Green Power

    Energy conservation and renewable energy sources have been emphasized off-and-on for the last thirty years, but global warming and September 11th have brought new urgency to this topic because of our need to reduce our dependency upon Mid-Eastern oil. The following discussions were inspired by a visit to TVA's Green Power website.
    Missing from TVA's list of renewable energy sources for reasons having to do with the fact that this renewable energy source is available primarily in the western U. S. is the most promising renewable energy source of them all: geothermal power.
 

Geothermal Power: the Cinderella of Renewable Energy Sources
    Geothermal power requires the drilling of 10 to 100 deep wells at $1,000,000 to $4,000,000 a well. However, once this has been done, geothermal electricity costs about 5¢ a kilowatt-hour (Kwh) to produce. The U. S. currently has about 2,800 megawatts of geothermal powerplant capacity--enough to power about 1.5 million homes. Geothermal power is more dependable than gas- or oil-powered utilities, with 95% uptime. The oldest geothermal powerplant, in Lardello, Italy, has been operating since 1904. The two main problems: the fact that it's only available in volcanic regions, and the cost of locating underground reservoirs of superheated water and then drilling the wells.
    "Currently there is quite a bit of research under way to develop better underground sensing technologies that would make it cheaper to discover exploitable geothermal water sources. At the same time, engineers are also working to build stronger, more durable drill bits that wouldn't have to be replaced as often. Even with those limits, current estimates by the Department of Energy are that 15,000 megawatts of new capacity will be built on the West Coast in the next 10 years. With today's technology and what little we know about underground geothermal water sources — to date, not a lot of exploration has been done for superheated subterranean reservoirs — it's thought that anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 additional megawatts of geothermal power could be brought online once wells are drilled and plants erected. But the real promise of geothermal power lies a bit deeper than 1,000 to 10,000 feet underground. If you get down 5 to 10 miles or so below the earth's surface just about anywhere on the planet, the rocks themselves are plenty hot enough to heat water past the boiling point. Once drilling technologies have improved enough, the hope is to be able to drill down to that depth and pump cold water in one well and then draw off the heated water from another well. The result would be a limitless supply of renewable energy, and an end to our reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear energy."
    A third problem---perhaps the most significant of all--- was voiced by John Miller, vice president of the Calpine Corporation, a geothermal developer in San Jose, Calif., who said on 11/28/2001, that there had been "no new significant geothermal development in the United States in more than 10 years". "Jonathan Weisgall, a lobbyist for the MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company and the head of a trade association for the geothermal industry, said that one company had spent 21 years going through the process and that at the end the government rejected its application."

Landfill Gas

Solar Power

Total Power: 300 kw.
    240 PV panels are required to generate 10 kw, of solar-electric power, implying that each PV panel must be producing about 42 watts. Solar power provides about 1,650 kwh per year for each kilowatt of installed PV generating capacity. Since each home requires about 13,000 kwh per year, an installed photovoltaic (PV) generating capacity of about 13,000/1,650 or about 8 kilowatts of installed photovoltaic power modules would be required to power the average home.
    How much does it cost? A PV system currently runs $6,000 to $8,000 a kilowatt, so the above 8 kilowatt system would cost $48,000 to $64,000 ($200 a month to $267 a month when amortized over 20 years) to install. The Solar-Electric Power Association estimates that a 5-kilowatt system will power most houses, and that a very efficient house can get by with a 2-kilowatt solar system. (The 5-kilowatt system would cost $30,000 to $40,000, or $125 a month to $167 a month, and the 2-kilowatt system from $12,000 to $16,000, or $50 a month to $67 a month.) However, these prices are dropping. If we could get them down to $16,000 to $21,000, they would pay for themselves over a 20-year period ($67 a month to $87 a month when amortized over  20 years). Current plans call for costs of $3,000 to $4,000 a kilowatt by 2010. At that rate, a 2-kilowatt system would cost $6,000 to $8,000 ($25 a month to $33 a month), and a 5-kilowatt system would set you back $15,000 to $20,000 ($63 a month to $83 a month).
    Any alternative-power system would require backup for times when solar power were insufficient. This could be the electric power grid, or it could be a diesel-powered, motor-generator rig.
    Two alternative approaches to photovoltaic power generation are domestic systems, mounted on homeowners' rooftops, and commercial systems, operated by utility companies. The practicality of either type of system must depend in part upon location. Albuquerque, New Mexico, must be a better location than Caribou, Maine. It might be better if utility-installed solar power collectors were installed in equatorial desert plateaus of the world. (One would seek the higher elevations so that the solar cells wouldn't get too hot.)
     A third class of applications might consist of such special-purpose functions as pumping and desalination. These would be cheaper, since they wouldn't require AC inverters or battery backup.
A major market for solar-photovoltaic systems exists already in remote areas of third-world countries where power grids don't currently exist. A small rooftop photovoltaic system might also be an attractive backup source of power in the U. S. Battery backup capacity costs about $100 a kilowatt-hour. Alternatively, solar panels might help power air conditioning during the summer months.

