Primary Category: …Energy…
An investor writes:
“I wrote this article for the Australian edition of the British magazine Spectator a couple of weeks back. In essence, academics are FINALLY starting to realise that wind droughts are an issue with intermittent systems and studying them. As the article notes some work has been done in the UK, where it is known, for example, that some years back the wind made no contribution to the UK grid for nine days, and there were serious deficits during another drought at the end of last year. These wind droughts are an extreme event like cyclones or rain droughts. I saw some material recently on wind droughts in the US but I seem to have mislaid it. Perhaps someone has access? As for Australia there has been limited work to suggest that wind droughts in a given year might last for up to 36 hours. But that’s just from one year of data. As noted in the article there is no way to store enough power to tide the grids over such long periods. Australia is building one water dam project called Snowy 2.0 (after the region) but a fully renewables network would need at least six of seven. In any case the blindness of policy makers to this issue to date is just extraordinary. “
This got me to thinking.
My take: Storage of transient energy remains an issue. Tesla’s power wall is based on lithium battery technology and what counts here is Mega-Joules/Kg. ie, energy density of the storage mechanism. Also the economics of the life cycle of mining all the way through waste disposal and the the cost of each step.
I recently mentioned a physicist who remarked on TV about the subject of chemical based “replaceable energy storage cells”, ie, battery units, for personal road vehicles. There is a physical limit to that energy density. This was in a conversation about Tesla, which uses lithium battery technology. I simply pointed out the existence of the physicist’s remarks. And was instantly set upon by a protagonist of the original poster who was “triggered” by the point. We never did get around to addressing the actual issue, mainly because I do not respond to off the wall aspersions and argumentum ad-hominum attacks directed at third party people. And there were plenty of those from this particular protagonist.
The physicist had a real point. There are physical limits to chemical energy density and there is no “magic technology” that will save chemical batteries. There are alternative replaceable storage cell designs based on non-chemical energy storage and these are in research phases. And one could discuss those. But for the time being Tesla as a current product is not based on any of these.
And we have to beware red-herring arguments and be careful to compare apple to apples (not apples to oranges).
There are possibilities for building personal electric vehicles if the energy density problem could be solved. It is not going to be Iron Man’s fusion battery strapped to your chest, however. Wouldn’t that be nice if it were?
Major issues in personal vehicles are:
- How far can you drive before recharging?
- How much time is required to recharge?
- Availability of recharging equipment?
- Ultimate energy source of the recharge. Where did it come from? Where was it stored?
The Beat Goes On
The public is being told that in the near future everyone will be driving a vehicle powered by electric motors which run off chemical based batteries and these in turn will be powered by wind power and solar panels which store the energy in an energy infrastructure that easily distributes to resupply the personal vehicles. That is the main drumbeat. And humanity will be saved from climate change. Problem is, this is not credible. The drumbeat also includes elements of “if you don’t believe the drumbeat you must be a trog who is against science.” That is a non-sequitor.
Of course there are other sources of energy. among these are:
- Fossil Fuels
As a physics major turned engineer I believe these issues require an approach of systems analysis. In other words they are problem sets in systems analysis. All aspects must be solved simultaneously for society to be able to utilize any given solution set. Systems engineering is one of the types of jobs that I do. This type of thinking is particularly important for policy makers. Unfortunately most public debate ignores systems analysis and focuses on just one aspect of the problem set. This is naive thinking. When someone demonstrates such thinking I usually refuse to speak with them because it becomes a waste of time.
Areas I am interested in:
Capacitive power cells powered by fuel cells. Why? Higher energy density. Higher energy discharge capability. Fueling is rapid and fueling stations can be made readily available.
Something more exotic.
These are completely separate discussions than vehicles powered by lithium power cells.
The above might answer how to build personal vehicles. But neither of the above answer the question of where the initial power comes from or how is the energy stored and transferred for availability to vehicles.
My experience is that folks who are in love with electric cars tend to focus only on the one aspect they care about and ignore the other issues entirely. And they seem to resent any questions about those aspects.
Now, wind draughts are one tiny aspect of energy gathering systems. Wind power freezing over in Texas or Minnesota is another such topic. These systems tend to be under-engineered and fail. The overall energy grid needs to be able to deal with such transient effects.
I plan to say something about large stationary power storage systems … soon.
This is interesting commentary.