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A Look at Alternative Energy Sources

Introduction

I recently took a 400 level Economics University course on Alternative Sources of Energy. With the whole Global Warming, no wait - Global Cooling - wait again - Global Climate Change being such a big issue in the media, I think most American Universities feel they should help their students along by charging them an arm and a leg to study a whole lot of math, theory and what amounts really to nothing more than government business schemes - where the tax payers pay an enormous 18%-20% return on capital to already very rich individuals, investors who go on TV and push green energy pretending they're trying to help you by being altruistic with their billions when in fact they just want add to their billions but why take risk when they can get you to keep pressuring and keep voting for politicians who in turn will promise to pump billions of your money, the tax payers' money, for something that will not work as advertised nor is it needed right now or in the near future, but they have successfully convinced the masses and even smart individuals and politicians into thinking they need to help the planet by building such enormous and incredibily expensive and equally enormously inefficient alternative energy projects like wind farms with tax dollars because the money these “caring investors” spend on these multi billion dollar projects are backed, insured and subsidiesed by the Federal Government who in turn can flaunt their love for green energy when election time comes and gain votes from unsuspecting and uneducated or brainwashed voters who don't realize that green energy, at this point in time, with the exception of nuclear power and that kind of green energy, as Japan just proved, can go thermo “neon green” in a jiffy, is completely not feasible, practical, affordable, efficient nor truly green for that matter.

What we have here is a serious lack of education, and it's gone global (pan-uneducation), about the truths regarding global warming, green energy and the good old media doing what they do best, sell stuff nobody needs to mindless people who are too lazy or perhaps just too busy to do the work necessary to find out the truth. Here's something this Economics class taught me about Al Gore and any other politician regardless of his creed, color or beliefs: if a politician, current or retired, is trying to sell you something, even an idea, you can bet a) there's a whole bunch of lying going on and b) that politician is gonna get filthy rich or stinking richer than he already is by helping you out from the bottom of his generous, altruistic, politician heart. I really think the word politics or politician comes from some ancient and forgotten language where in that language a similar word meant something along the line of: crazy, obsessed, pathological, congenital liar. But the latter is pure speculation and opinion so take it with a grain of salt.

But politicians don't care about facts when it is the idiot voters' billions they're spending so if a salesman, such as Al Gore, can fly around the globe with his enormous Carbon Footprint Jet-Plane convincing politicians, the media and people, while using flawed and admittedly doctored and falsified historical and weather data, that we really do need to tax the upper and middle class in order to keep the planet from melting, wait - no, freezing, wait-no, they're still deciding how the weather is changing, and on top of these hefty carbon credits and huge increase in energy costs or taxes they're proposing the government is also giving out multi billion dollar incentives, grants and subsidies (to not only gas companies cause Exxon Mobil doesn't make enough money to pay for its own exploration, lol) to already very rich billionaires to “entice” them to invest in alternative energy sources such as wind farms, clean coal, absolutely huge miles long solar sun farms, etc., and the reason these investors are being paid a risk rate of 20% is because these types of investments are risky because they cannot compete with the much cheaper and efficient natural gas and coal fired plants. But if these billionaire investors are being given such an enormous risk rate, 20% being such a high return on investment that only Warren Buffet and George Soros have proven to be able to make that kind of money long term, yet the government is being so generous as if these investors building wind farms are facing some potential catastrophic risk, which of course they're not. And the reason there is no risk is because the government guarantees them enormous subsidies so they can then sell this expensive, inefficient energy to consumers at a similar price as gas and coal, only it's not cheaper, and in fact alternative energy costs 3 to 5 times more than gas or coal energy, but the reason it looks like a good idea is because tax payers are paying billions for the difference.

And nobody is talking about how unclean these new types of alternative “clean” energy sources are for example the giant solar farms which can span for miles, whose solar panels of course are made of poisonous materials such as lead and mercury, but nobody is asking where we're going to put the massive tonnage of these poisonous metals in 20 years, which is the life-span of solar panels) because it's not enough that we have already poisoned 90% of the globe's waters and fish with lead and mercury, by burying lead filled computers in the ground for the past 30 years, to the point where it is now hazardous to eat most fish caught in most areas of the world. So if one 10 pound computer per household made most fish hazardous to eat, what is going to happen in the next few decades if the plan for “clean energy” to put $30,000 solar panels on every house in America, at an average of 20-30 solar panels per house which have to be replaced after 20 years, do to our planet, our waterways our fish and our health? When I brought up such questions in this economics class I was looked at like I was crazy but to me everyone who doesn't think 20 years ahead are the crazy ones. Even if solar panels were affordable and efficient right now, which they're not, they would first have to find a way to remove all of the poisonous metals before introducing them to the mass market, otherwise the current “dirty energy” of CO2 emitting gas which happens to be great food for all the plant life on earth is gonna look like a dream in a few decades because the last time I checked fish, animals and plants don't eat lead and mercury, well, they do eat it but it poisons them and in turn it poisons and kills us slow via new cancers and mental disorders.

