Who IS this guy?!

'Niceguy' Eddie

Political Talk Show Host and Internet Radio Personality. My show, In My Humble Opinion, aired on RainbowRadio from 2015-2017.

Feel free to contact me at niceguy9418@usa.com. You can also friend me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, and Tumblr, and support my Patreon. Also, if you don't mind the stench, you can find my unofficial "fan club" over HERE. ;)

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thursday, April 8, 2010

ENERGY! (Yay!)

OK. FINALLY, it's time to talk about ENERGY.


First off all, I hope that everyone who’s read my blog, visited some of the sites I’ve linked to or seen me go after the climate deniers on MMFA, understands that Global Warming is an issue that I take very seriously. I’m certainly no climate denier and pollution in general is also something that I really take to heart. But I’m also an ENGINEER. And I tend to look at energy issue through those eyes and NOT political ones.

It should go without saying that I’m all for Solar, Wind, Tidal, Geothermal, and any other form of energy generation that does not consume fuel. And personally I don’t buy the statement that SOLAR TECHNOLOGY is not “ready” to generate our electricity. The Solar technology is FINE. The REAL problem is with our electric grid. A century ago we went with WESTINGHOUSE’s model instead of EDISON’s. You see... Edison bascially envisioned everyone having there own, small, household (DC) power source. Westinghouse envisioned huge, centralized power stations that sent (AC) electricity to the surrounding areas. And that, of course, is the model that won out. And if you think about it, Solar power (at least at the consumer level) is closer to Edison’s model. And our “grid” just wasn’t designed with that in mind.

The other problem is one of initial cost. You always hear, from big oil, big coal, etc… that fossil fuels generate the cheapest electricity. That’s true, from a certain point of view, but it’s also complete bullshit. Solar energy is FREE. Wind energy is FREE. You don’t pay for the wind any more that you pay for the sun. Neither consumes any fuel, so how can it cost ANYTHING per kilowatt hour? It’s per usage cost is… NOTHING. Now, sure, there’s a setup cost. You have to BUILD THE DAMNED THING first. (Unlike coal mines, oil fields and power plants, which I guess just grow naturally out of the ground, right?) So whenever you hear the “cost” of Solar, Wind, etc… stated on a per kilowatt basis, you’d better ask over what amount of time they are allocating the initial setup costs. Considering that a solar panel has no moving parts, and thus won’t “wear out,” it can essentially last indefinitely. Thus any attempt to depreciate it over just a year or two, is completely intellectually dishonest.

Personally, if had to design an electrical system from the ground up NOW, I would go with about a 90% Edison model and about 10% Westinghouse. Because if you turned every ROOF in America into an equally sized Solar panel, you could EASILY generate enough power for residential use, without a doubt. And sure, each house would also need a big battery or two to store excess energy in case you get a cloudy week or two (like we’re having in Michigan right now) and your solar source is just not up to snuff. After that just connect everyone, similar to how we are now except that each house is a GENERATOR of power, rather than a recipient.
Now… it IS likely that we’ll need some additional power for INDUSTIAL centers – assembly plants, steel plants, etc… and for one OTHER thing that it’s high time we switched over to: ELECTRIC CARS. There are only two things that are needed to make the electric car practical for personal use. (1) GET RID OF THE IC ENGINE! It’s 800 pounds of unnecessary steel that would serve no purpose at all if… (2) make the batteries interchangeable, so that I can pull into a service station, drop off my old battery and pick up a new one. (They’d recharge my battery and give it to the next guy.) For this, they could charge, say… in the $10-$20 range to cover the CHARGE and the depreciation of the actual battery. (Batteries would have to be replaced after a couple of years, anyway.) Do THIS? And the only thing we’d need ANY gas/diesel/dino-fuel for is LARGE Freight carriers: Namely: Trucks, Trains, Planes and Ships. I’ll admit that I don’t see our battery technology being up to the task of moving huge amounts of mass over great distances anytime soon. But if the only things on the road burning gas were the already highly efficient diesel trucks? That would be HUGE in terms of pollution reduction.
Now…question is: How would I generate that extra power (for plants and cars) and also, how would I generate power in the mean time until we get to the point of what I’m describing? Coal? No fucking way. We should NEVER build another Coal burning plant ever again. Period. You can’t burn it cleanly. Believing anything to the contrary is nonsense. Even if you could, you can’t MINE it cleanly: It destroys mountains, levels forests and pollute rivers and water supplies with all manner of assorted nastiness. And finally: You can’t store the LEFT OVER ASH cleanly either. Coal is dirty, vile, nasty disgusting stuff, and it’s HIGH TIME we started weaning off of it. Natural Gas? Not bad, but you still have a significant contribution to Global Warming to deal with. You see: You simply cannot BURN a HYDROCARBON without producing CARBON DIOXIDE. It’s a chemical impossibility. Hydro-electric is cleans, but DAMS have some of the largest ecological footprints you can imagine. They alter entire ecosystems. So while they’re CLEAN, they’re not really clean. So what short- to near-term solution do I favor? (And this is where I break with Liberals BIG TIME…)

