3. Offshore wind farms

Right now, in 2010, the United States has the same number of offshore wind farms as Mali.

Mali is a much poorer country, but its primary obstacle to developing offshore wind power is not a problem of money or technology. Mali’s main problem when it comes to offshore wind is that it’s landlocked.

America has no such excuse. It stretches, famously, from “sea to shining sea.” The United States has 12,383 miles of coastline. And yet, in 2010, 41 years after putting humans on the moon and 74 years after building the Hoover Dam, we don’t have a single offshore wind farm. None. Zero.

That’s just embarrassing.

We have the technology to do this. As we’ve just seen graphically demonstrated, this is far easier, technologically, than deepwater oil drilling. And it’s much, much less risky. And we’ve got a pretty good idea where offshore wind farms ought to be — i.e., places with a lot of wind and few migrating birds. We even have several capable companies lining up for a chance to make this happen.

And yet here we are, in 2010, without a single offshore wind farm. That’s a decent snapshot of the short-sightedness, lack of ambition and lack of vision that has come to characterize 21st-century America.

Wind power is reliable, renewable and clean. Wind power also strongly recommends itself to the reality-based community for its lack of greenhouse gas emissions. (That’s immensely important — even if every attempt to confront the problem of climate change politically is likely futile due to a vocal third of Americans believing that scientists are making the whole thing up to pave the way for Nicolae Carpathia’s One World Government.)

And right now, we have 14.6 million Americans who need jobs. Going from the current situation of zero offshore wind farms to, say, eight over the next five years would create tens of thousands of jobs at least. Maybe hundreds of thousands.

For a sense of just how many jobs could be created directly and indirectly by such an undertaking, look at the numbers the offshore oil drilling industry says are affected by the post-Deepwater-Horizon-debacle moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Now imagine creating that many good jobs in every coastal state and doing so without the trade-off of tar balls on the beaches and decimated fisheries.

The Gulf spill ought to have generated more new support for cleaner energy. If nothing else it provided a much clearer recognition of the worst-case scenarios arising from drill, baby, drill. That sort of calamity isn’t a danger with offshore wind farms. A collapsed turbine won’t result in plumes of wind polluting the open seas or sticky wind residue threatening the fishing and tourism industries.

The reason I’m suggesting a goal of eight offshore wind farms within the next five years is because that’s how many Denmark has right now. If Denmark had beaten us into space, America would have scrambled into crisis mode. If Denmark’s military had this kind of technological advantage we’d be in a full-on panic to re-establish our supremacy. So there’s no reason we shouldn’t also be racing to catch up when it comes to offshore wind power. We’re talking about energy and the technology of the future — things red-blooded Americans are supposed to be boisterously proud of being No. 1 at.

Yet we seem to have lost that swagger when it comes to offshore wind, complacently accepting our last-place tie with Mali. This is too important to accept failure. We can’t just pretend it doesn’t matter because we’re not as good at it as other countries are (you know, like we do with soccer).

Keeping pace with Denmark actually would require more than eight offshore wind farms. We’ve got about three times more miles of coastline than Denmark. Three times eight is, conveniently, 24 — which also happens to be the number of coastal American states. Going from zero to eight is probably a sufficiently ambitious goal for the first five years, but if we want to reclaim our swagger, we’re going to need to shoot for 24 in, say, the next 20 years.

Achieving this goal would require some new approaches from the federal government. (That shouldn’t be surprising considering that the current approach is what has thus far produced, again, zero offshore wind farms.) Whatever we call the agency that replaces the dysfunctional Minerals
Management Service will need to adopt a bit more urgency for evaluating proposals and approving and expediting worthy ones. Ditto for the Environmental Protection Agency.

But achieving the goal of eight new offshore wind farms in the next five years would not likely require the federal government to commit to massive new spending. These projects will be built and paid for mostly by the private sector (with some public help, probably, but less than is involved in your typical football stadium).

