Archive for the ‘ Energy ’ Category

Clean energy research lags behind military research

US Air Force Experimental Fighter Jet


This is a scandalous discrepancy when, as mentioned in the article, you consider that there will be nothing worth protecting in a few decades if our addiction to fossil fuels is not curbed.

Instead such funding should be diverted to investigating technology like cloud-seeding, solar-power generation, renewable energy grids or even beaming energy from the Moon. All of these options have to be more constructive than designing new and more effective ways of blowing things up. It seems to me that we already have so many effective and proven options for generating enough energy in a clean and sustainable way but the political will and ability to organise ourselves is what is lacking.

Cloud seeding ship

Solar power beamed from the Moon

I’ve written recently about the potential to generate electricity via solar power generation in the deserts of northern Africa that can then be transmitted to and consumed by Europe. Now there is a new, somewhat less realistic but nonetheless intriguing, proposal by Shimizu Corporation in japan to generate electricity on the Moon and then beam it back to Earth. The Luna Ring.

The proposal would be to establish a band of solar cells around the Equator of the Moon, the area which, like on Earth, is exposed to the most sunlight throughout the year. Such a band would need to be 11,000kms long to completely circumnavigate our nearest neighbour and the proposal is for it to be up to 400km wide.

The electricity generated would be transmitted to a point on the near side of the Moon (the Moon is in synchronous rotation around Earth, always showing the same face to us) where it could be converted to microwave or laser before being beamed back to Earth. These beams would be aimed at collectors on Earth which would convert it back to electricity and feed it into the grid. Obviously the Moon does not stay above the same part of the Earth at all times so the collectors would need to be distributed around the planet. In addition, a guidance beacon would ensure the laser/microwaves are hitting their intended target otherwise the power would be cut. It is not difficult to imagine scenes of a giant space laser cutting a swathe through New York City (it’s always NYC in the movies) without such a safety device.

A solar belt around the Moon would theoretically provide more than enough clean energy for all of humanity.

You might wonder why we don’t just build solar farms all around the Earth’s Equator instead as surely that would be simpler than trying to do it on the Moon. There are several reasons.

  1. The Earth has a thick atmosphere which significantly reduces the amount of the Sun’s energy reaching the surface (luckily for us) whereas the Moon does not. Solar generation on the Moon would thus be vastly more efficient.
  2. 70% of the Earth is covered with water and at the Equator that figure is actually 78.7% water. This makes for a fairly intermittent solar belt.
  3. The Equatorial land is largely all in use already. Countries in Central America and South-East Asia are densely populated. The northern African deserts are about the only options.

The plan is that most of the infrastructure on the Moon could be built by robots using materials sourced there such as silica to avoid the cost and difficulty of shipping materials from Earth. It’s likely that such an endeavour will not be undertaken in the next 100 years but I applaud the concept and feel that we should always be looking ahead to future solutions even while we work on current solutions with the technology at our disposal.

There have already been concepts involving large solar energy collecting satellites that would also beam the energy back to Earth and these could perhaps be implemented in the shorter term. Meanwhile we must persist with finding more terrestrial solutions for clean energy generation. Certainly don’t dismiss any of these ideas as crazy as people from 100 years ago would never have been able to imagine the technology we have today.



Argument for offshore windfarms – UK

Offshore Windfarm

Just read compelling article by George Monbiot in the Guardian advocating the use of the UK’s offshore wind resources. Apparently the UK could become a net exporter of electricity by 2050 based on the potential for offshore wind generation and their expected energy consumption. Generation from offshore wind turbines has many benefits over onshore generation and avoids many of the pitfalls that stimy planned projects, most notably the NIMBY effect.

The points made in favour are:

  1. Taking into account constraints on offshore renewables such as water depths, shipping lanes and other obstacles there is practical potential for 2,130 terawatt hours per year – 6 times the UK’s current electricity demand.
  2. Utilising only 29% of this potential resource the UK could become a net electricity exporter.
  3. Utilising 76% of this potential resource the UK could become a net energy exporter (i.e. net of all electricity, oil and gas consumption).
  4. 145,000 people would be employed.
  5. Annual revenue of £62bn.
  6. The UK’s looming energy gap could be closed without resorting to any further use of fossil fuels.
  7. The public hostility to onshore windfarms would be avoided as the best offshore wind resource is far offshore where the turbines can’t be seen.
  8. Potential to create marine reserves around the turbines.
  9. Basically zero potential for habitat destruction unlike tidal barrages.