Nuclear.

Nuclear power is the only currently feasible source of energy that can generates anywhere nears the amount of energy we need, without production ANY greenhouse gases. Now… I know there are concerned with safety. If you have those, I suggest you learn about the pebble-bed reactor design. Perfectly safe. And that’s coming from a liberal. Also… I am not ignoring that nuclear power produces some of the single nastiest pollutants one can imagine. But it is specifically BECAUSE of those pollutants that I choose Nuclear over the [Burning Stuff] model. And this is where I stop thinking politically, and start thinking like an engineer:

Although I certainly wouldn't want that shit in my back yard, if I had to chose between having to find a technical solution to safely storing 100,000 tons of uranium, versus 100,000 tons of CO2, I’d pick the Uranium any day. Why? Simple: It’s a dense solid. 100,000 tons of Uranium is about the size of a house. 100,000 tons of gaseous CO2 is about the size of ALASKA. What the fuck are you going to do with that much STUFF? Where the hell would you put it? How would you compress it down into a manageable form? (Hint: You’d run compressors that use MORE energy, thus creating MORE of what it is you’re trying to manage! Oy vey!) But we can do something with a SOLID. Compared to a GAS? The technical problem is almost trivial. I agree that we really do need to do a much better job than we do NOW… But I don’t think we can just throw a switch and change our whole power system overnight either. So in the meantime, Nuclear is the ready option, that meets the need, and that pollutes the planet the LEAST.
So, after all that… We come down to it: How do I feel about Obama opening up the East Coast to OIL DRILLING? You know what? I’m actually OK with it. Not HAPPY, but it’s not yet a deal-breaker for me, even after all I’ve said here. Right now? I’m inclined to view it as one of the same ‘necessary evils’ in energy legislation that I saw in the effort for health care reform: One of those things that might not be popular, but just may be necessary to get something done. And before anyone jumps on me for that statement alone, let me qualify it:

1) I’m very glad that many regions are still off limits, including some of the more fragile, as yet untouched ecosystems. (Like ANWR, for example.)

2) Increased drilling was a part of his energy plan, even on the campaign trail, if you recall, so it’s something I expected anyway.

3) I’m also hearing about CAFE standard being raised to 35 mpg for ALL VEHICLES. I really like that idea, but even so I’d be ecstatic even if it were only 30 mpg.

4) I’m really reserving judgment until I see what role alternative energy and green energy will play in the overall policy moving forward and how serious he is about investing in it.

If throwing the oil industry a bone is what it takes to keep them from eliminating the new CAFE standards, or halting investment in green energy? Fine – let ‘em drill. If the states and the coastal residents want to fight it? Let ‘em. Those people tend to vote Republican, so it’s really their fight anyway. Now… if Obama tosses out that alternative energy investment; opens up the Gulf, the West Coats and ANWR to drilling; kills the new CAFE standards; doesn’t sign any global climate treaties? Fine. I’ll admit I was wrong and gladly join my friend, ClassicLiberal, in the effort to remove him from office. (Assuming there’s a VIABLE alternative and the nomination of a new candidate doesn’t hand the Presidency to Sarah Palin or Bobby Jindal. Becasue otherwise: I’ll STILL stick with Obama!)
One final thing…