But there is a lot of math and science to clean energy and that should be looked at with attention and considered seriously because we do live on a planet with finite energy sources and as time goes on I do agree that America should become energy independent and if possible, cleaner in the process. But we shouldn't go crazy with the next fad being peddled by a guy like Al Gore whose “consultation firm” made $100 million dollars “consulting” on global warming just to find out a few years later that the very data he was selling global warming on was admitted to be falsified, made up and fraudulent by the very head scientist who was pushing for global warming. Oh, and if that wasn't a slap in the face of lies, it wasn't long after that when new research found that the globe was actually cooling and not warming so these experts who had to manufacture data to create billions in new taxes and government subsidies for unnecessary billion dollar alternative energy plants didn't even know what was really happening with the planet during the time they were studying it and nor were they able to predict what would happen to the weather just a few years later because the obviously chose global warming as the “trigger phrase” to brainwash the mass lemmings with when in fact global cooling was actually happening. So any person with half a brain has to ask - “if you “professional scientists” had no idea the globe was about to start cooling just a few years later, how in the world can you know what will happen, not 3 years from now, since you've already proved you're not capable or competent enough to do that, but what will happen 30 and 100 years from now as you're claiming you can do?”

The problem with the masses is that the very very VAST majority don't read anything and worst yet, don't ask any questions because they're too afraid of looking stupid, not realizing that the reason they really are stupid, and obviously so, is that they didn't have the honesty, character or discipline to ask just a few basic questions. Human stupidity, unfortunately, is infinite and it is the main cause this planet will perish and it will not perish from cow farts or automobiles or even Al Gore's Jet Plane spewing more CO2 than most people polute in the majority of their lives, but rather from very poor decisions made by people in the government with ulterior motives who don't look out farther than the next election and nor do they care enough to do the right thing for their own children because if there's one thing all politicians have in common, besides a missing vertebrae and damaged moral chromosome, is that they are all already very wealthy and by the time they're done “serving” the public they'll be even richer, just like Mr. Al Gore, and money tends to make individuals feel invincible and safe, a false sense of safety, an illusion because when this planet goes so will all the riches and all the mansions perched on the highest mountains and this is something most politicians don't think of when they play their political games, but then who can blame them if people have been silly enough to get driven foaming at the mouth mad about global warming, thus pushing politicians to do something, anything about a problem which doesn't exist or exists only in a much smaller and containable, fixable manner.

Although this particular PhD professor, from Harvard nontheless, was open minded and the best Economics professor I ever met, I didn't feel like the open forum of communication where the entire class was free to speak their mind was truthfully acceptant of any views which went against global warming or against alternative forms of energy. When I personally asked the question regarding what would we do with the billions of tons of used up solar panels and how could the planet absorb such massive amounts of poisonous metals when it couldn't even handle the much smaller computers of the past 30 years, my question was simply murmured around the room for a few moments with a lot of confused faces, including the professor himself, and then quickly passed over. And another sad thing I noticed was that not one single other student in the classroom had the guts to ask the tough questions. It's as if they were more concerned with getting an A than asking the real questions and trying to learn and get down to the truth of the matter. And perhaps that's the biggest issue in this world - everybody is out for themselves and nobody cares about what's really going on - this short sighted disease the masses have been infected with has spread to the majority of the population in every country of the world and is the main cause for all our current problems - from the economics to the moral, it's all starts with individuals not caring enough to speak up and at least asking the right questions.