Wind Power


Painless Energy Conservation

     By far, the most effective energy management strategy that we can use is "painless energy conservation". . . . energy conservation that costs a little more at the outset but that pays for itself many times over. Reducing one's energy bill by 50% would cut domestic power consumption and carbon dioxide generation by 50% And even greater reductions are probably comfortably feasible. Here are a few ways in which we might accomplish this:

    These energy-saving strategies are win-win. They will cut one's utility bills no matter what energy source is used.

(1) Fluorescent Lights
      Fluorescent lights use about 22% of the power of equivalent incandescent bulbs. In the past, they were slow to start, and produced a bluish light, as well as requiring special light fixtures. No more. Walmart sells GE and Lights-of-America bulbs that screw into regular light sockets, give a mellow-yellowish light just like incandescent bulbs, and in the case of the GE bulbs, are "instant-on". They cost $5.00 to $10.00 at Walmart, and are rated for 4,000 to 10,000+ hours. $10.00 is a steep price for a 10,000-hour light bulb, but not when you consider the thirteen 750-hour incandescent bulbs it replaces.
    Lights-of-America even has 10,000-hour bulbs that are shaped just like incandescent bulbs and that cost $7.00. And each of these bulbs saves you from $50.00 to $80.00 in electric bills (depending upon local energy costs) over the life of the bulb.
    I think that these bulbs are going to replace most incandescent bulbs, with huge savings in lighting bills. (Mercury vapor and sodium vapor street lamps are already comparably long-lived and efficient.)

(2) Microwave Ovens
     Most of us are already using microwave ovens for the bulk of our cooking

(3) Insulation
     This is another one of those areas where a lot of improvement is possible for most of us. Most building contractors don't put a lot of insulation in their homes, since they may not get their money back when they sell their houses. But insulation pays for itself many times over. Aluminum storm windows will protect your windows from the weather and avoid the need to repaint and replace them, in addition to lowering your heating and cooling bills. Extra insulation also makes for a more-comfortable, less-drafty home. Tommie and I plan to install storm windows here week after next, as well as change the rest of our light bulbs to fluorescents.

(4) Energy Efficient Appliances
     This is something you more or less have to do when replace appliances. A great deal has already been done to improve the energy efficiency of our appliances, but from now on, Tommie and I will pay a little more attention to this when we buy new appliances.

(5) Drying Clothes on a Clothesline
     This is something that isn't always feasible, but it can certainly freshen clothes dried outdoors in the summertime. (I have fond memories of the fresh smell of bed sheets after drying in the sun and the wind.) Tommie Jean and I have taken to partially drying our clothes in the clothes dryer, and then letting them air-dry the rest of the way  Partially drying them without heat or on low heat is another way to reduce the clothes drying bill.
(6) Solar house heating in winter, and shade in the summer.
      If you're planning a new house, this can be a great way to go. One of my previous houses had a southern exposure, and it was largely heated by the sun during the winter. On the other hand, during the summer, the roof overhang kept the sun off the walls of the house. (If we had had deciduous trees that shaded the house during the summer, it would probably have been even better.) A house designed explicitly for solar heating assistance would probably work even better. Such houses generally have water- or rock-filled heat sinks that can store heat (or lack of it). A thermostatically- controlled, whole-house exhaust fan can cool most houses adequately during the night.
     Such systems still require auxiliary heating and cooling provisions.