I never believed in “Drill baby drill.” (I don’t think any thinking person ever really did.) And the best way to break our dependence on foreign oil will be to REDUCE OUR COPNSUMPTION. I know this. I realize that you could drill on every square inch of America and we’d still be buying foreign oil. We simply burn too much of it. BUT, I hate $4.00 a gallon gas as much as anyone. (More so, maybe.) And while I know that this little bit of drilling (or even a LOT of drilling) won’t impact the price of gas more than a nickel or so (at best) I also realize that the market is and IRRATIONAL thing. And if throwing the industry a bone helps STABALIZE gas prices a bit? (Even for no good reason?) I’ll take that. And there’s another thing: MARKET FORCE (high prices) will NEVER get us off Gas by themselves. Reason: Any widely adapted application of green energy will reduce demand for fossil fuels. So the GREENER we get, the CHEAPER Gas (etc…) will get. It will ALWAYS appear cheap compared to the cost of updating our grid, buying an electric car, etc... And it will only get cheaper once we START DOING THESE THINGS! So don’t be fooled into thinking we need high gas prices to get us off gas. It won’t work. As we DO get off gas, the price will only FALL. Going green will take POLITICAL WILL. “The market” won’t care until long after it’s too late to fix anything.

9 comments:

  1. I always got annoyed at the people you see on TV driving their hummers claiming it was their God-given right to burn 8mpg and then complain gas was high. Looking at the most simplistic form of economics, one would see that these people are perpetuating the inefficient system we live in, and unfortunately it has not diminished over time... The Palin/McCain campaign reinvigorated the science hating right.

    One thing that angers me is that not enough people stress the importance of nuclear recycling. Naysayers tend to throw out these other sustainable options due to initial setup costs and they don't allow it to get the point of affordability, and then when the system they opted for comes crashing down, they start to run for the hills (unless they belong to the Tea Party, in which they then deny anything was wrong in the first place and insist everything was just fine and dandy).

    Alternative energy sources are good. Opened up drilling? Okay. Coal? Outlived its purpose. I agree that America needs to seriously update it's infrastructure, but I'm sure any attempt by this administration or any other Democratic one would be vilified as just another pork farmer buying votes...

    ReplyDelete
  2. KK,

    It sure would be nice if the media wasn't so amenable to making that (pork, etc...) the story, and just TRY to be objective while the pols fight it out, no? It seems to me that they're all too willing to help PAINT that narritive. I don't need them to be cheerleaders for the environmental movement, but they could at least STFU while the Scientists and Engineers present the FACTS. And the FACTS, as usual, do not support a Conservative or the Republican viewpoint.

    Thanks for your comment.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I am all for expanding nuclear power. Yeah, I know it costs an arm and a leg nowadays to build a new nuclear plant with all the (necessary and appropriate) safety regulattions, but until we find a way to get energy from hydrogen cheaply, it's our only option. We need to step up to the plate and acknowledge that it's scary, but refusing to act should be even scarier to people!

    ReplyDelete
  4. DellDolly,

    Hydrogen is a very interesting option, especially becuase of how easy it would be to adapt it for transporation. One possible use of that expanded NUCLEAR power could be to extract hydrogen from water, and cars would produce only water vapor for emissions.

    I really forgot about Hydrogern completely in this post, but when I DO remmeber I tend to kind of skip past it, as I think the infrastructure hurdles are too great, and that we'd probablby achieve full-on solar (on some other form on non-consuming power) before we could make hydrogen practical. But you're absolutely right: As a FUEL, there's basically nothing better!

    And personally, I'll never understand or relate to that fear that causes people to NOT act. (I think they call it conserv-a-somthing?) Because doing nothing IS far more "scary," to me! And downright untenable in most cases.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The biggest problem with developing alternative energy sources is, as usual, the entrenched interests, that corrupt nexus of money and power that suppresses alternate technologies in order to protect their own bottom lines.

    Jimmy Carter is derided as one of the all-time worst presidents, but he was frequently quite foresighted, and nowhere was this more true than in the matter of energy. After the second phony oil crisis, which happened on his watch, Carter turned the government toward a serious effort at developing alternative energy sources. He wanted to spend billions on it, and managed to get congress to go along with him.

    The result?

    Reagan was elected, industry (mostly Big Oil) bought up and dismantled nearly all of the alternative energy companies that had sprang up, Reagan pulled the solar panels off the White House, and abandoned Carter's policy, revoking what he could via executive order and finally getting congress to defund it, thus ending the first and only serious effort at a national alternative energy policy.

    One must be careful when talking about the subject of industry suppression of technology, though--there are a lot of conspiracist crackpots out there who have latched on to the subject and polluted the data stream with a lot of nonsense. There is, however, a long, real history of industry suppression of technology.

