A Brief Digression On Modern Energy Supply

A project log for Perpetual Motion Machine

I think I got this, guys

jarrettJarrett 05/13/2016 at 21:261 Comment

Generally speaking, there are three broad categories of power plants in service today.

You got your coal power. This is the most common source of energy in the world, and also the most harmful. Statistically speaking, you are probably using coal power right now.

The system works by burning coal to heat up water, and using the steam to move giant pistons. Yes, it's basically a large train engine. The stuff coming out of those stacks there is carbon, and is likely coating the surfaces of everything in a few mile radius, going into the atmosphere, all sorts of nasty stuff.

Then there are the renewable energy plants. For simplicity's sake, I'm lumping geothermal, wind, hydro, and solar power together. These have been pretty slow to adopt, because despite seeming fantastic at first glance, there are significant downsides.

The most immediate is that they take a relatively long time to pay off. Each geothermal duct, or wind turbine, or solar panel is very expensive given how little power they generate.

They are also very regional. A hydroelectric dam would be pretty ineffective in a Nevada desert, while geothermal ducts are rather difficult to drill into the mountains of Colorado.

On the local level, some of them have a pretty iffy track record on the environmental impacts, too. Wind power generators are known to confuse and kill bats and hawks in the vortices created by the spinning blades. Solar farms have been frying vultures. Hydro electric damns screw up salmon migrations, and have a nasty habit of busting open and taking out entire towns.

The last of the main power plants are nuclear.

What's interesting about these, is that they're going through a hell of a bad publicity stint lately. Like, the last 30 years lately.

Biases aside, this is actually a really good source of energy. World-saving, even. You see that steam coming from those stacks? Water vapour. Totally harmless, both to the environment and the people around it. Statistically speaking, this is the cleanest, cheapest, and even safest form of energy we have. Modern nuclear power plants shut off safely and cleanly when problems arise, but many of the existing facilities are caught in a kind of Catch 22.

Because nuclear energy is "scary", funding for R&D, upgrades, and even maintenance on existing plants is very scarce. The net effect on this is that facilities are using designs built in the sixties, and when they inevitably fail, even the modern designs get the bad rap. The most frustrating part of all this is that the very people who should support this cause the most - hippy, green, and organic types - are the ones most opposed to it. Again, because nuclear energy is "scary". Because of this pressure, more and more regions are going back to coal energy due to high demand and geography that doesn't allow enough renewable energies to take up the slack.

So obviously that's not going to get better. Nobody is spending millions of dollars on a nuclear energy re-education campaign. So we have to do something better. And that's where I come in.


deʃhipu wrote 06/20/2018 at 18:58 point

Well, the coal plants at least damage the environment *now*, as opposed to the nuclear plants that produce waste material that is going to be a problem for the next few thousands years. You can look at it as a form of credit that our children will have to eventually pay off somehow.

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