Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Matching Efficiency with Nuclear Power

Fow well over 30 years Amory Lovins has been preaching energy efficiency and the use of micro-generated local as opposed to large centralized energy sources. Of course Lovins sees these measures as eliminating the need for nuclear power. But none of these Lovins schemes actually eliminate the need for nuclear power, and attention to them actually can actually make a nuclear system more efficient.

One of the major features of the current electrical generating system is the use of peak load generators. More power is demanded during daytimes than at night. In Southern parts of the United States, more power is used in summer than in winter. Since day demand is greater generators must produce more electricity, and added generators turned on. These added generators, which in some cases may not run for more than a few hours a day, often are fueled by natural gas. Natural gas is more expensive as a fuel, but gas fired generators are also more efficient, and they are very cheap to build compared to coal fired or nuclear generating plants.

Since natural gas generators are cheap to build, but expensive to operate, they make a good match for peak power demands. But in a post carbon economy, natural gas probably cannot be counted on for peak power generation. This leaves a significant gap between base power demands which can be filled by reactors, and the power demands. Reactors are not a good candidate for peak power produces because they are expensive to build. Because of their low generating costs and reliability, electrical produces prefer to leave their nuks on all the time. this would be even more desirable with new nuclear generators. New nuks would need to be kept ruuning at full blast, to generate the money needed to pay off the debts incurred by their construction. No rational reactor owner would assign a new nuclear plant to peak power production. Perhaps older plants could be operated at less than full capacity, and then brought up to full generating capacity as situation demands.

I have already pointed to daytime solar water heating. Solar water heaters are decentralized. Solar water heating lowers day time electrical demand for hot water. Lowering daytime demand is desirable, because it lowers the need for more electricity from daytime peak power sources. Electrical heating water at night is less critical, because electrical demand drops at night.

A second energy move that I gavor is the electrification of transportation. Here again this could tend to improve the day night power demand imbalance. car batteries could be mainly charged at night. This might be encouraged by lower night time electrical rates.

The tiny Mac Mini can make nuclear power work better while saving the world from global warming!

Another seldom noted major source of energy savings can be achieved by making Personal computers far more energy efficient. The technology already exists to do so. Personal computers dan be redesigned to use laptop computer energy savings technology. This has in fact already been done. The Mac Mini computer is notoriously frugal with electrical energy. Banging away at the keyboard, while doing
word processing, the thing can be almost ominously quiet. It is probably drawing only 25 watts, the Mini's fan does not need to be turned on. When unattended it can use as little as 9 watts. Of course if a DVD is slipped into the super drive, energy demand might go up to 28 watts. At that level the fan is a quiet whisper. The Mini may be small, but With a 2 gig dual core 64 bit processor, it has more computing power than a super computer did a generation ago. A Mac Mini has the capacity to run the Mac OS-X operating system, and Windows XP or Vista at the same time, without breaking into a sweat. The typical desk top computer power supply wastes two times more power than the Mac Mini uses when it makes its greatest electrical demands. 130 million PCs sold every year. PC power supplies run up to 500 watts and higher. Yet technology is already in the pipeline that can cut desktop power use below the Mini level.

How much power can be saved by making desk tops computers as efficient as Mac Minis? If every desk top computer currently used in offices and businesses were as efficient as the Mac Mini, we could easily shed the the day time power equivalent of several peak nuclear power plants.

Finally seasonal demand imbalance could be handed by a switch to electrical heating. I have already pointed to air-source heat pumps as having potential for replacing standard heating and cooling systems. An air source heat pump is basically an air conditioner that can be run in reverse. That is it can either pump heat out of a house, by chilling air, or it can pump heat into a house. Since during the heating cycle, heat pumps are chilling outside air, they work better in areas with mild climates. These happen to be the areas where summer air conditioning is regarded as a necessity of life. Many American homes are heated with gas at present. Within a generation this will probably change. People can be encouraged to switch to air source heat pumps, bu subsidizing the switch. By encouraging the switch, electricity produces and decrease their summer-winter electrical demand imbalance, thus lowering the reserve required to be kept for summer peak power.

My point then is that there are numerous energy efficiencies that are not only compatible with nuclear power, but actually complimentary to it. Thus increased energy efficiency would actually help a nuclear power system work better.

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