Alternate Energy : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

A summary of Alternate Energy Sources

Many Americans arenít old enough, never understood, or chose not to remember 1974. There where long lines for gas and spot shortages all over the country. Our national security was then, and continues to be, dependent of foreign oil producing countries. Desert Storm wasnít about defending Kuwait, it was about defending our foreign oil.

The situation prompted President Carter to proclaim that America would develop alternates sources of energy and break our reliance on the foreign oil. Feasibility was studied, tax credits for installation of alternate sources were passed and the race was on.

It was generally understood and accepted that with a national effort we could again be self sufficient in 20 years. Products began to appear on the market and consumers began to install them. Some good products became available that were low cost and easy to install.

Unfortunately, large energy companies where not happy with the effort to become self-sufficient. Rather than look for ways that they might be able to capitalize on the new sources of energy, they developed grandiose projects that made alternate energy look unreliable and cost prohibitive.

Once Jimmy Carter was out of the White House, the alternate energy programs and incentives were quietly eliminated.

But alternate energy is feasible, it always has been. It was just lost in misinformation. What follows is a listing of the primary types of alternate energy and how they stack up. Whatís not included is performance statistics because those depend on the type, location, and design of an application. Conservation is and always been the first step in alternate energy. The premise is obvious enough, donít waste what you have. This is probably the only significant remaining effort of the 70ís. Conservation is where you will get the most bang for the buck.

Conservation is composed of 3 primary categories, Controlled use, air infiltration and insulation. Controlled use includes heat recapture and reuse, reduced consumption (turning thermostats down and humidifying when heating and turning thermostats up when cooling) and turning lights off. Is it really necessary for homes businesses and parking lots to be lit up like a Christmas tree. Conservation also includes things like thermal barrier window shades, swimming pool covers, and other simple, relatively low cost items.

Air infiltration is generally the cheapest activity and leads to the biggest savings for heating and cooling costs. It applies to all structures. Simply reduce the air exchange rate to a structure down to what is necessary to maintain adequate ventilation. If all the leaks in a typical home are added up, it is the equivalent of a 3-foot square hole in the side of the house. Businesses are many times worse.

Insulation is now incorporated right into the building codes for homes and many existing homes have had their insulation brought up to standards. Typically R40 is recommended for residential, R60 is much better. Businesses on the other hand, are frequently not well insulated. Frequently a 2-inch layer of fiberglass is all thatís used.

Fusion is the Holy Grail of alternate energy. If fusion ever becomes available, our energy problems ore over. However, it probably never wll. Not because it is impractical but because it will not be permitted.

Fusion is not like nuclear reaction that can melt down and release high level radioactivity. Fusion is/would be safe, run away reactions donít happen. The nature of the reaction is so difficult to maintain, if something goes wrong the reaction will end.

KMS fusion in Ann Arbor, Michigan, performed fusion reactions for a number of years. The problem was not the reaction; it was pulling off that much energy that fast. About 10 years ago they announced they had broken even. They were able to get as much energy out of the reaction as they had put in to create the reaction. This break through was the equivalent of the Wright brothers making their first flight. Fusion could soon be a reality. Several months later the government revoked their fuel source and KMS was closed down. Since then most, if not all, fusion research has been suspended. Geothermal energy has to ability to produce vast amounts of energy. In Greenland it is already used extensively. It simply uses the heat of the planet to boil water, to make steam, to drive generators. Although safe and non-polluting, it requires that the electric generation planets be located in volcanically active areas.. Not necessary on a volcano but in areas where the Earthís magma is near the surface.. Yellowstone National Park is such an example of such an area. Geothermal energy is what powers Old Faithful and all the other heated springs and geysers. There are numerous other suitable geothermal areas around the world. Bottom line, geothermal can produce a lot of power and itís environmentally safe, but it canít put everywhere.

Tidal power is also very simple, available, and with care, environmentally safe. The motion of the earth causes the ocean tides to rise and lower twice a day. This is an enormous amount of water, dwarfing any hydroelectric system. A number of designs incorporating slow moving buckets, panels, or paddles are capable of using the energy of the tides to spin turbines. These designs can harness the energy without damaging the environment and the energy potential is enormous. However, they can only be used in coastal areas and there are some coastal areas where the environment could not tolerate the physical intrusion, like around the everglades.

