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Comment Re:We already use the hydro places. Also slush fun (Score 1) 415

That still leaves a related question - why does US discussion of renewable energy focus on solar-electric 99% of the time, despite the fact that solar-electric is approximately the least efficient possible solution in most cases? Fifteen gallons of hot water is plenty enough for a shower.

That's a good point. With an accumulation tank and a reasonably southern aspect you can get all your hot water needs covered by just a few square meters of solar collectors on your roof for six months of the year. In Sweden. So for those that need heating and hot water, solar collection and accumulation tanks makes a lot of sense.

Of course, cooling your house that way, which is the more pressing problem in many places in the US, is difficult with that setup. And if you need to run a heat pump for cooling, having the requisite accumulation capacity just for hot water, starts to make less sense. (Tanks aren't that cheap, and you need room for them). But it's definitely a technique you should keep in the back of your mind for when it makes sense. (My father in law runs such a setup, since he had the tanks already, as he heats his house with wood).

Comment Re:Not the total cost! (Score 1) 415

Most people always think a hydro plant would need a valey and a dam ... that is not he case. There are also buoy, which you can simply let swim in a river that produce power.

Yes it really is the case. If you want to produce any sizeable amount of power you need a good drop and sufficient flow rate. It's like the difference between an overshot and an undershot water wheel. Undershot wheels might be easier to build, but they don't really produce power worth a damn. (Pun intended.)

That you have a lot of small old puny power plants in Germany isn't because they'd make sense today. They were built in a different era, when they made more sense. Also your power prices are already through the roof compared to e.g. Sweden where we do have sufficient hydro power potential (and nuclear) boot. You're prices are three times as high as ours.

Now, we have rivers in Sweden to, and not a single power plant attached to the locks as they just wouldn't make financial sense. We are in fact, busy tearing out all the small power plants (with dams), that were built a hundred years ago as the value of the power they produce (in the single digit percentage compared to the large plants) destroy much more fish reproduction potential then they're worth. Its much better from an ecological standpoint to screw one large(ish) river with large hydro power potential over completely and leave the rest for fish. That way you get lots of power and lots of fish, rather than little power and no fish.

All these sites that make the most sense have already been built out in Sweden, well, we didn't build out the last five of the northern rivers for ecological reasons. This all with downstream power plants where that makes sense. (Not too many as you want to get as big a drop as possible in one go). So there's nothing really left. Like I said above, we're currently busy decommissioning thousands of small plants of the type you're advocating, for ecological reasons, and it won't affect our power production capacity at all. Small low flow plants don't make sense if you have any other option.

Sorry Germany. Hydro isn't for you... :-) And we've put in all that's reasonable to do.

Comment Re:100% BULLSHIT (Score 1) 415

Excluding CANDU, which are the only reactors I know of in operation that can operate and be refueled, however the more popular BWR and PWR can't produce power when they are being re-fueled or maintained. So how is that different from wind as a source? How is asking wind to produce power when the wind is not blowing, not like asking another power source to produce power during it's characteristic outage like being refueled or maintained?

Well, planned maintenance is just that. Planned. That means that you can (and do) make sure that there are other sources of power available to take the load when you perform refuelling or other maintenance on your reactor. Besides refuelling only happens once ever several years (depending on a lot of factors, you can and do run on other schedules), so it's not something you can't plan for.

In Sweden we get ca 50% of our power from nuclear (with the rest from hydroelectric) and I can't remember a single instance where a planned, or unplanned for that matter, nuclear power disruption to operations took down the grid. Wind OTOH we could only manage about 10-15% right now befoer the grid would be in trouble.

(Now, refuelling under during operation is actually something you don't want in a reactor, as it increases the proliferation risks. In order to produce weapons grade plutonium you need to constantly remove the Pu239 before it catches another neutron and becomes Pu240, which you don't want in your bomb as it'll fizzle.)

Now, wind on the other hand is much less stable, varying unpredictably on a shorter than hourly scale. You need serious backing by short run up standby power that can deliver a lot of power and cheaply (i.e. hydroelectric with large dams) to be able to tolerate a lot of wind (or solar) for that matter.

Why is distributing the wind as a source of energy too difficult problem for us to manage? It's an emotive claim? What is the problem that you see?

A main problem of course is cost. Long distance transmission can easily lose 10%-20% (even 50% in poor conditions) of the available power to transmission losses. In order for wind to average out, you need to be able to flexibly move lots of power over long distances (i.e. north one day, south the next), which is not cheap. We need a whole new grid in most places, i.e. massive investments are needed. I seem to remember that an area the size of Sweden, (which is roughly 10% larger than California and similar in shape) could just about be enough for wind availability to even out. But we don't have near the transmission capacity to move that much power that flexibly, and that's given that we already have some seriously beefy transmission lines from the Northern hydro electric power plants and the South, where we all live.

