AC/DC (and typical talking points)

Energy!  Electric!  No, not the hard rockin band.  But, truly, energy and electricity.

One of the most disturbing and frustrating conversations I get into is the topic of converting to a green, carbonless, renewable,….. whatever, grid.  It is disturbing to me because some people are being intentionally misled.  It is frustrating to me because otherwise bright people refuse to look into the intentional deception.  I though I’d help by preparing people to anticipate the usual talking points of a green, carbonless, renewable, ….. whatever, advocate.

About the deception?  No one tells these people that we can’t store AC power.  And, no one tells them the implications of such.

The most overriding, important, inescapable issue to discuss when speaking of converting to green, carbonless, renewable, ….. whatever, is the fact that AC power cannot be stored!

Discussions almost always show that the proponents don’t know why this is important.  Why is it important?  Well, wind blows on its own schedule.  The sun shines on a schedule of sorts, but isn’t reliable in most places due to clouds.  AC power is a use it or lose it proposition.  When generated, it must be sent down the line or its gone.

Now, about this time in a conversation such as this, some moron will pipe up about conversion, inversion, and batteries.  And, this is true.  We can convert AC power to DC and then store it in a battery and then invert it back to AC……. in theory.  There is no such battery as to facilitate a generation plant of any size.  Moreover, there is significant energy loss during the processes of inverting and converting.  While I won’t say it isn’t feasible to build such a battery.  The size of it would have to be monstrous!  As would the converters and inverters!  It isn’t practically feasible.

Still, even knowing all of this some people insist we should pursue renewable energy.  Mainly because they believe it to be “free” energy, that once in place, there’s nothing but energy being produced and little or no overhead.  Well, no.  Maintenance is a killer for the whirly gigs.  I won’t go into the details of the story, but established wind farms are bought and sold and left to ruin when people understand the difficulties of maintaining such monstrosities.  I picked this up from Stan, a commentator at Small dead animals.  Go here for an excellent article about ghosts of windmill farms and the like.

The question is often asked, “but won’t it help, anyway?”  The thought is the more the merrier, right?  Wrong.  If we are to utilize wind and solar and the like, we must keep a back up plant spinning and ready to go in case the demand exceeds the generation capacity of the the plants.  Demand isn’t hard to predict.  But we don’t know how much we have to provide by traditional means because of the unreliability of the renewables.

So, the needless required redundancy is established, but we haven’t fully explored the needless required redundancy.  Transmission line is expensive.  Maintenance is required.  With the redundancy, the failure points are doubled.  The cost is doubled, the maintenance is doubled.

If and when this far in the conversation, the next question will be, “why don’t they just build the generation plants next to each other?”  Because we can’t!  Unlike Japan, nuclear sites here go in places least likely to have catastrophic events.  Coal plants are supplied by rail.  Gas plants have similar logistic requirements.  Obviously, solar and wind generation plants are necessarily location specific.  So, it isn’t just plant redundancy, it is infrastructure redundancy.

Usually, when having this discussion with a green, carbonless, renewable, ….. whatever advocate, by now they’ve plugged their ears and have screamed, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”  But, on that rare occasion that conversation has continued, some pinhead will bring up HVDC.  For the uninitiated, that’s High Voltage Direct Current.  This is where DC power is sent down a transmission line.  The use for this is very specific.  High voltage is necessary because DC in normal voltage doesn’t travel very far.  To reiterate conversion and inversion costs are extreme.  It use is primarily for moving energy from one AC power grid to another AC power grid that is operating with different synchronization.  But, that’s about it.  It is used to move electricity underwater and great distances.  It would be of little or no value to nations such as the U.S. because we can adequately generate electricity in a regional manner.

Once the conversation has gone this far, either a complete mental breakdown has occurred with the green, carbonless, renewable, ….. whatever advocate, or a complete abject refusal to address reality occurs.

Please note, the previous only addresses large commercial generation and transmission issues.  Usually, some dolt will pipe up about solar and wind being viable for personal uses and then brings up the “sell back to the grid” scheme.  To properly respond to this, all one has to do is point to an early post of mine discussing Dr. Hansen’s brief moment of clarity.  Hansen goes into good detail about how it fails, but the money quote from Dr. Hansen is this…… But suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.” ——- Dr. James Hansen

After that, you can direct them here for a vision of their ideas about efficiency.  Even after all of that, you won’t convince the hard core believers.  But, what you will do is cause other that have observed/listened to the conversation to think.  Remember, it all flows from the fact that we can’t store AC power.

Thoughts and/or questions are encouraged.


