This Book Belongs On Your Shelves

Download “SEWTHA”… The author intended it to be freely available to you.

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Why Should The Nation Borrow Money For Bad Ideas?

“Pres. Obama laid out an ambitious goal — by 2035, America gets 80% of its electricity from clean energy sources.  Obama includes nuclear and emerging clean coal tech — and many environmentals don’t embrace them…

Private investors chasing green investments are having problem.  “The stocks of renewable energy companies — e.g., wind / solar power providers — have been big losers.  The Clean Edge Global Wind Energy Index, tracking wind stocks, is down about 27% over the last 12 mos.  This is disappointing since oil stocks and the S&P500 both surged upward 20% over the same period.

” ‘The sector is not much loved at the moment,’ concedes Edward Guinness, co-manager of the Guinness Atkinson Alternative Energy Fund.  With a nearly 22 percent loss in 2010, the fund finished last among 83 funds specializing in energy stocks, according to Morningstar. The $38 million portfolio was weighed down by solar and wind energy stocks, most of which fared poorly last year. One of its biggest holdings, SunPower Corp., fell 46 percent…” — Mark Jewell, 6 Feb 2011, (AP),,

Investors seek profits for a reason:  they make the enterprise sustainable, instead of a ‘Money Pit.’

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This VC Is On To Something

“…Cleantech companies just can’t seem to get it right.  At least, that’s the notion Peter Thiel — a co-founder of PayPal and president of Clarium Capital — subscribes to when he looks at cleantech companies as potential investing opportunities. He made the comments at a Commonwealth Club event in San Francisco Wednesday.

“ ‘ …Most of the people who run cleantech companies are sales people, not engineers,” Thiel said. “Something seems to have gone quite wrong with cleantech.’

“…As a result, most cleantech companies that try to develop alternative energy forms are building power sources that are more  expensive. Solar panels, for example, are still not a cost-efficient way to generate power, Thiel said.  ‘We need something cheaper, not more expensive,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t matter if the energy is cleaner, it doesn’t work if it’s more expensive.’ ” — Matthew Lynley, VentureBeat, 3 Feb 2011

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A Fork In The Road…

[The following is excerpted from a recent, on-line discussion]

JBG: •THE CHALLENGE TO INTEGRATE RENEWABLE – WIND and SOLAR – ENERGY ON GRID… We have to have security and resources to accommodate Wind and Solar output variation.  A Smart Grid with high concentration of renewable energy will require simultaneous consideration of the system’s rapid response and long term evolution.

Renewable and Generation Distributed bring constraints on resource availability, that the current Grid were not designed to address.

Addressing these constraints will require new efforts at coordination of resources and capabilities within the electric grid, both to mitigate difficulties and to maximize benefits.   Built to provide energy from different sources for various loads through a single large interconnected infrastructures.

The system requires active control, in real time, the resolution of control in Space and Time is limited by extant technology and design philosophy.

Control Time
-Energy storage and Demand Response;
-Stability and Oscillation;
-Seasonal, hourly and instantaneous dispatch.
Control Space
-Transmission capacity;
-Resource location;
-Protection capacity;
-Voltage regulation.

Intermittent, what we still do not know…
-How much advance warning can we get before rapid variations in Solar and Wind output, and how we can use this information effectively.
-What is the point of intermittency of renewable energy that can cancel the high penetration levels, locally and around the system.
-How quickly will vary from aggregate production for large and diverse collections of resources for Solar and Wind.

To manage all these variables the Utilities will have to build a sophisticated information technology infrastructure, and to do this will develop knowledge and expertise worthy of the area of IT.

GRL:  • Dear Mr. JBG,

I would suggest this is an excellent piece on the economic viability of wind in the grid:

JBG:   • Dear GRL,

As I suggested earlier, the feasibility of renewable energy resources depend largely on the IT set up by the Utilities.

The Utilities must undergo a long period of learning to manage these resources, but believe they have achieved.   To avoid fluctuations of voltage and frequency – the Achilles Heel of renewable resources – a new class of “regulators” should be developed.

The oil / gas has a century of use, we give time to these new energy sources, Information Technology that determines the speed of this integration.
We can not develop the “art” of seeing and not spotting!


“Smart grids are absolutely essential to the widespread adoption of solar and wind energy”.

On a traditional electrical grid, the intermittent flows from wind farms or solar plants can sag or surge. To compensate, fossil fuel-powered energy then ticks up or down. But the movements are not adequately controlled and can lead to costly stoppages, energy leaks and overwhelming voltage levels.

The global expansion of smart grids means that renewable energy sources could increasingly hop onto a system that tracks energy flows in real-time and responds immediately to digital commands, thus taking much of the risk out of going green.   With a more efficient connection, more clean energy could reach consumers rather than get held up on an outdated grid.

