Friday, June 26, 2009

Desalination and Geothermal – the ideal marriage?

The first thing we must do is define “ideal marriage.” This would normally require the review of a number of opinions. So we’ll make it easy:

IN ENERGY an ideal marriage would be defined as the union of two individual energy forms found in nature whose combination will result in the production of a highly desired offspring – clean energy product in a clean environment. Meant for each other.

In our present case the product is to be clean, drinkable water produced without harm to any part of the environment, earth, water or atmosphere. And the marriage that is proposed to take place must consider the arguments of the anti-desalinators we reported in our last report. So let’s see what is fact and what is fiction.

It all looks so reasonable. There is the ocean water – loaded with good and bad elements – and the one we’re interested in - the basic, clean water. And right there, by the ocean in many areas, is natural heat from the earth sufficient to fuel the desalination process so seriously needed.
So what’s the problem?

Like so many energy-related functions there are good and bad aspects – no one’s perfect. Some sources of geothermal energy release carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfate and even though these are in quantities significantly smaller than the harmful results of coal and oil burning, they need to be eliminated if possible.

One way appears to offer even greater cleanliness. All along the rim of the entire Pacific Ocean, east and west, are locations where the geothermal heat below earth’s surface raises the temperature of the ocean water to temperatures from 180 to 320 degrees F. These are found from depths of 3 feet to 50 feet when drilling small wells into the ocean floor, and are called geothermal aquifers (in this case “Warm Geothermal Aquifers”)

Hot sea water can then be used through heat exchangers to provide desalination and steam for the generation of electricity.

These processes have been used in Mexico, USA, and Greece and in growing numbers around the Mediterranean Sea and the Pacific Rim.

The marriage may be ideal and we look forward to seeing more successful unions of this type around the world.

Water, Desalinated

So the world is covered in water – at least 75% of it is. And of all that water, 97% is in the oceans – saline – undrinkable and hardly usable except for growing fish, clams, oysters, mussels, mollusks, octopi and all the other things we are used to seeing grow in water.

The balance of 3% is considered “fresh water,” and this category is broken into subgroups such as Ground Water, Icecaps, Glaciers, Lakes, Swamp Water, Rivers and Atmosphere.
What all this boils down to is the hard fact that of all the water on earth only 1% is actually usable by humans.

Now it would seem that one of the major, if not the one essential effort being made to obtain clean water would be to work on extracting the priceless product from all that seawater surrounding us.

Unfortunately there are several conflicting arguments regarding the safety and feasibility of cleaning up ocean water. We will study the “anti” positions today and in our next issue we will set forth a program that might be the desired answer.

Some argue that since “enormous amounts of energy” are needed to force ocean water through the membrane filters at high pressure, there could be an increase in emissions adding to the global warming problem. They further argue that the facilities required would have the potential to induce “urban sprawl which could mean increased air pollution from car commuters.”

They further argue that along the coasts fisheries and marine environments “will be threatened.” They compare the desalination plants to the “once-through intake structures” that use ocean water to cool conventional power plants.

The other point they stress is that desalination is much more expensive than the cost to produce water from traditional supplies. Some say three or more times more expensive.

All of these statements are presented today in the spirit of offering a fair viewing of opposing positions on a vital subject affecting the entire world.

While regular readers will understand that our purpose, even mission, is to promote the development of hydropower, we will next show that there are some realistic and fascinating answers to the worries about desalination that can contribute safe clean water in some very needy locations.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hydropower – On the Level

Level means many things to many people. In the case of energy generation the moving water used to make electricity through hydropower units can literally be on the level. And now that everyone knows what hydropower is (electricity made by water power, for latecomers) we need to define a new term: Hydrokinetic Generation.

Not all moving water flows as waterfalls, from on high, so to speak. Rivers, streams and tidal waters all flow – horizontally and can, believe it or not, also generate electricity.

So along come the “Free-Flow Hydrokinetic Turbines.” These are turbines shaped like rockets, or bombs, with propellers. Actually they use reverse propellers that rotate or spin using the energy of the water flow passing around it. The rotation then runs the electricity generator –making cheap and clean power.