Biomass. It used to be in this country, the wealth was controlled by the property owners and the primary property owners where the farmers. Biomass is energy farming, growing our energy. The potential is again enormous. Iíve read estimates claiming 5% of the available land could produce 100% of our energy needs. Biomass includes wood burners but these are extremely dirty, inefficient and primitive. The biomass of alternate energy includes alcohol, methane, and agricultural oil. All products that farmers can generate. By ferment ting agricultural field waste and then using solar distillation this country can produce vast amounts of alcohol.

Using animal and human waste, along with what remains from the production of alcohol, farmers can produce significant amounts of methane. If the human waste coming from our cities is used for methane production, weíre talking a lot of gas, more even than comes out of Washington D.C..

Another form of agricultural energy, and one that is often ignored, is agricultural oil. Squeezing oil from plants that are gown. We already do this to produce cooking oils but not to produce oil for transportation, heating, and industry. One of the fastest growing and most prolific seed producing plants on the planet is hemp. The hemp seed is 70% oil. That oil is so pure, it can be poured right into a diesel engine without further processing.

Although energy farming holds tremendous potential, it will be nearly impossible to optimize this energy source without considering the benefits of hemp, which is of course illegal. Hut the hemp used for fuel, food, and fiber, is not the same strains of hemp used recreationally. When this country banned the use of hemp (marijuana) in 1937, the law wasnít aimed at recreational marijuana users, it was aimed squarely at the rapidly expanding hemp industry. Primarily to protect the petrol-chemical companies.

Solar energy was touted as one of the best long term solutions back in the 70ís but it was billed as just too cost prohibitive. The truth is, it is one of the most cost effective sources available if applied correctly. One of the least cost effective if applied incorrectly. Solar includes two primary categories: photovoltaic and solar collectors.

Photovoltaic attempts to capture sunlight and convert it to electricity directly. This is extremely expensive and the output is not good at all. This is also where all the research with solar goes on. In truth, for all the effort that has been in photovoltaic, they are still only about 6% efficient. There are some applications where they are a good solution, but for general residential or commercial applications they are not likely to be significant .

Solar panels, on the other hand, offer tremendous promise. Simply opening curtains on the south side of a house and closing all the others begins collecting solar energy immediately.

This is passive solar heat. Passive solar is best applied with new construction and is incorporated into the design and orientation of the home or business. In also includes incorporating a solar mass (heat storage) into the structure to retain the heat during nights and cloudy days. In most areas passive solar cannot meet 100% of the heating needs of a home, but it certainly can have an impact on overall use

Active solar employs the use of pumps, fans, and motors to move collected heat for use and storage. During the 70ís, utility companies where building and showing solar heated homes. They typically involved massive solar arrays and water storage tanks that where prohibitively expensive. Thus the utility companies where convincing American that solar was not a cost effective alternative.

What was not being shown during these misinformation campaigns were forced air solar collectors. The use of air inside a collector, warmed by the sun, and used to heat a thermal mass. The thermal mass could then be used as a heat source during nights and cloudy days. These solar forced air solar systems are significantly less expensive and easier to maintain then water systems.

The only form of active solar heat that really got a foothold in the 70ís were solar hot water heaters. A pretty poor testament for a nation trying to become energy independent.

Wind power also has a lot of potential but probably not for the individual homeowner. Everybody has seen the pictures of dozens of these systems with only half of them in service. The wind farms of the late 70ís are another example of misinformation that killed the alternate energy movement. The systems that here installed in California, Iím told, operate at 50Hz. Electricity on the American operates at 60Hz. The result, huge and costly rectifiers had to be added to get them to integrate with the grid.

The windmills also use propellers. These are not the design of choice. When ever the wind changes the propeller has to swing into the wind, delaying and reducing performance. Better designs capture the wind from any direction without losing efficiency when the wind changes. And of course the average speed and availability of wind in an area is a major factor.

Hydroelectric power is in use today. It produces a lot of power and is a technically mature energy source. But now we are coming to recognize the environment risks associated with it. We also do not have an unlimited supply of locations where hydroelectric can be installed. Hydroelectric is not really a player in the new renewable sources that we need to develop.

I have posted this here because; as we watch the energy crisis unfold in California and spread across the U.S. there are solutions. Solutions that were started over 25 years ago and lobbied right out of existence by the very forces that have created a new energy crisis today. If this country had stayed on the path that Jimmy carter started us on, we would be energy efficient and independent today. Now because of government favoritism and protectionism, our energy future, in fact, our national security has been severely jeopardized. We now face a bleak, uncertain future. Many will suffer sever hardship, at the hands of those that are supposed to serve and protect.

