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View Diary: A Head in the Clouds:   The Genius of 1976 Considered. (119 comments)

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  •  I have followed your diaries with great interest (1+ / 0-)
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    Brad F

    and appreciate the passion, depth and honesty of your approach in an unpopular venue for your ideas.  I realize you expect to be attacked, and are not disappointed in that regard, but I see nuances of your position which would serve the alternative energy movement well.

    The problem you pose is a hard one, no doubt:  to make a dent in the real, increasing and worldwide energy curve.  Conservation requires people to act in ways against their nature unless an overwhelming reason to change their behavior occurs.  Implementing energy systems which require specialized knowledge, precious personal time and labor and which would not endanger fellow citizens more than energy produced by people paid to, and who have paid their dues actually doing, deliver energy through existing infrastructure compatible with technologies people can acquire and use immediately are available on the market.

    I find your arguments compelling -- compelling enough to take your points seriously as challenges alternative energy systems will have to address, and without rancor or assuming people en masse will behave in ways they have not before.  I am glad you persist in your postings, and hope to find more time to address the issues you raise in more depth.  

    One of the areas you have discussed in your previous diaries is the recycling of nuclear "waste" materials in ever-increasing detail, and your insights into those efforts, resulting in a reduction of nuclear waste which ultimately needs to be sequestered and stored, is an extremely valuable discussion.

    I would like to see those of us promoting alternative energy to take issues like those you present more seriously, and in so doing bring insight and ingenuity at the smaller scales to which we are presently consigned economically and politically -- as is right when the technology is still green (pun intended) and unproven in wide application.  Wind and solar energy are just now crossing the thresholds of scale and maturity to establish standards among producers.  Here in Iowa standards for connecting farm production systems to the grid are being hammered out, and the insurance liabilities for failures to disconnect power from the grid when crews are working on the lines are forcing safety investments and engineering to advance.

    Ultimately, distributed power grids will probably need to emerge in rural areas and the problems of syncing to the grid, utility investments in controlling the quality of grid performance and solutions to storing energy will have to be come in small nations and rural states.  Urban systems will have to depend on large-scale systems until reliability, capacity and safety problems are solved and the technologies mature enough to be purchased and installed on known project estimates based on extensive experience.

    These issues at the utility level are not trivial, and alternative energy promoters and businesses will have to address these kinds of details before wholesale adoption can proceed at a pace to make a dent in the energy curve itself.  We are building the third compressed-air storage system in Dallas County, Iowa, to store energy from windmills.  Farmers near Jefferson, Iowa are now providing the bulk of the electricity for that town, after major risk and investments.  

    Feedlots and hog confinement operations are nearing the point where the cost of sewage control and wastewater management make digestor and biogas plants economic.  As each new source comes on-line, the utilities are faced with a host of legal, technical and funding issues they have to work through while maintaining the integrity of the grid.  Overproduction of power in one county cannot simply be piped to other grids around the nation without massive investments in "electrical supergrids", which each face their own Not In My Back Yard opposition.

    You have been intellectually honest about these problems, and your pointing these kinds of practical issues out has been a great boon to those of us in Iowa working on business plans and building software models for farmers and businesspeople who want to "get in the game".  

    I would say that such evolutionary processes don't happen in smooth curves themselves, but jump in bifurcations as systems absorb and adapt to enough new technologies that an overall transformation of the backbone systems can be seen, engineered, estimated, budgeted, built, proven and then be available for other utilities and government agencies to examine and track over time.  In the past 30 years, there has been a lot going on in the prototype and tentative stages of technological evolution, and the general gestation period for new technologies "from lab to field" is around thirty years.

    From reading your essays, I know you would be pleasantly surprised if other alternative energy systems could syngergize and make a leap in denting the energy equation, but you would still need to see such progress settle into a new level of dependable and sustainable and economic solutions which could be tracked and understood in practical form.  I would expect such reservations from you, and that is not a snark.  You are holding the challenge fairly and honestly before us and you are trying to make clear the master equation of the energy curve is the hardest and cruelest mistress of all.  That you are simply confident of that fact is to your credit.

    I hope to be able to report on local, rural solutions at increasing scales over the next few years and do so in a way which satisfies the standards of intellectual honesty and measurements in the same terms as the master equation demands that you have consistently held before us in your writing.

    Keep it up.  Your writing has made me sharpen my computer models and helped me help my clients struggle with the real issues of standardization, scale, liability and sheer magnitude which we need to take a real bite out of the energy curve:  first here in a small rural state, then on to metropolitan markets and then on to the national grid here in the United States and across North America.

    Since China and Asian investors are already here and buying up hog confinements and advanced food systems, I have no doubt they will take any innovations we find back to improve the plight of their own nations.  African nations such as Nigeria and South American nations already have joint extension programs with our land grant universities and farmers everywhere are still the early adopters and fastest innovators of any technology -- long before manufacturing can use it.

    The thirty-year gestation period for some technologies is just a back-of-the-envelope rule of thumb, of course.  The real challenges are solved one by one, with a bit of luck that you don't get sued out of existance and that real machines will behave like the engineers think they should.  But we are hammering away in our own little portion of the whole.  

    I would hope we would surprise you in the not-too-distant-future with a quantum leap of technologies finally being born on scales which make a difference at the state (and small nation) scale, at least.  I know you would like to see bites being taken out of the energy production curve which are carbon-neutral and not petroleum based.  

    None of this addresses or critiques your advocacy of nuclear power, which would be another comment for another time.  I have not had time to think through your earlier writings about reprocessing the products of nuclear reactions enough to comment, since I believe that to be the key.  If it is likely we can store these materials safely enough for the time when we can reprocess more and more of them into useful and safe byproducts in other processes, then (combined with the increasing experience with nuclear plant design, which I agree has naturally grown apace over the past 60 years and can be solved) I would have fewer concerns than I do now that the waste will be dumped instead of stored and will lead to crises in the future for which we will not be prepared.

    I hope you keep writing.  Many of us are challenged by your incisive and detailed delineation of the problems we face, and enjoy the fact that challenge is being laid out by someone who hates fossil fuel systems as much as we do.  Forgive us if we believe we can surprise you with results in the future.  It keeps us going, at the very least.

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