These units are small and have minimal or no impact “.. on survival and migrations of fish, aquatic and terrestrial habitats, water quality , sediment transport and visual/aesthetic qualities,” according to the DOE.

Also, while not literally on the level, the development of Wave Energy Technologies is also promising power from the movement of water horizontally. This Wave format is still under study and not as likely to be helpful as the Hydrokinetic Turbines.

And all of this renewable energy technology has not been concerned with one major technology- using dams to develop hydropower electricity.

And here is one of the Great Myths presented by those who are Not On The Level:
Myth: “Using hydropower means building new dams.”

Reality: There are 80,000 dams in the United States. Only 2,400 of them are used to generate electricity.

Let’s get going with the 77,600 dams that are already built and either being used for something like running lumber mills or fabric manufacturing or are just sitting there like many that can be found in New England.

Once again, it falls to the government agencies that license the use of dams, existing or new, to generate electricity. And once again it falls to the people to force the separation of the interests of their representative from the financial and political power of the Fossil Fuel Barons and their incredibly widespread operations.

Voting – will count – to make the government proceed on the level - to finally provide clean water and clean air for our grandchildren’s grandchildren

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hydropower Clarified

Clear water – doesn’t that sound wonderful? It’s also a nice name for a town.

But mostly it is a phrase with a great deal of promise. And so far on this planet it is a promise unfulfilled. The good news is that there is what appears to be the beginning of some understanding of the huge benefits of hydropower and it is our main mission to see those efforts multiplied in a major manner.

Once again, there are a number of misconceptions about hydropower, fostered mainly by the fossil fuel mega-corporations using fear tactics we have discussed earlier.

For example, many people only see hydropower as huge towering dams, flooding great areas of land, displacing communities and killing aquatic wildlife. Some see the use of water to make electricity resulting in water that cannot be used for drinking or other healthy purposes. Some also have been led to understand that all the possible hydropower sources have been used up.

So many things that people “know” are very far from the truth and we have explained some of the truths in earlier issues (“More of the Clean Water Story” and “Little Water, Big Energy”) and will continue to the best of our hundred-year-old experience to underline the message that our planet has a limited tolerance for pollution and that limit is rapidly being approached.

Small hydropower – particularly horizontally flowing generation – uses little space, requires no one to move and, if anything, creates a healthier environment for aquatic and other wildlife.(Look for our future issue “Hydropower on the Level.”)

Big hydropower – those large dams that so impress us with their hugeness – constitutes only 8% of the total hydropower population in the U.S. today. There are a myriad of locations where small waterfalls are potential hydropower producers, again without harm to the planet.

We have shown in earlier issues that between the United States and Canada the total of existing hydropower production plus the use of the known potential sources in both countries, hydropower could replace all of the coal burning capacities of both countries and have enough left over to substantially reduce all systems that require the burning of petroleum.

We understand that everyone will need to see a lot of proof of these arguments before the major changes are made to happen. We intend to provide just that– from some very impressive sources. Please stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Let’s Get Serious with Hydropower

Actually we need to get serious with Hydropower and serious about Hydropower. And we say that because Hydropower is the answer to the ultimate correction of global warming, carbon gases and water and air pollution.

We have been repeatedly told that coal, oil and natural gas provide millions of jobs.

We have repeatedly said that full use of the hydropower sources would employ millions.

We have repeatedly said that coal, oil and natural gas are pollutants.

We have been repeatedly told that coal, oil and natural gas are getting cleaner.

To this we have repeatedly and correctly said – Are You Kidding???

It has been proven that “Money talks, everything else walks.”

The facts remain that the coal and oil industries have tremendous power.

Power that reaches into the financial industry, troubled as it is; the banking industry, troubled as it is; the political activities field, conscienceless as it is.

Ok enough...

We have repeatedly said that hydropower with geothermal power (where it exists) can totally eliminate the need for coal, oil and natural gas.

No one can deny this.

Sadly it seems we must remind everyone that electricity is the most efficient form of energy use for all processes: heating , lighting, air conditioning, running automotive units, running trains, desalinating sea water, in fact for all things that require energy.