Shihab Kuran, president and CEO of New Jersey-based Petra Solar, said: “Seventy percent more solar energy could be implemented if you incorporate smart grid features. In order for solar to be successful, you really need smart grid to go there.”

Since its start in 2006, Petra Solar has won around $6 million in grants from the Solar Energy Grid Integration System (SEGIS) program by the U.S. Department of Energy to study how solar penetration affects electrical grids. The firm then went on to build its SunWave module, which features a solar panel and microinverter that attach to power poles to create a smart grid network in half an hour’s time.  “You have to think about reliability first, and solar production second,” Kuran said.

KC:  • Some folks are already working on the prediction –  The more solar and wind you have the more predictable the supply is going to be. In the long term the cheapest solution is just to over produce on the renewables and find ways to dump excess power on an ad hoc basis (e.g. desalinating water/generating hydrogen). The other thing needed is more HV-DC grids to move power round the planet.

The “smart” stuff is mostly about managing the transition.

JBG:  • The main problem with “Distributed Generation” is not predictable, but the connection and disconnection of these units to the “Grid”, taking into account time and space.
GRL:  Dear Mr. JBG, 

It seems to me that power grids are operated today as a rational business in that the power grid manager strives to match the supply of energy with the demand of energy. “Bad” is not having energy when customers require it. “Good” is having enough energy at the right price so that customers can demand it and use it as they see fit.

From the foregoing comments, (Am I wrong?) it seems that the commenting persons here are acting upon the assumption that the grid’s operating “values” must change:

“Good” is using renewable energy first and always when it is available, regardless of the cost, regardless of its point of origin / distance from the customer.

Now the Europeans are currently discussing the building of a EUROS 25 Billion continental grid transmission system that would speed solar and / or wind energy generation thousands of km from where it is “now” being created to where it can be utilized by some customer no matter how far away from the point of origin.

The economics of this new “Good” for the grid are quite daunting:  Should we seriously assume that the 7% power losses we experience now with high voltage long-distance transmission will go away? Should we take into account that 2% or 10% utilization of these expensive new direct current high voltage long-haul facilities will add more amortization cost per mWh actually transmitted that will dwarf the economic savings of power loss reduction from 7% to perhaps 3% (I know no one believes there is a tooth fairy that will enable DC to deliver 0% power loss over several hundred kms)…?

I also wonder what happens to that euphemistic “spinning reserve”, that load-chasing energy generation resource (maybe a gas turbine, maybe a coal-fired plant with a souped-up management system?) that must the throttled down to ‘idle’ while the ‘Greater Good’ wind and solar ‘moments of energy availability’ take precedence.

It seems folly to me that a hugely expensive direct current high voltage transmission system, should be managed by an also extremely costly, sophisticated self-aware smart grid management system that manages energy traffic in every grid nook and cranny in favor of solar and wind and IN LIEU OF those pedestrian, less expensive, and far-more-filthy gas, coal, and nuclear base load alternatives.

What the utility really needs is a low-cost, non-polluting small modular energy generator that can be co-located with the existing local power distribution grid. This small modular energy generator should follow the energy demand of the grid naturally by means of its operating design, not by the miraculous management manipulation of the grid.

Such a power generator would be much less expensive to build and deploy than thousands of km of new DC distribution infrastructure, and tens of electricity devouring data centers running energy management DBs with 3 million line algorithyms.

Just such a small modular energy generator was conceived of but discarded forty years ago by the all seeing eyes of the U.S. Dept. of Energy in its wisdom.

Just such a small modular energy generator is now being dusted off and will become prevalent finally in power grids. It is a simpler more economically rational solution than a collossal new grid built and managed to chase after ephemeral renewable energy.

Why will this small modular power generator prevail instead of the DC transmitted and newly smartened grid? It will lower the cost of electricity — even from current alternatives. It will make electricity more available and more reliable, bolstered by a more modest but managerially still superior smart grid.

As a result more people in more places will be able to take advantage of low-cost energy to pursue their prosperity.

I believe this small modular power generator may actually act upon the same principle that water does when it strives to seek its own level, obeying the gravity of its economics.

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New Posts in Heat Sinks

If you go to our “Heat Sinks” page, there are two papers we’ve added on making hydrogen from water with LFTR waste heat.

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Letter to the Editor

This letter sent this past November to Der Spiegel is worth a look…

Jess Smee / Der Spiegel / Brandstwiete 19, D-20457 / Hamburg, Germany

November 11, 2010

Dear Herr Smee,
The online edition of der Spiegel dated November 8 reported that over the previous weekend, masses of anti-nuclear German protestors impeded a train carrying casks of radioactive waste from a nuclear processing site in France to a storage site near the village of Gorleben in northern Germany. Such protests have occurred since the shipments started 15 years ago. However, the protests this year have been bigger and more violent, reflecting anger over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent decision to extend the life spans of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants by an average of 12 years.

