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Natural Gas Flare

When a system is constrained to bad choices, there is a tendency to bounce from solution to solution, as the drawbacks of each crappy choice become public and the cry goes out for a change. This is where we find ourselves in regards to electric power generation in the United States.

Coal is very, very dirty in terms of carbon, in terms of disposal of ash (fun fact, coal ash is mildly radioactive due to the fact that there is some Carbon-14 in almost all coal) in terms of lives and health lost in acquiring it. Though there is a huge amount of it and it is relatively cheap (as long as you don’t worry about miners lives).

Oil has all the same problems but it is more expensive and we have nowhere near enough of it to make it cheap in any way, shape or form.

Nuclear has been being pushed (side note: as a technophile I love nuclear power, but really something this dangerous should not be as widely used as it is in a country that allows big industry to lobby away safety regulations), but for obvious reasons that is going to have a lot of resistance in the future.

Which leaves us with the last bad solution in the traditional power generation tool box, natural gas. This form of fossil fuel was already getting a bit of a face lift in that it does burn cleaner than coal, though not completely clean in carbon terms, and there are a lot of new reserves of it right here in the United States.

So, the next thing you are likely to hear is that natural gas is the next big thing! Like Orwellianly named “Clean Coal” and supposedly accident proof oil drilling and nuclear power, this is still a bad choice that is likely to be pushed instead of working on renewable alternative energy.

What makes natural gas so bad? It seems like it the best of the options, right? Well it is as long as you don’t take into account the production of it. You see natural gas is all over the place, but you don’t want to be anywhere near the wells.

Not only is it noisy, it tends to really mess up the environment with gas releases. Also the standard practice (part of what makes it less expensive) is hydraulic fracking, which forces water and toxic chemicals (I can’t tell you which ones since the mix is property and not regulated) into the rock formations to break them up and release more gas.

The end result is in the video below:

Here in my home state of Colorado we have had a natural gas boom. Now we have many people who rely on well water have a risk of having their kitchen go boom from contaminated water.

All of this is incredibly frustrating to me. It is not like there are not alternatives that we can turn to in order to reduce our dirty addiction to fossil fuels. One is conservation. Right now in the U.S. only 33% of the electrical power generated is used. The rest is lost to transmission or is grounded out devices plugged in but not running. To give you a comparison, Japan uses 90% of the electricity they generate.

The way our grid is set up and our houses are wired is incredibly inefficient in terms of conserving electricity. Just replacing our outdated and elderly grid system would make a huge difference in the amount of fuel that needs to be burned to generate electricity.

Then, of course, there are alternative sources of electrical power. Most viable right now are two kinds of solar (photovoltaic and concentrated solar power) and wind. If we put the billions in subsidies and loan guarantees that we give to oil and nuclear power in this nation into building power plants with this kind of generation we would have electricity that is clean and at similar cost as the dirty fossil fuel.

The claim about these types of power is they are not baseline generation capable. That is true with photovoltaic and wind. The wind does not always blow, the sun goes away at night. But with concentrated solar power you get around those problems.

Concentrated solar power works by a set of mirrors in a half pipe, focusing the sun on a pipe that runs through the focus. If that pipe if filled with water you get steam for power generation. However you could also fill it with sodium, and it will become molten in short order. Then you store the molten sodium in an underground vault (to keep it hot) and when you want to generate power, day or night, rain or shine, you run some of that sodium through a heat exchanger and generate all the steam you need.

This technology is already active in a couple of plants in California and the Spanish government is going after it in a big way. It does not require any particularly heavy duty safety, it is carbon neutral and if you are really worried about a long dark spell, you can supplement with natural gas for about 5% of generation.

It is time to stop fooling around with a bad set of solutions and go for the ones that will actually make a huge difference. Even if we drill all over the United States and poison the ground water with natural gas and toxic crap, sooner rather than later we will run out. Why pay that high cost when we can do the right thing and transition our electrical generation to ways that do not pollute and make a down payment on fixing our transmission and use problems that require us to produce and throw away more and more energy every year?