Alas, here is the answer to the essay question for that 400 level Economics class where Alternative Energy is covered in more factual detail rather than my own personal opinion and feelings. Therefore, this introduction should be labeled - Introduction and also my angry spin of a Conclusion. Hope this latter part at least shines some factual light on Alternative Energy as most people know very little about it, hence, people are so quick to vote pro anything to do with “green” energy. By the way, China builds coal fired plants on a weekly basis, the dirty kind, and China pollutes more than the rest of the planet combined - and most of this pollution comes form their coal plants as they refuse to upgrade them or build clean coal plants because of the cost - not that they don't have the money, but because they figure eventually everyone else will just get sick of it and pitch in and pay for it all. Right now, coal fired plant workers in China (and this is from memory so I may be off by a year or two) has an average lifespan of 40 years old. In today's day and age that should simply not be happening - and all these Americans crying and complaining about Chinese workers making only 3 times the average national income in a clean work environment with swimming pools and free room and board, where are they when over 500,000 Chinese citizens die every year, young and prematurely, from the poisonous pollution caused by their dirty coal fired power plants. Misplaced, pseudo-compassion - America and Americans are drenched in it and this too is a matter of urgency and worry.

A quick word about the article below. This was my answer to one of 3 presented Final Term Essay Questions - I chose the one I felt the most confident to get an A on. Also, had I spewed my anger at the falsehoods of global warming-cooling-change I would have probably flunked the test and since the test was also timed I didn't have enough time to unload all of my anger anway so I did my best to answer the question in such a way that I would prove to the brilliant (truly was)Professor that I had a good understanding of the subject matter and that I believed alternative energy could prove useful and perhaps even competitive at some point in the future - albeit, my feelings are that it won't be anytime soon and quite frankly, it doesn't have to be as they are still finding massive oil and natural gas reserves on a near monthly basis to comfortably supply the world for additional hundreds of years. But I digress, the next part of this write-up is meant to be a more objective and factual look at alternative energy and then everyone can choose what they want to believe just like I choose to believe what I see as the truth once I read all the pertinent information. Thank you for reading and enjoy!

Wind Power

Wind power has been used as an alternative energy source for a few decades now and it appears as though it’s about to really take off. With all the private money, government subsidies and citizens going gaga over green energy wind power is set to receive hundreds of billions of dollars over the coming years. And this isn’t just in the U.S. – Europe is jumping on the band wagon as well. So is this the holy grail of alternative energy or are all the politicians trying to get votes while private investors are looking to make guaranteed above average returns, and in some cases obscene profits? The numbers suggest that wind power is definitely a great “scheme” for investors and we all know politicians are hailed for their green initiatives.

By scheme I mean that investors are currently looking for an 18% return on their investment in order to put their money up for wind power. That’s quite high considering the much lower interest demanded for traditional energy investments (ie natural gas, coal fired plants). But that’s not all, throw in government subsidies in form of tax credits and a generous depreciation schedule and you have a great investment, for private investors at least. On a 20 year wind farm private investors can realize potential tax free profits for as long as 15 years in some cases. That’s a guaranteed 18% ROI – tax free. To put things in perspective, Warren Buffet, the world’s greatest investor has an average return rate of around 20%, but that’s pretax so in theory investing in wind farms can potentially give you returns greater than that of the best investor in the world. That’s a no brainer if you’re looking to put your money somewhere. Perhaps that’s why billionaires around the globe, like T. Boone Pickens, are looking to invest billions of dollars in this alternative energy.

So is wind energy as good for the consumer and the public as good as it is for the private investor? With a levelized capital charge cost of approximately 6.4 cents plus another 1.6 cents for operation and maintenance (implicit transmission charge), wind power is definitely more expensive than traditional coal fired (5.3 cents/kWh), or natural gas sources (closer to 3.5 cents/kWh). One can argue that most citizens wouldn’t mind paying a couple extra cents per kilowatt in order to reduce their carbon footprint but the real question is – what if the government subsidies and generous depreciation schedules were not there? Would wind power still be a viable alternative energy? My guess is probably not – but since everyone seems to be in on this alternative source of energy I really don’t think it will be going away. And who knows, with so much money being pumped into this particular source they may eventually find new techniques and along with economies of scale to be able to reduce the price per kilowatt.

Solar Power

Solar power is the process of converting light energy from the sun into peak electricity via solar panels. As one would expect, solar power is a major clean energy frontrunner as the Sun's light is the earth’s most abundant source of natural energy. Sunlight can be converted directly into electricity using photovoltaic (PV). To get a grasp of how powerful the Sun's potential is, if we were to cover just 4% of the world’s desert area with PV we would be able to supply all of the world’s energy. So why don’t we do it, why are we fighting billion dollar wars instead? There are a few key problems which have stopped this clean alternative energy from really taking off. First, much like wind energy solar energy is non-dispatchable. Second, the installation costs and the sheer cost of so many solar panels, at this point, are so high that most nations wouldn't be able to afford it, although I'm sure it would be less costly than all the wars being fought over oil.

