posted on April 18, 2007 12:03
This article is an excerpt from Chapter four in my new book The Chicken Little Agenda – Debunking Experts' Lies. This is the seventh of nine parts for Chapter four that will be presented here sequentially. Read part six here.
Nuclear Power, Solar Power, and Things Beyond
The Other Options
Are there any other realistic, viable ways to produce power?
Let's examine two that are frequently advocated by nuclear power opponents: locally produced solar energy and ethanol.
Locally produced solar energy, according to energy experts, could realistically supply 50 percent of current domestic hot-water needs. Typically, these generators are panels atop roofs in sunny regions of the country. Generally, they are hot-water panels, but occasionally they are arrays of light-to-electricity generators. In the United States, homes consume about 25 percent of all energy produced. Hot-water production in homes uses about one-third of that. It follows, therefore, that if everyone used solar energy so that 50 percent of our hot-water needs were being met, we would save a scant 4 percent of our national energy needs. It would take an unprecedented national research effort to increase the benefits of locally produced solar energy. Over time more homes will apply these methods. But Chicken Little notwithstanding, moving much beyond the 4 percent level – although better than nothing – seems unlikely.
Ethanol is often touted as a practical solution to our transportation energy needs. Let's examine the economics of this proposal. The current price for corn is about $2.40 per bushel. If we apply available technology optimized for energy and cost savings, we can build a 50-million-gallon-per-year ethanol plant that will convert corn into ethanol for about $1.12 a gallon. This distillation requires large quantities of heat, which we can generate by burning fossil fuel (this seems a bit silly, even though the resulting ethanol is a more concentrated form of energy) or from some other source. One solution is to replace corn as a feedstock with waste products such as garbage, and to use waste heat from smelters and power generation. Another source for heat is geothermal energy where it is available, or even locally produced solar energy. For the process to be practical, however, the net energy gain must be sufficiently large to offset the cost of the feedstock and the required energy.
If we were to use all the waste generated by food processing, put all existing grain land into productive crop use, and use all surplus sugar and 50 percent of all fermentable municipal solid waste, we could generate 4.7 billion gallons of ethanol in the U.S. each year. This is less than 4 percent of annual U.S. gasoline consumption and less than 2 percent of annual U.S. energy consumption.
The bottom line, then: today in America, if locally produced solar energy were universally applied in its most economically viable form, and if every available means were used to produce ethanol, even discounting the energy required to generate these results, there would be at most a 6 percent annual energy savings.
There is nothing wrong with applying solar energy in economically effective ways. There are great arguments for replacing fossil fuels with ethanol in order to conserve the irreplaceable chemical resources that go up in smoke and heat when we burn them. But a maximum energy savings of 6 percent simply doesn't wash as an argument for abandoning the nuclear energy option.
(Part 8 of 9 follows)
Click here to read more book excerpts and hear radio interviews with the author.
© 2006 – Robert G. Williscroft