Regardless of the legacy of Jimmy Carter, he had a vision of energy independence for America. So who is to blame, the government, the utilities, or the consumer?

-- Tom Flook (, February 11, 2001


Tom, Great Article! Thanks for the eye opener!

-- (, February 11, 2001.

This is generally a good article. However, much has changed on the Photovoltaic (solar) panel front. Photovoltaics have been forced to used "computer grade" silicon because it was all that was available. Companies like Astropower have now been able to get lower grade silicon manufactured which is better for solar and cheaper. Also, the efficiency has improved and will improve more in the future. Solar panels have been used in space for over 40 years. They take a beating out there and still work. The reliability on earth should be even better.

There is something that everyone can do cheaply around their homes right now. Remove the "phantom loads" that your electronic equipment uses! Most consumer electronic equipment (eg. T. V., microwaves, stereos, etc.) draw power even when they are off. In other words, they are always a little "on". This is to support features such as "instant on" and clocks. These phantom loads add up. In 1999 we went around our house and plugged these appliances into power strips that can be switch off and on. When we are not using an appliance, we switch the power strip off. The end result is we got a savings on our electric bill as well as cutting energy use for the good of all.

It is a little inconvient, but so what. I imagine with this is also a good strategy to save your appliances from power surges.


Phantom Loads Excerpted from Real Goods Solar Living Source Book,edited by Doug Pratt and executive editor John Schaeffer.

Many modern appliances remain partially on when they appear to be turned off. Anything that can be powered from a remote control must remain partially on to receive the "on" signal from the remote.

Simple Solution:

Anything with a clock-VCRs,coffee makers, microwave ovens-also use a small amount of power all thetime. And anything that uses a "power cube" in the AC socket, such as answering machines and electric toothbrushes, use very tiny amounts of power, maybeonly a watt or two, but they make the inverter stay turned on and running 24 hours per day. The solution for clocks is battery power. A wall mounted clock runs for nearly a year on a single AA rechargeable battery. Look for good quality battery powered alarm and other clocks. Clocks on house current are ridiculously wasteful. Watch out for those small cube-shaped transformers that plug into the wall outlet to power a lower voltage appliance. These villainous wastrels usually run horrible 60 percent to 80 percent inefficiency (which means that forevery dime's worth of electricity consumed, they throw away six or eight cents worth). We recommend that power cubes be kept on plug strips or switchable outlets that can be switched off when not in use. Electronic toothpbrushes, for example, use very little power themselves, but their charging systems are grossly inefficient. If it has a power cube put it on aswitchable outlet that can be switched off when not in use.

-- K. (, February 11, 2001.

Great article Tom. My solar panels are 12
years old and still going. I'm very concerned
about small energy draws and always turn out
the lights when I leave a room. It's a habit
that's hard to instill on guests :-ß

-- spider (, February 11, 2001.

interesting article -- but two errors need correction

thermonuclear fusion does indeed create radioactive wastes - lots of it

fusing a deuterium nuclei and a tritium nuclei together to make helium has a free, very high energy neutron left over that can "induce" radioactivity in nearby steel supports for the fusion reactor -- this "induced radioactivity" is similar to the induced radioactivity created by free neutrons from the fission reactions in uranium fueled nuclear reactors (although fusion would not create the problem of fission products that are synthesized by all uranium nuclear reactors)

Mother Jones magazine many years ago had a damning article about fusion power that even discussed how the nuclear industry wanted to surround fusion reactors with uranium238 ("depleted uranium" would work well) since the free neutrons could be used to transmute the U238 into plutonium239

So much for the myth of fusion as a "clean" source of energy.

a lot of what masquerades as "fusion energy" research is really developing ways to simulate h-bombs in the lab

the amount of money wasted on fusion from trying to emulate the sun here on earth could have put a lot of solar panels on a lot of buildings all over the earth

fusion is safe as long as there's a 93 million mile evacuation zone

-- mark (, February 12, 2001.

the other error: few solar power PV panels these days are only six percent efficient

most are about twelve percent

there is no way that renewable energy can replicate the grotesque levels of consumption that our civilization has -- but it could power a more efficient, less greedy standard of living where everyone lives in simple luxury

the cost/availability of energy is going to have to change more before it becomes illegal to light up billboards, to leave skyscrapers lit up at night (when no one is in them), and serious efficiency requirements are imposed on manufacturers of cars, trucks, refrigerators, light bulbs, etc.