What the federal government needs to do to help make this happen is to commit to buying some of the electricity generated by these plants. This is the step that Delaware Gov. Jack Markell and Maryland Gov. Tommy Carcetti Martin O’Malley requested and urged in a letter last month to President Barack Obama:

Markell and O’Malley asked Obama to direct the Department of Defense, the General Services Administration and other federal agencies to commit to buying a gigawatt of offshore wind energy from the mid-Atlantic region. The electricity would help power federal offices and military installations, especially those around metropolitan Washington, they wrote.

A gigawatt represents 1,000 megawatts, enough to power the equivalent of about 300,000 homes. That much energy would require about three times the number of turbines for which NRG Bluewater has contracts today for its wind farm planned for 11 miles east of Rehoboth Beach.

The governors said developing that much wind energy could lead to the creation of up to 20,000 jobs.

If we trust the governors’ number there — one wind farm = 20,000 jobs — then it seems my Grand Scheme here isn’t actually all that ambitious. Eight wind farms in five years would only provide 160,000 jobs, and we’ve got 14.6 million Americans looking for work. So, no, offshore wind
farms are not The Solution to unemployment, but they could be part of the solution.

We need these 160,000 jobs, after all. And we need cleaner, renewable energy.

And maybe more than either of those, we need to shake off the can’t-do attitude being preached these days by the smaller-smaller-smaller crowd advocating austerity in budgets, austerity in living standards, austerity in aspirations and austerity in achievements. America can’t do things like that anymore, they say. Too expensive. Too difficult. Too big. We pulled off the Apollo missions using less computing power than your typical cell phone has, but that was back in the old America. The old America was able to do things like space programs and rural electrification and fully-funded schools and the interstate highway system. The new, smaller-smaller-smaller America, they say, mustn’t attempt anything quite so ambitious.

Those folks may be perfectly satisfied with a tie for last place, but I think America can do better than that.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    Molten salt? Sheeeeeet. :O *agog*

  • Karen

    Wind power as machisimo: Turbines are sprouting like spinning mushrooms in west Texas, the most idiotically macho place on Earth. Wind power is a big business here, since we have some of the most reliable wind on Earth, with the least rain and extreme geologically stability. Also, Iraan and Ft. Stockton and Pecos are stuck in what is, in my native-Texan opinion, the ugliest place on Earth that isn’t human-produced. (Seriously, west Texas has no redeeming aesthetic qualities. Wind turbines only improve the place.) Based on this fact, I think that green power at least will lose the wimp factor pretty quickly. Also, never underestimate the force of Texas industrialists in fomenting opposition to offshore farms.
    Prejudice against blue-collar work and vocational education: I don’t think the prejudice against blue collar work is because we think it’s only work for dumb people; it’s because blue-collar culture is pretty rank. There’s no good reason for HVAC techs, for example, to listen only to Rush Limbaugh and Clear Channel and to bathe with less than ideal regularity, but most of the ones I’ve known do that. I’m a regulatory lawyer whose career has mostly been regulating skill labor licensees, like electricians and a/c contractors and car dealers. These guys make some serious money, especially with a lot of experience, but they conform to the most obnoxious of lower-class stereotypes in their taste and language. I know my sons could make good money at that kind of job, but over my dead body will they act like the people I regulate.

  • Lori

    Molten salt? Sheeeeeet. :O *agog*

    This is common for solar farms. There are several large ones in California that use it.

  • http://city-of-ladies.blogspot.com Rebecca

    I may have mentioned before a nearby church that meets most of its power needs with three “demonstration” wind turbines.
    They have all sorts of neat teachings about the three tri-petalled turbines symbolising the power of the Trinity, and the mysticism of the Spirit “which bloweth where it list” and soforth.
    It really all is in the marketing, isn’t it?

    Hee! That’s awesome.

