Saturday, April 2, 2016

Energy: Don't Leave Home Without It

Did we miss the "nuclear vehicle" boat because of our fears and the rules imposed on the nuclear industry? "What might have been" is truly an impossible question to answer.

With the population of the Earth now surpassing 6 billion, and the requirement for energy per capita continually increasing as mankind is being liberated from the yoke, we can expect an exponential increase in the requirement for energy. Some of you believe that we need to limit the population of the world. I disagree - and if you're interested you can read a summary of my position in the footnote.

[Footnote: In the thousand years that the Earth had a low and "flat" population, the inhabitants suffered unbelievable deprivation by our standards. Today the population of the Earth and the standard of living are higher than ever. An unproductive person is indeed a drain on society; but, until government prevents it, more people are in productive activities than living off the productive.]

Some would fear that our unspoiled wilderness and irreplaceable wildlife will be destroyed if the population continues to grow. Again, I disagree, but go to the footnote only if this is of any interest to you.

[Footnote: If you want to see true environmental catastrophe, take a look at (a) the energy-impoverished countries were vegetation is stripped to the roots as a source of cooking fuel and tribesmen must spend most of their day's energy output in foraging for firewood, or (b) the Eastern-bloc countries, where almost an entire continent would be declared a Superfund site under our system. And you might note that only those creatures that are "owned by all of us" are in danger. Species in private hands do quite well.]

Regardless of what you believe, the odds are in favor of a continued growth with these trends predominating. So what are to be the energy sources in the future?

Many environmentalists are excited about solar power. How can you blame them? It's everywhere - and it's free. But there are a few other considerations. While many low-powered applications are feasible, when it comes down to commercial and industrial applications, solar energy becomes pretty darn environmentally hostile. A fairly modest eight- or nine-story suburban office building might require a megawatt of electrical energy at its peak monthly need. The dedicated solar energy plant - with 10% efficiency (not yet attainable), a 50% collector spacing, and a load factor of 75% (it must be able to supply 75% of the maximum load at any time) - required to support this building situated on less than one acre of ground, would need approximately 100 to 300 acres of collection and storage (battery) space, depending on climate. Energy-intensive industrial plants could easily require 500 to 1,000 acres of solar facility for each factory acre. Just as it would be a lovely thing to have a solar-powered car like those that race on the Australian desert (in the daytime), it is just a crying shame that the sun doesn't supply more than one kilowatt per square meter anywhere on Earth.

Wind energy has such obvious problems with availability - in addition to being very insensitive to passing birds and eerily noisy to nearby residents - that it really can't qualify as a reliable source. And while hydroelectric power is a wonderful thing (until the dam silts up), there are only a limited number of sites in the United States with any real energy potential. Imagine, if you will, trying to build a hydroelectric dam in Florida or southern Louisiana, and you'll get the idea. I'm not even going to discuss chicken manure or geothermal energy. If you're hanging your hat on these, you're obviously in the wrong book.