The future of renewable energy

I was listening to a depressing interview the other day on NPR about how the increasing demands for limited fossil fuels will have increasingly important geopolitical consequences– and probably not so good for the United States.  The simple fact is that most of the oil and natural gas reserves are in nations with governments one would not exactly call benevolent and enlightened.  It is absolutely shameful how much energy our nation of SUV's, and 90 minute commutes, and McMansions wastes, but I came across two interesting articles this past week which really suggest a promising future for good old solar energy as a potentially important future energy resource.

Forget solar photovoltaics which only work when the sun it out, the key is to store that solar energy for use during cloudy times and at night.  Looks like the technology is already pretty much there.  The key is Concentrated Solar Power (CSP)  From Salon:

after speaking with energy experts and seeing countless presentations
on all forms of clean power, I believe the one technology closest to
being a silver bullet for global warming is the other solar power:
solar thermal electric, which concentrates the sun's rays to heat a
fluid that drives an electric generator. It is the best source of clean
energy to replace coal and sustain economic development. I bet that it
will deliver more power every year this century than coal with carbon
capture and storage — for much less money and with far less
environmental damage.

The key innovation– molten salt:

The key attribute of CSP is that it generates primary energy in the
form of heat, which can be stored 20 to 100 times more cheaply than
electricity — and with far greater efficiency. Commercial projects
have already demonstrated that CSP systems can store energy by heating
oil or molten salt, which can retain the heat for hours. Ausra and
other companies are working on storing the heat directly with water in
the tubes, which would significantly lower cost and avoid the need for
heat exchangers.

Amazingly, it all sounds quite realistic:

CSP makes use of the most abundant and free fuel there is, sunlight,
and key countries have a vast resource. Solar thermal plants covering
the equivalent of a 92-by-92-mile square grid in the Southwest could
generate electricity for the entire United States. Mexico has an
equally enormous solar resource. China, India, southern Europe, North
Africa, the Middle East and Australia also have huge resources…

The technology has no obvious bottlenecks and uses mostly commodity
materials — steel, concrete and glass. The central component, a
standard power system routinely used by the natural gas industry today,
would create steam to turn a standard electric generator. Plants can be
built rapidly — in two to three years — much faster than nuclear
plants. It would be straightforward to build CSP systems at whatever
rate industry and governments needed, ultimately 50 to 100 gigawatts a
year growth or more.

The New York Times also had a nice story on the topic this week, including a cool graphic of how the storage works.

Consider me sold.  As depressing as all of our future energy and climate problems might seem, I am pretty optimistic at what technology can accomplish if we just set out mind to these sorts of things before it is too late.  We can make our renewable energy future a smooth, gradual transition or an abrupt painful one.  I'm obviously hoping for the former, but fear the latter.

McCain and the media

I've been meaning to do a post on the media's excessive love for McCain for a while, but I just came across this great post (thanks to Ezra Klein), that really sums it all up amazingly succinctly:

Do you think if Barack Obama had left his seriously ill wife after having had multiple affairs, had been a member of the “Keating Five,”
had had a relationship with a much younger lobbyist that his staff felt
the need to try and block, had intervened on behalf of the client of
said young lobbyist with a federal agency, had denounced then embraced
Jerry Falwell, had denounced then embraced the Bush tax cuts, had
confused Shiite with Sunni, had confused Al Qaeda in Iraq with the
Mahdi Army, had actively sought the endorsement and appeared on stage
with a man who denounced the Catholic Church as a whore, and stated
that he knew next to nothing about economics — do you think it's possible that Obama would have been treated differently by the media than John McCain has been?  Possible?

%d bloggers like this: