Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mirrors in the Mojave

This article was posted on the APES blog recently and is interesting for several reasons. In our discussions surrounding The Inconvenient Truth and climate change, we focused on the problem, but not the solution. The article discusses one part of the solution - more reliance on alternative energies, in this case, solar thermal (as opposed to photovoltaic solar panels) power. The particular installation discussed here was designed by an Oakland company called Brightsource Energy. Here is a very cool little video explaining solar thermal technology. Essentially, solar thermal involves using many mirrors to collect sunlight and focus the rays all towards a large container of fluid (water, for example) - in the simplest case, the water turns to steam, which is then used to turn turbines and thus generate electricity.

The other interesting point that comes up in this article is the role of governmental policies in implementing alternative energy technologies once they are developed. To quote the article, "there’s a debate out there about the merits of mandates in driving expansion of non-polluting energy options. Advocates for such standards say that the expanded market will drive down the production costs of panels, turbines and other clean power sources. Some say that pursuing efficiency is far cheaper. Others say that any state or federal requirements for non-polluting power should include nuclear reactors, which also produce no greenhouse gases when generating electricity. What do you think"?


Callie said...

I agree that non-polluting energy options should be endorsed. However, I do think there should be limits on this. Nuclear reactors may be non-polluting but nuclear power is not safe at all. Uranium and plutonium may create power, but they remain radioactive for 1000s of years. Although we can bury the material in soil, it still radiates, which contaminates our soil and water. Also, it can cause cancer and other diseases. Right now there is simply no solution to find a place to put the highly radioactive waste. So, it is simply a bad choice. Plus, during the shipment of the waste to other countries, terrorists could pick it up and build an atomic bomb...not good. However, besides nuclear reactors, I think non-polluting energy options are great. I especially support photovoltaics. I think they are great! I really like solar nanotechnology. As I learned in debate, the nanotech is great for the military because instead of having the soldiers lug around these 80 pound fueling cells, the nanofilm can be woven into their clothing and tents, so that they can charge their laptops and cellphones (etc.) with more ease. Furthermore, I think that the cost of clean energy solutions is worth it, because in the long run, these clean energy technologies will be the only way to produce power. Instead of waiting until the very end (when we finally reach the unsustainable level of global warming- which is nearing), we should invest in these clean, efficient technologies now.

Period1Gelsey said...

I agree that we should invest in clean energy solutions. This plan to reflect sunlight from mirrors is very creative. It most likely won't be as effective as solar panels that absorb the sunlight directly, as the mirrors won't necessarily reflect all the sunlight into the container of water, but it is definitely a good idea to experiment w/ alternative energy sources. I think that it is necessary for the government to be part of this process. The law is the only entity w/ the power to force people to adopt cleaner energy sources.

I also think that nuclear energy is another power source that we should investigate more. (Sorry, Callie) It's a tricky subject b/c it's hard to determine when the nuclear plants become too dangerous or threatening, but the clean energy and reduced carbon emissions are undeniable. We might find that it's too much of a risk, but we won't know until we at least try.

period 1 Erik said...

I hate to be like Gelsey (simply can't trust the girl), and contradict Callie, but I am a strong proponent of nuclear power. It is clean, enormously efficient, producing far more power than the waste it produces, and could meet a large portion of the power needs of the future. The United States is home to 104 plants, providing about 15 percent of our power. If it weren't illegal, i would strongly suggest we build even more. The technology of a nuclear power plant, in fact, is little different from that of the solar plant thing in the article. The fission in the reactor is simply a prelude to the heating of steam that drives a turbine to create electricity. The only waste is the used radioactive products. As for its radioactivity, the uranium and plutonium has been so for thousands of years, it is simply concentrated and put to good use.
The technology is perfectly clean. Waste, any waste, is always a problem. Sure we could launch our radioactive garbage into space or some kooky plan like that, but that won't be any different than stuffing it into the bay as landfill (radioactive landfill, oh my) as we do our other waste (plus, if we launch it into space, it will come back to haunt us like in Futurama). There's no real solution at this point in time, however, there is the hope of nuclear fusion reactors. I'm sure you've heard enough over the years about what it is, but the simple creation of an atom, as opposed to its destruction yields far greater energy possibilities, with nearly absolutely no pollutants. ...We just need to harness the technology first.
As for disasters such as chernobyl and the potential disaster of the three mile island plant. These were the results of inadequate containment, failure in observance with standards of the industry and the signs of what was happening. Look them up if you're interested. However, in this day and age, there are over 400 nuclear power plants operational worldwide, and each one of them is safely producing power (look at france, it gets about 70 percent of all its power from nuclear plants). It is a technology that needs to be observed as our savior in power-crunch times like these. It's a technology that has a greater capacity than we even scratch the surface on. If only we could dig down a little deeper...
Maybe we could dispose of our nuclear waste like in Sahara underneath one of these mirror plants... alas, that didn't work.

