Power and Energy

This is the index page to the Power & Energy section.  This section is the key to facilitating the furthering of power and energy related discussions.  Too much of what we hear these days is based upon pop-science and the strangely motivated desires of the eco-left and is largely both baseless and inaccurate.  Nothing about it is intended to promote further scientific understanding and research.  

In the pages that follow you will find only truth, as best as the author can determine it to be.  Please send any and all corrections, amplifications, additions, errata, or other comments to the author.

I've had the discussions condensed upon these pages via eMail or other written material with...oh, about 200 folks...and I'm getting damned tired of having to re-write it each time.  Please don't think this means that I don't want to explain it, I do!  It's just that I communicate with most folks via eMail, and I keep on having to rewrite everything each time it needs explaining.  This should put an end to that annoying and time-consuming little exercise.

I enjoy getting folks up- to- speed on things, correctly!  John Q. Public needs to be informed, educated, and better able to decide things.  This habit we've collectively acquired of taking sound bytes off of the evening news as "fact" has got to stop!  Consequently, in order to do my part, I've decided to begin to collate this material into a somewhat more intelligently organized format.

Overview:

The pursuit and use of power and energy will become as much a trademark of 19th-21st century man, as fire and the wheel was to our ancestors.  Man has made some marvelous advances over the years; few as important as flight, digital computers, and power & energy.  It's an integral part of today's society, without which we could certainly function, but not at the level needed for even simple survival today.

What it is:  

Power and energy are the active, motive factors that permit us to warm our homes, fire our ovens and cook our food, and move our goods and mail.  Energy is the instantaneous release of heat or ability to do work, and power is that release applied over time or distance.  A small campfire can warm you, but move even a few yards away from it, and it begins to diminish in effect.  The energy in the fire is just as hot, but having moved away from it, we no longer get the full benefit of the result of converting the energy stored in the wood into the radiant energy that warms our homes and hearth.  Power is the measure of energy applied over time and/or distance.

Quite simply energy is liberated work or effort.  By reformatting it--as electricity, for instance--we can transfer the power used to do work from one place to another.  We can use the energy created by falling water, 500 miles away from where the water fell.  As we noted with the campfire, move away from it, and you get both colder and darker.  That's because heat is difficult to transfer.  Burn a pound of coal, and the heat is has an intensity value.  But stand a few meters away, and that heat is barely felt.  But use that heat to generate electricity, and we can transfer that electricity for hundreds of miles, and produce that heat where it's needed--far from the original fire. 

Where does it come from:

All forms of the energy we use today are really only energy converted from another form.  In all cases, all of our energy comes from our sun--or a sun-like body (we call 'em stars).  The rules of physics tell us that energy can never by destroyed--we simply change it's form.  From falling water to light the way for a child in the dark.  From the carbons locked into an ancient mixture, to the wind blowing through your hair as you sit at the wheel of a high-powered car.  We simply change it from one form to another--from falling water to electricity, from burning coal to steam, complex nearly unusable crude oil to clean quick-burning gasoline; and in the process we harvest a little work always in the form of heat.

Okay, given that all energy is really solar heat energy bound up in different forms, it follows that we should be able to classify those forms.  They seem to fall naturally into two distinct catagories:  direct and indirect.  Indirect energy comprises all of the energy that is locked up in things like hydro-carbons:  coal, oil, peat, gas (natural), bio-mass, and wind power; as well as  more elemental materials such as naturally occurring Uranium and its many isotopes.

Direct energy is simply harvested directly from our primary star.  Solar energy, in the form of insolation, can be directly converted for use through photovoltaic cells or the capture of the heat energy.

There are other less effective means of harvesting the stored heat energy from the sun; tidal contraptions, thermal chimneys, bio-mass converters, and so on...

Current Energy Sources

Today we get our energy like this: oil-37%, natural gas-22%, coal-22%, and nuclear-7%; with the balance being hydro and various other renewable sources.

Clean and Safe

The cleanest, cheapest, and safest energy we can get today is nuclear.  The best hydro power runs around 5/KwH.  Much more expensive than nuclear at around 2.1/KwH.  Despite the best efforts of the tree-licking eco-left, nuclear is far cheaper and safer than any other mode of energy generation currently available.  For instance, most of our domestic coal production is used for electrical energy production.  Worldwide, burning coal releases about 70,000 tons of radioactive Thorium into the atmosphere each year.  Compare that with all the nuclear reactors in the world release zero grams.  On average, about 12 coal miners/year die in mining accidents.  In the United States, more people have died riding in the passenger seat with senator Ted Kennedy then have died from all of the American nuclear power plants ever put into service.  The eco-left activists, funded by their most ardent supporters, the petro-industry, have led the unjustified charge to vilify the nuclear power industry.  For the moment, they hold the high ground.

Alternatives

Rising energy demands, rising oil prices caused by unstable regimes controlling the oil we need for our very existence, and the strident braying of the eco-left decrying drilling in ever more "sacred" (to the eco-left) locations have conspired to inflict ever rising energy costs.  Clearly the misguided left will eventually get their comeuppance, regretfully, it won't happen today!

Consequently it should be the goal of all of us to reduce our energy needs; *AND* all those knowledgeable enough to do so should be exploring alternative energy sources.  Several excellent candidates are:  "Blacklight", a novel concept dealing with the energies underlying the basic operation of the stars.  Most interesting and fascinating, but probably still some decades from useful operation.

Fuel cells and other clean-combustion devices are also being scoured for performance advantages.  While fuel cell efficiencies are very high, the manufacture and distribution of the all important PEM (Proton Exchange Membranes) are very expensive, and under the explicit control of the petroleum industry.  Funny, how that happened--more on that in another diatribe.

Where Alternative Energy Fails

All energy is some level of Energy, as defined by the consumer, falls pretty naturally into three categories:  motive, warmth, and electricity.  Motive covers all of our transportation uses.  Rockets, missiles, spacecraft, airplanes, boats, cars, trucks, and many trains fall into this general category.  Heat warms our homes and businesses.  Electrical, covers just about everything else.  Let's face it, we live in an electrical world.  We need energy, and electricity is the most effective medium for transporting power from where it's created to where it's needed.

The problem is; energy, power, electricity to us; has to be generated as it's needed.  Other than with batteries, you can't store electricity very easily.  This is compounded by the limitations of our current storage technology.  Batteries only store DC, and most of our electrical usage is AC.

 

From the pop-science oriented, feel-good, eco-left; comes the assertion that our incessant burning of fossil fuels is causing "Greenhouse Gasses", which is at the genesis of "Global Warming".  They're willing to commit unlimited amounts of *your* money in an effort to prevent these non-events. "Greenhouse gasses", "Fossil fuel consumption" causing "greenhouse gasses", leading to "global warming."  Fact or fiction?  Fiction!  All of it!

  ,  and that it's a crisis and will be the death of us all.  Fact or fiction?  Fiction!  We don't burn enough fossil fuel to effect our climate in a measurable way.  While I'm all for reducing our dependence upon fossil fuels and reducing our emissions, it's not going to happen this week and it's not going to effect our climate in the foreseeable future.