Alternatives to nuclear in the Pacific Ring of Fire?
Greetings lizards and other symbiotic/parasitic/commensal lifeforms,
As the the earthquake and subsequent threat of nuclear meltdown weighs heavy in our minds, I can’t help but wonder where we go from here. I support nuclear technology and feel it is an important component of a fossil fuel free energy strategy. However, many have rightly pointed out that it is very difficult to prepare for the worst possible scenarios in many geologically active regions.
If nuclear technology is troublesome in an area such as the ring of fire, how can these islands and coastal communities generate the power they need without contributing to AGW? Many of these areas have lots of wind, water, active geology, and (in the tropical areas) sunshine. Following are my thoughts about some of the technologies we can use to harness these energy sources.
External combustion engines may have gone out of style, yet in some ways they are more relevant than ever. The Sterling engine was developed way back in the early 1800’s, though it never achieved the market penetration of steam engines before both were supplanted by internal combustion engines.
Sterling engines can use many available heat sources. This makes them quite useful for a range of applications. They can be used to reclaim energy from industry that would otherwise be waste heat. They can use many combustible fuels directly including biomass, biodiesel, bio-ethanol, and so on. They can use geothermal energy or, as pictured, solar energy. And they can be useful in applications that both generate power and heating/cooling for communities and even individual homes, quite a useful feature for remote island communities.
Though I only mentioned Sterling engines, other heat cycles/engines can be useful in similar situations depending on the heat source available and how much power is needed. Steam engines and turbines among the others that come to mind.
Offshore wind turbine in the process of assembly.
Wind power is an ancient technology that is being revolutionized by modern materials and designs. Many places by the ocean, or out in the water, receive lots of wind. Wind turbines can be utilized to capture that wind energy and generate electricity, or perform other work. They can be located on land or float out at sea. One or a small number of turbines can provide power for homes or small communities. If more power is needed a large number can be deployed in wind farms.
Some downsides to this technology are that some areas have more variable wind patterns, the initial cost of the turbines is high, and it could kill some birds and bats that don’t recognize the danger.
Since ancient times people have utilized the power of the earth. From prehistory until recent history the power was mainly used to heat baths and homes, but now geothermal energy is recognized for its potential to generate electricity as well. Already deployed in places like Greenland, geologically active places, such as the ring of fire, are especially suited to this technology. The thermal gradient in the earth is used to drive one of the already mentioned heat engines and thus generate electricity. It can also be used in the old fashioned way and provide heat to homes, industry, and agriculture. Unfortunately the suitability of geothermal is highly dependent on the geologic conditions at any particular site so it is not the best choice in some places.
Hydropower in the continental interior often means damming up a river, which can have some serious ecological impacts. However island and coastal communities have a huge source of energy right next to them - the sloshing, flowing, solar energy absorbing, salty ocean. This opens up a range of technologies to communities that want to harness the energy. The energy of the waves can be harnessed with buoys. The flowing of currents and tides can be harnessed with turbines and dams. And the salt of the the oceans can be combined with a fresh water source to raise a column of water via osmosis. Some of these technologies can generate small amounts of power for homes or small communities, or be combined in numbers to generate a larger amount of electricity. The downside is that each of these technologies is highly dependent on the conditions present at a particular site so they are most effective in certain places. Not every area will have the right currents or a fresh water source, for example.
I have only mentioned some of the potential energy sources that could replace both fossil fuels and nuclear power. There are others, including photovoltaic and biofuels. One thing that stands out is that most of the renewable energy technologies are dependent on conditions at the site. Unlike oil and nuclear, these are not applicable everywhere. Each community will have to recognize and implement the renewable energy sources that are most effective for them. I feel that in many cases these technologies should be combined. For example, some areas have variable wind and sun patterns and so wind and solar could be combined - wind power for the rainy monsoon season and solar for the sunny dry season.
What do you guys think about these technologies? What’s your favorite emerging renewable energy tech? Where do you think we should go from here? Is nuclear really fine if adequately designed? Discuss!
Ps. This is my first page so I welcome any comments about the formatting, content, language, etc.