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09/02/2014

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Brian Phipps

Really interesting post, Steve. Any thoughts on feasibility of nuclear power? It is theoretically capable of so much, but in practice has often proven quite fragile.

steve crandall

Current flavors of nuclear power are 'green' when it comes to air pollution and carbon emissions, but suffer from several flaws - the worst of which are perception of accidents (assume the latest Gen IV reactors really are safe), proliferation, waste disposal (an unsolved problem), and cost. Other fissile fuels may solve some of these (Thorium has fans), but costs and the amount of time required to prove designs are very difficult barriers.

On the longer horizon is nuclear fusion. The plasma confinement has proven to be extremely difficult and no one really believes anything practical will emerge before 2030 or more. The costs are extremely high. At the other end of the density scale is inertial confinement as done by LBL where is sphere of deuterium is crushed by high energy laser beams to the point where a small fusion explosion occurs. It bypasses some of the issues of plasma confinement, but is decades from commercialization and the costs may be very high. Recently attention has been given to the middle ground between dense and diffuse plasmas - a relatively unexplored area. Perhaps something more viable exists, but it seems like a long shot.

It is likely that a combination of wind and solar with battery storage and a smart grid will be significant in the 20 to 30 year time frame - and may be the most economic approach if externalities like carbon emissions and pollution are folded into energy prices.

I doubt there is any single system - it will be a mix. In the meantime there is quite a bit that can be done with efficiency and demand reduction. We've seen some incredible efficiency improvements - steam engines have improved by a factor of 80 through the industrial revolution and internal combustion engines have also seen huge improvements. We're near the end of the line for heat engines, but there is much that can be done with 'waste' heat and properly sizing energy usage.

I've been able to reduce my energy use from American to Danish levels - it hasn't been inexpensive and demands a good deal of work, but it is possible. But if you were starting from scratch it isn't difficult to imagine a similar lifestyle to what we have today at 2 to 3 kW rather than the 13+ seen in the US.

A very rich and complex subject area.

Jheri

I liked this one. Can you tell why the fossil fuels give off different amounts of CO2 for the same energy?

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