Through new research and development, higher economies of scale, and an improved learning curve, costs have been coming down while the efficiency of PV has been going up. This trend is what makes solar energy a real potential alternative to traditional energy sources. Larger solar farms have been designed, such as the 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm, and the 600 MW Rancho Cielo Solar Farm. With Solar operation and maintenance - costs are also high - which for a politician means jobs but looking long term this may not be such a good thing. Removing citizens from other potential jobs could be a problem in a tight job market and with high labor costs solar energy will have a tough job competing with other energy sources. In the short run however, politicians like to tout these jobs as a bonus given that we’re experiencing such high unemployment right now.

So what is the$ cost per installed kWh of capacity for solar? First thing to remember is that solar panels come in watts, a measure of electrical power. Accordingly, prices are often quoted in watts not KWh. A quick way to get a ball park price range is to assume you’ll pay between $8 and $10 per watt, including the parts, labor and wiring. A 3.6 kW residential solar energy system, for example, could consist of 12, 280-watt solar panels (12 panels X 280 watts/panel = 3,600 watts, or 3.6 kilowatts).1) Using the above method, total installed costs could run anywhere from roughly $28,000 to $32,000. In reality, you’d pay roughly 30 percent less than this quoted amount, thanks to federal tax credits. In addition, there are always state or local subsidies which you can deduct on your taxes, as solar incentives, so check in your state in order to reduce your personal expenses.

This is an example of residential cost – on a larger scale, for commercial use the costs can be more appealing. Again, much like with wind power, if one were to take away the government subsidies this alternative source would have a much more difficult time competing with traditional energy sources. In the long run however, given all of the money and government support going into solar energy, the technology should keep improving while costs will continue to decrease. This is why I believe solar power will be able to compete, over the next 20 years, and beyond, with fossil fuels.

Nuclear Power

Nuclear power is designed to draw energy through the release of energy which an atom puts out when there is Nuclear Fission(atoms split in two) or Nuclear Fusion (two atoms are fused together) which are commonly known as nuclear reactions. The only method in use today is through nuclear fission. All nuclear reactors work very much like coal, they heat water to produce steam, which then is turned into mechanical energy which can then be turned into electrity. In 2011, 18% of the world's electricity came from nuclear power. The very first time electricity was generated by a nuclear reactor was on December 20, 1951 at the experimental plant in Arco, Idaho, which at first outputted only about 100 kW (the Arco Reactor was naturally the first reactor to experience a partial meltdown, which happened in 1955).2)

Nuclear energy is almost taboo here in America. Nobody wants to seriously consider it as a feasible alternative energy, even though its levelized cost is nearly half of coal energy at around 3.2 cents per kWh. This is not the case in other countries. In France and Japan, two countries that were very oil dependent in the 70’s during the oil crisis, have come to accept the wide use of nuclear power plants. In Japan nuclear power provides approximately 30% of the country’s power while in France it’s closer to 80%. France is by far the highest user of Nuclear Power with nearly 60 nuclear power plants.

Furthermore, the large majority of French citizens have positive things to say about nuclear power which, unlike here in the US, makes it a very popular alternative source of energy. One has to take into account the catastrophe caused by the meltdowns in Japan in recent years and one answer to that is that they did not have a plan for a possible tsunami which in their area - there should have been a contingency plan where a secondary cooling mechanism should have been installed to prevent a core meltdown. If all possible scenarios are though of then there can be a contingency plan put in place for all potential meltdown situations.

In addition, France, thanks to its many nuclear power plants, is the biggest net exporter of energy out all the EU countries, exporting about 45 TWh to other nations such as: Italy, the Netherlands, Britain, and Germany, and France's citizens enjoy the lowest electricity costs in the EU.3) After reading the success France has had with Nuclear power I have to ask why the U.S., the most powerful nation in the world, has fallen so behind in this advanced technology. Is it public opinion or is it politics. It’s no secret that the world’s largest oil companies reside in America so perhaps it is their strong lobbyists that have swayed public opinion or made politicians shy away from such a cheap and powerful alternative energy source. The more I read about this technology the more I feel that it is the best possible alternative energy right now with much lower installed capacity costs, much lower levelized costs and relatively low risk. Well, one has to take into account unforeseen events as those which happened in Japan, but France has taken all precautions and so far they have had no issues.