The floor is yours.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Flames, I get it! ;) (15+ / 0-)

      Yeah, all of the fracking diaries have been pretty depressing, what with it happening all around the country and screwing over watersheds.

      I think we already know the big paradigm shift we need to do - stop 'digging' for buried energy, and start 'collecting' free energy - water, wind, sun.  The major opposition, the entrenched energy companies, know that they can't be cut out of the buried energy market, but that they would lose massively once the retail customer can be a collector of energy for a relatively small investment.

      But a serious start would be to end subsidies to oil, gas, coal, and nuclear.  Let free market forces drive up those costs, and there will be a massive move renewables.

      •  We've always heard many reasons why renewables (7+ / 0-)

        like wind and solar are not "feasible" for baseload generation.  It was always something like the economics are not there... the technology is not advanced enough... blah blah blah.

        But it reality, wind and solar are not feasible for large utility companies to meter and collect profit.  Wind power is far too distributed among many farmers/landowners for the utility to dominate.

        •  Not sure about this: (5+ / 0-)
          Wind power is far too distributed among many farmers/landowners for the utility to dominate.

          Your Big Utility would no doubt be tickled pink to distribute wind turbines among your local farmers and landowners.

          Provided the neighbors lose their lawsuits, that is:

          For Those Near, the Miserable Hum of Clean Energy

          They are among a small but growing number of families and homeowners across the country who say they have learned the hard way that wind power — a clean alternative to electricity from fossil fuels — is not without emissions of its own.

          Lawsuits and complaints about turbine noise, vibrations and subsequent lost property value have cropped up in Illinois, Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, among other states.

          In one case in DeKalb County, Ill., at least 38 families have sued to have 100 turbines removed from a wind farm there. A judge rejected a motion to dismiss the case in June.

          •  Wind farms near homes (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Roadbed Guy, bnasley, ferallike

            Of course, they could have grown one or the other far enough distance away . . . though, I suppose that for someone with tinnitus (like me), it probably wouldn't make much of a difference.

            "So, please stay where you are. Don't move and don't panic. Don't take off your shoes! Jobs is on the way."

            by wader on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 08:55:10 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Sorry to hear about your tinnitus (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              maybe the wind turbines would actually help?  Nah, probably not . . .

              Anyways, I think it's in a different NYT article than the one I linked, but they had a somewhat amusing article about somewhere in upstate New York the size of people's lots was such that only about one in three could accomodate a wind turbine (otherwise they'd be too close together).

              The "winners" (i.e., the people whose lots were selected) for a wind turbine strangely enough had a lot fewer complaints about the noise than their neighbors.  A cynic might say that was because of the $55 to $60K annual fee the utility was paying them to host the wind turbine . . ..

              •  Good point (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Roadbed Guy, ferallike

                I'd see that type of income (certain to go down over time, but still remaining healthy for as long as the h/w remains operational and not outdated, I figure) as investment for a pension that's gone away with the times.  Could easily see owners of that land "hearing" the other way, so to speak.

                "So, please stay where you are. Don't move and don't panic. Don't take off your shoes! Jobs is on the way."

                by wader on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 09:14:45 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

            •  There are a number of NIMBY anti wind turbine (0+ / 0-)

              suits in my state. The one good thing in that view aboutg oil and gas is that once the drilling is done, the rest doesn't make so much noise.  But all of the costs have to be figured in, and noise is one you can get individual neighbors stirred up about because of the property value of their houses. Until the water table goes.

      •  And did you notice in the OIL ads on cable that (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ezekial 23 20

        one wellhead visible on the surface can now spread far and wide underground, possibly into the lands of persons who did not sell mineral rights and take the oil from there anyway?. I wonder if gas is the same, and the water tables of those refusing to participate are equally vulnerable.

    •  Nit -- (4+ / 0-)

      Sodium is not salt.  I assume you're speaking of the metal and not the stuff you put in your soup, but it's not clear.

