Renewable-Energy Progress

Serious discussion of science, skepticism, and evolution
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lpetrich
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Renewable-Energy Progress

Post by lpetrich » Tue Jan 14, 2014 10:31 am

A (Wikipedia)listicle (list-based article): 13 Major Clean Energy Breakthroughs Of 2013 | ThinkProgress

But what an impressive list it is:

1. Using salt to keep producing solar power even when the sun goes down.
2. Electric vehicle batteries that can also power buildings.
3. The next generation of wind turbines is a gamechanger.
4. Solar electricity hits grid parity with coal.
5. Advancing renewable energy from ocean waves.
6. Harnessing ocean waves to produce fresh water.
7. Ultra-thin solar cells that break efficiency records.
8. Batteries that are safer, lighter, and store more power.
9. New age offshore wind turbines that float.
10. Cutting electricity bills with direct current power.
11. Commercial production of clean energy from plant waste is finally here.
12. Innovative financing bringing clean energy to more people.
13. Wind power is now competitive with fossil fuels.

Seems like we are approaching (Wikipedia)grid parity for wind and solar electricity generation. That's where they cost as much as existing fossil-fuel electricity-generation systems over their operational lifetime.

It will take some years to build the generation capacity needed to retire much of the existing fossil-fuel capacity, but I think that it's the beginning of the end for fossil-fuel electricity. I think that we are likely to see an end of new coal and natural-gas powerplants, with existing ones continuing to run for a while.

Successful commercialization of cellulose digestion will also be welcome. That means that one can avoid the problems of first-generation biofuels. A common one is corn, where one gets the fuel (ethanol, CH3CH2OH) by fermenting corn. One has to grow an entire corn plant to get its corn, and some people have plausibly claimed that the whole process does not have a net gain over using fossil fuels directly. But with cellulose digestion, one can use the whole plant, and one can use plant species that are low-maintenance.

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Post by ruby sparks » Tue Jan 14, 2014 10:40 am

Subscribing

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Post by lpetrich » Tue Jan 14, 2014 4:01 pm

Previous threads here: Updates on what I'd mentioned in previous threads: One of the OP's items is about financing. It's a serious problem for renewable energy resources: their capital or initial cost is relatively high. If one buys solar panels for one's house's roof, it's like paying 10 years of electric bills in advance.

Another OP item is worth mentioning. Powering desalination directly with wave energy. This works since the desalination there is by reverse osmosis, squeezing water out of seawater by pushing it through a semipermeable membrane that less water pass but not salt ions. Doing so requires pressure, and here, the waves will operate pumps that supply that pressure. Carnegie Wave Energy to Launch the World's First Wave-Powered Desalination Plant | Inhabitat - Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building in Perth, Australia

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Post by No Robots » Tue Jan 14, 2014 8:41 pm


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Post by Ozymandias » Wed Jan 15, 2014 12:38 am

I don't think any of them will ever come to anything. Not because they won't work scientifically. But there is too much vested interest and too much money in oil, and that buys influence. The government will make sure these come to nothing.

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Post by Valheru » Wed Jan 15, 2014 2:03 pm

Not too convinced about that, Ozy. I'm pretty sure all gubberments have plenty of vested interests in "side" projects and mucho funding for it as well, but in the meantime the easy money is in dino piss. Once the fossil stuff starts running out, they'll trot out all these funky things which will have been in development for decades.

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Post by lpetrich » Fri Feb 14, 2014 11:09 am


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Post by nygreenguy » Fri Feb 14, 2014 12:15 pm

We just built a new building on campus that is LEED certified Platinum and it creates more power than it consumes.

It has solar panels on the roof, it has a wood pellet gasifier in the basement which uses willow we grow on waste sites, the ash is used to fertilize, we make biodiesel from our cafeteria waste and we turn thebutter sculpture from the state fair into biodiesel. The building also has a lot of energy conservation built into its design. A gree roof, no south facing windows, any waste heat from energy production is use for heating, etc...
"Mythology is someone else's religion, different enough from your own for its absurdity to be obvious."- Anon

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Post by ruby sparks » Fri Feb 14, 2014 12:32 pm

[quote=""nygreenguy""]We just built a new building on campus that is LEED certified Platinum and it creates more power than it consumes.

It has solar panels on the roof, it has a wood pellet gasifier in the basement which uses willow we grow on waste sites, the ash is used to fertilize, we make biodiesel from our cafeteria waste and we turn thebutter sculpture from the state fair into biodiesel. The building also has a lot of energy conservation built into its design. A gree roof, no south facing windows, any waste heat from energy production is use for heating, etc...[/quote]


:clap:

There is something wonderfully pleasing about a building which creates more energy than it consumes.

