Kyoto – A Perspective (Part 21)

Posted on Mon 05/05/2008 by



“Beam me up Scotty”

In reality, if we cannot find realistic alternatives to coal fired plants, then it’s problematic that global warming can be effectively reduced. A replacement process actually has to supply reliable and continuous power to consumers, one that doesn’t cost so much it makes electrical power unaffordable to the consumer.
However, we need to canvass all the options, and trust me, over the next few years you’ll see and hear of some pretty wild ideas.
The big three are Solar Wind and that anachronism, clean coal, carbon geo sequestration, and I’ll deal with each of those separately.

You’ll hear about processes that you haven’t heard of before, because the concentration is on the aforementioned big three.
Some are being used already, and effective as they may already be, they’re not yet to the level of supplying regular reliable power on the large scale needed.

Also, have you noticed something quite telling.
Environmentalists come up with crackpot schemes, and then, without knowledge or forethought, categorically state this is the answer. Their camp followers have even less knowledge, religiously believing every word uttered, latching on and holding fast, and in the process shouting down, heckling at, and scoffing with pointed fingers at anybody who attempts to explain that rationality alone pours cold water on their original premise.

Engineers and their backers however work behind the scenes, actually finding ways around any problems.

Politicians know where the loudest voice of public opinion is and they know if they appease that loud voice, votes will follow. The old adage applies.
Say whatever it takes to get elected, and then find people who can write speeches to give the impression that something is actually being done. Then, when those quiet, behind the scenes engineers and their backers produce something, politicians fall all over themselves in the rush to make it look like it was all their doing.

Here are some processes either being used already or as ideas inside the heads of people who should know better.

This uses changes of tides to drive turbines similar to hydro electric power generation. You need variability of tides of reasonable scale for this to work. The technology is still developmental. There are some plants in operation, but power output is tiny, and assuming the technology can be scaled up, it will never be able to produce large baseload power. It could be used to power small seaside communities but setup costs would not make it viable for that small community, and even though the perception is that surely the electricity would be cheap, that would have to be offset by the cost of the construction of the plant in the first place. Ethics also demand that those moving into that area after that original cost has been paid are then taking advantage of those who were there from day one, so public tensions would necessitate that the cost be regulated as equal to all people whenever they arrive, keeping in mind that a plant of this size can only support a certain number of homes,

This would be similar to tidal power, using the energy created by motion of the waves to turn a turbine to drive the generator. Again, power output is quite small, and realistically, without newer technology could not seriously be used as a constant source of large baseload power. It could however be used to power desalination plants converting salt water into fresh water, as these plants are notorious high end users of electric power for that conversion process. The same constraints also apply for seaside communities with this process of generation as for tidal power.

This process is already being used, but mainly by Companies producing waste that can be used to supply the power that they use onsite. Here in Queensland, Australia, there are quite a few sugar mills. The sugar is extracted from the cane, and the waste product is called bagasse. This is burnt in a furnace to boil water to steam, driving a turbine. All the sugar mills use the waste bagasse to generate all the power they use in the process of refining the sugar at each of the mills. Again, it is only capable of being used on a small scale, and you have to actually have the product to burn in the first place, and you are in effect still creating greenhouse gases as you burn the waste.

I made that title up because it’s still a hare brained crackpot scheme if ever I’ve heard of one. Here’s the plan. Send thousands of mirrors up into a geo stationary Earth orbit, in the Shuttle I suppose. Then with a huge construction crew, (in outer space mind you) connect all the mirrors together perfectly, and focus them at a point on the Earth’s surface. The idea is that the Sun shines all the time into the mirror, the beam then focussed to a collector on the surface of the Earth which then uses this solar energy to produce power, the enormous heat boiling water to steam to drive a turbine to drive the generator. This gets out of the cloudy day syndrome, because the Sun always shines onto the orbital mirrors, beaming back to Earth twenty four seven. The theory is good, and the intent is even good, but it hasn’t been too well thought out. The area surrounding the beam would have to have a large exclusion area, meaning no fly zones, no highways, no homes, no people because that reflected heat would be tremendous in the extreme, and the glare blinding. Safety would probably prohibit people from actually working in the area surrounding the beam itself. That being said the plant would have to constructed in an out of the way place, meaning the construction of vast infrastructure, most probably automated. Then you’d have to hope the mirrors don’t ever move, a tiny pebble sized piece of space junk doesn’t crash into the orbiting structure at the speed it travels out there, that being Earth’s escape velocity of 17,000 MPH. If something happens, then just send the Shuttle and a bunch of guys up there to fix it, hoping they don’t get melted.
Hey, the crackpots say, this might work. No, this will never work. If it could be made to work, decades from now it must be said, the cost would be astronomical, for very little end result in the way of replacing numerous baseload power plants.

I have an opinion that if you’re going to spend phenomenal amounts of money on replacement power plants, then surely this has to become a viable option. If you’re going to spend huge amounts of money on hare brained schemes, could not that same amount of money be diverted into making a process like this work? Also, when compared to existing hydro electric plants, then surely the huge up front cost of the dam and the construction time for that dam could also be alleviated somewhat with this process, and it’s not like you would have to go looking for suitable canyons on rivers with large flows and an area behind it for the water to back up. Admitted, it could only be used for States with an ocean border, but in the mix of plants, it could be viewed as an attractive option, with a constant supply of fuel, (the water itself) and it could possibly provide large constant, reliable baseload power. In this case, it could be used in a manner similar to pumped hydro, where there is an upper water catchment and the lower water catchment is the ocean itself, but you would need somewhere where there is a good height difference between where you site the upper catchment and the ocean. The seawater is pumped into the upper catchment, and when needed, that water then flows back down the slope and through the turbines in the power plant itself, generating the power. This actually could be a feasible option.

In the next piece. I’ll explain some processes that might just be able to be made to work.