    In the years after World War II, for example, Big Oil conspired with the Big Three automakers (but particularly GM) to buy up and dismantle over 100 mass transit systems in the U.S., most of them electric rail, and replace them with gas guzzlers. Perhaps the most visible example of this was in Los Angeles, where the subway system was bought up and scrapped, a development that eventually made L.A. the smog capitol of the world. They're now having to rebuild that system, at a cost of millions.

    The top recipient of alternative energy patents every year is Big Oil. They develop the technology in house or buy it up whenever it's developed from the outside. The patents are acquired, and the technology is then permanently shelved.

    One of the loudest recent examples of this happened in 2002, when Toyota brought to market a plug-in electric car using Nickel-Metal Hydride batteries. GM and Chevron, who had acquired the rights to the batteries, filed a massive lawsuit, and the line was pulled. They've sat on their patents for these batteries ever since, refusing to license them to anyone, or use them themselves.

    This sort of thing isn't just damaging because it keeps better energy sources off the market; it also keeps those sources from being properly developed via the normal technological innovations that would occur if people had been using them all these years. There's no motivation to build a better mouse-trap when the existing mouse-trap is sitting in some filing cabinet somewhere unused.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Classic,

    Thank you truly for that amazing summary. That really nails, entirley, what the problem really is and has been throught recent history. It sums up my biggest lament back when Gore "lost" to Bush - that, once again, this necessary and bascially market-ready technology would be shelved again.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Niceguy;

    If I understand correctly, what you are saying in the paragraph that contains the phrase "I would go with about a 90% Edison model and about 10% Westinghouse." is that the limited DC grid could supply most of the household needs, while an AC grid supplies industrial needs.

    Remember to reserve a portion of that AC capacity for "the chair." (Edison must have been so disapointed.)

    Kidding aside, it should be pointed out to false conservatives that their favorite Middle East nation, Israel, gets a significant portion of its energy from solar. (I paint with a broad brush, not all are religious, nor care.) (Further aside - I find it helpful when trying to 'cure' ignorance, 'education' is more readily accepted when presented with comfortable subjects. I.e.; when trying to explain Net Neutrality, the typical wingnut couldn't care less that AT&T censored Eddie Vedder, or that Verizon denied pro-choice messages - but, tell them that Comcast blocked the BIBLE from being distributed, and cite FOX: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,303623,00.html , and you might get their attention. Unfortunately, you just can't 'cure' stupid. /rant)

    Anyway, back to topic.

    DellDolly brought up Hydrogen, and you have said scrap the IC engine, so I ask - what is the best way of using Hydrogen in cars; IC, gas turbine, fuel cell, or some other technology?

    On the gripping hand - combine Hydrogen and nuclear - fusion power. (I like the National Ignition Facility, they have the coolest (hottest?) lasers.)

    Now, you mentioned trains - is electric power unsuitable for purposes other than light rail? Freight locomotives are diesel-electric, are the line-losses large enough that carrying fuel, engine and generator are better?

    Ethanol looks cleaner, and could easily be produced in my home state.

    okiepoli

    ReplyDelete
  8. Okiepoli,

    Wow. That's... wow. That is a ton of good points and a ton of good questions and I'd don't even know where to start! LOL

    First of all, AGREED: You can't cure stupid. And these people never realize that OUR freedom is THEIR freedom. They're idiots; stuck in their own little fantasy world, where nothing bad will ever happen to them outside of the occasional election of a Democrat.

    2) H2 and the ICE... I was saying "scrap the engine" assuming that cars would be purely electric and would go farther without lugging around a few hundred pounds of engine.

    I LIKE hydrogen, as a fuel, in an IC engine - but we'd need a delivery system. And that would be MUCH harder (and more expensive) to design, build, sell, etc... Than the necessary engine changes would be. Hydrogen FUEL CELLS? Yeah. That could work too. I'm just really high on the plug-in only / pure electric model right now.

    3) Trains - I was kind of making a concession there. And yeah, I was thinking LARGE FREIGHT. Moving a whole lot of concentrated mass over a great distance take a LOT of energy. SO if leaving that (and trucks, planes, boats) segment on diesel meant that EVERYONE ELSE went electric? I'd take that.