  • Brad

    @Shay Guy: What kinds of skill sets and qualifications are most common among the currently unemployed?
    Judging by the emails I get, most of us are mystery shoppers.
    And we’re always being asked to take out loans for further education. It says all you need to know when the spam says, “Teachers Needed!” and the news is about cuts in school budgets…

  • Roadstergal

    The Soviets used about the stupidest design possible even though technically if you didn’t staff the place with idiots it would have run fine for pretty much ever given proper maintenance.
    Ja, the workers still had to do a lot in the ‘ovverride safeguards’ department to make the steam explosion happen.
    Because there were Pintos, cars are inherently unsafe? :p
    Modern nuclear designs, as has been well-explored in this thread already, use less radioactive fuel, have far less dangerous waste, are far safer overall, and are far more efficient than ’70s-era Soviet designs. What we need in the US is standardization and regulation, and they would be an effective ‘bridge’ source of energy to relieve our reliance on coal and oil while wind, solar, etc. are coming into their own. Nuclear is the one source of energy that is currently ready-to-go and can cover the energy needs that coal and oil are currently filling. If you stopped coal and oil today, the gap could not be filled by wind, sun, and water.
    I was vehemently anti-nuclear in the ’80s, but it’s not the ’80s anymore.

  • Ela

    I read through and didn’t see anyone bring this up–every time I fly to or from Boston I watch the wind turbines in the harbor. So what makes an offshore wind farm? Are the Boston turbines too few, or too close to the shore?

  • http://lyorn.livejournal.com/ inge

    Ela: “offshore” is “more than 12 miles from the coast”. It’s basically a legal difference. Technically, you could probably call it offshore if land wind patterns have no (or only very minor) influence, but I do not know if this is done.

  • StuJay

    The fact is that no private investors will pony up money for nuclear power because it is the most expensive way to ‘boil water’ (basically a power plant is there to generate heat to run electric turbines).
    Nuclear power requires expensive containment buildings and their construction, operation, liability (even if at only 40%) and decommissioning all add up to money losses that no ‘sane’ investor will consider worth the risk. ONLY governments will/can fund nuclear power because only they can “afford” to waste massive amounts of money.
    And as that is my tax dollar at work I would much rather it go into better technologies.
    Anyone interested in more arguments should check out the Rocky Mountain Institute where physicist Amory Lovins has been working on this issue for Decades. Here is but one presentation making the point:
    http://www.rmi.org/rmi/Library/2009-15_NuclearPowersCompetitiveLandscape
    I can’t say it any better so I’ll stop.

  • K. Chen

    Nuclear power requires expensive containment buildings and their construction, operation, liability (even if at only 40%) and decommissioning all add up to money losses that no ‘sane’ investor will consider worth the risk. ONLY governments will/can fund nuclear power because only they can “afford” to waste massive amounts of money.

    Uh, what? Two minutes on google pointed me at Exelon, a publicly owned company that owns and operates fission power plants.

  • Orion

    That a private company currently operates nuclear plants doesn’t mean that private industry is willing to fund them. I vaguely recall hearing that all of America’s plants were heavily subsidized by the feds, even when private companies built them.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    The United States has the worst of both worlds when it comes to government + private-sector governance of the nuclear sector.
    The companies that are actually involved in power plant construction, design and maintenance are basically like defence contractors: they wouldn’t exist without huuuuuuuge amounts of money and support granted them by the government, such as preferential limitation of liability, direct subsidies of their construction and maintenance costs, et cetera ad infinitum.

  • prior_approval

    ‘Modern nuclear designs, as has been well-explored in this thread already, use less radioactive fuel, have far less dangerous waste, are far safer overall, and are far more efficient than ’70s-era Soviet designs.’
    Well, there are designs, and then there are the plants themselves. And sadly, even though the modern designs may be much better, that nuclear plant completed in 1978 doesn’t use them. Though at least the Soviet era plants are being shut down in countries which have them and are part of the EU – sadly, this is not the case of those nations which were part of the Soviet Union and are not part of the EU, most notably Russia itself.
    Even more importantly, the owner of that 1978 plant doesn’t want to shut it down, or build a replacement until maximum profit has been extracted from that first capital investment.
    The owners of nuclear plants aren’t running them for our benefit, after all – they are running them for their paychecks and bonuses.