What do the protestors want? Quite simply, they want an end to nuclear power in Germany. But what will replace it?  Switching to Renewables will not cover Germany’s energy requirements by 2020, according to die Welt, cited in your article. You quote die Welt: “Therefore the coal power stations will have to produce more of our power. More and more power stations have been built in Germany since the decision to phase out nuclear. These power stations have a disastrous impact on the climate.”

What about the “disastrous impact” of coal mining itself on the workers? According to Time Magazine, in 2009 there were 34 mining fatalities in the US. That same year, there were 2631 mining fatalities in China, down from 6995 in 2002. We haven’t mentioned the hundreds of thousands of early deaths caused by respiratory illnesses resulting directly from air polluting coal-fired plants.
You have to ask yourself:  are more coal-fired plants the best that Germany’s Green Party can come up with?

If you could wave a magic wand and create the ideal source of electric power, not only for Germany but also for China and the rest of the world, what would it look like? Well, I can answer that question for you.

From the foregoing, it is clear that the ideal power source, first and foremost, would completely replace coal forever as a source of electric power around the world. Think about that for a minute. Millions of tons of soot and CO2 eliminated from the environment, along with thousands of deaths among workers and the population in general caused by coal mining and by that pollution. This ideal power source may even obviate the need for any cap and trade laws.

The ideal source of electric power I am referring to is Thorium.  And the best way to utilize this energy source is in the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR), which was known in the U.S. – some 40 to 60 years ago –as the Molten Salt Reactor, or MSR. Eliminating coal is only the first of many benefits from MSR, so please hear me out:

  1. Thorium is readily available in many parts of the world so there cannot be a monopoly. It is more abundant that uranium – over four times more – and it is considerably more concentrated in the rich deposits where it is found.  Known reserves will last for many, many thousands of years.  And unlike uranium, Thorium does not need any enrichment or other expensive or intensive processes to be usable for power.
  2. Because the MSR consumes virtually all of its fuel, it produces a mere fraction of the radioactive waste being produced by today’s plants.  And the waste it does produce becomes harmless in just hundreds (rather than hundreds of thousands) of years.  That should interest the protestors in Germany.
  3. The MSR will burn virtually any nuclear fuel and can, in fact, safely and productively dispose of highly enriched nuclear weapons material, even burning Spent Nuclear Fuel.  SNF is the current political target causing so much controversy regarding waste storage, transportation and disposal.  Do you think German protestors would like knowing the MSR can consume old reactor waste?
  4. The MSR is inherently safe because it operates near atmospheric pressure and uses no water that could flash explosively to steam.  Hence there is no need for huge and expensive containment buildings to protect against explosions.
  5. By its very nature, the MSR will shut itself down automatically if something goes wrong, even if all electricity is lost and the operating staff for whatever reason is unavailable.  Thus the risk of another Three Mile Island or Chernobyl is basically nil.
  6. The capital costs of the MSR are significantly less than those of present power plants. In fact, with modular manufacture, small- to medium-size MSRs can be:

• Built on an assembly line

• Loaded onto flatbed trucks

• Installed anywhere the trucks can go (think of building Boeing’s A340 passenger plane).

  1. Molten Salt Reactor technology, nevertheless, is not new, nor unproven –Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory proved over a half a century ago that MSR technology is reliable and safe.
  2. Finally and most importantly, although the intermediate that forms from Thorium within an MSR makes the best nuclear fuel, making nuclear weapons with material bred from Thorium is extremely difficult if not impossible:

• Countries intent on nuclear armament will always choose one of the two established paths to bombs:   U-235 and/or Pu-239.  Either of these well-worn paths is much less expensive and considerably  less hazardous than attempting Thorium-bred weapons material.

With Thorium, we have at our disposal a source of energy orders of magnitude superior to anything presently in existence or likely to be developed in the short term and perhaps ever.

We must only muster the courage to grasp it.  I hope you will help.

With kindest personal regards,

Robert Orr Jr.
1101 Natchez Road
Franklin TN 37069

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Remember Chernobyl ? …Things the LFTR will never do.

Do Not Forget Chernobyl !

