The quote physicists often say when asked about nuclear fusion is that ‘commercial fusion is 40 years away, but we’ve been saying that for 40 years’. Two main types of fusion are in development – ‘tokamaks’ like JET and ITER that use magnets to fuse hydrogen in a torus of plasma and those that shoot high powered lasers at pellets of hydrogen a few times a second, making bursts of energy.
Neither process is currently producing more energy than is put in to start the reaction but there have been some developments in laser technology that may help the latter approach. The EU has recently decided to fund a new high energy laser research project to build a working reactor. Laser fusion may ‘ignite’ and provide energy before the magnetic fusion research reaches the same point but the pulses of laser energy need to come much faster and more efficiently for this to be economically viable. Without considerable funding, the technological challenges of getting hydrogen to fuse will be insurmountable. However, fusion offers a real hope in the long term (30 years+) of providing clean energy.
[via the guardian, image of UCLA tokamak by r_neches]
Now this is very positive. Last week there was talk of a giant ‘supergrid’ connecting much of Europe to wind turbines across the continent, to take advantage of whenever the wind was blowing.
Now the Guardian reports on Desertec, the plans to put hundreds of solar concentrating plants on the North African coasts and in the Middle East. Two thirds of the estimated 100 Billion Watts would stay in the countries producing the energy, with another 30 Billion Watts (around of all of Europe’s use) being pumped via underwater cables to the EU, which would provide a chunk of the funding for the project. With the Bali talks now underway to find a new version of the Kyoto treaty, projects like this could be a major facet of reducing carbon emissions. German energy expert Gregor Czeich reckons with new higher efficiency power lines a 100% renewable powered Europe could be possible in the near future without costing much more than the current fossil fuel system.
[via the guardian, picture by TREC]
Microgeneration is the often mentioned as a great way to reduce energy use and dependence on fossil fuels. But looking at the prices of enough solar panels to provide 2-3kW of power is a little bit scary. A loan is possible – but the amount you’d pay back in interest would be frontloaded, whereas the savings in electricity would be paid back in a longer period, say 15-20 years. Wouldn’t it be good if you could offset the cost of the PV panels against future savings on your electricity?
The community of Berkeley is already beginning to offer such a scheme. They offer loans for Solar Electricity with repayments guaranteed to be less than the cost of electricity saved by the panels. Not only does this scheme make Berkeley more attractive to live in, it also encourages manufacturers, installers and testers of the technology to setup in the area. Hopefully this trend will continue in more governments and with more types of microgeneration.
[via Daily Kos, image by roddh]
If you have a friend or co-worker with a paranoid streak (or who simply consumes too much tabloid media), they may have informed you that electrical fields can cause cancers to form in your brain. Well, now you can tell them that the opposite is the case – an Israeli company has developed a device for killing brain tumors using weak electrical fields. Of course, your friend will just tell you how that’s what the Illuminati want you to think, but that’s half the fun. [BeyondTheBeyond]
Ford Motor Company and the power company Southern California Edison are teaming up to develop plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. What’s the big deal about plug-in hybrids? It turns out that demand for power drops at night, when plug-in vehicles are most likely to be charging. Most electric grids already have enough excess capacity at night to handle a fleet of plug-ins, which means that shifting to plug-in hybrids can cause an immediate reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, especially as utility companies shift to renewable energy sources. This is one of Lester Brown’s favorite ways of saving the world, as described in Plan B 2.0. (One of the most optimistic assessments of humanity’s potential I’ve read.) [engadget]