I see that the LEED rating system is used for American and Canadian houses too. Over here we have something called The Sustainable Homes Scheme. House builders accessing government money (nowadays usually Housing associations) are obliged to achieve the highest ratings (Code 6 I believe) and get some funding towards it. Private house builders haven't taken it on board yet, by and large. The average private developer understandably just wants to maximise his short-term return. Even private individuals building their own house tend to baulk at the extra initial costs, perhaps because so many of them think they may have moved house before the end of the payback period.

On the other hand, the two areas of Building regulations which are updated faster and more often than any other are disabled access and thermal/energy standards, so even developers reluctantly have to improve energy standards. We're still a long way behind Scandinavian countries of course, they've been at the stage we're at now for decades, but I foresee a time not too far away when most if not all UK homes will be required to be not just efficient but carbon neutral.

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Post by lpetrich » Fri Feb 14, 2014 3:20 pm

The Ivanpah solar-thermal powerplant is now open. It uses 347,000 heliostats - computer-aimed mirrors as big as garages - to focus sunlight onto boilers in 3 towers. The boiled water then drives a standard sort of turbogenerator. It's closed-cycle and air-cooled, so it does not need much water from outside. It producess 392 megawatts of electricity, enough for over 140,000 homes.

However, there are questions about how many more such systems will get built, because of competition from photovoltaic cells.

There is also the problem of dead birds with singed feathers, something that has made some fossil-fuel groupies gloat.

A Huge Solar Plant Opens, Facing Doubts About Its Future - NYTimes.com
California solar plant greeted with fanfare, doubts about future | Reuters
Ivanpah opening: Is solar thermal the future of US energy, or a dead end?
Officials fete fully operational BrightSource's Ivanpah solar plant | The Desert Sun | mydesert.com
Huge thermal plant near Primm opens as solar industry grows - Las Vegas Sun News
Future of solar unclear as big plant comes online - SFGate
Ivanpah solar thermal plant - CNET News

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Post by Worldtraveller » Fri Feb 14, 2014 4:55 pm

I just saw a blurb on fb this morning about one of the fusion plants getting slightly better than breakeven power. I'll see if I can find a link later. That might be huge in the near future.

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Post by phands » Fri Feb 14, 2014 8:01 pm

[quote=""Worldtraveller""]I just saw a blurb on fb this morning about one of the fusion plants getting slightly better than breakeven power. I'll see if I can find a link later. That might be huge in the near future.[/quote]

How about THIS?

High-Powered Lasers Deliver Fusion Energy Breakthrough

A new experiment releases more energy than is pumped into fuel—a major milestone—but a long journey still remains for sustainable energy from fusion
This is on Scientific American.
ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

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Post by lpetrich » Sat Feb 15, 2014 11:39 am

It's remarkable that controlled-fusion researchers have gotten as far as they have, but I have some doubts as to the ultimate feasibility of controlled fusion. One needs a lot of expensive equipment to confine the fusion fuel enough to fuse, and it looks suitable only for big powerplants. Furthermore, there's the problem of economies of scale. They exist for most technologies as they are applied more broadly, but for controlled fusion, one may have to climb down rather far. Unless fusion can be done on a small scale, it may be difficult to get much my way of economies of scale, because there can't be many big powerplants.

There's also the problem that concentrated solar-energy systems may now be facing, systems like the Ivanpah powerplant. Being upstaged by other technologies, like photovoltaic cells.

Nuclear fusion, like nuclear fission, also requires a lot of isotope separation, and much more than nuclear fission. Protium (hydrogen-1) is not suitable, however surprising it might be. One might consider the Sun a good example of protium fusion in action. But though it's very bright by ordinary standards, it's also very massive by ordinary standards, and a free proton in its core lasts about 10 billion years.

Why so long? Let's consider the first step in the Sun's nuclear fusion, two protons coming together. They make a diproton, and one of the protons must then become a neutron, making deuterium. However, that proton-to-neutron reaction is a weak-interaction one, and a neutron decays with a half-life of 10 minutes. That's much much longer than the amount of time a diproton stays together, and that's with more energy (1.3 MeV) than is available for diproton->deuterium (0.42 MeV). So that's why free protons are an unsuitable fusion fuel for us.

There is a naturally-occurring isotope of hydrogen that's usable by us: deuterium, hydrogen-2. However, it's about 10^(-4) of the hydrogen in the Earth's crust, and hydrogen thus needs a *lot* of enrichment. In fact, there's a risk that the energy necessary to enrich hydrogen may be a sizable fraction of the energy collected from fusing it.

There's also the problem of radioactivity. Fusion produces some fast-moving nuclei, and they will induce radioactivity in the fusion-chamber walls. However, some people have claimed that one can select the wall materials to keep this radioactivity from being too troublesome.