  • K. Chen

    As I recall, almost all power plants are regulated monopolies, where there are incentives to build (discounts) incentives to operate (liability shields) and strict controls (pricing). Nuclear power doesn’t seem particularly special in that context.
    If Wikipedia is to be trusted, 3 mile-island was built by a publicly traded corp, now known as First Energy.
    I don’t disagree that the government is very involved in nuclear power, but the private sector is a huge part of it which doesn’t square with “ONLY governments will/can fund nuclear power because only they can “afford” to waste massive amounts of money. “

  • StuJay

    @K. Chen:
    Private industry runs the current nuclear plants in the U.S. and Exelon is one of them but even they do not depend upon Nucs alone. They (Exelon) have substantial investments in hydro, solar, landfill (natural) gas, and (guess what) Wind.
    Plus no new nuclear plants have even been started in ANY country except those with government subsidy or centrally planned economies. Here in the U.S. NOT ONE of the proposed 33 new plants has received any offers of private capital. Fact is we are past the turning point where efficiency and green energy are making higher returns on capital investments than nuclear power (more secure because of fewer unknowns and much lower cost overruns).
    The only renaissance in nuclear power is in the proclamations. The point is to try and convince government to pony up funding because those in the know on Wall Street aren’t interested (and I am sure Mr. Rowe CEO of Exelon would be happy to add your and my tax dollar to his bottom line).
    The concentrated powerful interests in America are not interested in efficiency or dispersed (“off the grid” or feed back to the grid) solutions because they do not make large scale profits that the big corporations need to boost every quarters profit margin. They have to think big because that it the model they are stuck in. What is best for them is NOT likely what will be the best long term solution for our country and the majority of its citizens. Unfortunately we don’t have the big PR budgets.

  • anonymous

    Hey, I dunno about you, but I think fields of wind turbines are really pretty. They’re certainly the most photogenic electric generators available.

  • Niner

    Arguing against nuclear power because it requires government subsidies seems silly in a thread of a post where Fred is recommending government subsides for job creation and power generation.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    @Niner: It’s an industry that should be 100% government-owned. The fact that it involves radioactive isotopes is, in my mind, one of the reasons why.

  • K. Chen

    Arguing against nuclear power because it requires government subsidies seems silly in a thread of a post where Fred is recommending government subsides for job creation and power generation.

    I think the argument more precisely is nuclear power sucks, and that it requires massive government subsidies is evidence that it sucks.
    The way I figure it, is we have roughly six options:
    We can burn biomass (read: wood and soybean oil) to boil water to turn turbines to generate electricity, which produces noxious smoke and requires huge fields of agriculture grown in large part by oil products, and in large part by use of large amounts of water.
    We can burn coal to boil water to turn turbines to generate electricity, which produces noxious smoke and requires huge, dangerous mines, machines powered by oil products, and the usage of lots of water.
    We can burn oil products to boil water to turn turbines to generate electricity, which produces noxious smoke and requires huge, dangerous rigs, expensive toxic materials, and increases demand on an already high demand resource.
    We can build gigantic wind farms made of huge structures to turn turbines to generate electricity, where the full extent of the dangers to man and environment are unknown (in a large scale context), and where the power is intermittent causing potential complications with the larger electricity grid.
    We can build gigantic dams along rivers to turn turbines to generate electricity, which wreaks significant havoc on the environment, wildlife, and human settlements, and where catastrophic failure would be a major disaster.
    We can build fission power plants to boil water to turn turbines to generate electricity, producing dangerous materials that cannot be neutralized, only buried or sent into space, and where a catastrophic failure would be a major disaster.
    All options have trade offs, This isn’t sim city, where you just have to wait until you can buy the magical fusion power plant, and upgrading your grid is as simple as clicking the bulldozer icon. In the U.S. we’ve been blessed with a ridiculously large amount of coal (which we’re using up) a massive aquifer (which we’re using up) and a lot of space. So we made a trade – global climate change (or as I prefer, global weirding) indicates we may have made the wrong one.

  • MercuryBlue

    I think the argument more precisely is nuclear power sucks, and that it requires massive government subsidies is evidence that it sucks.
    I think the argument more precisely is libraries suck, and that they require massive government subsidies is evidence that they suck.
    I think the argument more precisely is roads suck, and that they require massive government subsidies is evidence that they suck.
    I think the argument more precisely is schools suck, and that they require massive government subsidies is evidence that they suck.
    I think the argument more precisely is the arts suck, and that they require massive government subsidies is evidence that they suck.
    Tobacco plus government subsidies is worse than tobacco without same. Health care plus government subsidies is better than health care without same. Government subsidies in themselves are value-neutral.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer, who is, once again, very tired

    I think wind turbines are pretty, too.

