Wednesday, 21 March 2012

A drop in the ocean ...

I am fascinated to read, after my post yesterday and Josephus post the day before, that someone at the University of Oregon has done a great deal of research into the realities of "renewable" versus "fossil fuel" power supply. At Watts Up With That I read that, in the US, it needs ten (10) units of alternative generating power, to replace a single unit of "fossil" fueled power. The article he has posted further goes on to make a number of interesting points about the fact that more efficient appliances, more efficient homes and so on hasn't brought about the expected fall in demand - in fact it has seen an increase.

One reason for this is, of course, the continued growth of the population in every country in the world. Another, is that if someone produces an more fuel efficient engine, it isn't long before someone else, using it, undertakes more journeys or longer ones. After all, if I am used to paying 10% of my income to fuel my car, and can now go further without paying more, why not? This is a sociological issue and it translates into every society on earth and there are plenty of examples of it in all sorts of human activities - so why are the people driving these efforts to reduce consumption surprised?

One of the problems I believe we are all facing is summed up in one of the comments at WUWT. Energy companies are not expanding their output fast enough to keep pace with the growth of cities and demand. If a new suburb is built, it places additional demand on the supply of energy, so we should see an expansion in the supply, but do we? In the UK and Germany there is a drive to build ever more of the vastly expensive and over rated wind turbines. A recent energy report in Germany suggested the target was to have 47% of Germany's power supplied by wind energy. Frankly that is totally unrealistic, unless someone invests heavily, now, in a "smart network" which can shunt power around from scattered turbines that are "online" and the places where there is a demand for power. I can't see it happening anytime soon.

I'm no electrical engineer, but I do know (from having worked for an electricity generating authority briefly) that one of the major problems is a power drop over an extended network. This means you need a lot of transformer stations and boosters in the network to ensure a stable supply. The other problem is you can't just switch generators in and out. Taking one offline is not the problem, bringing one on is. They have to be brought into "Phase" with the network or you can introduce some very exciting, interesting and expensive power surges. So as the wind turbines drop in and out on days when the wind isn't steady or constant enough, you have to kick in some gas, oil or coal fired ones to replace them - or shunt power from somewhere remote to replace it.

At present there isn't an "intelligent network" anywhere in the world that can handle and distribute power being generated where it isn't needed and balancing and shunting it to where it is. UNtil there is, "alternative energy" will remain "a drop in the ocean" as far as demand and supply is concerned. As one WUWT commenter put it, I don't care where the power comes from, as long as it is available. I get very upset when it vanishes because some idiot has blocked the expansion of generating capacity to promote "alternative" energy which can't be supplied when I need it.

This raises yet another issue with the pipe-dream Josephus brought to our attention on Monday. It's all very well generating power in the Sahara Desert, getting it several thousand miles from there to Scandinavia, Scotland or even Northern Germany is not so simple. Leaving aside the political and material problems, there is the simple one of the loss of power the further it has to go in the cables - assuming these aren't stripped, or damaged in storms. It does, I suppose, add the interesting possibility of a storm in Italy causing a blackout in London or Helsinki.

As things stand at present, alternative energy supplies can, potentially, deliver a great deal more than they do. The truth is they don't. In fact, they seldom deliver as much as 10% of their capacity. (UK National Grid figures) so how anyone can even think they could replace fossil or nuclear generating capacity in the near future, is a mystery.

As Fagan was wont to say, I t'ink dey better t'ink it out again.

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