[PLUG-TALK] Risk of earthquake based nuclear problems in USA

Keith Lofstrom keithl at kl-ic.com
Sat Mar 19 21:24:41 PDT 2011

Solar makes some sense, in the stratosphere or above.  I'm
learning how to do that.  Most people expect someone else to do
the work, and grouse if the reality does not match their fantasies.

However, down here on the ground, there are no suitable sites for
all the solar collection needed.  And there is no transmission
line capability.  Power demand is climbing in India and China. 
The world will need about 50 terawatts by 2050. 

We want energy most it when it is cloudy and cold.   December
insolation averages less than 1.5kWhr/m^2-day over the continental
US ( see the NREL website ).  That is 63W per square meter,
averaged over a day.  The US uses an average of 4TW of energy
(all forms) now.  Assume we can get more efficient faster than
server usage grows (3% of base load now, doubling every 5 years,
says EPA).

Realistic solar cells are more like 10% assuming some time
between cleanings, resulting in some average opacity.  We
don't have any good way to store electricity for the evening,
but lets assume that technology miraculously appears and is
70% efficient.  Assume we can move energy across the country
at 70% efficiency.  Assume solar cells that last 10 years,
with an energy payback time of 2 years (we aren't close).

So:  63W/m2 * 0.1 * 0.7 * 0.7 * 0.8 = 2.5W/m2 , assuming many
miracles.  4TW / 2.5 W/m2 -> 1.6 million square kilometers. 
The continental US is 8 million square kilometers.

So, besides being astronomically too expensive, we would be 
removing 20% of the land area of the US to power the rest.
Massive ecological devastation.  Not as nearly as bad as
biofuel, but no way is nation-scale solar "sustainable".  

There are people who will tell you that we can power the
country with rooftop solar, or with "solar roads", or
covering the southwest deserts (which are actually teaming
with life), or something.  They either have not done the
math, and are repeating the nonsense they've heard - or
they have, and they are lying.  

You can do the math - I suggest you do so.

Some friends are working on an interesting solar idea:
stratosolar.com .  Putting thousands of giant collecting mirror
aerostats in the stratosphere, piping the light down to heat
engines on the surface. This avoids the clouds and dirt, and
does not block all the light to ecosystems on the surface.
However, the heat engines will need enormous amounts of
cooling water.  They will probably need to be operated
offshore.  Lots of unsolved problems.

I am working on server-sky.com . I hope to move the server
farms into orbit, someday.  Lots of potential benefits.  Also
lots of unsolved problems.  If you want to do something, help.
But the deployment may take decades to complete. 

We need to replace the coal and oil faster than that.

Meanwhile, if you actually run numbers, rather than listen to
innumerate media clowns, you will find that the risks of nuclear
power have been way, way exaggerated.  Even Chernobyl, which
essentially vaporized a reactor core into the sky, did not
create statistically detectable cancers - they are certainly
there, but lost among the cancers created by poor eating and
exercise habits.  Your chance of dying of cancer is 25%, more
or less.  We are no longer building power plants like Chernobyl,
or like Fukushima Daiichi unit 1 - newer plants are designed
much more safely.  But even with lost one reactor a year, the
number of excess cancers are small.  Certainly far smaller
than those caused by coal - or by manufacturing millions
of square kilometers of solar cells, or by digging up
rare earths to make high efficiency electric motors.

*DO THE NUMBERS*.  Don't trust other people.  Don't trust me.
Trust what you can figure out on your own, from measurements
you can repeat or track to primary data.  Empower yourself. 
That is what open source is about - now move on to OPEN REALITY.

Kill your TV and recycle it.  It is propagating lies and
anxiety so you will eat the crap food advertised on it.
If you are worried about cancer (and you should be), that
is the quickest and most effective cancer reduction method
available.  Do like our friend Michael Rassmussen, and use
a bicycle to turn kilograms into kilometers.  Or walk, or
dig a garden, or (...) instead.  Not as much to save
energy (though that is good), but to save your life.

The world has invested much in our education.  We must use that
education to think, to find ways to help the poor and heal the
whole world.  Crouching in front of the TV, paralyzed by fear
and gobbling twinkies, is not going to get the job done.


Keith Lofstrom          keithl at keithl.com         Voice (503)-520-1993
KLIC --- Keith Lofstrom Integrated Circuits --- "Your Ideas in Silicon"
Design Contracting in Bipolar and CMOS - Analog, Digital, and Scan ICs

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