  • MercuryBlue

    I don’t think they’re pretty, but I also don’t think they’d spoil the ocean view any worse than lighthouses do, and whoever complained about the effect of lighthouses on scenery?

  • StuJay

    One thing the Rocky Mountain Institute site makes clear and which folks are mostly unaware (because there is no PR campaign for it) is how MASSIVE the amount of energy we still waste in this country alone.
    If each of the United States used electricity as productively as the top ten states actually did in 2005 (adjusted for each state’s economic mix and climate), 62% of U.S. coal-fired electricity would become unnecessary. ( S. Doig et al., “Assessing the Electric Productivity Gap and the U.S. Efficiency Opportunity,” RMI, 2009).
    A study by McKinsey Global Energy and Materials, (Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the U.S. Economy, July 2009, http://www.mckinsey.com/clientservices/ccsl/) found that by 2020, the U.S. could actually and very profitably save 1,080 TerraWatt hours/year—That is not mega-, not giga, but Terra Watts of power that is half of today’s coal-fired generation.
    Today’s efficiency potential is even bigger because efficiency technology keeps improving faster than it’s applied. A mega watt saved (or in MRI parlance a NEGAwatt) is exactly equivalent to a new megawatt created. In addition saving energy requires 4 times LESS capital than adding more supply partly because it requires no new infrastructure and it removes load from the grid (putting less stress on what is itself an aging dinosaur).
    It is a fallacy that power usage MUST go up and that large plants (of what ever type) MUST be built to feed the beast. Much cheaper, more efficient and less vulnerable to nation wide attack (or solar storm disruption) would be many smaller grids instead of one massive grid with all power sources on line. Then all of the much smaller technologies (wind, solar etc) become more viable still because they each have less of load to carry.

  • K. Chen

    It is a fallacy that power usage MUST go up and that large plants (of what ever type) MUST be built to feed the beast. Much cheaper, more efficient and less vulnerable to nation wide attack (or solar storm disruption) would be many smaller grids instead of one massive grid with all power sources on line. Then all of the much smaller technologies (wind, solar etc) become more viable still because they each have less of load to carry.

    No, as a practical matter, energy consumption will continue to rise, and centralized plants are going to be the way to respond to the growing demand. I’ll address the power usage question because its far more important.
    Further, you’re apparently ignoring a basic principle of economics and consumer psychology that has dogged the sustainability question since forever. As energy efficiency increases (at the consumer use level, the distribution level, or the production level) supply increases, lowering prices, and demand increases, bringing us right back where we started. That is, when Joe Consumer squeezes 60 bucks out of his electric bill by changing to CF lightbulbs, he turns around and buys 60 bucks of electricity right back by leaving on the lights all day. If Joe Consumer sees that his bill is is 60 bucks cheaper because of a newfangled energy management grid, he cranks the air conditioner another two degrees for three months, and we’re right back where we started. (Numbers are arbitrary)
    Gasoline prices have been an exception, but its almost certainly because of that whole recession thing we’re in. Upon the economy turning around (and I expect it will eventually), usage will bounce right back up.
    Demand will continue to rise until electricity is a whole lot more expensive (either in $ or legal consequences), there is a massive change in the electricity efficiency of all electric consumption devices, or a cultural paradigm shift that makes energy saving a virtue.

  • MercuryBlue

    Thing is, K. Chen, there’s a thing called ‘inelastic demand’ and electricity is one of the things that has it, at least here in a—did we figure out the best way to say ‘first-world country’? Most people who have abundant electricity and who go for higher energy efficiency, they’re doing it to save money. A drop in the price of electricity somewhere that people can’t afford to run the computer at night when they need electricity to run the lights, that would increase demand, but people there are typically not buying electricity from the power grid over here.
    Wish our HOA would have a paradigm shift. I suspect the remaining unsold lots in this development would be snapped up in a heartbeat if this development had an HOA that let us not spend money on the energy to run our dryers when it’s sufficiently warm and sunny to use a clothesline.