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9 Responses to AC/DC (and typical talking points)

  1. Dave says:

    Bill Gates working with China on new nuclear reactor
    Associated Press
    Posted: 12/07/2011 09:01:45 AM PST
    Updated: 12/07/2011 11:43:51 AM PST

    Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates speaks to the media after delivering a… ( Andy Wong )

    BEIJING — Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates confirmed Wednesday he is in discussions with China to jointly develop a new and safer kind of nuclear reactor.
    “The idea is to be very low cost, very safe and generate very little waste,” said the billionaire during a talk at China’s Ministry of Science and Technology.
    Gates said he had largely funded a Washington state-based company, TerraPower, that is developing a Generation IV nuclear reactor that can run on depleted uranium. TerraPower says it has discussed its plans with India, Russia and other countries with nuclear energy programs.
    The general manager of state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation, Sun Qin, was quoted in Chinese media last week saying Gates was working with it to research and develop a reactor.
    “TerraPower is having very good discussions with CNNC and various people in the Chinese government,” said Gates, cautioning the talks were at an early stage.
    Gates says perhaps as much as a billion dollars will be put into research and development over the next five years.
    TerraPower says its traveling wave reactor would run for decades on depleted uranium and produce significantly smaller amounts of nuclear waste than conventional reactors.
    “All these new designs are going to be incredibly safe,” Gates told the audience. “They require no human action to remain safe at all times.”
    He said they also benefit from an ability to simulate
    Dave Said:
    Bill Gates should invest this money in a good USA company not China.
    Read the story of One Company:
    Hyperion Power, is making reactors about the size of a hot tub that each service about 20 – 25,000 homes. They have built-in safety features such as shutting down when they get too hot.
    Hyperion’s small transportable reactors can be installed in a small vault, and can be stacked to provide exactly the amount of power needed. Imagine instead of hundreds of large power plants producing 4 or more gigawatts of power each, thousands of mini-reactors producing only 25-30 megawatts each, . A single unit would cost 15% less per megawatt of capacity than the average full-scale atomic reactors now in on the drawing board, according to World Nuclear Association data. If Hyperion’s vision comes true, small and self-sufficient nuclear reactors could well be providing cheap and efficient power around the world within the next five years. no moving parts to wear down, and are delivered factory sealed. They are never opened on site.

    • suyts says:

      Thanks Dave, yes, I should have touched on this, too.

      Great strides in nuclear energy production are being made, and there is a plethora of ideas similar to the one describe above. All promise safer, cheaper nuclear energy. This has been going on for years. Imagine what we could have already accomplished towards this goal had not our money and technological focus been diverted to the whirlygigs, pinwheels, and sunbeam catchers. I do think the long term solution to our energy needs will be nuclear power. Sadly, the wheels toward that end turns very slow.

  2. Bruce of Newcastle says:

    We only have a very limited ability to store DC power too. The favoured battery is our friend lithium, usually with cobalt oxide, but recently with cheaper iron phosphate. Unfortunately lithium isn’t common, and the 40,000 tonnes mined per year can do for laptops and phones but not for much else. Getting production up to 100,000 t/yr would probably be feasible, but there just isn’t enough lithium on Earth for much more than that. Nowhere near enough for serious power storage.

    The only large scale battery technology that makes economic sense is sodium-sulfur, since both those elements are common and cheap. But sodium/sulfur batteries are molten salt systems have to operate above about 200 C. Not something you’d want in an electric car in a Colorado winter, but should be OK for bulk power (and indeed is in industrial use now…with care).

    What frustrates me is the battery question doesn’t get the air-time that wretched windmills and solar PV gets. Or the R&D money. Yet it is absolutely crucial. Cheap sodium-sulfur batteries would be so useful. I know that rooftop solar PV is very popular, certainly around where I live – so much so that it is now overloading the grid. Cheap battery technology would fix that.

    Though on evidence of Solyndra I’m not sure you’d want DoE anywhere near battery technology. They seem to have a natural talent to stuff up big and often.

    • suyts says:

      Yes, DoE messes up more often than not. Towards batteries, you’re right in that it doesn’t get near the R&D money the wind and solar get. Again, though, because of the inverting/converting costs, other than individual use it won’t get very far.

  3. Mike Davis says:

    The main force for improving battery technology will be the communications field. Batteries are a necessary part of the communications field and always will be. There is where improvements in converters and inverters have been developed and tested in a real world environment. I also saw a great deal of improvement in battery technology during the 37 years I worked in the field.
    I have seen Battery packs that could supply my house with power for a week before recharge. The pack was half the size of my house and probably cost more than my current house. The down side for that was it required a climate controlled room to maintain optimum conditions. It was a two hour rated back up for a telephone office and they had a generator that would be able to supply power to the whole town I now live in.

  4. If we could use the electricity to produce an extremely dense energy storage substance (something on the order of 45 megajoules per kg for instance) and then directly convert that at the consumer’s site . . .

    • suyts says:

      Yes, but then we’d have to entirely rebuild our infrastructure……..

      • Yes yes! Small distribution centers, specializing in this dense energy storage substance (probably liquid), but also offering tasty snacks and perhaps semi-frozen caffeinated drink slurries in disposable transports. A whole vast network of such substations providing energy for transportation or for the immolation of various mammalian body parts (to be enjoyed with some beverages made from rotted seeds from mutant grasses.)

      • suyts says:

        lol, you nailed it!

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