Energy is clearly the life-blood of modern society. Throughout human history, the ability to get more and more energy at lower and lower costs allowed populations to expand and civilizations to thrive. Except our main energy sources require the combustion of fossil fuels which has changed the composition and thus chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans and if allowed to continued will lead to our demise. Society needs to completely retool and eliminate all fossil fuel emissions as-soon-as-possible to have a chance of avoiding this. There is no time to be wasted. None.

Developments in CleanTech, including generating power from wind, solar (photovoltaic and thermal), geothermal, waves, ocean currents, etc. are growing in leaps and bounds, with annual global growth rates as high as 30% or more. This is all good, but the growth rate needs to be stepped up many times in order to have our society 100% renewable by 2030. I follow many different newsgroups/facebook groups/twitter hash tags to keep up with technological developments.

Some good sources…

Climate Nexus is a strategic communications organization dedicated to changing the conversation on climate and clean energy solutions in the United States.

Clean Energy Review is a weekly digest of climate and clean energy updates from across Canada and around the world—plus a peek over the horizon. James Glave assembled this digest in Vancouver.

Electric vehicle news has all the latest information on technological advances in electric cars, trucks, etc.

In Canada, Sustainable Development Technology Canada provides support for CleanTech companies.  It is a government organization.

A Cambridge physicist David MacKay wrote a book “Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air” a few years ago. It was one of the must-have books that I bought, and did read multiple times from cover to cover. It explained in great detail how the UK could be powered completely by renewable energy technologies. In my first read, on the first page, the book stated that there was no need to buy it since the entire thing is online! Oops. I was glad that I could support the author, anyway. Any time you spend reading this book is time that is well spent.

Some of my thoughts on various CleanTech subsectors follow below:

Wind Power
Large scale wind turbines have actually experienced higher growth rates than solar over the last decade, but solar has vastly more potential. The large wind turbines are grouped in wind farms either on land or on shallow continental shelves just offshore coastlines. As elevation increases, wind power typically increases so many turbines are placed on the sides or tops of hills. Also, the mounting towers are getting taller to utilize the faster wind speeds.

As you move offshore, the wind power also increases due to reduced surface friction. Technological advances occurring involve designing turbines that can operate on floating platforms, changing blade configurations to minimize noise and maximize power, and using more lightweight and stronger materials that can have higher operating speeds. Small scale wind turbines that can be placed on rooftops and in urban areas have not had high enough efficiencies and quietness to reach widespread deployment. This could change with technological advances in Vertical Axis Wind Turbine (VAWT) design.

Solar Power
Solar photovoltaic power is likely to eventually scale up much more than wind power. Major advances in the technology include higher purity crystalline materials, and thus much higher efficiency and much cheaper panels, as well as cheaper, smaller, and more efficient inverters that can be placed on every single panel.

New manufacturing techniques, such as printing panels similar to newspapers will drive the cost much lower that today’s levels that already rival the cost per Watt of fossil fuels such as coal and oil. Large solar power farms in the deserts on North Africa could easily supply the entire electrical needs of Europe, assuming sufficient power lines could be run under the ocean.

Wave Power
Parts of the ocean that have consistently large waves are ideal for installation of devices to extract power from the motion of the waves. Test trials are occurring with snake-like devices that consist of many segments connected with hydraulic pistons, as a wave passes the energy is extracted by the contraction and expansion of the pistons. Other devices can be placed on the shallow coastal seafloor to extract energy from waves passing overhead.

Tidal Power
The Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, Canada has daily tides of 50 feet or more (17 meters). There are testbeds of propeller driven turbines anchored to the sea floor to examine the feasibility of extracting enormous amounts of energy from the 6 hour tidal period water currents generated.

Places like Iceland, and some of the Scandinavian Countries are ideal for extracting the heat from the Earth to provide building heating as well as electrical power generation. Northern countries like Canada and Russia have enormous unrealized potential for residential heating from geothermal. The initial capital cost is limiting realization of this potential.

Since the density of water is about 1000x the density of air, it is far easier to obtain vast amounts of electrical power from water turbines as opposed to wind turbines. Many rivers systems around the planet have been dammed to create reservoirs to allow for controlled hydro power production. With abrupt climate change, and a complete redistribution of precipitation patterns some rivers are drying up while others are experiencing vastly higher water flow rates. Understanding these changes is important for assessing hydro potentials.

A very clean source of energy, if it can be made safe. Unfortunately, making it safe is far too expensive to make nuclear an economically viable energy source.

Completely phasing out gasoline and diesel powered cars, trucks and buses is required as soon as possible. An electric powered fleet can be charged at night by the wind turbines that generate more power at that time than is presently needed.

Battery Storage
This is a key technology to improve, for residential storage of intermittent renewable energy production, and to improve the range of electric cars to that of gasoline powered cars. Elevated reservoirs can act as enormous batteries for renewable energy power generation. During low load times, the renewable energy generated can pump water up into elevated reservoirs, and this water can be sent through turbines to provide power on demand.

Natural Gas
Not CleanTech, although it is spun as such. Often discussed as a “bridge fuel”. Natural gas is composed primarily of >90% methane, and the leakage rates from our natural gas infrastructure presently makes natural gas as bad as coal for global warming potential.

2 Responses to Cleantech

  1. Todd D. says:

    I’m surprised someone would read “Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air” and think it shows how the UK could be completely powered by renewable energy, watch this TEDtalk by MacKay

    In addition, globally nuclear produces 3x as much electricity as wind and solar, its lifetime is about 60 years, compared to about 20 years for wind and solar and it generates at least 3x as much electricity on an equal nameplate capacity basis

    Raw material requirements are important, the USA department of energy “Quadrennial Technology Review” report shows raw material requirements on an electricity production basis (TWh) Ch. 10 page 390

    As for making nuclear power safe, Dr. James Hansen created this report

    Another article on safety and possible misunderstanding of radiation

    This read regarding System Levelized Cost of Electricity is critical

    No question that capex for nuclear today is not good, but perhaps this announcement from USA dep’t of energy can help address (Perhaps what Russia and China are doing with nuclear power may have had an influence on the Whitehouse announcement )

    Speaking of Dr. James Hansen, lets see which nations are up for this stark challenge he and three other prominent climate scientists will issue

    This article shows the criticality of capacity factor (this example is a one year detailed analysis of wind turbine performance in Australia, all the linked articles are critical to understanding the limitations that a lower capacity factor presents)


  2. Arthur Noll says:

    With regard to pumped storage, you might want to take a look at Prof. Tom Murphy’s blog post on that. Basically his conclusion from the numbers is that it looks very unlikely.


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