    4) Ethanol IS better than gasoline and I buy it wherever it's available. But it's still a hydrocarbon, and thus still produces CO2 when burned and thus still contributes big time to global warming. We need a far more radical paradigm shift in personal transportation than what is represented by ethanol.

    5) IN YOUR EMAIL - You asked how I propose we store the spent nuclear fuel. You also suggested sending into space/the sun/orbit. That's not as crazy an idea as it sounds, but if you can't store it safely on the ground, the LAST place you want it to be is strapped to a rocket! (I don't suppose you were alive to see the Challenger disaster?) Maybe someday, but not someday soon!

    As for what I would do with it? No idea. I'm not an engineer in that field. I just know that it's a lot easier to manage a solid than a gas or a liquid. Find a nice, stable, open bit of land, far from any fault line, and build a HUGE, underground, steel reinforced, concrete, lead-lined, bomb-proof bunker to let this stuff cool off in for the next 100 years or so. I don't really know.

    But like I said: 100,000 tons of Uranium is about the size of a large house. 100,000 tons of C02 is about the size of ALASKA. Which storage problem would YOU rather solve? ;) I may not have THE ANSWER, but I think I can still recognize the easier QUESTION. LOL

    Thanks for you comment, and your email!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Niceguy;

    You flatter me – hyperbole wasted on a poorly-constructed, rambling post – but thank you.

    My point was more that the ignorant more often respond well to a well thought-out analogy. Of course the problem with analogies is that, at some point, they break down.

    2)That was a trick question – current technology renders hydrogen useless as an energy source for mobile applications. Unless you want a fuel tank the size of (and as dangerous as) the Hindenburg, you're limited to; Cryogenic storage – complex; Compressed – bulky, 10kpsi tanks are not user-friendly; Bound in hydrides – heavy. All of this ignores the biggest drawback – how do you get the hydrogen in the first place? Electrolysis is the means I'm most familiar with, but I would wager that any other means would still have the same problem – energy input greater-than energy output.

    3)Trains – That wasn't a trick question. Do line-losses prohibit using grid power for freight? “I don't know.” is a valid answer (one I respect and am not ashamed to use.) You're some kind of an automotive engineer (I don't know the focus.) I've spent 28 years in love with being an electronics technician. I think we can both say “not my area of expertise.”

    4)You heard it here folks – from an automotive engineer: “Ethanol IS better than gasoline...”

    Another useful stick to beat the ignorant with – if alcohol is such a bad fuel, why is it used in monster trucks, dragsters, sprint cars, etc. - all across the racing spectrum?

    The main reason I support ethanol is its value as a transition fuel that would have such a dramatic impact on our dependence on “Foreign Oil.” A secondary, more selfish reason is that Switchgrass – a prime candidate for ethanol production that doesn't compete with food production – grows well in Oklahoma, a state notorious for poor soil and frequent drought.

    5)My email – my secret shame exposed. I proposed recycling the waste via a star, specifically that big fusion reactor in the sky, our Sun. Back from whence it came, I say! (Well, it did come from a star, not our sun, but a star none the less.) I was born during the Mercury years, and grew up feeding on Apollo – to have my heart ripped-out by Apollo 1, then later by STS-51 – tough for a guy that's had a life-long interest in science, astronomy, and space.

    I specifically mentioned RTGs (radioisotope thermoelectric generator) knowing that they have survived reentry intact (relatively.) When NASA ditched Apollo 13's Lunar Module, they did so in the deep water of the Pacific, although the RTG wasn't recovered, no evidence of contamination or subsequent leakage has been found. In the interests of fairness, an earlier model RTG did fail and contaminate on re-entry (Transit-5BN-3 satellite.)

    Challenger, while spectacular, wasn't even violent enough to instantly kill all the crew. I think it is fair to say that space-based nuclear power has been safer than terrestrial, but I also realize that there has been far less use of it, so it's like saying that planes are safer than cars because fewer folks are killed by planes than cars.

    I think that a well-designed payload module, keeping in mind the critical failure modes – coupled with a reliable booster (I favor the Russian Soyuz – a cast-iron stupid (but reliable) engine that uses LOX/kerosene.) to launch the waste into the sun is a solution to be explored.

    At least, I justify my 'solution' as getting rid of the waste, not just storing it for future generations to deal with.

    Thanks for your time, Niceguy, I hope you don't mind me using you and your blog as a sounding-board.

    okiepoli

    ReplyDelete