    •  There was a local news report in Denver... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wader, bnasley, Nailbanger

      I forget which one, that stated a new nuclear power plant was slated for Pueblo.  The cost was 5-7 billion.  With a 'B'.  At $20,000 per installation and taking the middle amount of 6 billion, that would be the equivalent amount adding solar panels to 300,000 homes.  Of course, no oil or energy executive is going to get rich off of 300,000 individually owned solar panels...

      There is nothing more powerful in human existence than idea that has been proven wrong.

      by RichM on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 08:33:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's why (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RichM, Nailbanger
        Of course, no oil or energy executive is going to get rich off of 300,000 individually owned solar panels...

        they'd prefer to own them . . ..

        Solar Leasing: An Affordable New Way to Get Solar Panels
        There are many ways to go about getting solar panels on your home. Most of them involve hiring a good contractor to design and install a system on your roof. And, unfortunately, it often involves spending a lot of money up front on the system and installation. Fortunately, there are alternatives that are rapidly evolving that can bring the initial cost of the system down to something much more affordable and sometimes can cost NOTHING up front.

        Of course later on the benefits remains skewed towards the solar panel's real owner, but still, IMHO it's not a bad program . ..

    •  Could you provide an authoritative (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      link for this.

      One is conservation. Right now in the U.S. only 33% of the electrical power generated is used.

      I find this to be surprising and very important if accurate.

      The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

      by nextstep on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 08:40:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  True but not exactly (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Only a third of the energy value of the coal arriving at the plant ends up as electricity at your plug. Plants cannot be 100% efficient, and then there is a lot of transmission loss.

        •  So what of the assertion in the Diary (0+ / 0-)

          that Japan has 90% efficiency?  Does Japan have different laws of Physics - I always thought of these laws as international and even inter-galactic.

          The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

          by nextstep on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 09:21:56 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  I found one piece of this from (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        the US Energy Information Agency. Transmission and distribution losses in the US were 6.5% in 2007. This is far lower than what I was expecting based on this Diary.

        I still need data for the other losses.

        Here is from EIA.


        Where can I find data on electricity transmission and distribution losses?
        EIA has estimates for total annual losses related to electricity transmission and distribution (T&D) and other losses in the State Electricity Profiles.

        National level data are in the U.S. Total Profile (see link a bottom left of the Profiles page). The data are in "Table 10: Supply and Disposition of Electricity" of each Profile; scroll down each Profile page to find Table 10 and see the row for Estimated Losses in the Table.

        To calculate T&D losses as a percentage, divide Estimated Losses by the result of Total Disposition minus Direct Use. Direct Use electricity is electricity that is generated at facilities that is not put onto the electricity transmission and distribution grid, and therefore does not contribute to T&D losses. In 2007, national-level losses were 6.5% of total electricity disposition excluding direct use.

        The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

        by nextstep on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 09:18:49 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  33% efficiency (0+ / 0-)

        It gets worse...coal plants run at only 33% efficiency., the rest is thrown away as heat pollution, then add transmission line losses of 12% and distribution line losses of 6% and you're down to  29% efficiency < >.
         Check out recycled energy, Tom Casten's new company. He makes it clear that we throw away 60% of the energy that comes through the lines making our overall grid really, really inefficient.

    •  No Fracking! Watch Gasland! (0+ / 0-)

      Put sustainable energy on steroids!

      A Democrat will only stab you in the back. A friggin' Republican will shoot you in the head! For everyone's sake, vote Democrat! - Democratic Party elevator pitch

      by Words In Action on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 09:59:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The best solution: use less (15+ / 0-)

    Unless we scale back our usage and by significant amounts, not 3-5% but more like 30-50%, we're going to be in a world of hurt.

    The Weeping Orange Creeper (vulgarium boehnerii) is a Class B noxious weed weed and should be removed if possible.

    by ontheleftcoast on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 06:49:07 AM PDT

  •  Timelines matter (3+ / 0-)

    The existing infrastructure supports burning fossils in their various forms.

    While we construct an infrastructure which supports, e.g., big pools of molten sodium (which is not salt and is a toxic metal) we need gap bridging technologies.

