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5 Comments

  1. Rod Adams wrote:
    I believe that Exxon engineers and scientists clearly recognized the limitations of solar energy and knew that it would never be competitive with oil and gas. I even believe that the marketing department also knew the same thing, but thought that touting solar energy was a good business decision. It would make the company seem a bit more warm and fuzzy, it would distract people who do not really understand technology into believing that there was some kind of magical solution just around the corner, and it would not do a thing to disrupt the existing – and amazingly profitable – business of supplying a growing fossil fuel addiction.
    But we must remember that Exxon was also in the nuclear fuel business at this time as well (sold off in 1986). So somehow Exxon’s involvement with fossil fuels, solar, and nuclear all at the same time has to be squared up. I suspect the answer is more prosaic. Exxon sees itself in the energy business, trying to make a profit. They probably thought they could make a profit in solar and nuclear, if not right away, at least in the near future.
    Rod Adams quoted Lewis L. Strauss:
    It is not too much to expect that our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter…
    There are many who think this statement deserves ridicule. What most of them probably don’t know is that when this statement was made in 1954, unmetered electricity was still a living memory! I have a book on my desk — “The Story of The Washington Water Power Company, 1889-1930” (now Avista Utilities, in Spokane, Washington). This company was actively buying small electrical distribution utilities in the area in 1928 through 1930. During those years, 18 of the companies they bought did NOT meter electricity to houses. Rather, they billed based on watts of connected load. The modern analogy is paying for high speed internet service, where one pays according to the speed of service, not the number of bytes shuffled back and forth. I could imagine being billed based on the size of the electrical service entrance in my house.

    1. donb – I know that many do not understand this particular aspect of business investment, but sometimes a company will spend money on a project that they know will fail because it results in a far greater return on another part of their business.
      Here is a tiny example. I lived in Tarpon Springs, Fl for a number of years and was a member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club. I had a lot of interesting conversations with local businessmen. There was an area in town that had two strip shopping centers directly across the street from each other. One had a large, chain grocery store and a number of little shops. That one was always busy and the shops were making money. On the other side of the street was a large, empty storefront that used to house a locally owned grocery store. The rest of the strip center consisted of small shops and an Ace Hardware store. The shops were run down and several went out of business, partially because the traffic brought by the hardware store was just not enough to keep them going. The owners pined for the out of business grocery store; that anchor was one of the big reasons they had located where they did.
      I met the lady whose family owned the grocery store and used to operate it. I asked how her search for a tenant was going. She gave me a strange look and explained that she was not even looking because the store was profitably rented. Imagine my look of confusion – I had seen that empty storefront for years when I visited the hardware store for supplies.
      Of course, I had to follow up with some questions. It took some convincing and charm, but I finally got the nice lady to admit that the rent payments were coming from the large chain that operated the grocery store across the street. Part of the agreement for the above market rate rent was that the store would never be rented to another grocery store.
      Hmmmm.

  2. The proponents of solar power need to visit with the maintenance staff (NOT MANAGEMENT) at Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) Rancho Seco, solar power facility. I worked with these technicians about 20 years ago and they considered it their “cash cow.” Not SMUDS cash cow but their guarantied work program. The facility was only operational about 50% of the time. A motor, solenoid, servo, etc., etc., would fail almost daily. Many of these were EXPENSIVE, one of a kind items, all with long lead times. So the facility would sit there with the panels not properly optimized or worse yet not making any electricity at all. You don’t take solar power and hook it up to the grid. The DC power from the panels needs to be converted to AC, and, preferably, 3 phase AC at that. That requires expensive converters, similar to those at nuclear power plants that provide the uninterruptable power source (UPS). These devices have more components than your typical PC-UPS unit and again, many components are also one of a kind. Think of the real capacity factor, there is only sun 50% of the time, and the thing only works 50% of the time – that leave you with 25% efficiency. And you are going to give away this power for FREE??
    And what about all of the dangerous, deadly gases given off by the batteries? The cathode/anode of any battery is not 100% perfectly pure. They are made pure enough to minimize derogatory effects to the chemical reaction and allow economical battery cost to battery life. That means that ANY tramp chemicals that were not removed in this purification process WILL be off-gassed during the charging or discharging cycle of the battery. (Dig out your chemistry book. I am sure you had this problem in sophomore college chemistry, I did. Look at the periodic table of elements, all good battery elements are in the same column (or are themselves) very toxic elements.) Right now, this is not a big problem, as we don’t have that many batteries. BUT what happens when everyone is recharging their car overnight, the solar battery is being discharged to do this, the battery from the windmill is discharging to chare the car, etc., etc. TIMES 200,000,000? That is an awful lot of harmful atoms being pumped into the air. And I think they are a lot worse than CO2. Look at the concern over the itty-bitty mercury battery – but no one is worried about this, at least not NOW.
    The SMUD Geothermal station is just as reliable. Ask any engineer what happens when you use steam containing all of the impurities that it has dissolved a mile down in the earth does to a turbine blade. Yes, you can use a closed loop “Pure” water source, but that creates its expensive problems, (pumping, purification, etc., etc.).

  3. Does the 8.4 quads figure for fission count naval reactors? Either way, the growth in nuclear is pretty incredible since we weren’t even building more.

    1. Zack – no, the figure does not include any naval reactors. I agree, the growth is pretty spectacular considering the lack of new construction, the projects that were halted at various stages – including right before operation – and the early decommissioning of some plants. We could be doing a heck of a lot better with just a bit more perseverance and hard nosed, long term thinking.

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