A variety of stories about ideas and technologies for energy generation have popped up recently, and all seem worth paying a bit of attention to. Rather than QuickChange them one at a time, I'm going to mix them all together here and see what results.
News combining a couple of favorite themes -- environmental megaprojects and the UK -- shows up in plans to build what would amount to the world's biggest wind farm in the Greater Thames Estuary. This 270 turbine, 1-gigawatt project would provide power to a quarter of London's homes, and would be running by 2011. The BBC has details (of course), but James at the Alternative Energy Blog has more. The wind farm would be far enough out not to be visible from the shore, but objections have (predictably) nonetheless been raised. However, Friends of the Earth have come out squarely in favor of the project, and a new study suggests that fears of bird kills by wind turbines appear "over-inflated," and that the observed risk is much lower than previously thought.
From the mega to the mini, EUREKA -- a Europe-wide R&D consortium -- is rolling out a new type of Nickel-Zinc rechargeable battery as a spinoff from its "NiTiN" electric scooter project. NiZn batteries have the potential to be a good replacement for NiCd and other batteries using toxic heavy metals; past versions of the batteries suffered from being able to take only about 20 recharges before failing. The EUREKA version, which relies on a new electrically-conductive ceramic, can handle up to 1,000 recharges. The power-weight-cost combination of NiZn makes the technology an attractive option for some electric vehicle hackers. (Thanks, David Foley!)
And now, from the mini to the nano. Photovoltaic polymer manufacturer Konarka announced this week that it's teaming up with Solaris Nanosciences to develop its new flexible solar technologies. This otherwise prosaic business-page item is notable because Konarka is already a leader in "woven" polymer photovoltaic, and because Solaris Nano is able to boost the efficiency of solar electricity production with what they term "nano-antennas." They use nanoscale engineering to construct molecular antennas to enhance the conversion of light to electricity. That's pretty neat.
Developing new sources of renewable energy is vitally important to save the planet from catastrophic global warming in the not-too-distant future.
But interestingly, this article (http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/staff/faculty/oswald/windaccountancy04.pdf) by Andrew Oswald, an economist, suggests that the sheer amounts of energy that would need to be generated by wind turbines or nuclear power is far greater than the general debate seems to acknowledge - he says that, to satisfy all our renewable energy needs, we would need either 100 new nuclear power stations or a 10km deep strip of offshore wind turbines encircling the UK.
I don't know what figures he's based this calculation on, or what assumptions he's made - but even if you halve his estimates, it seems the problem is much bigger than anyone seems to realise.
There must be hope in terms of better wind and nuclear technology - but all the same, I found the numbers shocking!
Poeple greatly underestimate the shear power of the dark side.. er the coal/nuke side;/ a single large scale coal or nuke plant is the equive of prolly 100 square kilometers of wind turbines.
This is commonly posted comment, but it's in response to a common critique of alternative power sources (usually followed by a call for more nuclear plants).
Mr. Oswald, near the beginning of his piece, asks the following question: "What would it take to run all of Britain's transport, in a truly green
way, with hydrogen?"
And there you have what we ought to dub 'the energy replacement fallacy.'
It is true that we cannot replace our existing use with renewables without building a truly massive infrastructure of them. What needs to be understood is that we should not be trying to replace our current energy use with renewables. First and foremost, we should be trying to *greatly* reduce our energy use; for transportation, heat, light, services and everything else mentioned. The easiest, cheapest and most immediately available 'alternative' energy in the developed world today is conservation and improved efficiency.
When our energy footprint has shrunk radically, how much energy will we need? How many turbines, PV panels and hypercars will *that* require? That's the real question.