    Natural gas might help bridge the gap while we work on the other solutions.

    In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there always is a difference. - Yogi Berra

    by blue aardvark on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 07:06:18 AM PDT

  •  Anything you have to burn (3+ / 0-)

    is dirty. Why do we have firefighters? Because we don't like stuff to burn. But we burn stuff.

    The paradox is incredible, when you think about it.

    Fuck me, it's a leprechaun.

    by MBNYC on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 07:12:13 AM PDT

    •  Hey! Fire is the best trick we (8+ / 0-)

      as humans have mastered. It is the basis of all our other technology, so we have have strong bond to it.

      Getting Democrats together and keeping them that way is like herding cats that are high on meth, through L.A., during an earthquake, in the rain -6.25, -6.10

      by Something the Dog Said on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 07:13:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's Defined By Two Extremes (4+ / 0-)

        For thousands of years it's been both worshipped and feared, it shines in heaven and burns in hell.

      •  But the Neanderthals had fire. How are we special (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        except that we've polluted the entire f*cking planet?

        Happy little moron, Lucky little man.
        I wish I was a moron, MY GOD, Perhaps I am!
        -Spike Milligan

        by polecat on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 07:54:45 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  They did not master it the way we have. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          They had about as long as we have had and for whatever reason they did not advance its use.

          Getting Democrats together and keeping them that way is like herding cats that are high on meth, through L.A., during an earthquake, in the rain -6.25, -6.10

          by Something the Dog Said on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 08:32:58 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  I would've figured it was armpit farts (0+ / 0-)

        Something no other animal can do.  Polar bears? nope.  Dolphins? nope.  Koko, Fury or Rin tin Tin? nope.  Sure, Lassie can tell Sheriff Bob that Joey is trapped in a well somewhere but do you ever see that collie stick a paw under a leg pit and go "thbbbbbt"? nope.  As a matter of fact, I read somewhere that it wasn't until Dianne Fossey made a couple of armpit farts that the misty gorillas not only accepted her as a part of the group but the dominant silverback actually learned the ASL gesture for "God" and "learned one".  Jane Goodall had a similar experience with chimps (though, in her case, the chimps started laying a 10% of their fruit at her feet).  And, little known movie trivia, Clint Eastwood and Clyde the orangutan didn't get along at all until Clyde was won over by Clint's facility w/armpit farts.

        fire our greatest achievment? bah. Fire occurs naturally and by accident often.  Armpit farts are an entirely manmade artifact of specific intention.

    •  But Natural Gas Is Cleanest (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nextstep, bnasley

      There is no fuel which burns more easily and completely than natural gas (other than hydrogen, and that's not happening)

      My biggest gripe about using natural gas for electricity is that the millions of tiny 100,000 btu burners keeping people in their homes in northern climates from freezing to death are very easy to have their efficiencies maximized (90%+) and not produce any unburned hydrocarbons and soot.  What other possible option is there to stay alive in Boston in February?
      Electricity?  Generated from burning natural gas, oil, or coal is dirty and VERY inefficient for heating.
      Wood?  Dirty and envoronmentally destructive to scale up
      Oil?  Dirty and increasingly more expensive and less available.
      Propane?  Nothing but super-refined oil
      Coal?  Dirty but probably more readily available than oil - Sorry, I'd take it over oil for the long term any day, smog and pollution be damned if the alternative is freezing.

      •  I am only talking about electrical (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bnasley, JohnnySacks

        generation here. I did not talk about cars or house heating.

        Getting Democrats together and keeping them that way is like herding cats that are high on meth, through L.A., during an earthquake, in the rain -6.25, -6.10

        by Something the Dog Said on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 08:33:46 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Electrical Steals It From Heating (0+ / 0-)

          I don't know how limited the supply of natural gas is, but it seems a waste to use it on electricity generation.  I would much rather see electricity generation sourced at large scale solar and wind power installations where the costs and technical complexities are maintained by engineering departments and the costs spread out over many thousands of customers.  Small installations bear the burden of fly by night contractor hacks and equipment that's obsolete almost before it's installed, leaving the homeowner at the mercy of yet more opportunistic hacks for maintenance.

          Also, for the status quo reality, it's easier to add the necessary pollution controls to 'clean' a large scale coal-fired electrical generation plant than it would be to address millions of coal fired house heating systems.

  •  I'd love for Obama (3+ / 0-)

    to tie new nuclear reactors, in the face of collective fear of radiation sweeping the land, to our country's inability to make energy efficiency gains.

    When 2012 rolls around and the states begin to hand back EECBG monies not utilized, what then? Republicans have been very successful at making people afraid of their government's programs designed to help them spend less money.  Sadly, so many of these people who were fighting tooth and nail against cap and trade did not recognize that they'd likely save money because so much of the revenues from it would have gone back to improving efficiency.  

    What is also needed, beyond the things you mentioned, is for the government to work with gas producers to find ways to extract and process natural gas in a much cleaner way.  And for effective set of guidelines for states to follow when making rules which would apply to the extraction and processing.  While there are still coal plants out there, we need natural gas and we need to convert electric fires to gas fires in our homes (because the efficiency losses).  In rural areas here in Missouri, natural gas is often not present so people have the option of electricity or propane for heating air and water, and electricity is too often selected as the best option.  I'm just supposing here, but I would not be surprised if propane was not seen to some as a viable option because you have to pay for several months or more of fuel at one time.

  •  Funner fact about coal... (9+ / 0-)

    Not only is coal ash mildly radioactive, but a coal plant releases more radiation as a result than a nuclear plant.

    At least, according to the sourcing for this chart, both are very small numbers of blue squares.

    •  BTW, this is mostly due to uranium and (0+ / 0-)

      thorium in the coal, not carbon-14. At one point there were proposals to extract uranium from coal ash for use in the nuclear fuel cycle.

      If you Google "headache brain tumor", you will come away convinced that your headache is actually cancer—Seth Mnookin

      by ebohlman on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 01:45:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Not just coal ash is radioactive (7+ / 0-)

    The massive coal piles that sit next to the coal plants with thousands of tons of coal are also a source of radiation.  And they sit outside in the open air.  

    Obama would be perfect if he were a Cubs fan.

    by Georgia Liberal on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 07:40:45 AM PDT

  •  For the sake of argument, if we go nuclear, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    QuestionAuthority, buddabelly

    we'll still need a form of chemical energy (a reasonable efficient one) for our transportation industry.

    Hydrogen probably isn't it.  Hydrogen containment is a b•tch.

    NG is interesting in that it uses less carbon, but you'll need a lot of water, and preset biological methods of making NG aren't especially efficient.  (We need some good catalysts!)

    Personally, I like butanol because it can be put directly into existing car engines and actually is better than gasoline as won't knock as much and can work with turbo/superchargers better than octane.

    But whatever we use for the grid, there will still be a significant need for chemical storage to haul along -- be it aircraft, rail, personal vehicles, trucking, etc.

    I vastly prefer that this chemical energy not come from petrochemical sources (lots of reasons), but there will remain a need for it.  NG has some interesting characteristics.  You can build a very efficient engine that uses it and the number of steps to generate it from biomass are fewer than butanol.  However the energy density is much less.

    Ideally, I'd have a solar roof that would take rainwater, atmospheric C02 and sun and drain butanol directly into a tank by my carport, while powering the rest of my house. :)

    Happy little moron, Lucky little man.
    I wish I was a moron, MY GOD, Perhaps I am!
    -Spike Milligan

    by polecat on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 07:54:06 AM PDT

  •  Gas is Next Big Thing Because of T Boone Pickens (5+ / 0-)

    and the Kochs and few other fossil fuelers who can flood the media with issue and campaign advertising.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 07:57:04 AM PDT

  •  Getting the mix right. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Something the Dog Said

    If we could only use fossil fuel as back-up then we would be well on the way

    "Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." Arundhati Roy

    by LaFeminista on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 08:10:10 AM PDT

  •  The Underlying Problem... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MsWings, bnasley, mightymouse

    is consumption.