Conclusion & a Look Into the Future

Looking out a bit further the best thing is nuclear power but instead of the more unstable and risky nuclear fission, which is what we have today, we are on the brink of Nuclear Fusion (2 atoms fused together). Fusion power is not expected to be ready for many more decades but that hasn't stopped the EU from charging for the top spot in research where France has shown the most promise in this technology by winning the bid to host the ITER reactor in Cadarache.4) The ITER, specifically designed to produce considerably more fusion power than the inputs (power) put into the plasma, should hopefully begin fusion in around 2016. Unlike nuclear fission, fusion is much safer and it greatly reduces the risks associated with nuclear power plants down to near zero. Especially when one thinks about the disaster which hit Japan recently, whatever stigma nuclear power had before has really increased as of late. The biggest reason for the lower risk is because fission inputs in a fission reactor continue output massive heat due to beta-decay for several hours or even days after the reactor is shut-down, which, of course, means that a meltdown is probable when the reactor has been stopped. In contrast, fusion needs controlled and exact conditions of such parameters as pressure, temperature and the actual magnetic field in order to create the necessary needed energy. If one were to damage the reactor, you would not get the meltdown of a fission nuclear reactor, you would get a situation where the predetermined parameters would no longer be valid and so the heat generation in the reactor, which depends on those parameters and inputs, would then rapidly cease.

As far as the sustainability of nuclear fusion, fusion power results in no radio active by-products (though radio active plant materials still need to be disposed of). There are various designs in the works which, in the future, may significantly reduce the cost and size of such power plants. In addition, nuclear fusion uses deuterium, where nuclear fission uses radio active materials such as enriched uranium. Deuterium uses an isotope of hydrogen, an element easily found in Ocean sea water, as fuel and there are current designs which allows it to use the metal element, Lithium. Assuming a fusion energy output equal to the 2008 global power output of about 474 EJ/yr (Exajoules per year).5) Assuming all things remain equal in the future, this would mean the current lithium reserves would last approximately 3000 years, and if one were to consider sea water, that particular source of lithium would last 60 million years, and there is currently a new design which only uses deuterium, also from sea water, which would then provide fuel for 150 billion years.6) To give one a better understanding of how much time we're talking about, 150 billion years is over thirty times the proposed expected life-span of the sun, easily enough time to figure out other way to get more fuel or master the engineering of space travel in search of a new galaxy. With that kind of time on our hands, presuming we don't blow the entire planet up, anything is possible - one only need look at the marvels of science and engineering of the last 100 years.

So what is being done to advance this promising technology? Well, here in the U.S. not very much, but the Europeans are embracing nuclear fusion much like they did nuclear fission, and why not, fission seems to have worked out really well for them. While fusion power is still in early stages of development, substantial sums have been and continue to be invested in research. In the EU, 360 Billion Euros has been budgeted for next year, a massive amount by a single effort.7) The latest estimates show that the additional research needed for Nuclear Fusion up to the point of implementation of actual energy generation will cost around € 60-80 billion over the next 50 years or so (of which nearly half is projected to be in the EU). Nuclear fusion research receives nearly as much funding (excluding ITER funding), compared to all non-nuclear energy research combined, which is nearly 1 Billion Euros per year, which in turn puts research into fusion well ahead of any clean energy alternative and with kind of effort, if the US would simply match it, we would get there in time for our children to enjoy a new revolution, the energy revolution and just like the green and industrial revolution reshaped our worlds an energy revolution would do just the same, make this world a much different and better place for everyone to live in.

It is too difficult to predict the levelized cost or installed capacity cost for nuclear fusion this early on but given that the inputs for nuclear fusion are plentiful(ie. sea water), relatively cheap, no highly reactive matter to dispose of, extremely efficient and backed by billions of Euros in research money I would say that this technology is the forerunner in providing the world’s energy in the next 50 to 100 years, after fossil fuels are completely exhausted. As for the other alternative sources of energy, well, I doubt they’ll be completely gone in 100 years. They will most likely be around but will not be thought of as true alternatives, not when you have much more advanced, compact and cheaper technology like nuclear fusion.

- Maximilian Wilhelm

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