Sunday, November 30, 2008

Future of energy

There is a lot of discussion and ideation regarding the future of energy. The only thing everyone generally agrees upon is the quantitative underpinnings: that current worldwide energy demand is 15 TW (terawatt) hours per year and is expected to double by 2030 to 30 TW hours per year. It is clear that fossil fuel alternatives are necessary. No matter how low the price of oil may return (light crude is $50 per barrel at present in November 2008, down from $145 per barrel four months ago in July 2008), fossil fuel emissions, growth in worldwide energy demand and the oil independence interests of some nationstates warrant alternatives.

Different technologies have different proponents. A comprehensive strategic plan with consideration for installed base technologies, improvements thereto and incorporation of new technologies is lacking. There are many unanswered questions about how the constellation of possibilities should fit together and how trade-off decisions should be made. For example, should resources be devoted to the redevelopment and retrofitting of the 500 oldertech PCC (pulverized-coal combustion) coal plants in the U.S. fleet with nanofilters to better collect CO2 and other emissions from the flue gas, or instead use the resources to install the newertech IGCC (integrated gasification combined cycle) coal plants? Should coal plants be scrapped altogether in favor of solar, nuclear, wind, wave, geothermal and other renewable sources?

Is solar power, photovoltaics or thermal, terrestrial or space-based, point or line, dish or tower, trough or linear fresnel, the way to go? Is nuclear fission or fusion, traditional or pebble bed, the way to go? Is the fuel cell an unrealizable dream or a potential answer? Are batteries too toxic and developed from increasingly scarce materials or are nanoalloys, interleaved materials layers and nanocoatings making them viable?

Proposal #1: Presidential think-tank to develop comprehensive U.S. Energy Strategy Energy, like agriculture, is a special-interest politics game. It would be helpful to have a presidentially-appointed think-tank of diverse members without political background or agenda to develop a comprehensive strategic long-term Energy plan for the U.S.

Proposal #2: Key U.S. states to generate and sell energy
So far the thinking has been small, Nevada and Arizona have undertaken renewable energy initiatives for their own power needs but with their solar and land resources, they could potentially join California as one of the world’s ten largest economies by generating and transmitting energy to other states. Regional and eventually a national powergrid would need to be developed. This could work for Texas too, oil field land could be redeployed for solar power; oil derricks replaced by linear fresnel towers.

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