Overview of Alternative Energy
What is Alternative/Renewable Energy and
Why is there a need for it?
Basic concept of alternative energy sources relates to
issues of sustainability, renewability and pollution
reduction Despite this, deliverable cost
to the consumer still drives everything which becomes a large
The Current Situation:
Electricity Generation, Space Heating, Transportation dominate
our uses of energy
Most traditional Energy production comes about via steam driven
turbines so the heating of water is what is essential.
- Coal Fired Steam Plants
- Nuclear Fired Steam Plants
- Oil/Natural Gas Fired Steam Plants
In reality, Alternative Energy means any thing other
than deriving energy via Fossil Fuel combustion. Since 90% of
our current energy usage is derived from fossil fuels and since
there is only 50--70 years of production left in that resource then
there is a clear need to invest in alternative energy sources NOW
Basic Barrier to all forms of alternative energy lies
in high initial costs and long payback times. This is the
fluourescent lightbulb syndrome on a much larger scale.
This can only be solved if we have
a subsidy program that allows startup companies to have long
pay back times. Possibly, the current move toward energy
deregulation will create this kind of framework.
Currently we have no significant production line alternative energy
source operating anywhere in the US. There are a few successful
"demonstration" projects operating in California which could serve as
The only regional examples of renewable resources for
electrical energy generation are Hydropower in the Pacific NorthWest
and the Tennessee Rivery Valley. Yet it is now highly unpopular to even
consider building more dams, even though this is a proven renewable
Given the fact that the oil WILL run out then sensible choices which
are not plauged by NIMBY, for profit only, and corporate lobbying must
be made. Can we do this? In other words, our decision making process
is so paralyzed by self-interest that its unclear any sensible large
scale decision can be made.
Here are the choices where we must recognize
that all form have both good and bad points.
Forms of Alternative Energy:
Advantages: Always there; no pollution
Disadvantages: Low efficiency (15%) which can only be compensated for by
large collecting areas; significant generation of waste heat
; Very high initial costs; lack of adequate
storage materials (batteries); High cost to the consumer although these
costs are going down. Current levelized cost is 20-25 cents per KWH.
- A site in Eastern Oregon receives 300 watts per square meter
of solar radiation averaged over the year.
- The solar panels are 10% effecient and are illuminated, on average,
8 hours a day
- To run your house you need about 100 KWHs per 24 hour period
Given this information, how many square meters of solar panels do
- One square meter gives you 300 x 0.1 = 30 watts of Power.
- Since you only collect sunlight, on average, for 8 hours then
in one 24 hour period this square meter delivers 30 x 8 = 240 watt
hours of energy = 0.24 KWHs per day
- you require 100 KWHs per day
so you need 100/.24 = 400 square meters.
Advantages: No pollution; Very high efficieny (80%); little waste
heat; low cost per
KWH (4.5 cents); can adjust KWH output to peak loads; recreation dollars
Disadvantages: Fish are endangered species; Sediment buildup and dam
failure; changes watershed characteristics; alters hydrological cycle
Advantages: none on large scale; supplemental power in windy areas;
best alternative for individual homeowner or a regional consortium.
In SE Minnesota, Wind Energy is feed into the power grid and sold to the
consumer for 4.5 cents per KWH.
Disadvantages: Highly variable source; relatively low efficiency (30%);
unasethetic (visual pollution);
disruption of migratory birds (note this is what killed the recently
proposed Columbia River Gorge wind turbine project).
Advantages: very high efficiency; low initial costs since you already
Disadvantages: non-renewable (more is taken out than can be put in by
nature); highly local resource (EWEB recently abandoned its proposed 10
MegaWatt Facility and Newberry Crater as the geothermal yield was lower
than originally thought)
- Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion:
- Tidal Energy:
Advantages: Steady source; energy extracted from the potential
and kinetic energy of the earth-sun-moon system; can exploit bore tides
for maximum efficiency
Disadvantages: low duty cycle due to intermittent tidal flow; huge
modification of coastal environment; very high costs for low duty
- Nuclear Fusion: Forget it, we aren't smart enough yet.