Tech Tuesday May 8th – Energy Edition

I’m on vacation this week, so it’s a short set of links.

Tech Tuesday May 8th - Energy Edition

EE01 – A water battery for renewable grid storage.  Sure, a three inch battery that can only produce enough power to run a single LED doesn’t sound impressive, but this would not be a battery for pocket devices.  This would be a massive tank battery for storing power from solar panels and wind turbines.  And it can be massive with a lower energy density because the components are plentiful and cheap.  Yes, higher energy densities are nice, but they almost always come at a steep price.  If the price is low enough, the energy densities are not as critical.

EE02 – Just so much to gnaw on here.  Property Rights, Land Use, Local Government and Community Involvement, Agriculture, Solar Power.  Where I stand?  If a farmer thinks he can get greater value for his land letting it generate solar power than he can crops, more power to him, and to all of us.  Remember, unlike the farmers in the article, I’m not worried about arable land, and I truly think we need to stop growing food in large, cleared fields and take the operation inside whenever possible.  It’s easier on the land, it’s easier to control water and fertilizer, it’s easier to control pests and disease, and it’s easier on workers, who can harvest crops from comfortable positions.  Heck, in the right areas, some fog harps on your site can provide enough water for your indoor farm without having to tap the local water supplies much, if at all.

EE03 – Producing power from the normal daily swings of temperature.  This is actually a new spin on some very old tech.  People have been storing heat in melted wax for a very long time.

EE04 – Using wadded up sheets of graphene to solve the problem of lithium battery degeneration.

EE05Batteries made up of dirty water bacteria and paper NINJA STARS!  I feel like there is an anime in this just waiting to happen.

EE06 – I’ve yet to understand the resistance to thorium reactors, since they are safe and essentially the nuclear equivalent of garbage incinerator (with no dirty stack) with the added benefit of useful energy production.

EE07 – Another new spin on an old idea for molten salt batteries.  MIT seems to be mining the archives for ideas that were good, but not technologically feasible at the time.  Which, if I’m being honest, is a really good idea (mining the archives).  Lots of ideas happen before their time, and revisiting those ideas every few decades  just makes sense.

EE08 – Another battery similar to EE01, but this time using formic acid.

EE00 – We’ve figured out how to entangle clouds of atoms, instead of single particle pairs, and that has some pretty wide ranging implications and applications.  Yes, this is less energy and more physics, but at the quantum scale, the line between matter and energy gets awful fuzzy.

Photo by macoto_ Tech Tuesday May 8th - Energy Edition


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A Navy Turbine Tech who learned to spin wrenches on old cars, Oscar has since been trained as an Engineer & Software Developer & now writes tools for other engineers. When not in his shop or at work, he can be found spending time with his family, gardening, hiking, kayaking, gaming, or whatever strikes his fancy & fits in the budget. ...more →

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12 thoughts on “Tech Tuesday May 8th – Energy Edition

  1. EE06 – I had thought I had seen (or even wrote in a comment myself) on the downsides of thorium reactors, but I can’t find it here, and can’t for the life of me remember what it could have consisted of. (other than a vague feeling that if their implementation were straightforward, we would have already seen their widespread adoption. But that’s a logical fallacy which I can’t remember the name of either)

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      • Funny story, back as a young one, the Navy aggressively tried to recruit me into the nuke program. They even got me to come down and take the test.

        The thing about the test was, it basically had two types of questions. The first was math: algebra/trig/very-basic-calculus. The second was, basically, do you know your way around an auto shop. Mostly they showed you pictures of various tools and asked what they were.

        I’m a crazy math genius who happened to work in an auto shop, and took auto shop in school.

        Evidently I got the highest score the Miami recruiting office had ever seen. I finished in like 40 minutes. They told me, “You know, you can take more time. You have two hours.”

        I’m like, “Nope, I’m good.”

        Anyway, I ultimately declined. I wonder what my life would have been like had I said yes.