The reason that it "works" for Germany, that is seldom mentioned is that they're very well connected electrically to the rest of the continent, that hasn't had an "Energiewende" and probably won't. France's nuclear power plants get to take up the slack in a big way, and there are many times when German wind has to be dumped onto the market at negative prices, i.e. you get paid just to get rid of it. So while "Germany" works electrically (even though it's expensive), it couldn't do so on its own. Not by a long shot. It only works as long as it's neighbours don't do the same thing, which isn't really sustainable.

Another problem with this is that it increases fossil fuel usage compared to countries like Sweden. The reason is simple. Electricity is three times as expensive to the consumer in Germany as it is here. Hence we heat our houses with electricity (mainly using heat pumps) as that makes economic sense. In Germany you can't do that (anymore) and hence people use some form of fossil fuel, both for heating and cooking (natural gas from Russia mainly).

Now, of course, the so called "smart grid" that is often put as a solution to all this, i.e. a grid whereby you could control consumers rather than just producers, unfortunately can't deliver all that it must. Some load can be time shifted, at least to a certain extent, such as heating, and the holy grail, charging your electric car. But much other load can't be, so what little "smart grids" we've already installed, turns mostly into being able to charge the customers more money for the same service. The alternative, if you had only wind and solar would be to run the grid like your favourite third world country. Sometimes you have power, and other times you don't. Whether you have it now, or not, isn't possible to say or plan for in advance, you'll just have to cross your fingers and hope for the best. That's not a kind of grid that western consumers would accept, I think.

So, no matter which way you turn, you'll always have your arse sticking out your backside, as the Swedish saying goes. These are tricky problems, and not easily solved. There's just too darn much physics involved, that won't react to political proclamations.

Comment Re:still blowing smoke (Score 1) 415

The funny thing about that is the Europeans and China benefit more from that than the US does as only a small percentage of its oil imports come from the Middle East.

Not really. Oil is one of the most fungible goods on the market. Of course we in Europe are going to try and minimize transportation cost, but if we couldn't, we'd just buy "your" oil (or oil products) put them on a tanker and be done with it. This would raise prices for all involved. That's how "supply and demand" works. It's not like we'd all of a sudden stop using oil if light middle eastern crude suddenly disapeared from the market. (Even though we use mostly Brent here in the Nordic countries).

So it makes sense for the US to protect "your" oil based economy by keeping world wide supply high and steady, even if you may or may not actually refine and burn oil from that particular region. Paradoxically since i.e. gasoline is taxed much higher here in Europe we could come out of such a scenario much better than you, since governments have a taxation tool to help mitigate a sharp crude increase, while crude prices affect your market, and hence economy, more directly.

There's also the whole petro dollar situation, whereby if you want to buy oil from the Saudis you have to pay in US dollars, a portion of which the Saudis use to buy US government financial instruments. If you piss them off enough, they could do the Saddam thing, and start selling oil in Euros. That would directly hurt the US economy, no question about it.

Comment Re:Cautious committees (Score 1) 20

And multiple winners is nothing unusual or bad. There often are more that one deserving recipients in a year so why not award two or three if their discoveries merit recognition? Occasionally the prize is awarded to groups rather than individuals but this serves little purpose since only individuals can really benefit.

That's actually built into the prize. The rule is that only a maximum of three persons and two works per prize may be considered. The exception is the peace prize, which may be awarded to institutions. It also doesn't have to be awarded, the money can instead be split between the other prizes.

Comment Re:Government Goons (Score 1) 64

When I travel by air I always wear a latex catsuit, waist-cinching back-laced corset, and ballet boots. The security screeners look really uncomfortable. Finally found a way to turn the tables on those privacy invasion actors.

Curiously, this is exactly why Stephen Fry is no longer allowed to fly to many airports.

Comment Re:The odds are very low... (Score 1) 182

What if giant alien slugs attack? We should probably spend the $450 million developing space-capable salt-guns, just in case.

Well, since a couple of tons of rock salt travelling at a couple of km/s in the opposite direction would do a number on an asteroid/comet as well, I'm all for that.

Dual use technology is just smart economics. So while we wait for the slugs (any day now) they could shore up our asteroid/comet defences.

Comment Re:Queue the misinformation... (Score 1) 36

Well, while your point is well taken, the 2000 year old texts are also chock full of dross (for want of a better word), while current medical texts are much, much better in that respect. (Not perfect, not nearly, but much better).

So, clearly there has been an advancement in and with the scientific process. The main problem before that being that its surprisingly easy to fool yourself, and people often did. It still surprisingly easy to fool yourself, scientists do it all the time, but by disciplining our subjectivity as much as is humanly possible by means of the scientific process, we make much fewer mistakes today, and the ones that are made are caught sooner.

"The pyramid is opening!" "Which one?" "The one with the ever-widening hole in it!" -- The Firesign Theatre