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Post by Copernicus » Sat Feb 15, 2014 9:37 pm

[quote=""lpetrich""]The Ivanpah solar-thermal powerplant is now open. It uses 347,000 heliostats - computer-aimed mirrors as big as garages - to focus sunlight onto boilers in 3 towers. The boiled water then drives a standard sort of turbogenerator. It's closed-cycle and air-cooled, so it does not need much water from outside. It producess 392 megawatts of electricity, enough for over 140,000 homes.

However, there are questions about how many more such systems will get built, because of competition from photovoltaic cells.

There is also the problem of dead birds with singed feathers, something that has made some fossil-fuel groupies gloat.

A Huge Solar Plant Opens, Facing Doubts About Its Future - NYTimes.com
California solar plant greeted with fanfare, doubts about future | Reuters
Ivanpah opening: Is solar thermal the future of US energy, or a dead end?
Officials fete fully operational BrightSource's Ivanpah solar plant | The Desert Sun | mydesert.com
Huge thermal plant near Primm opens as solar industry grows - Las Vegas Sun News
Future of solar unclear as big plant comes online - SFGate
Ivanpah solar thermal plant - CNET News[/quote]
Yes, this one has become a right wing talking point, which, predictably, tends to confuse the Ivanpah method with solar power generation in general. The progress with photovoltaic power is very heartening, although the biggest problem is with scale up to meet the demands on a large power grid. I'm not sure how feasible it will become in the end.

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Post by lpetrich » Sun Feb 16, 2014 12:06 am

Solar-thermal facilities like Ivanpah can be suitable for industrial process heat, and they are a possible alternative to electrolysis for making hydrogen. Here's how that would work. It's a takeoff of a geological process called serpentinization. Here are the reactions:

2FeO + H2O -> Fe2O3 + H2 (temperature ~ 1000 C)

One may then de-serpentinize the iron oxide so one can reuse it.

Fe2O3 -> 2FeO + (1/2)*O2 (temperature ~ 1500 C)

There's some research in mixing iron oxide with various other metal oxides to make the reactions more convenient.

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Post by kevin » Sun Feb 16, 2014 3:12 am

I think the coal plants all know that coal is a dead end. The only reason they continue to use it is it's pretty cheap if the coal plant is already built. Natural gas seems to be where things are headed in the U.S. in the short term.

Is natural gas really a fossil fuel? It's mostly methane, which can be produced organically.

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Post by Siempre » Sun Feb 16, 2014 3:48 am

[quote=""lpetrich""]A (Wikipedia)listicle (list-based article): 13 Major Clean Energy Breakthroughs Of 2013 | ThinkProgress

But what an impressive list it is:

1. Using salt to keep producing solar power even when the sun goes down.
2. Electric vehicle batteries that can also power buildings.
3. The next generation of wind turbines is a gamechanger.
4. Solar electricity hits grid parity with coal.
5. Advancing renewable energy from ocean waves.
6. Harnessing ocean waves to produce fresh water.
7. Ultra-thin solar cells that break efficiency records.
8. Batteries that are safer, lighter, and store more power.
9. New age offshore wind turbines that float.
10. Cutting electricity bills with direct current power.
11. Commercial production of clean energy from plant waste is finally here.
12. Innovative financing bringing clean energy to more people.
13. Wind power is now competitive with fossil fuels.

Seems like we are approaching (Wikipedia)grid parity for wind and solar electricity generation. That's where they cost as much as existing fossil-fuel electricity-generation systems over their operational lifetime.

It will take some years to build the generation capacity needed to retire much of the existing fossil-fuel capacity, but I think that it's the beginning of the end for fossil-fuel electricity. I think that we are likely to see an end of new coal and natural-gas powerplants, with existing ones continuing to run for a while.

Successful commercialization of cellulose digestion will also be welcome. That means that one can avoid the problems of first-generation biofuels. A common one is corn, where one gets the fuel (ethanol, CH3CH2OH) by fermenting corn. One has to grow an entire corn plant to get its corn, and some people have plausibly claimed that the whole process does not have a net gain over using fossil fuels directly. But with cellulose digestion, one can use the whole plant, and one can use plant species that are low-maintenance.[/quote]

Haven't many of these existed for some time now?

1) Salt battery... Only new in the US... and even then only new in regards to solar plants.

2) (car) battery charging buildings has existed for decades. The only difference is they put the battery in the car instead of the building. That's hardly a "breakthrough".

3) Lol... did you read this one? They make sure the wind turbines face the wind and they store the energy it generates. This has been done for decades also. All they have done is incorporate it on a large scale... something you would think would have been done... well, decades ago when everyone else was doing it on a smaller scale. Thus, it isn't a breakthrough.