(6) Solar-Assisted Hot Water Heaters
      Solar-assisted hot water heaters were popular in the 1970's. At that time, they cost about $1,000, if self-installed. However, the prices I'm seeing on the Internet range from $3,500 to $5,000. Let's see if that's impractically high.
      It takes 4.1847 joules of electricity to add one calorie of heat to a tank of water, and 252 calories to add one BTU. In other words, it takes 1,055 joules, or 1.055 kilowatt-seconds, to add one BTU to a tank of water. There are 3,600 seconds in an hour, so 1.055 kilowatt-hours of energy would add 3,600 BTU's to a tank of water. A British Thermal Unit will heat one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit, so 1.055-kilowatt-hours (3,600 BTU's) will heat a 50-gallon (400-pound) tank of water nine degrees Fahrenheit in one hour. We'd probably want to heat the 50-gallon tank 55 degrees, from, say, 55 degrees Fahrenheit in the water main to 110 degrees Fahreneit in the tank, in an hour, so we'd need 6.33 kilowatts to heat it that much that fast. This is a reasonable recovery time (one hour) for a 50-gallon tank of water using a ~6.3-kilowatt electric heating element. Suppose that with showers, dishes, and loads of wash, we use two to three tanks of hot water per day, on average, year-around.That would amount to about 4,000 to 6,000 kilowatt-hours per year. (Tommie and I wash our clothes in cold water, and generally do our dishes in cold water. We probably only use 2,000 kw-hours to heat our water per year.)  At 6¢ per kw-hour (our cost here in the TVA area), that would amount to $240 to $360 per year. Since solar hot water heaters supply about 70% of your hot water heating, they could save you, perhaps, $168 to $252 per year. There would probably be some maintainance and hidden costs associated with your own solar-auxiliary heating system. And even at best, it would take 20 years to reach the break-even point even if you used 150 gallons of hot water every day.
      On balance, in most cases, it doesn't look cost-effective, which is probably why you don't see more solar hot-water heaters. At a more-reasonable purchase cost of $1,500 to $2,000, solar hot-water heaters might appear more attractive. Many of their sales may stem from subsidies offered by utility companies to try to encourage the installation of solar hot-water heaters.
    One tradeoff in contemplating hot-water heater cost is that the higher the water temperature, the greater the thermal losses, but the less the amount of needed hot water. For example, if we are seeking a typical hot water temperature of 105 degrees, and if the inlet water is at a 70 degree temperature (typical of spring and fall), then if we keep our tank temperature at 140 degrees, we will only need half as much hot water as we will if the tank temperature is 105 degrees..

    Household energy conservation is something we can practice immediately, saving money even as we reduce carbon dioxide emissions and our dependencies upon fossil fuels. Household energy conservation would also reduce our alternative energy requirements if we opt for an alternative energy system.
    It's common to compare costs per kilowatt hour when contemplating renewable power. However, if we reduce our energy consumption, solar-electric power may become affordable, particularly if used as an auxiliary power source.
    It should be noted that there are still issues of reliability, standardization, and certification, as described on the Sandia website. The Department of Energy has copious information regarding various kinds of alternative energy costs, as well as valuable energy conservation information. Photovoltaic (PV) power is already cost-competitive in Hawaii, and is promising by 2010 in New York, Massachusetts, California, and Arizona.
 
The Bush Family Tradition: How Do You Spell "Oil"?

From "The United States of oil", "Salon", by Damien Cave:
  "The Bush administration's ties to oil and gas are as deep as an offshore well. President George W. Bush's family has been running oil companies since 1950. Vice President Dick Cheney spent the late '90s as CEO of Halliburton, the world's largest oil services company. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice sat on the board of Chevron, which graced a tanker with her name. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans was the CEO of Tom Brown Inc. -- a natural gas company with fields in Texas, Colorado and Wyoming -- for more than a decade.
    "The links don't end with personnel. The bin Laden family and other members of Saudi Arabia's oil-wealthy elite have contributed mightily to several Bush family ventures, even as the American energy industry helped put Bush in office. Of the top 10 lifetime contributors to George W.'s war chests, six either come from the oil business or have ties to it, according the Center for Public Integrity.
    "'There's no denying that this is an oil administration," says Peter Eisner, managing director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group that conducted the study of Bush's campaign finances. "You can't talk about the career of any George Bush -- father or son -- without talking about oil.'"
 

    It's clear that we would be remiss to expect renewable energy or environmental leadership from the Bush administration. Among the Bush administration's first acts were to reduce the staff and the influence of the EPA, and cut the solar energy research program in half . . .  effectively, I should think, bringing it to its knees*. In the meantime, independence of Mideastern oil and petro-politics has become more urgent than ever. So it's up to us. It's more important than ever that we conserve energy and reduce our carbon dioxide emissions. This will have the added benefit of reducing our utility bills.
 


* - It takes time to implement a major federal budget change. The federal fiscal year begins on October 1st. By the time a new administration takes office, it's already February, and a fraction of the year's money has already been spent. Then there can be termination costs for existing contracts and for reductions-in-force. Also, Civil Service reductions-in-force generally tend to terminate the more capable (who usually have less seniority), and to retain the more-leisurely. Suddenly reducing an agency's budget by 50%, as President Bush allegedly did this spring, is, in my opinion, tantamount to suddenly amputating both legs.