The major constraint at present is the capacity of the national grid to accommodate variable renewables. For the above benefits to apply the grid needs 34 gigawatts of backup capacity, energy storage, and interconnections with the continent via the proposed renewables supergrid. Given that this supergrid already has a measure of political approval and some very strong backers from the likes of Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark it is reasonably safe to assume that it will happen, so the UK should push ahead and become the leaders in offshore wind. This combined with the a renewables supergrid acting as a giant battery for Europe’s clean energy would make Eneropa a reality.

The construction effort required to make the UK a net energy exporter would be roughly equivalent to building the North Sea oil and gas infrastructure all over again, an enormous undertaking and no doubt a point that the sceptics will seize upon. But the fact is, if something so large was built before then it is completely plausible that it could be built again, only this time it would be clean, efficient, and future-proof. All that is needed is the political will to push it through and maybe even that is possible now with a fresh, inspired new government…


Additional source:

Zero emission houses available in Australia

One thing that Australia has in common with the USA is suburbia. The suburbs around Melbourne in particular stretch in all directions further than the eye can see. The city covers a staggering 8,806 square kilometres and most of the recent expansion has been on the fringes in the form of “estates” with names like Caroline Springs or Brookland Greens. These estates are generally filled with McMansions and surround manicured lakes and grounds and are billed as “the perfect family lifestyle”. All very nice, if you like that kind of thing…

However, all is not as idyllic as it seems. The environmental costs of these estates are huge partly due to the lack of public transport links and the sheer distance that people are forced to commute every day. But the main culprit is the amount of energy that these McMansions consume. Due to their large size (usually larger than 300 square metres), cheap, poorly insulated construction, and large arrays of electronic gadgetry, they consume electricity and gas like there’s no tomorrow (which there won’t be if this continues…).

However, I was happy to read today about a company taking the first step to changing this situation. Henley Properties Group in association with CSIRO, Delfin and Sustainability Victoria has built a zero emissions show home on the new Laurimar Estate outside Melbourne. Most homes in these estates are picked from a catalogue which is what creates the homogeneous look and the McMansion title but soon customers will be able to tick the ‘zero emissions’ option. This show home will be on display until September 2010 after which a family will live in it and their energy usage will be compared with other houses on the estate. Assuming it is successful (and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be), these features should then be made available as an option on all their standard house designs. Of course, if you are building a bespoke house there is nothing to stop you incorporating all these features yourself and many people do.

The show home has been designed to produce enough renewable power onsite to supply all it’s energy needs over the course of a year. It achieves this in a couple of ways, firstly by reducing the amount of energy used (70% less than a comparable standard home), and secondly by actively generating electricity. It also monitors energy use in real time which helps the occupants to manage and reduce the amount of energy they consume. The house reduces energy consumption through superior insulation, correct orientation to the sun, advanced sealing systems and energy efficient lighting and appliances. It has solar panels to generate electricity and a solar water-heating system and collects both rainwater and grey water for reuse. With all these factors combined it achieves an 8 star energy rating compared to the required 5 star rating for new houses in Australia.

The most innovative part of the whole equation is the energy management system, controlled via a touchscreen in the house or via the internet or smart phone. These systems can be retrofitted to most houses and are so effective because they make it clear exactly when the most electricity is being used and by what appliance giving the occupants much more information and incentive to change their behaviour. The system can also automatically switch appliances off at certain times of the day such as tv’s on stand-by when everyone is at work or school. It also (importantly for Australia) monitors and manages water use.

And, surprisingly, the price premium for all this energy efficiency isn’t as much as I expected. Around AU$20k on top of the standard price of AU$254k for the energy efficiency features and another AU$20k to add the solar panels. Sure, AU$40k isn’t a small amount of money but it still represents less than 14% of the total price of the house. And who wouldn’t want to be able to turn on the heating or lower their blinds from their iPhone? It’s the way of the future!

Source Article:

Electrical Trades Union building in Melbourne to add “solar skin”

Concept drawing

Just read an article in The Age about how the Electrical Trades Union is going to update their building in central Melbourne by adding a “skin” of movable solar panels and solar-sensitive film. They will also be covering the roof with solar panels and wind turbines.

In an even more inspired move they will also allow access for any electricians to learn about the technology and how to maintain and service it. This is a necessary aspect of the renewable energy equation as it is pointless governments encouraging people to install new high tech energy solutions if nobody knows how to service them.

