by Marcel F. Williams
Today America and the world finds itself at the dawn of an energy, economic, and environmental crisis.
Carbon dioxide and methane gas pollution from the fossil fuel economy is causing the melting of the polar ice caps and a gradual rise in sea levels that could threaten our coastlines and, in some cases, threaten the existence of entire nations. More violent and extreme weather patterns are also believed to be caused by increasing global temperatures.
The importation of foreign oil is causing the US to send more than $700 billion annually to foreign nations. That's $700 billion dollars a year that is going to other nations instead of being invested right here in the USA. The oil imports do not include the $60 billion a year that the US military spends on protecting the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, essentially a $60 billion a year subsidy to the international oil industry by the US tax payers.
Increasing population and economic growth could also cause an electricity shortage in the US and in many other nations in the near future.
So what do we do?
Energy re-industrialization through nuclear and renewable energy technologies would appear to be the most logical solution to the problems of our energy, the environment, and our economy. Energy re-industrialization through through non-carbon dioxide polluting technologies could not only solve our future energy and environmental problems but could also create tens of millions of jobs in practically every region and community in America.
Cheap base load energy is essential for a growing economy while affordable peak load energy helps to supplement base load capacity during periods of high energy demand. Cheap hydrogen through water electrolysis also requires low priced base load electricity. Hydrogen is an essential ingredient for the production of synthetic hydrocarbon fuels such as gasoline, diesel fuel, aviation fuel, and methanol.
While the shift towards electric vehicles and plug-in-hybrid electric automobiles could help the US wean itself off of foreign oil, it will also increase the demand for non-carbon dioxide polluting electricity in order to avoid increasing greenhouse pollution from electric power generating resources.
In our current fossil fuel dominated economy:
coal cost 2.4 cents per kwh
natural gas cost 6.8 cents per kwh
oil cost 9.6 cents per kwh
Amongst non-carbon dioxide polluting energy technologies:
hydroelectric cost 0.85 cents per kWh
nuclear cost 1.68 cents per kWh
garbage incineration (non-subsidized) cost 4.0 cents per kWh
wind (non-subsidized) cost 4.35 to 6.56 cents per kWh
solar thermal (Sunny climate) cost 6 cents per kWh
home photovoltaic (Sunny climate) cost 37.78 cents per kWh
home photovoltaic (Cloudy climate) cost 83.13 cents per kWh
commercial photovoltaic (Sunny climate) cost 27.49 cents per kWh
commercial photovoltaic (Cloudy climate) cost 60.47 cents per kWh
industrial photovoltaic (Sunny climate) cost 21.41 cents per kWh
industrial photovoltaic (Cloudy climate) cost 47.11 cents per kWh
With hydroelectric sources in the US already fully exploited, only nuclear power has the capacity to replace coal as our primary source for base load electricity in the future. While new nuclear power facilities are likely to generate electricity at a higher price than current nuclear reactors, this may be somewhat mitigated by the continued reduction in the cost of electricity from current nuclear facilities as more of these existing sites reach the point where they've paid off their amortized capital cost, leaving only the cost of labor and fuel. However, the building of large clusters of new nuclear power plants in centralized nuclear parks could dramatically reduce capital, labor, security, and fuel transportation cost in the future.
Although significantly higher priced than nuclear, the incineration of urban biowaste could add additional base load capacity in practically every community in America. The off-peak production of methanol via base load water electrolysis synthesized with carbon dioxide flue gas from biowaste incinerators could produce methanol and oxygen to power peak load power plants. Methanol can even be used by current natural gas electric power plants with cheap modifications. The fluctuating load capacity of wind and solar thermal could also be backed up by synthetic methanol.
Eventually, the emerging aerocarbon extraction devices could utilize base load electricity to produce all of our hydrocarbon transportation, industrial chemical, and peak-load fuels once these devices become fully commercialized.
However, the extremely high cost of photovoltaic technologies would appear to regulate these technologies to only marginal aspects of our energy economy in the near future. While solar enthusiast and the wealthy may continue to place these extremely expensive devices on their rooftops, the best place for solar photovoltaics will probably be in remote communities that have very little access to alternative sources of electricity.
References and Links
1. FACTS ABOUT HYDROPOWER
2. Solar Photovoltaic Electricity Price Index
October 2008 Survey Results
3. 6 Cents Per kWh: World's Largest Solar Project Unveiled
4. Cost of Wind: American wind energy association
5. ELECTRICITY AND HEAT FROM BIOMASS
6. The Value of the Benefits of U.S. Biomass Power
7. Municipal Waste Combustion
8. U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Set Record Highs
For Electricity Production, Efficiency in 2007
9. Nuclear Power:Economic Alternative for Baseload Electricity
10. Industry Leader Cites Value of Nuclear Power Plants to California’s Mix of Energy Sources
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