  • K. Chen

    Thing is, K. Chen, there’s a thing called ‘inelastic demand’ and electricity is one of the things that has it, at least here in aâ??did we figure out the best way to say ‘first-world country’? Most people who have abundant electricity and who go for higher energy efficiency, they’re doing it to save money.

    I’ve always been under the impression that electricity is one of the places where its actually nearly perfectly elastic. [My google searches are inconsistent, If my econogeek friend ever comes back from wherever he's secluded, I'll ask him what he knows on the research] Even if it isn’t, the money that they’re saving is probably going into things that also involve energy production (like, I dunno, almost everything in a developed nation/first world nation/industrialized country/consumer driven societies. Theres also the known effect where people will fill like one ecofriendly action will balance out for another less friendly action (I recycled today, so I can litter while on the highway).

    Wish our HOA would have a paradigm shift. I suspect the remaining unsold lots in this development would be snapped up in a heartbeat if this development had an HOA that let us not spend money on the energy to run our dryers when it’s sufficiently warm and sunny to use a clothesline.

    I keep hearing complaints about HOAs and clotheslines, what is up with that?

  • MercuryBlue

    This HOA thinks clotheslines lack aesthetic appeal.
    This is also the HOA that sends us nastygrams whenever they see our camper open in our driveway on Friday and again on Monday because obviously somebody was living in our driveway over the weekend, without noticing or caring that on Saturday and Sunday the camper was not in evidence because we were off camping in it.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    Thank god we don’t seem to have HOAs like that in Canada. My old place had a clothesline and it was a moneysaver during the summer, since I’d just put all my shirts and pants on it (I’d still run the unmentionables through the dryer but because it was only one load instead of two….), and two hours later, dry clothes! :)
    Gasoline being inelastic in demand and electricity being elastic in demand means very different behaviors: Gasoline consumption remains nearly steady over a large price range while electricity consumption varies with price above a certain basic usage threshold. This means that if electricity prices don’t change but usage patterns do, price savings in the bill will probably be saved or spent elsewhere.

  • truth is life

    It is a fallacy that power usage MUST go up and that large plants (of what ever type) MUST be built to feed the beast. Much cheaper, more efficient and less vulnerable to nation wide attack (or solar storm disruption) would be many smaller grids instead of one massive grid with all power sources on line. Then all of the much smaller technologies (wind, solar etc) become more viable still because they each have less of load to carry.

    Large plants, however, are fundamentally more efficient due to basic thermodynamics. Take a thermal plant (which most power plants aside from photovoltaics are, albeit sometimes indirectly). The theoretical maximum efficiency that can be reached by any thermal power plant is the Carnot efficiency (named after the French genius who first figured it out). It is (Th – Tl)/Th, in other words the difference of the temperature (in Kelvins) of the high-temperature section of the plant (eg., the boiler), called the heat reservoir, and the temperature of the low-temperature section of the plant (eg., the outside air), called the low-temperature reservoir, divided by the temperature of the hot section.
    In other words, given that we are on Earth and therefore the low-temperature reservoir tends to be about 300 Kelvin (or about 20-30 degrees Celsius) in most places most of the time, and in any event is uncontrollable, the best way to increase the efficiency of a power plant is to increase the temperature of the boiler. But there we run into a problem, because our boilers are not ideal–they leak heat into the surroundings. And the amount of heat they leak increases with their surface area and with their temperature. Ah! But a large volume can retain heat more efficiently than a small one–and because volume increases with dimension faster than surface area (the famous square-cube relationship), a big boiler is able to retain its heat better than a small one. So a big boiler operating at a higher temperature will require less heat to maintain that temperature than a smaller boiler, and at the same time will require less fuel to produce the same amount of electricity as a set of lower-temperature small boilers. But a big boiler is, of course, big, and produces a lot of electricity, so it makes more sense to place it somewhere conveniently remote in a large facility and ship the electricity in. Which, of course, is exactly what we do.
    Also, a massive national grid makes each area less vulnerable to its particular fluctuations, especially if you’re using a lot of renewable sources. You can dispatch Texas wind and Arizona solar power to Alabama, say, on a cloudless, windy day. Or even New York, if you’ve got really good distribution lines. While it might have problems of its own, it is not trivial to say a nationwide grid is a bad thing.

