This may seem like an odd blog for a power plant simulator and training development company, but I believe it is warranted. This blog post is in no way intended to protect our market or vindicate fossil power. I, personally, believe that if we can safely use renewables, we must do so. I have 10 KW of solar on my home rooftop. It only makes sense. However, as an engineer and a practiced user of RCA (Root Cause Analysis), we owe it to ourselves to proceed with due, prior diligence.
The "New Green Deal" being proffered by some of the newest members of congress is fraught with peril. As an engineer I have been taught and have diligently practiced studying every detail to ensure the outcome of a design or action is predictably successful. We are not doing this. For the sake of political expediency we are moving in a direction that, at this time, will not work.
With the single exception of nuclear power, we do not currently possess the capability or technology to eliminate fossil fuels from our energy portfolio. The average solar capacity factor is 12%. The average capacity factor of wind is 35% to 40% depending on what publication you read. Wind "haters" list it as low as 12%, wind "lovers" list it as high as 43%. I would venture that it is somewhere around the average of those two numbers (27.5%). The bottom line is simple. At this time wind and solar cannot possibly supplant fossil energy due to storage issues.
The wind is a far more viable fossil fuel replacement than solar because the wind is more consistent in various areas of the country. However, the wind is not necessarily dependable in the areas where population density is the greatest. Transmitting wind power from Texas or Kansas to Florida or New York is expensive and impractical. Unless there is a significant breakthrough in battery technology, renewables are not going to get the job done, or anywhere close.
Battery technology is evolving. Unfortunately, contrary to what Elon Musk and others who are pushing their battery technology will admit, we are still far, far from the “energy density” that is contained (or necessary) in fossil fuels. I teach power plant personnel on a regular basis and I use the following analogy to explain energy density.
A gallon of gasoline in a standard, plastic gas container is approximately 12" by 12" by 10". The weight of 1 gallon of gasoline is approximately 6 Lbs. A gallon of gasoline contains enough energy to power a modern, mid-size sedan 25 to 35 miles. It can be refilled in less than a minute at a standard gas pump.
The best available battery technology that will power the same sedan an equal distance is much larger, is made of extensive raw materials, and weighs about 5 times as much as the gallon of gasoline. Plus, it takes at least 30 minutes to refill to full when depleted. Even worse is the fact that the plastic gas container can be refilled an infinite number of times while the battery has a limited usage life and becomes a major environmental issue to recycle.
Nuclear power is clean, non-polluting, and virtually limitless in its capability. However, a large contingent of society that is ignorant about nuclear power is dead-set against it.
Granted, nuclear power must be well engineered to ensure safety to the public, but this is possible. The biggest problem with nuclear energy is the waste. However, there are methods of handling the waste that would make it a safe replacement for fossil energy. Concerning global warming or climate change, there are several things to consider.
While global warming is documented, its cause(s) may or may not be man-made. I am certain this immediately outrages a large segment of society, but please hear me out. The earth is currently experiencing a rapid movement of its magnetic field. As with many other things in our physical environment, it affects us in many profound ways.
The movement of the north magnetic pole has been the object of study since the early 1800’s. Initially, it was tracked moving into the Arctic Ocean at a rate of about 15km each year. Since the mid - 1990s, it has picked up speed. It’s now shifting at a rate of about 55km a year. Recent studies have indicated the Earth’s magnetic field has been acting-up for over 1,000 years. Scientists do not know the root cause behind this. We do know that it is related to magma transitions within the mantle, but we do not know what is causing these transitions. It is certainly not global warming.
NASA (North American Space Administration) recently revealed that the heat loss from our atmosphere is at its highest point in history. NASA satellite data from the years 2000 through 2016 show the Earth's atmosphere is allowing far more heat to be released into space than computer models have previously predicted. They feel the cause is the relative cooling of the sun’s corona. We must understand the sheer size of the sun in relationship to the earth.
The ratio of the Sun's diameter to the Earth's diameter is 1,392,000/12756 = 109.1 This means the ratio of their volumes is 109.1 x 109.1 x 109.1, which is about 1,300,000. This equates to the fact that 1,300,000 Earths should fit inside the Sun. Therefore, the sun is an overwhelming control parameter of life on this earth.
The sun bombards earth with various types of radiation. A phenomenon known as "Coronal Mass Ejection" (CME) has been recorded for well over 150 years. CME is sometimes referred to as “sun spots”. They tend to ebb and flow on a 12 to 14 year cycle. The illustration to the left is a CME photographed by the Solar Dynamics Observatory in 2010. It is easy to see how large these can be in relation to the earth.
The average person does not realize just how destructive and harmful these CME’s can be. They have caused extensive damage to the power grid and numerous blackouts, including a substantial portion of the northeast and Canada in 1989. CME’s induce a low frequency, direct current on the grounding grid. These induced currents have destroyed large distribution system transformers and other power grid components since electrification of the earth began. The United States Department of Energy has an entire group dedicated to the detection and tracking of CME’s. The effects of CME’s and the sun’s corona massively effect the earth’s weather and atmosphere.
My point is simple. There are many things currently happening in our physical environment that have nothing to do with humanity. Most of these things can and do profoundly affect life as we know it. Most can eliminate man’s existence with one, existential blow. What about a rogue comet or asteroid slamming into the earth?
Now, let’s look at something else that is easily documentable. Arguably, one of the larger exterminators in history is poverty. Poverty drives wars. Poverty drives starvation. Poverty drives crime. Poverty drives disease. There are varying degrees of poverty that cause varying degrees of mayhem. However, poverty is a major issue.
If we try and eliminate fossil energy consumption in a ten-year period, directly displacing or eliminating the multiple millions of good paying jobs and the associated support sector jobs, there will be an issue with increasing poverty. I realize that the people pushing the green agenda feel the renewable markets will provide substantial employment opportunities, but the facts refute this. As discussed previously, we don’t possess the technology to eliminate fossil fuel consumption at this time unless we turn to nuclear energy.
As we try and assure and control our future on this planet, we tend to look at the minutia and ignore the big picture. If we want to displace fossil energy we must turn to nuclear as part of the overall renewable portfolio. Let’s harness the sun’s energy and wind energy but let’s also harness and use the most abundant energy source we currently have. Nuclear power. China has grasped this simple truth. They are still building fossil fueled power plants but are now moving rapidly to nuclear power. We must rethink our energy strategy and move as quickly as possible to Licensing and building new nuclear power facilities.
We recently sold our simulation development software to, two different nuclear power research companies researching new nuclear reactor technologies and applications. They are researching small, modular reactors and newer reactor designs with passive safety features incorporated into the design. We should, as a nation, continue to fund these organizations that our increasing our understanding of nuclear energy. We should also use the newest, approved, nuclear technologies to build replacement power facilities for our current aging nuclear fleet as well as to further our movement away from fossil dependency.
While this blog post may be a gross over-simplification of a serious issue, we must thoughtfully, and carefully move forward with an energy plan that balances the risks versus the potential benefit. Often times this is a blurry line that is driven by ignorance and/or ulterior motives. Ignorance and ulterior motives are harbingers for major issues in the future. Let’s not fall into this trap. We must proceed carefully with wind, solar, and nuclear energy and political policies that balance science and the truth in relationship to the earth as a whole.