1. @rod – Could not help but chuckle over your pool heater. In 1978 I was seriously considering installing a solar collector domestic hot water heater on my house. At that time the government was giving back around 50% of the cost, so it looked like an exceptional bargain. No internet back then so I had to use Popular Science, Popular Mechanics ads and the local phonebook for dealers, information and sources. As luck would have it, one of the circulation pumps on my base-board, hot-water, furnace went bad – $250 for the pump and $75 to replace it, and it was only 5 years old. The pump in the system I thought best was made by the same manufacturer! I then looked into the individual cost for replacement of the major failure prone items and decided that even if the government gave me the solar system I would only break even if I performed all of the maintenance myself. I did not get the system. I still have a fairly thick folder of all of this information. Recently I read an article on the internet by someone who had selected the system I was looking at and is still using it. He went into quite a bit of detail of the data, good points and trials and tribulations of the system over the last 30 years. His story included how the pump failed twice, the poly tubes needed replaced (that I did not think of back then), and that the panels needed cleaning every year to maintain efficiency. He also has a graph showing that the system has steadily, but slowly, decreased in efficiency over the 30 years. This did not bother him so much now as all of his kids are out of the house now and it keeps up with him and his wife.
    It looks like a redistribution of money to me – you pay the solar repairman instead of the oil/gas man or the electric company. Like you, I think a lot more work needs to be done.

    1. @Rich – I was with you all the way until I hit the last sentence. I do not think that more work will every solve the obstacles that inhibit the use of renewable energy systems. There is an old saying that says that anything worth doing is worth doing well.
      A corollary to that is that anything that you cannot do well is not worth doing. No matter how talented a designer is and no matter what kind of special materials someone invents, a solar collector will never function at night. It will never function very well on cloudy days or when covered by snow. Similar things can be said about wind energy collectors when the wind is not blowing.
      In other words – why bother? There are far better ways to invest time than in trying to do something well with such lousy raw material.

  2. For another example of the trials and tribulations of a swimming pool solar heater, check out the home-designed version by Dr. Roy Spencer. Despite the fact that he holds some views contrary to the MMGW theory, you will find his experiment and result at least entertaining. It is the April 14, 2010 posting.

  3. Rod,
    In a message board that I often visit one of the posters wrote that because of the Deepwater Horizon disaster we should abandon nuclear energy. She stated that the disaster in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico shows that how events can overtake the best laid plans of man and the same thing can happen during a nuclear accident. Two of the points I made countering her thesis was that if there was a nuclear accident it would be far easier to send the necessary resources to fix the problem before it gets out of hand, unlike a gushing pipe a mile under the water. The second point I made was that if you get an sampling of unbiased and respected environmental scientists they would gladly trade the damage created by Deepwater Horizon for the nondamage caused by TMI.
    She tried to bring up the Chernobyl accident but I counter that comparing Soviet era nuclear reactors to those made in the West is like comparing Yugos to a BMW 700 series sedan. Am I dating my self with that reference. 🙂
    I am surprised that the nuclear industry is not using this blowout to trumpet the safety of its product from the rooftops. I am sure that if you combined all of the mishaps at all nuclear reactors in the United States since TMI they would not even be a small fraction as bad as what we are seeing in the Gulf.

    1. I would inquire about the various failure-modes of wind and solar.
      The generators are geographically distributed but at any given time there is only about 1 or 2 weather systems covering an entire grid and even within these grids long-distance transmission capacity is limited. What is the consequences of more frequent brown outs, rolling black out and black outs as compared to a TMI every few decades(overly pessimistic assumption but I don’t feel it changes anything)?
      Power failures cost a lot of money, the northeastern black out is estimated to have cost between 6 and 10 billion dollars. Power failures can cost a lot of lives; the northeastern black out happened in ~30 degrees C weather in which no kind of air conditioning is essential. What if this had happened in Texas, with the wind farms all standing still during a summer heat wave or in the north during the cold of winter?
      What if you bet big on wind and solar and 30 years down the road it still hasn’t down enough in price and hasn’t scaled up enough run an industrialized country? This takes a huge amount of metallurgical coal, oil and natural gas to attempt; if you’ve built a bridge to nowhere and burnt it, what are you going to do now? Are you going to deindustrialize and become an impoverished and miserable nation with life expectancies last seen in the 19th century? Are you going to hope that France, Russia, China or Japan have enough surplus fissile inventory or enough reprocessing capacity to take your “waste” and build you some breeder reactors to bail you out?

      1. Fortunately, I’m enthusiastic, that due to the people here – as well as the efforts of others – the US is no longer in danger of choosing such an option, tilting at mirages of the sun, and windmills, which is an easy way to failure by believing that you can get something for nothing.
        If you want to change everything, you have to make clean energy cheap. The easiest way to do that is through nuclear power. It doesn’t give you a little for nothing, very unreliably, like wind and solar do. It gives you a tremendous amount for a little, and most importantly, it gives it to you reliably. The reliability and the energy density is where the enduring value of nuclear power lies.

  4. Chernobyl was a carbon pile reactor. layers of carbon (graphite), layers of pipe and layers of fuel rods. An accident waiting to happen – Think generation 0.5. Besides, recent studies has shown only minor consequences on indigenous plant and animal life. It is just “deemed” unsafe for man.
    I worked for GPU Nuclear at the time of the TMI Accident, and was part of the accident investigation team and after words the accident analysis team. If nothing else, TMI has shown that the “China Syndrome” will NOT occur with/at a PWR (BWR) nuclear power plant. The plants inherent “failsafe” design (which, although adequate, is not quite as failsafe as the proposed new generation plants) protected the environment despite the actions of the operators who thought they were doing the right thing and in many cases only made the problem worse (i.e., if they had done absolutely nothing on at least three different occasions, TMI-II would now be operating.) The major reason for the “meltdown” was the fact that after a long period of natural circulation, at reduced pressure (think departure from nucleate boiling) they turned the pumps back on! This would be like throwing ice cold water onto a windshield that was in the hottest desert sun. The fuel pins shattered and the fuel pellets were swept through the system. The core was being adequately cooled on natural circulation. Yes, it was boiling, but about like a BWR boils. The pressure was below the saturation margin so, in essence, you had a fluid similar to beer foam cooling the upper half of the rods. Not as designed, but it worked. If the pumps had remained off long enough to cool the plant down they might be operating today. The plant had already tripped, so all you had was decay heat for 75% power. But since they had no idea what was going on inside the vessel and core, they could not even confirm that they had natural circulation, they made the “logical” (but incorrect – Monday morning quarterbacking) decision to turn the pumps on.
    Plants now have detailed emergency plans for the most probable accidents, and combinations thereof, and even an emergency procedure that will guide you to put the plant into the safest condition possible even if you cannot tell what is going on in the core (such as loss of instrumentation, or other weird, anomalous conditions that seem impossible.) The operators practice these emergency procedures every 5 to 6 weeks, they do several major emergency exercise training practices each year and an NRC inspected drill (can be 8-10 hours long) on a regular basis (frequency depends on the plants rating).
    As others have said, I would rather work at a nuclear power plant than ANY other facility that is making electricity – even an emergency diesel generator at a data server farm! The OSHA safety factor/rating is better at the worst American nuclear power plant than in the office of most CPA firms.

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