  • K. Chen

    Is the TL;DR here the square cube law? I’m just not sure if I understood the physics.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    Heat transfer is proportional to the surface area of two things in contact, when discussing conductive heat transfer alone.
    dQ/dt = kAdT/dx
    This says the rate of heat flow with time is proportional to the area, the temperature difference, and inversely proportional to the thickness of the surface of heat flow.
    BUT the AMOUNT of heat you can retain in a hot body is proportional to its MASS. Q = cmdT.
    Well, mass, in turn, is related to volume through the density.
    density = mass/Volume so mass = density * Volume.
    So more volume means more heat you can store up, while more surface area means more heat flow.
    But if we approximate the volume by a sphere, V = 4/3 * pi * r^3 while the surface area is A = 4 * pi * r^2
    Notice how the volume shoots up WAY faster with size (the radius) than surface area. That’s what truth is life is getting at.
    And yes, I fell into the old physics-joke trap of starting with a spherical cow. ;) But you can prove it holds for things like cubes.

  • http://lyorn.livejournal.com/ inge

    MercuryBlue: whoever complained about the effect of lighthouses on scenery?
    I read about a few cases where the locals complained about the effect of lighthouses on local economy, as they drew part of their income from shipwrecks *g*.
    K. Chen: centralized plants are going to be the way to respond to the growing demand.
    Not really. You can create electricity and heat in the same plant, and that’s most efficient if the plant is close to those who need the heat. The most energy-efficient neighborhoods in the city where I live all have decentralised heat/power plants. It puts all that waste heat to use.
    As energy efficiency increases (at the consumer use level, the distribution level, or the production level) supply increases, lowering prices,
    Lower prices for electricity? Not since the deregulation about 12 years past.

  • http://lyorn.livejournal.com/ inge

    Also, thinking about energy efficiency, there’s a lot to be got out of building for low energy use. Most new construction that is advertised around here goes for 60 kWh per year and square metre, or better. 40 yo houses, if not modernised, need five times that amount.

  • truth is life

    That’s what truth is life is getting at.

    Exactly, that plus the Carnot limit dictates big power plants. Of course, as inge notes, “waste” heat isn’t necessarily, and that can completely change the whole equation…though there are some parts of the world (*cough*where I live*cough*) where you really, really don’t want the waste heat around unless you’re doing industrial processes. Which is probably why I totally forgot about CHP.

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  • Ryan

    Gucci Handbags is such a poser!

  • ajay

    The wrong way to think about it is “we can’t afford to build lots of wind/solar/etc generators.” Because over the next couple of decades, you’re going to have to build lots of generators of some sort. Power stations, like everything else, have a limited lifespan. They need to be replaced. And population growth means that your country is going to have to not just replace existing generators as they wear out, but also build additional capacity.
    The question is not “can we afford to spend billions on clean generators?”
    The question is “given that we are going to have to spend billions on generators anyway, what sort of generators should they be?”

  • Keith

    Those folks may be perfectly satisfied with a tie for last place, but I think America can do better than that.
    Unfortunately, realizing Big Idea projects requires cooperation and community planning, which is Socialism. Therefore, it’s poisoned bays and crumbling infrastructure as far as the eye can see, at least until some Goliath of the corporate world decides to invest in wind farms. Then it will be American* Ingenuity in action! (with a significant mark up because, hey, this is a business and why bother if there’s no profit to be made?)
    _________
    *Windmills manufactured in China, or whomever makes the cheapest windmills.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/metabug Bugmaster

    I’m still very busy, but just a quick note:

    Frankly, the Soviets were lucky to have a combined total toll of only 5000 people 20-some years later. They did at least do the smart thing and evacuate as many people as possible, which likely mitigated the impact.

