Tech tuesday may 8th – energy edition – ordinary times grade 6 electricity project

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EE01 – A water battery for renewable grid storage. Sure, a three inch battery that can only produce enough power to run a single LED doesn’t sound impressive, but this would not be a battery for pocket devices. This would be a massive tank battery for storing power from solar panels and wind turbines. And it can be massive with a lower energy density because the components are plentiful and cheap. Yes, higher energy densities are nice, but they almost always come at a steep price. If the price is low enough, the energy densities are not as critical.

EE02 – Just so much to gnaw on here. Property Rights, Land Use, Local Government and Community Involvement, Agriculture, Solar Power. Where I stand? If a farmer thinks he can get greater value for his land letting it generate solar power than he can crops, more power to him, and to all of us. Remember, unlike the farmers in the article, I’m not worried about arable land, and I truly think we need to stop growing food in large, cleared fields and take the operation inside whenever possible. It’s easier on the land, it’s easier to control water and fertilizer, it’s easier to control pests and disease, and it’s easier on workers, who can harvest crops from comfortable positions. Heck, in the right areas, some fog harps on your site can provide enough water for your indoor farm without having to tap the local water supplies much, if at all.

EE07 – Another new spin on an old idea for molten salt batteries. MIT seems to be mining the archives for ideas that were good, but not technologically feasible at the time. Which, if I’m being honest, is a really good idea (mining the archives). Lots of ideas happen before their time, and revisiting those ideas every few decades just makes sense.

EE00 – We’ve figured out how to entangle clouds of atoms, instead of single particle pairs, and that has some pretty wide ranging implications and applications. Yes, this is less energy and more physics, but at the quantum scale, the line between matter and energy gets awful fuzzy.

Back in February, I believe it was, the Georgia PSC overruled its staff recommendation and allowed construction of the Vogtle 3 and 4 reactors to continue. The PSC chair retired after that vote, and in assorted post-retirement interviews, has said he has little faith that the current schedule — both units in service by the end of 2022 — will be met. Georgia Power customers are paying about $100 per year on their current electric bill because no one will loan GP the money they need to continue construction. PSC staff estimated that even with GP and its partners selling every watt they can wring out of Vogtle 3 and 4, it will be the most expensive electricity among GP’s sources. All of this with a pressurized light-water design that federal regulators are comfortable with.

The price tag guesstimates to license an existing approved LWR design to use thorium-uranium fuel rather than uranium-plutonium is north of a billion dollars. For a new thorium design — eg, molten salt — something in the multiple billions. I sometimes wonder if the old design license for the thorium-fueled Fort St. Vrain (Colorado) reactor is still valid. When the reactor was running, it delivered the promised benefits of a high-temp gas-cooled thorium-fueled design: higher thermal efficiency, much higher fuel burn up, passive safety. All of the important problems were due to water infiltration at one point, and modern bearing designs would eliminate that.

I cheerfully admit to a parochial regional bias. New thermal power plants in the Western Interconnect states are unlikely due to issues around cooling water and an understandable distrust by the general public for things nuclear. Last year, Xcel of Colorado put out an RFB for 2.5GW of new wind-power generation. They got responses totaling 10GW, and the prices for the cheapest 2.5GW were significantly lower than Xcel’s cost to build and operate combined-cycle natural gas-fired generation. Some of this is due to unique geography — outflow from the South Pass gap in Wyoming in particular, and downslope winds from the Rockies more generally, are more robust and predictable than most land-based wind power.