Given that Melbourne, like most of the rest of Australia, has a very sunny climate and, at times, extremely hot & windy conditions, I imagine this installation will result in a significant contribution to the energy needs of the building. Whether it can be made to pay for itself is less certain but it should serve as a shining example of what is possible. Government in turn should formulate policy that encourages and subsidises such initiatives to reduce our dependence on dirty brown coal.

A link to the article:



Interesting article in the Guardian showing a map of Europe divided up by potential for renewable energy generation rather than by nation. For example, the UK and Ireland are called the tidal states due to their huge potential for tidal power and Spain, Italy, Greece are part of Solaria due to their potential for solar power generation.

I believe strongly that a Pan-European renewable energy grid is the way forward. Most renewable energy technology by it’s very nature cannot be relied upon to provide base-load power generation because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow in every country. But it is safe to say that when the sun isn’t shining in Spain, it’s quite likely that it is shining in Greece or Germany and when the wind isn’t blowing in Denmark it probably is in Scotland. Thus if we have the ability to send renewable energy efficiently from where it is available to where it is needed and if we use a combination of all different forms of generation it is feasible to entirely rely on renewables.

A Pan-European grid would also help to remove much of the opposition to renewable energy that exists today. Sceptics and opponents wouldn’t be able to downplay the effectiveness of a proposed wind-farm by saying “and what happens when the wind isn’t blowing?”. The answer would simply be that another region of the grid being fed by wave power or solar power or hydro-power would pick up the slack and life can continue uninterrupted.

The other benefit I see in such a scenario is it will allow regions to really focus on the technology that is best suited to them instead of being distracted by trying to cover all bases. If Spain knew that it could rely on hydro-power from Norway when the sun isn’t shining then they would be free to pour all of their development money into maximising solar generation without having to worry about also giving themselves a backup. In contrast the UK could forget solar generation which is marginal at best in their climate and focus on tidal and wind generation. Each region could become an expert and world leader in their own field. Arguably some regions have already achieved this e.g. Denmark with wind-power and Norway with hydro-power.

Without such cooperation and sharing I agree with the sceptics that renewable energy generation will never be able to cover the base-load requirements of Europe.

Here is a link to the article:

North African Solar Power Generation

I’ve just read an article on electricity generation via solar power in North Africa here. Apparently the Moroccan government has pledged to generate 40% of their electricity from solar energy by 2020. And they even have a realistic plan and funding from the World Bank, the European Commission, Germany (the world’s foremost solar electricity generator) and Desertec, a coalition of energy companies. Also in Morocco’s favour is the fact that they are one of the sunniest countries in the world with over 3000 sunshine hours per year.

Sure it’s going to cost them around $9 billion to achieve this lofty goal but even at that price it is an easy decision in my opinion. Morocco does not have any oil reserves so they are, like most countries, beholden unto the Arab states from which most of the world’s oil is produced. So this project will give them energy security as well as significantly improving their environmental credentials and, given the low running costs of a solar plant after the initial investment, long-term economic benefits as well.

But this is not the main reason for my interest in this story. Although Morocco has a large population approaching 32 million people and thus a huge energy demand with all its associated environmental impacts, they are insignificant next to the 730 million people in Europe just across the Mediterranean. And this is where the real economic opportunity lies for Morocco and their North African neighbours Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and perhaps even Egypt. The consistent sunshine hours, large open desert spaces, and proximity to Europe make the installation of large (by which I mean enormous) solar installations connected to the European grid an obvious solution. It is only 14 km across the Strait of Gibraltar at its narrowest point so a cable is no problem. Indeed this is not a new idea and planning is already under way for just such a project. Desertec is one of the parties involved and I recommend following their updates on Twitter or Facebook. The hope is to provide 17% of Europe’s total electricity needs from North African & Middle East solar by 2050.

The question is really, why is it taking so long? And why is this concept not being implemented everywhere that there is desert in close proximity to large population areas? There were plans drawn up for an enormous solar turbine plant outside of Melbourne, Australia some years ago but the project was cancelled. Such plants could easily supply all the cities in Australia due to the proximity of the desert and the high sunshine hours. It’s not like they are lacking in space to put them! It’s purely a lack of commitment and political will to make it happen, in Australia and other countries. Assuming that the Moroccan government manage to execute their plans in the timeframe they have indicated, countries like Australia should watch and learn.