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The Energy Challenge For The Developing World

It is one thing to compare a developing country in Africa with the sustained advantages of the “West”.  However, it is now necessary to look to the “East” at how terribly impoverished populations are escaping their economic torpor for prosperity:

Canadian Energy Issues:  “Industrial strategy and cheap energy:  why China is eating, and will keep eating, our lunch,” 12 Jan 11, Steve Aplin

“…China’s internal market is about to turn into an economic force unprecedented in human history.  …According to a 2009 World Bank report, half a billion (that’s a “b”, not an “m”) Chinese came out of poverty between 1981 and 2004 — that means 500,000,000 Chinese are now consuming the economic output of others to a greater degree than before 1981…

“…interestingly, 1981-2004 also sported the greatest rural electrification drive in history.  Researchers at Stanford University revealed that electricity has been introduced to over 900 million rural Chinese since 1950 — by far the most after 1981.  In 1981, 98 out of 100 rural Chinese households did not have a washing machine; 999 out of every 1,000 did not have a refrigerator.  By 2004, 3 out of 5 did not have a washing machine, while 4 out of 5 did not have a refrigerator.  Still a lot way to go but that’s a lot of progress.

“…China has a double advantage in world export markets:  it has both cheap labour and cheap power.  In North America, labour costs are high, and that’s good because it gives workers there an excellent standard of living.  But North American ENERGY does NOT have to be expensive.

“…The problem is that North America is embarking on deliberate policies of expensive energy.  The governments plan to spend REAL money to add wind, solar, and gas generation into the electricity system — in spite of the fact that these are ruinously expensive.

“…We must consider that the Chinese economic behemoth rising is fueled with cheap electricity and cheap labour.  …we cannot and should not compete with China by lowering our labour costs.  WHICH MEANS WE MUST NOT INCREASE OUR ENERGY COSTS (emphasis ours)…

“…the feds have virtually ensured China will start eating our lunch soon, and keep eating it for the foreseeable future.   Those who recognize the early 21st century asa the time of China’s astonishing rise, will also notice how western governments deliberately pursued energy policies that undercut their own economies…”

China plans to add 120,000 megawatts of new nuclear generating capacity by 2020.

We plan to add new LFTR generating capacity that will deliver electricity at 50% of the cost of conventional nuclear generated electricity directly to local distribution grids in Africa.

Competitive energy costs can drive prosperity in the poorest nations as well as it can in the United States, China, Europe, or India — plentiful affordable energy gives a country’s labour pool a fighting chance.

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No Free Lunch In Wind

“…the California Air Resources Board adopted a requirement that the state obtain 1/3 of its electricity supplies from renewable energy resource by 2020…NJ’s Gov. Christie signed the Offshore Wind Development Act in Aug 10 that requires 1,100 megawatts of wind generation to be developed off the NJ Coast…but forcing consumers to buy high-cost electricity from subsidized renewable energy producers cannot improve overall economic well-being…”green” energy mandates like those of CA and NJ are a new version of ‘Gresham’s Law,” in which subsidized renewable resources drive out competitive generators, leading to higher electricity prices and reduction of economic growth…

“…Cape Wind, to be built off Nantucket Island, is ardently supported by MA governor D. Patrick…Cape Wind is more expensive than onshore wind generation projects which themselves already require government subsidies…

“…Several economic fallacies underlie green energy… green jobs advocates fundamentally misrepresent wealth transfers as wealth benefits…”green jobs” studies toute renewables development’s generation of unbridled economic growth…but they ignore the adverse economic effects of the resulting higher electricity that high-cost “Feed-in Tariffs” bring.  They are cost-benefit analyses that ignore the cost part…

“…A Nov’09 report by College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley recommends aggressive energy efficiency improvements and renewable generation predicated on the theoretical creation of between 900,000 and 1.9 million new jobs and increases of per-house income of $500 to $1.200 per year…The study never considers the effects on businesses and households from higher electricity prices and taxes to fund these energy efficiency programs.

“…Case in point is Cape Wind:  Without off-shore wind generation of electricity, the forecast market prices increases from around $110 per MWh in 2013 to just over $150 per MWh by the year 2020, then hovers there through the contract’s end in 2027.  In contrast, by the last year of the Cape Wind contract, the price paid by National Grid ratepayers would be almost $350 per MWh.  The estimated above-market cost for the electricity that would be paid by ratepayers is just over $75 million in the first year of the Cape Wind contract, increasing to over $140 million in the last year of the Cape Wind contract…

”… Industries that require never-ending subsidies simply cannot increase overall economic welfare. To conclude otherwise is to believe in “free-lunch” economics of the worst kind. Yet, free-lunch economics are driving the push for renewable energy…”

Gresham’s Law of Green Energy

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Dartmouth’s Robert Hargraves

Professor Hargraves who teaches Energy Policy at the Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth College has co-authored an article in the American Physical Society forum on Physics and Society‘s quarterly newsletter, called

Liquid Fuel Nuclear Reactors …it’s worth a read.

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