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    • Back in February, I believe it was, the Georgia PSC overruled its staff recommendation and allowed construction of the Vogtle 3 and 4 reactors to continue. The PSC chair retired after that vote, and in assorted post-retirement interviews, has said he has little faith that the current schedule — both units in service by the end of 2022 — will be met. Georgia Power customers are paying about $100 per year on their current electric bill because no one will loan GP the money they need to continue construction. PSC staff estimated that even with GP and its partners selling every watt they can wring out of Vogtle 3 and 4, it will be the most expensive electricity among GP’s sources. All of this with a pressurized light-water design that federal regulators are comfortable with.

      The price tag guesstimates to license an existing approved LWR design to use thorium-uranium fuel rather than uranium-plutonium is north of a billion dollars. For a new thorium design — eg, molten salt — something in the multiple billions. I sometimes wonder if the old design license for the thorium-fueled Fort St. Vrain (Colorado) reactor is still valid. When the reactor was running, it delivered the promised benefits of a high-temp gas-cooled thorium-fueled design: higher thermal efficiency, much higher fuel burn up, passive safety. All of the important problems were due to water infiltration at one point, and modern bearing designs would eliminate that.

      I cheerfully admit to a parochial regional bias. New thermal power plants in the Western Interconnect states are unlikely due to issues around cooling water and an understandable distrust by the general public for things nuclear. Last year, Xcel of Colorado put out an RFB for 2.5GW of new wind-power generation. They got responses totaling 10GW, and the prices for the cheapest 2.5GW were significantly lower than Xcel’s cost to build and operate combined-cycle natural gas-fired generation. Some of this is due to unique geography — outflow from the South Pass gap in Wyoming in particular, and downslope winds from the Rockies more generally, are more robust and predictable than most land-based wind power.

      Since, they’re available, break-outs for electricity sources for the Western Interconnect states for 2017. I’m betting wind passes nuclear this year, and that solar passes nuclear within five years.

      Natural Gas 0.2666
      Hydroelectric Conventional 0.2638
      Coal 0.2288
      Nuclear 0.0789
      Wind 0.0716
      Solar Thermal and Photovoltaic 0.0493
      Geothermal 0.0213
      Wood and Wood Derived Fuels 0.0086
      Other Biomass 0.0049
      Other Gases 0.0029
      Other 0.0021
      Petroleum 0.0010

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  2. California regulators approve mandate for solar panels on new houses

    What caught me offguard was this note:

    The mandates received support from much of the home building industry, which has been expecting such a rule for several years and believes there is adequate design flexibility in the regulations so builders can more easily meet the mandate. For example, it’s possible a builder could create a community solar system that would power multiple homes, rather than put panels on every single roof.

    I wasn’t expecting the industry to approve this, but am happy to see it.

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    • I wonder how are they planning to address the loss of revenue for the distribution utility (the wire companies), while they still have to provide 100% of the wire service

      You know, having wires connecting to your house in case you want to turn on the light at night. You are still expecting those to turn on, do you?

      Wires do not come from the wire fairy

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      • I wonder if some of the builders are starting to treating the wiring as a community ammenity instead of a utility. The same way, for instance, that the streets in some subdivisions (particularly gated ones) are not ‘city’ streets, but rather owned and completely maintained by the HOA.

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      • At least in my state, the charge for the fixed costs (including the distribution plant) is on the bill separately from the charges for electricity and natural gas. In the summer, when the only NG use is the water heater, and especially if we’re gone for a couple of weeks, the NG fixed costs are as much as the NG itself. The bigger fuss here is from home owners who want to use the grid as “storage” when their PV panels are producing more power than the house is consuming, but don’t want to pay for safe connection technology that keeps them from energizing a portion of the grid that the utility’s crew is working on.

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        • In TX is very difficult to find the fixed distribution charges (the wires)shown separately. It takes me a while to do so. Commercialization charges (the metering) are shown separately though.

          But fixed charges are roughly half your electricity bill. Who is taking the time to explain the homeowners that generating 100% of their energy via panels and batteries for the night will only cut their utility bill by half as long as they expect to have the grid as back up for that day they throw a party and the batteries are not enough?

          No one is, that’s who, which means either the customers are in for a big surprise or utilities are in for a big financial crisis, and then customers will be in for a different, but equivalent, big surprise.

          There’s only one source of money in the energy business: the customer.

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