The only reason electricity is not used for everything everywhere is IT’S COST!
The only reason its cost is so high is that the coal, oil and natural gas industries have forbidden the development of Much Cheaper Hydropower –

Once again political power and financial power can be shown to be incestuous siblings. And Financial is the Big Brother.

Is there a parallel to the tobacco industry when we see how tobacco products have been proven to cause disease and death and provide no benefit to humanity? Thanks to that industry’s financial power –it too still exists.

We’re not finished repeating the facts – as you will see if you stay tuned.

Friday, June 5, 2009

What If You Buy Power From a Stranger?

We’re not talking about a stranger trying to sell you something from the back of his truck…….. “Hey Buddy, want ta buy some cheap power?”

Yet buying your electricity from a “third party” – not your regular electric company – might seem a little strange, if not dangerous. After all electricity itself is dangerous if not handled properly. And quite frankly, so is signing an agreement to buy power from a “stranger.”

So let’s look at the safeguards in place to protect you, and me, from the possible pitfalls that could make the purchase uncomfortable:

All third party electricity providers must be approved by the state utility commission and/or FERC to furnish power to your area. Be certain the stranger has that approval.

The rates charged and to be charged by the supplier must be filed with the local authorities; utility commission, Independent System Operator (ISO) or FERC, etc and made available to the public. Examine them carefully to see if any savings are possible compared to your local rates.
Reliable service is a consumers right. The local public utility – your original electric company - remains as the distributor of the power you use regardless of where it comes from. Any failure in delivery is the responsibility of the local utility.

If the supplier should go bankrupt or fail to provide service for any reason the law requires that your original utility act as “the supplier of last resort.”

Terms of agreement. Some suppliers require you to sign up for a given period, like one year or two, and if the customer cancels the service there can be a termination fee or penalty charge.
This should be clearly understood before entering into any third party purchase agreement.

If there is a question about any aspect of the third party energy purchase, the prospective customer may always confer with the local utility representative or an agent of the utility commission.

Finally, there are some private utilities offering electricity that has been generated using green – or replaceable – electricity. In some cases these suppliers charge rates slightly higher than the local or competitive charges. The consumer must decide if converting to the “green” power is worth a small increase in cost.

We have always felt that the increase now will result in cleaner air later. But what is more important is that each consumer taking that step is making a statement that clean energy for the future is more important than a slight cost increase at this time.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Politics of Energy and the Energy of Politics-III

(Now affectionately called “PEEP” by a few of our readers)

As you may know, this is the third offering under the “political” category and it is stressed because, frankly, the energy field is stressed. It is stressed in a way that is serious and, even worse, in a way that is mostly being kept out of the public’s eyes and ears.

There has been a lot of press about President Obama’s program to develop “Green Energy.” Most of it has been complimentary and encouraging. And, we are sorry to report, useless. You may see our arguments in “PEEP-II” (Feb 25)

Then an article appeared in the New York Times that announced that the American “Oil Giants” are “Loathe to Follow Obama’s Green Lead.” Actually, Mr. Times, that may be fit to print, but it ain’t news!

Neither is the half-hearted “Carbon Principles” announced by Citi Corp, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley in February. While the public relations experts of these major financial institutions probably felt that it would be “politically correct” to present these green energy principles at the time, it is more likely that management was much more concerned with the financial crisis which had also demanded more of the president’s attention and the people’s money.

There is an activist group called Rainforest Action Network (“RAN”). The director of RAN’s global finance campaign stated, “If this policy prevents the financing of new coal, it will be productive.” RAN says that it has “successfully challenged several of the world’s largest banks, including the 3 above, to adopt project lending policies that would … help safeguard the environment and human rights.”

However the same RAN group concedes that “Calling them the ‘Carbon Principles’ is an overstatement.”

We submit that while protest is one of the guaranteed rights under our constitution, it is a far cry from obtaining legislation that would actually enforce restrictions on the financing of the construction or continuation of processes which continue to foul the environment.

To do that one must get these financial institutions “where they live.” As they continue to need, require and in some cases actually demand, financial assistance from the government – of the people, by the people and for the people – such assistance should be made to include restrictions on the use of that money for any but the “greenest” energy processes.

We can only hope.