    Humans consume way too much. There is no way to use the amount of energy we use without affecting the natural environment.

    Unfortunately, our species appears to lack the intelligence and/or discipline that is necessary for establishing a sustainable lifestyle.

    This is CLASS WAR, and the other side is winning.

    by Mr X on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 08:11:04 AM PDT

    •  We lack the will (and perhaps (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mr X, bnasley

      the discipline) but lack of intelligence isn't the issue. Short-term thinking as well as ignoring all costs that cannot be distilled down to dollars is the issue.

      "You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." Anne Lamott

      by MsWings on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 08:38:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  natural gas sucks for all the reasons you listed.. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Something the Dog Said

    ... but the use of natural gas in a combined cycle combustion turbine (with heat recovery steam generator) is significantly better than a coal-fired boiler in terms of efficiency and emissions.

    Combustion turbines are much smaller and more modular than coal-fired boilers.  They are more suitable for remote areas that are inaccessible by train (for delivering coal) or high voltage transmission lines.  In combined cycle, both the explosive energy and the thermal energy of the fuel is utilized.  In a coal fired boiler, the explosive energy is merely contained and the only thing recovered is thermal energy.

    The best way forward is the manufacture of natural gas from landfill gas recovery, bio-generation using ag and forestry waste, and where appropriate the gasification of coal.

    I'm still gung ho wind and solar, but combustion turbines will be necessary to carry the load as nukes and coal plants are shut down.

  •  Don't pay Any Attention (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Something the Dog Said

    to the Man Behind the Curtain pulling the Levers.
    He Isn't Important. Natural Gas is "Clean" because
    We SAY It Is!  It Says So - Right on the Label. "I saw the
    Commercials on TV so it MUST be True."

    Same Old Story. Same Old Song and Dance. Everything
    you need to Know about "Clean" Natural Gas is in the
    Documentary Film "GasLand".

    On Giving Advice: Smart People Don't Need It and Stupid People Don't Listen

    by Brian76239 on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 08:12:36 AM PDT

  •  Only about 30 years of natural gas left in the US (0+ / 0-)

    so it's a bad bet in the long run. Also it only covers
    about 25% of our energy needs.

  •  No place for hyperbole (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Now we have many people who rely on well water have a risk of having their kitchen go boom from contaminated water.

    I'm no fan or defender of hydraulic fracking, but the notion that people are having concentrations of hydrocarbons in their drinking water sufficient for ignition as a result of the practice is simply not happening, nor is it likely to.  I call out the statement because it is hysterical and obscures the real concern, which is having hydrocarbon concentrations sufficient to harm health.  

    Let's see - what else have we got...

    Concentrated solar power works by a set of mirrors in a half pipe...If that pipe if filled with water you get steam for power generation. However you could also fill it with sodium, and it will become molten in short order.

    Sodium??  Really??  That'd be something to stay well clear of; nothing spells fun like large quantities of a material that spontaneously catches fire in open air...a fire that's tough to put out, by the way.  The OP probably means molten salt (more accurately "salts" - a more generic term covering more than plain old NaCl table salt), which is all well and good except for one problem:  keeping the salt molten at night.  If you can't, then a fair amount of your solar-collecting day gets spent waiting to melt your salt through conduction, convection, or, irony of ironies, burning gas or oil or running electric heating elements before you can even start your pumps.  I have to wonder about what it's like to design a pump (bearings, seals, and all) knowing that your working fluid will routinely solidify.  

    As I delve more and more into the engineering and practical issues involved with energy, I'm coming to understand why there isn't more solar, wind, geo, and hydro:  compared to burning stuff and splitting atoms, it all just sucks. :)  Fukushima Dai-ichi is (was?) a ~4700MW plant; typical nameplate rating for a wind turbine is 1MW.

    •  have you seen GasLand? (2+ / 0-)

      it is getting in the water table.  and yes, people's water supply is getting ruined and does catch on fire.  watch the movie.

