The Best Green Power You Might Have Never Heard Of
Okay, let’s talk Solar Power for a little bit. The Dog knows what immediately jumps to your mind, huge, flat black panels atop the house of that local hippie couple, that either generate enough electricity to run a 12 inch black and white TV, or barely give you enough hot water for a single shower.
That, gentle reader, is not at all what the Dog is talking about. It is true that we have made good strides in increasing the efficiency of Photovoltaic cells, but they are a long way from being durable and cost effective enough to really make a practical alternative to other power sources. The really big problem with them is one that can not be overcome, when there is no sunlight, there is not electricity generated. There are efforts to get around this by trying to store electricity, but to date there is no good cheap way to store industrial levels of electricity.
That would seem to be it for Solar Power, unless the Dog is going to talk about pie-in-the-sky Orbital Solar generation right? Not even close. There is a solar power technology that is available today, that operates at very good efficiencies, does not require any new technology or materials development and, best of all, can even generate some power at night! The Dog hears you asking, “What is this miracle tech, you damned cagey hound?!?” It is called Concentrated Solar Power or CPS.
The basic idea is the same one that nasty little boys and girls have been using to burn ants on the sidewalks for years. If you take the power of the sunlight that is hitting the planet, and concentrate it to a focal point, it greatly increases its ability to heat objects. Everybody still with the Dog so far? Knowing this you build several (actually you can build as many as you have land for) half-pipes with a highly reflective inner surface. Position your troughs so they run North/South. Now run a titanium pipe snaking through all the troughs. Fill that will either a liquid that can absorb a huge thermal load, or really salty water. Connect the end of the pipe to either a heat storage facility or directly to a standard steam electric power generation turbine. Run a exit pipe out to some nice air cooling towers and have the cold liquid flow back to the start.
When the Sun comes out the next morning you are in the power generation business! All the troughs have to do is tilt on a single axis so they can follow the sun across the sky all day and you have a huge amount of super-heated steam to turn your turbine. No carbon, no fuel (well, okay the Sun is fusing hydrogen, but no fuel here on the Earth) and a very small amount of water used. In fact if you are really aggressive about this, you can use this process to desalinate salty water and funnel off pure clear water, as long as you have a good enough source of natural salt water, you know, like an ocean?.
The Dog did promise that this method would also produce power on cloudy days and at night, right? The way that works is by using a heat exchange and a liquid that has a higher boiling point than water. Instead of sending it directly to the turbine, you build a facility where the hottest of this liquid is flows into a storage tank. When power is required the liquid flows into the heat exchange mechanism where it heats water into live steam. This lets you store up the solar energy for use at night and when there is a lower than optimal level of sunlight during the day.
As the Dog said above there is exactly no new technology involved in CSP. The mirror troughs are easy; the mechanism to track the sun is off the shelf, the piping and heat exchange are in use in every nuclear plant in the world, and steam generation, hell you know about that already! This technology can even replace the coal or natural gas powered steam generation at existing plants, assuming there is enough land to build it available.
Now the question becomes, why the heck aren’t we doing this already? Well if the we is the human species, the answer is we are. Spain has been building these style plants for about a decade. There are even a few here in the United States in Nevada and California. The biggest road block to CSP is that the upfront cost is high. As with all solar power CSP takes up a lot of ground in order to gather the suns light. This makes it hard to put plants into cities. When you have to put the plant out in the boonies, you have to have a way to get the power to the people. Sadly this means new transmission lines, and most folks are pretty touchy about having new lines run through their neighborhoods. However once the plant is running and sending its power into the grid the costs plummet. As long as there is sun, there is power, even on partially cloudy days.
This is one of those transformational technologies, and we can not afford to ignore it. Imagine if we could get power the way it consumed with the demand starting to raise during the morning, peaking in mid-afternoon and declining through the late evening, a generation scheme that matches the way it is consumed is far more efficient. This method does not suffer from the toxic waste of nuclear plants, adds no carbon like the natural gas and coal plants, and requires neither fuel nor new technology. This meets everyone’s criteria for sustainable and green power, and it is available today!
The Dog is asking all of you reading this (yeah, all six of you!) to start talking this method up. It is the biggest bang for the buck that the Dog has seen yet and all it requires is the regulatory support and some significant start up money. You know, like a government that is committed to green and sustainable economy might be willing to provide.
The floor is yours.
If you are interested in what the Dept. of Energy has to say about this, you can find it at this link.