Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reader Response on Energy and Its Opponents

Jim Aach, a nuclear power engineer who has written a book on nuclear power (fiction, by the looks of it), had some additional thoughts on my previous posting regarding energy alternatives.

You're doing the math on actual energy supply vs. demand, which is the first disqualifier if you want to participate in the current energy debate. You might find this an interesting, inside look at one of those wacky power sources you listed.

When I asked for clarification on which math he meant, Mr. Aach graciously filled in the blanks:

What I meant was - it's one thing to pick this energy source over that energy source, but many don't go the next step and figure out how much of it you actually need to maintain the baseload energy supply and peak load. I believe I figured out once you'd need 200,000 of the largest wind turbines made just to replace nuclear in the US.People miss combining two key numbers in the math. Any electric power source will have it's rated output and its availability factor. Rated output is the best it can put out - like a one Megawatt (MW) windmill. Most folks stop there. But windmills only have a 20% availability factor - that is, on average they are producing only 20% of their maximum power. So you actually need five 1 MW windmills to average one MW of output. (Then there's the problem of unpredictable and intermittent output, and the fact that electricity may be the only commodity critical to western civilization that can't be stored well. You're either making it right now, or you haven't got it.)

Once you take all that into account, a lot of the alternatives start generating huge
numbers (a million windmills, a big chunk of Arizona covered in solar panels) which brings up issues of resources to build and maintain the stuff, etc.

Nice to know someone's reading out there.

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