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Category — Fulmer, Richard

Energy Density is Key (Richard Fulmer gets back to the basics)

“While incremental improvements can be expected with biomass, wind and solar, what is needed for them to become viable is an order of magnitude increase in productivity…. As significant future energy sources these technologies are dead ends, which is why the government, and not the private sector, is funding them.”

When it comes to power, density is the key. Energy density. The reason that solar power, wind power, and ethanol are so expensive is that they are derived from very diffuse energy sources. It takes a lot of energy collectors such as solar cells, wind turbines, or corn stalks covering many square miles of land to produce the same amount of power that traditional coal, natural gas, or nuclear plants can on just a few acres.

Each of these alternative energy sources is based on mature technology. Agriculture and fermentation have their roots in prehistory, windmills date back at least to 65 B.C., the photovoltaic effect was discovered in 1839. Yet nowhere in the world are these technologies serving as primary energy sources without significant government subsidies.

Solar and Wind

While incremental improvements can be expected with biomass, wind and solar, what is needed for them to become viable is an order of magnitude increase in productivity. As old and as well-researched as solar power, wind power, and other renewable energies are, such improvements are possible but unlikely. As significant future energy sources these technologies are dead ends, which is why the government, and not the private sector, is funding them.

Industry is more than willing to risk research dollars on technologies that show real promise, but it is not willing to flush shareholder money down a rat hole. Politicians, however, operate from different incentives. When a crisis, real or imagined, makes headlines, they want voters to see them doing “something” about it, and they must move quickly because election cycles and constituent attention spans are short. [Read more →]

October 16, 2012   7 Comments