4) This was a good one. Though, to be fair we have made similar improvements in the solar cell industry almost every year. Not all of this though is technology. Also, I know that some of the figures are a bit misleading. Some of the new cell technology only provides these savings on paper. Because some of the cell technology drop in output as they get hotter. And since you are normally putting them in sunny/hot areas...lol. Still good improvements though.

5) This ocean wave stuff is definitely not new. The fact that they are planning to do it large scale might be... I'm not sure if they are the first to do so or not. Regardless, there is no major breakthrough in this area really.

I can go on if you really want. Bottom line, these are more great projects/strides than great "breakthroughs".

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Post by nygreenguy » Sun Feb 16, 2014 1:54 pm

[quote=""kevin""]I think the coal plants all know that coal is a dead end. The only reason they continue to use it is it's pretty cheap if the coal plant is already built. Natural gas seems to be where things are headed in the U.S. in the short term.

Is natural gas really a fossil fuel? It's mostly methane, which can be produced organically.[/quote]

It depends on the source. Landfills often have methane collection on site which they then sell to energy companies.

The natural gas from sources like hydrofracking are considered fossil fuels.
"Mythology is someone else's religion, different enough from your own for its absurdity to be obvious."- Anon

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Post by kevin » Sun Feb 16, 2014 5:56 pm

[quote=""nygreenguy""]
kevin;523950 wrote:I think the coal plants all know that coal is a dead end. The only reason they continue to use it is it's pretty cheap if the coal plant is already built. Natural gas seems to be where things are headed in the U.S. in the short term.

Is natural gas really a fossil fuel? It's mostly methane, which can be produced organically.
It depends on the source. Landfills often have methane collection on site which they then sell to energy companies.

The natural gas from sources like hydrofracking are considered fossil fuels.[/QUOTE]

That's a good point.

I like the idea of microbes eating garbage and producing fuel ... seems like that solves two problems. Plus natural gas offers a fairly high energy output. I'm not sure solar/wind/tidal works well for something like powering a car (with giant toxic batteries).

Though I suppose the downside long-term would be the greenhouse gases produced in combustion of methane.

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Post by subsymbolic » Sun Feb 16, 2014 7:39 pm

Nice to see you posting again Kevin, we've missed your excellent contributions :D

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Post by praxis » Sun Feb 16, 2014 9:22 pm

[quote=""subsymbolic""]Nice to see you posting again Kevin, we've missed your excellent contributions :D [/quote]Agreed!

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Post by Copernicus » Sun Feb 16, 2014 10:10 pm

[quote=""kevin""]I like the idea of microbes eating garbage and producing fuel ... seems like that solves two problems. Plus natural gas offers a fairly high energy output. I'm not sure solar/wind/tidal works well for something like powering a car (with giant toxic batteries).[/quote]
However, the solar/wind/tidal power is used to charge the batteries repeatedly without dumping carbon into the atmosphere. Every method of energy usage carries with it some impact on the environment, so I'm not trying to belittle the problems inherent in disposing of those batteries. Of course, people who point these things out are often promoting what they see as a "cleaner" alternative, and that is natural gas in the article I linked to. Reality is probably a little more complex than that, because the factories that produce the batteries may themselves become less polluting in the future, and the energy stored in the batteries does not deplete nonrenewable energy sources. Despite what fossil-burning advocates say, the electric/hybrid versions still produce a lower carbon emission footprint over the life of the vehicle.

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Post by kevin » Mon Feb 17, 2014 12:16 am

@subsymbolic and praxis, thanks :)

@Copernicus: I agree... if methane (or ethanol) were used long term, there would have to be have to be a long-term solution for pulling CO2 and other pollutants back out of the atmosphere. What is a bit maddening with global warming is that we are starting to drown in too much heat energy, we have no way to tap it, and we need energy.

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Post by lpetrich » Sat Feb 22, 2014 9:19 pm

Donald Trump faces fresh wind farm battle near new Irish golf club | Aberdeen & North | News | STV
He recently bought a golf course in Ireland, and he's objecting to plans to build 9 wind turbines on nearby land.

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Post by espritch » Sun Feb 23, 2014 1:00 am

[quote=""nygreenguy""]We just built a new building on campus that is LEED certified Platinum and it creates more power than it consumes.

It has solar panels on the roof, it has a wood pellet gasifier in the basement which uses willow we grow on waste sites, the ash is used to fertilize, we make biodiesel from our cafeteria waste and we turn thebutter sculpture from the state fair into biodiesel. The building also has a lot of energy conservation built into its design. A gree roof, no south facing windows, any waste heat from energy production is use for heating, etc...[/quote]

I tend to think the easiest way to reduce fossil fuel dependency is increased energy efficiency. Glad to hear your university is working towards that.

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