some more research on the subject before you post up your thoughts both of you. If you would have taken just a couple of minutes you would have seen the answers that I have posted on just about any recent scientific paper that has to do with the issue.
Left by Ben W. on May 14, 2008 10:25 AM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green? - Part II - Alternative Energy Sources
Requesting Gravatar...
Did you know that wind has potential for power? It does not damage the environment plus its a powerful source of alternative energy. It is gaining popularity because other sources of fuel damage the environment and also fuel prices are now very high. When thinking of wind power you may think about windmills, but wind can also be turned into electricity.
Left by Mathieu on Aug 06, 2008 9:56 PM

# New techology will save the Earth!
Requesting Gravatar...
There is highly interested business proposal!
As a result of long time research and development,
Planet Resource Recovery, Inc.
announces a remarkable 'disruptive nanotechnology'
enrolled
under the trade name PetroLuxus.
This unique
Green technology is biodegradable,
harmless and its molecules are so microscopic that it can penetrate virtually any natural or manmade material, and break the bond between those materials and hydrocarbons. PetroLuxus is being utilized to increase production 100 to 500% in marginal oil wells, and is also a silver bullet for property owners, as well as state and federal environmental agencies in the remediation of contaminated soil and water, making it possible for the first time to recover hydrocarbons and precious metals from soil that would otherwise be hauled away and burned to ash.

In case of any questions, see http://www.planetresource.net
Left by Stemnentuts on Apr 23, 2009 7:48 AM

# Engaging information
Requesting Gravatar...
Great information, i will visit again:D
Left by abultictcam on May 20, 2009 11:12 PM

Your comment:
 (will show your gravatar)


Copyright © Jason Coyne | Powered by: GeeksWithBlogs.net