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

Keith Lofstrom keithl at kl-ic.com
Sun Mar 20 01:31:21 PDT 2011

On Sat, Mar 19, 2011 at 10:04:01PM -0700, Gregory Salter wrote:
> This all brought to mind a question. we have "hot states". Aridzona, New Mexico, 
> Texas, Nevada, and Colorado. These states have lots of unused desert lands. Why 
> can't Solar plants be set up there? Germany beats the stuffing out of us for 
> solar use, and they have a climate like Oregon. Why are we lagging behind so 
> much?

The answer is - hiking.  Gather with a few friends, put on some
boots, go to a desert, and walk around in it.  It is not lifeless.
Just different, fragile, low water, and not the kind of place you
want to grow crops in.

See for example:

The Mojave sequesters carbon at about the same rate as steppe or
northern deciduous forest.  One square meter of the Mojave contains
as much active biomass carbon as 50 square meters of ocean.

Many "deserts" are like that.  What you are thinking about, perhaps,
are sand dune "mineral" deserts such as parts of the Sahara or the
Arabian peninsula.  Parts of Death Valley, maybe.  But these regions
make up very little of the land area of the US, and are a long way
from major power-consuming regions.

Way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I watched the first space
shuttle landing, STS-1, at Edwards Air Force Base in 1981.  This is
dry scrubland, but not lifeless.  While most of the ground is a sort
of hard crust (bonded together with microbes), enough of it has
been disturbed to become loose dust.  The day was clean and bright,
but the accumulation of dust on all exposed surfaces attested to
frequent dust storms.  In front of the press center, a row of solar
panels demonstrated that the Air Force was hip and eco-friendly.
The panels were scoured, opaqued, and ripped to shit by sandstorms 
and winds.  When there is insufficient vegetation (even microscopic)
to hold down the soil, it sandblasts everything.  Not the best thing
for electronics, mechanical pointing apparatus, and optical surfaces. 

Optical surfaces in deserts need to be frequently cleaned and polished. 
This either involves organic solvents, or water.  Thermal solar power
plants need water for cooling.  And there isn't enough water in deserts,
or they would not be deserts.  Cooling water is already a big problem
for traditional power plants in the southwest, which don't need clean
optical surfaces.

Another thing you will find while hiking around real deserts is that
they are not flat.  The states you mention are mostly mountainous,
with a few flat (ancient sea bottom) valleys.  Google Satellite View
is your friend.

Why are we "lagging behind" the Germans?  They got to Stalingrad
before us, too.  The dirty secret is that they burn Russian natural
gas, a lot of it, to make up for the piddly output of their rooftop
solar cells.  Their government used their "peace dividend" to pay
for a lot of solar cells.  Billions of dollars worth.  While all
those solar cells look stylish, they only provide two percent of
the country's energy, 710MW yearly average produced by what is sold
as "17GW" of solar cell, which are rated at peak 1000W/m2, not the
actual production.  Your car may have a top speed of 60 miles per
hour, but it does not go 526,000 miles per year.

Southern Munich's actual annual average insolation is 124W/m2, and
the December average is 33W/m2. Hamburg's December average is 17W/m2.
If Germany's average December insolation is 25W/m2, and we multiply
that by 10% * 70% * 70% * 80%, we get a December solar photovoltaic
production of 1W/m2.  Their average 710MW of solar cells shrink to
140MW in December.  About the output of a small coal mine.

To power all of Germany's energy needs, in December, when power demand
for heating is highest, they might need 600GW.  That means 600,000
square kilometers of photovoltaics.  Germany is only 357,000 square
kilometers.  Time to go looking for Lebensraum!  In fact, German
companies are eyeing the Sahara Desert for massive solar arrays, then
running some Really Long transmission lines from Rommeland back to der
Vaterland.  They must have really enjoyed their last sojourn there in
the 1940s.  Perhaps they yearn for quality time with Mr. Gadaffi. 
Still, for the reasons mentioned above, even the mineral deserts of
the Sahara DO NOT WORK.

I know it fritters away valuable cartoon time to learn about these
things.  But if people ignored their money like they ignore energy,
they would be stripped of assets by the first glib talking con man
that came along.  But we are not talking about mere money.  We are
talking about the survival of humanity, possibly of life on earth. 
We can't leave such vital issues to "he said, she said." We need
to do our own fact gathering and thinking.

Fear is no substitute for reasoning.  That is how demagogues have
held us in bondage for millenia.  That is how the German people got
snookered into two world wars, and how they are now bamboozled into
covering precious green space with stylish but pointless solar cells. 
Instead of lagging behind them, we should be going full speed in the
opposite direction.


P.S. Another poster asked why France's nuclear-generated electric
power is so expensive?  Two reasons: (1) they do NOT depend on
cheap-but-strings-attached Russian natural gas, (2) they export
their nuclear energy to the rest of Europe, Britain and Germany 
included.  The price is different than the cost.  A high price 
maximizes the revenue France can use for other things, including
building more nuclear power plants so they can make even more money.
It's called investing, something we don't do much of in Portland.

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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