Thursday, January 18, 2007

But what about...

Completely off topic, but I found the following energy comparison to be very interesting, and thought you might as well: It has a link to a nice graphic.

To summarize it: To obtain the same amount of energy that the world extracts from oil in a SINGLE year, you'd need to run one of the following for FIFTY years: 104 large coal-burning plants, 52 commercial nuclear reactors, over 32,000 large wind turbines, or over 91 million home-sized solar panel setups.

Ben's comment:

That is amazing.

But nuclear power is virtually unlimited isn't it?

Picture of lots of nuclear reactors.


Anonymous James Aach said...

Any power source on the list can be expanded dramatically. You just have to put up with the benefits and drawbacks of each. All will likely have their place in the future. There's plenty of coal - and we know the drawbacks there unless carbon sequestration and top-flight particulate filtering technology pans out on a broad scale. If more hydro is desired, damning the Grand Canyon would probably gain some megawatts. Solar cell technology is limited, at least in the short term, by its diffuse output, which requires a lot of space and handlers. Wind power isn't quite as diffuse, but its output is still fairly low per the area used and some consider it unsightly. Both solar cells and wind also suffer from being intermittent in nature - and since we don't have a good a way to store electricity, that's a problem.

Regarding nuclear, limits to expansion include the need for a technically astute and flexible work force to build and maintain each unit safely - as even newer, simpler designs are complex. (In the US at least, there's some concern with an aging workforce - as power generation work and nuclear in particular are not especially popular careers. In other cultures, a willingness to challenge authority may be a significant issue.) Location near a good cooling source like a big river or ocean while staying away from densely populated areas if possible, and distribution of output from such remote site locations, must also be considered. Nuclear proliferation is another issue (used fuel from a reactor, with heavy refinement and a lot of additional advanced technology, can end up as the core of an atom bomb), Waste storage concerns are often talked about - though this seems to be a fixed engineering problem with parameters that are becoming increasingly understood and with decent solutions available. Security from terrorism is also on people's minds. Another potential item is the availability of uranium (or perhaps thorium) as fuel. Proposed new designs - either improvement on existing reactors, advances concepts like pebble-bed, or breeder reactors address many of the above issues. So nuclear can be expanded, but there are limitations.

There are plenty of books out there on all these subjects, of course. (One is even an entertaining novel.)

Ultimately, what I get out of the square mile of oil information is that conservation of all energy sources seems like it should be at the top of the list of any energy policy. Use less energy and it helps reduce a lot of other problems...

January 19, 2007  

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