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The August 2008 Energy Update

By Steve Jones,

SkystreamIt's hot here in Denver, and as August ends, we're surprised by how much wind we still have blowing. It seems that it blows almost every day and I've been watching local windmills turning much more often than not. We've debated between solar and wind power here at the ranch. One of the issues we've thought about is the entry cost and the fact that it seems we get more wind than sun here in Colorado. Lots of both, but I see my neighbor's windmill turning constantly, and we get sun for only 14 hours a day or so and wind for 24 hours. I spoke with my neighbor a short while ago and we're still trying to get together to assess the impact of his new Skystream windmill that's directly behind my house. He put it up in May or June and so it will be interesting to hear about his experience.

Apparently I'm not the only one thinking about wind power. New York City has its mayor calling for wind power generation. At the National Clean Energy Summit, Mayor Bloomberg outlined a plan to implement offshore wind farms as well as small scale turbines on buildings and tidal power that could potentially generate 10% of the city's power needs. As one of the largest industrialized cities in the world, 10% is a substantial amount of power. And it would be an amazing pilot for other cities to follow.

The US as a whole appears to be taking a good hard look at wind power. The market appears to be booming, relatively speaking. The US is on pace to get 20% of the grid energy fed by wind power and in 2007, 9000 wind turbines were sold. While that is short of some goals, it's still a significant amount of power. It's good to see on the map shown that Colorado is getting a significant number of projects. We have a lot of wind here, so it seems to make sense. I had a friend express some skepticism as he saw lots of idle wind turbines during a recent trip through the Western states, but on any particular few days that could be the case. It's why we can't ever have other supplemental power generation methods.

But what do we use? Small scale solar, which is what we've have on houses or buildings, may not be as efficient from a "green" standpoint. If you go withlarger scale plants, then it seems to make sense. I've wondered about that before and I'd like to see more work done on this. While I do think it makes some sense to have some supplemental power on houses, solar hot water might better than solar PV. The ultimate solution is probably a mix of technologies, depending on the local conditions.

I still favor nuclear, especially newer, more efficient designs, as a source of electrical power. With newer electric car technologies, along with the constantly growing need for electricity in all aspects of our lives, finding ways to produce more electricity makes sense. The last report from the US DOE shows 104 nuclear generators producing 100,00MW, while we get almost 800,000 MW from coal and natural gas, which seems to be the reverse of what I'd like to soo. Also, I love this solar idea, using solar energy to split water and power fuel cells.

I grew up in Virginia Beach, and loved the water. I still do, though the mountains draw me a bit more now. As a surfer and scuba diver, I really came to respect the power of waves and tides in the ocean. They can toss you around in a way that displays an incredible amount of raw power. Someone is trying to harness is with tidal power generation coming online in Ireland. Time will tell if this is viable, but it could definitely be one way to offset the fossil fuel power we need if maintenance isn't too expensive. I think hydro power makes sense, though these aren't always built with an eye on the environmental impact, but I don't trust my data in Russia.

This system for storing off heat on roads is something I wish I had. It actually uses the heat from asphalt to melt roads, but months later. As a road heats up in summer, the water (in pipes in the road) is heated and circulated to an underground aquifer and stored. Then months later the cycle is reversed to use the heat to melt snow and ice on roads. It's twice as expensive as a regular road, which is one problem with many of our projects.

The initial cost of alternative energy, regardless of payback, is so high that we are unwilling to make the investment. This is where governments can really help to drive technologies forward. However governments don't necessarily have to just subsidize things. As there are carbon penalties and regulations implemented on businesses, I can see the need for a CGO, a Chief Green Officer, in many corporations. Hey, maybe that's a job for me!


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