period7adarsha is unoriginal said...

Non-polluting energy options HAVE to be endorsed. There is no other option, with the advent of peak oil coming in this century.

PVCs are a great option, especially with the development of nano-solar film and a new black coating on cells that really helps maximize the energy that can be absorbed from the sun and turned into electricity. Space-based solar should really be looked into as well-it's costly, but very promising.

Hydroelectric is good, but we've already kind of maxed out all rivers. So, ocean tech is the next thing, but this is a limited supply energy. I see this source of power as being common in coastal cities in the future.

Wind power will be a biggie in the future. But the future is not on the ground, but rather in the sky. Scientists and inventors have developed wind turbines that can be floated into the jet stream, where the source of wind is not only constant, but much stronger. The only other tech hurdle would be developing power storing stations that could give out juice whenever and wherever it would be needed.

Geothermal has a great future: look at Iceland. America has great sources of geothermal power, and apparently we could power the nation with it. But I see a more likely future of geothermal power as it being used as a clean and easy way to heat water, a local power source, etc.=nothing too large scale.

Nuclear fission. Differentiating between the two types of nuclear power is key. Fission will continue to play an important role. Waste won't be a problem with the advent of reprocessing reactors. Besides, with said reactors, all of that old nuclear fuel could be reused and uranium mining could cease. Nuclear waste is probably not going to get into the hands of a terrorist group, as they would have done so already, what with the HORRIBLE security at Russia's nuclear facilities (really, check it up-you could stroll in and steal material). Yeah, and Erik covered everything else.

Nuclear FUSION has the potential to be a lifesaver. If we can get around the tech barriers, then fusion will provide a nearly unlimited source of power for us. Problem is said tech barriers-fusion will only be economically viable withing 2050, me thinks.

Regardless, we need to invest in non-polluting energy options now.

Per1_Jenny said...

These new clean alternative energy sources are great. Although the energy sources may not be as efficient as coal-burning power plants that can run 24 hours, solar power and wind turbines do now contribute to greenhouse gases in any way. After our recent case studies, it's hard to support anything that contributes to global warming. The government has a responsibility to do what is best and that means supporitng these new technologies which are not detremental to our enviroment.

Period4_Robbie said...

I want to start on Callie's point on the nuclear waste storage.
The government has spent billions on a very secure and safe nuclear storage facility on Yucca Mountain. The only thing that is holding it up, holding the nuclear industry up, holding our future of energy security up, is the un-opening of Yucca Mountain.
It is an incredible security concern to have all our nuclear waste stored at these plants. They do not have adequate security for their nuclear waste.
And as for being shipped to another country, Yucca Mountain is located here in the Good Ole US of A. So there should be no concern.
Also, terrorists, except in movies, have never threatened with a nuclear device. Want to know why? maintaining and arming nuclear weapons/waste requires lots of money for high tech facilities with speciality parts and a team of sicentsist. These are things most terrorists groups could not afford and if they could, people would take notice.

And in hindsight, Adarsha, look at Iceland. They have no government. They can't afford to build any more nuclear energy

And as for the wind energy in the jet streams... That seems completely unnecessary. That would require WAY more money to get the turbines that high in comparison to putting maybe twenty or thirty on the ground. Plus, maintenance would cost sooooo much.