-- mark (, February 12, 2001.

KMS fusion in Ann Arbor, Michigan, performed fusion reactions for a number of years. The problem was not the reaction; it was pulling off that much energy that fast. About 10 years ago they announced they had broken even. They were able to get as much energy out of the reaction as they had put in to create the reaction. This break through was the equivalent of the Wright brothers making their first flight. Fusion could soon be a reality. Several months later the government revoked their fuel source and KMS was closed down. Since then most, if not all, fusion research has been suspended.

Here is what looks like a more authoritative history, from

The idea of using powerful lasers to release fusion energy grew in the national laboratories in the middle to late 1960's out of the weapons program. In the early 1970's Kieve M. Siegel (KMS) sponsored this research forming a company KMS Fusion, Inc.. The initial success of this company, achieving the first controlled fusion reactions in May 1974, embarrassed and dismayed the national laboratories and some in government. Nonetheless, the Atomic Energy Commission (later to become the Department of Energy ) began to fund the research at KMS.

In 1978, new owners took over with the passing of Prof. Siegel. These owners had no previous knowledge in fusion energy, however, they came with a familiarity of how lobbying may aid in increased funding. Their efforts were successful and government funding grew for KMS. By this time the national labs were having their own successes and missteps.

In the late 1980's, on the occasion of an overall increase in the funding for all of laser fusion, (promoted by KMS), most of the national labs shared in increased funding. One national lab however felt left out and began a concerted effort to use its powers to eliminate KMS which it now viewed again as competition. This lab was allowed to use its state representation in Washington to launch a Government Accounting Office (GAO) probe of KMS. KMS would be subjected to a "peer review". The government would use the national labs as reviewers. It is cautionary to note how simply a vendor, the national lab, could manipulate the government towards its ends.

Note that KMS achieved "the first controlled fusion reactions". They did not achieve breakeven, which would indeed have been as monumentous as the first powered flight. Whichever team finally achieves breakeven will probably get a Nobel prize.

Also note that fusion research is still getting big-science funding from the government. The National Ignition Facility is nearing completion, at a eventual cost of over $1 billion. The NIF's home page is at

-- Barb Knox (, February 12, 2001.

Fusion Confusion, Alternative Energy and More Grist for the Mill.

No discussion of fusion would be complete without that upstart - Cold Fusion. In fact, that's what the orignal post seemed to be about until getting to the reference to KMS. Although the ugly stepchild to mainstream physics, the supporters of the Pons & Fleischman claims are avidly pursuing the "theory". If proven, it might be THE alternative energy source, but don't hold your breath.

As for the origins of big government in energy, it appears to have emerged in the form of Nixon's "Project Independence" and was reinstated by Carter in the face of the Arab oil embargo and the "energy crisis" of'74. As recently as the Clinton/Gore regime the government chipped in $6.3bn. Energy companies like Enron, and others, have scurried to take advantage of this largesse. Allegedly, big oil, has also leaped into the fray of alternative energy. British Petroleum and Shell are pursuing R&D efforts. Solar was mentioned. Their goals, however, are modest, something like 50 years to payoff.

Solar and wind are frequently touted as most promising. Both have some formidable obstacles. Both have a fairly low energy output per unit area required; i.e., they take up too much space. Solar is still pretty expensive. A few years ago the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant in CA was closed due to fear and ignorance. Solar panels were to replace it. By 1998 the SMUD (the utility district) had the largest phoyovoltaic energy system in the world. It produced 6 megawatts vs the 900 of the nuke plant and occupies more land than Ranch Seco. In Maryland an estimate to replace their several nuke plants with wind came up with of some 400 square miles needed. Of course, sun only works in daylight and both are at the whim of the weather.

The best alternative from the standpoint of reliability, safety, cost and environment can't even be mentioned in polite society - nuclear! The US lags behind all other industrialized countries in this source. France is out in front with something like 60 -75% nuclear, the US is 20%. Little Finland gets 1/3 and just finished a study in which a new 1,250mw plant was found most cost-effective over gas-turbine, coal and peat. The US also leads in time and cost to build nukes, some two to three times the rest of the world. While they are not good for the US, Clinton/Gore were sending them to China.

Who's to blame? My choice is the government.

-- Warren Ketler (, February 12, 2001.

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