    Yeah… they evacuated the people eventually, when the Soviet authorities could no longer deny the disaster. Before they did that, they sent in firefighters with no protective gear, without informing them about the fact that they were extinguishing a nuclear reactor. Most of these firefighters promptly died of radiation poisoning.
    Even after Pripyat was evacuated — officially, due to a minor and fully contained reactor malfunction — neither the refugees nor anyone else were told about the extent of the disaster. The radioactive cloud settled over Belarus, irradiating people, livestock, as well as fruits, vegetables, and other produce that was exported to the rest of the country as usual, reaching as far as Moscow. Many people who weren’t lucky enough to procure a bootleg Geiger counter were thus exposed to radiation, by swallowing radioactive material.
    In general, the Soviet (and, by now, Russian) approach to disaster management was (and still is) basically, “who cares, you can always make more people, all it takes is nine months”.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    By the way. A few years ago, one of the local colleges erected some windmills. Driving down I-95 and seeing a 40-foot long fan blade parked by the side of the road is one of the most surreal things I have ever experienced. And I live in Baltimore.

  • Spearmint

    In general, the Soviet (and, by now, Russian) approach to disaster management was (and still is) basically, “who cares, you can always make more people, all it takes is nine months”.
    Unfortunately they forgot the step where people have to like living in Russia well enough to willingly expose their progeny to the country. Which may account for their current demographic problems.

  • truth is life

    Unfortunately they forgot the step where people have to like living in Russia well enough to willingly expose their progeny to the country. Which may account for their current demographic problems.

    Actually, the reason for those demographic issues is more likely the evil twin of our recent (or possibly current) “mini-Boom”, which was where the Baby Boomers started having kids, naturally leading to a relatively large number of kids being born. Basically, the Russians were fighting a war from 1914-~1922, which as you might expect led to a fair number of casualties (especially amongst men). Fast forward about one generation, and, well…the Soviets suffered far more than any country except the Chinese from THAT war, in terms of blood spilled. It’s no surprise that their birth rate dropped when the children of those people matured, and when their children’s children started having children (ie., during the ’60s/’70s and now the ’90s/’00s) Essentially it’s a demographic echo of those two wars, and the biggest reason for the decline in birth rate (it’s picking back up now) is that the main child-bearing generation is disproportionately small.

  • KittenKat

    I remember there being a suggestion of offshore windmills in my area, and one of the objections raised was that they would interfere with the migration of migratory birds. Of course, I believe the birds in question were Canada geese, which are nasty birds in the first place, and are definitely not worth sacrificing our efforts to take the strain off the rest of the world!
    I’ve never understood people’s objection to the appearance of windmills. They’re sleek and modern, not garishly colored, generally placed far enough from the masses of humanity to be unobtrusive, and in general there’s something just so IMPRESSIVE about them. It gives you this feeling like, “Gee, humanity did this, and it’s beautiful and productive at the same time. Isn’t that cool?” It wraps up all the feelings of looking at beautiful buildings and looking at bustling industry into one big happy package of optimism.

  • http://www.kv-rent.ru/ ????? ???????????? ? ?????-??????????

    A gigawatt represents 1,000 megawatts, enough to power the equivalent of about 300,000 homes. That much energy would require about three times the number of turbines for which NRG Bluewater has contracts today for its wind farm planned for 11 miles east of Rehoboth Beach.
    ???? ?? ????????: ???? ???????? ? ?????-?????????? ?? ????? ??? ??????, ??????????? ? ???? ?????????.

  • Lori

    The New York Times had an article today on objections to onshore wind turbines because of interference with radar. It’s not clear from the article if offshore turbines would cause the same problems or if their location would make it a non-issue.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/27/business/energy-environment/27radar.html?src=me&ref=general
    (The Times requires a login but you can get one from bugmenot.)

  • http://www.outsourcing-services.net Outsourcing Philippines

    Who knows that would happen soon? US will soon apply that if they found strong evidence that it could really help them.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    @Lori: At this point I think the opposition to wind power is just being bloody-minded for the sake of it. It’s same cutting-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face attitude that seems to accompany all forms of NIMBYism.


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