      •  I saw the scene (0+ / 0-)

        I saw the scene in GASLAND to which you are referring and I do not believe that what actually happened there was tap water igniting.  I don't know what was going on there in the movie; I'd be more inclined to believe it was sewer gas from the (improperly-vented?) drain igniting.  Show me anywhere in the country where you can turn on a kitchen sink sprayer, aim it at a lit can of Sterno, and get a fireball - even from local well water.  

    •  In all fairness, Fukushima Daiichi was really (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Something the Dog Said

      6 plants all sited (way too closely) on the same grounds. You can't really compare a single wind turbine to a multi-unit thermal plant.

      The main reason there isn't more hydro is that in most of the places where it's viable, it's already fully built. A better grid might help get more hydro power from places where it's viable to places where it isn't. In the places where it is viable, though, it's a clean source of large-scale baseload power, far better than other renewables. It's not all that safe, though, with potential for truly catastrophic accidents. But then, I'm not sure any form of reliable large-scale power generation is.

      If you Google "headache brain tumor", you will come away convinced that your headache is actually cancer—Seth Mnookin

      by ebohlman on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 01:58:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The point of my "comparison"... (0+ / 0-)

        ...was to show the three-plus-order-of-magnitude difference between a nuke plant like F. Dai-ichi and a single wind turbine, i.e., you'd need a 4700-turbine wind farm running flat out (an unreachable and unsustainable condition) to equal the nuke plant, knowing that the wind farm has no baseline component to its capacity.  

        Speaking of baseline components, one of the things that renders the wind/solar concept impotent in the US is that we have very little ability to store electric power in our grid.  We need storage and highly flexible transcontinental delivery - and we needed to have already gotten very serious about beefing up residential electrical capacity to support the variety of affordable full-electric cars and trucks we already needed to have brought to market.  We needed to have already worked out electrically- and human-powered ways for us to go about our work, school, and other life business.  

  •  a fave new oxymoron (2+ / 0-)
    it does burn cleaner

    is "clean-burning". The Nat Gas folk love that term.

    I wonder if they also use phrases like "wet drying" and "young aging". All of the above make no fucking sense.

    When we burn shit, we are ruining the planet. Period.

    The fracking aspect makes natural gas a complete disaster and a non-starter. We need to wake up. And fast.

    Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

    by LaughingPlanet on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 08:33:12 AM PDT

  •  NG from present-day biomass is carbon neutral (0+ / 0-)

    The real problem with fossil fuels is that they put carbon into the atmosphere that long ago had been completely taken out of the carbon cycle.  Buried miles under the ground, that coal, oil, and natural gas could have stayed there forever if not for human activities.

    However, natural gas from your compost heap is part of the active carbon cycle.  It was drawn down from the atmosphere within the past several years by living plants and is now being returned there as the plant matter decomposes.  Capturing that methane in an anaerobic digester and then burning it in a steam turbine, a car engine, or a home furnace would be carbon neutral: i.e. there would be no net increase of carbon in the ecosphere.  Wood and wood gas is also carbon neutral, as is cellulosic ethanol.

    In principle, burning anything that was alive before you chopped it down or killed it or that came from something that is still alive (like burning dried animal dung) is carbon neutral.  Of course, there are complex issues with the changes of land use: i.e. a forest [temporarily] stores more carbon than a field of switchgrass being grown to make ethanol, so you put more carbon into the atmosphere than the switchgrass can take back out, but that's true of all usage of the land by humans, and still unlike burning fossil fuels, a new equilibrium can be rapidly restored.

    Of course, it's not good enough to be carbon neutral.  We have to find ways to take all the carbon that had once been buried safely underground and put it back there: remove it completely from the carbon cycle as had once been done.  But solar and wind power won't do that either.  I think that only biochar can.

    Karl Marx wishes he was this guy

    by Visceral on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 10:25:23 AM PDT

  •  been figurin that gas frack = MTR coal, Dog. t/y (0+ / 0-)

    Support The Conscience Of Information.

    by renzo capetti on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 05:47:51 PM PDT

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