Think of Energy in a New Way

Wave Power Generation by Ocean Power Delivery being installed off the coast of Spain.

I was asked to respond to the following statement. "Joseph, would you address the issue that electricity is a secondary energy source? While its use would lead to cleaner cars, it will still be necessary to generate the energy to be converted to electrochemical form. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that energy is lost at each stage when we transform energy from one form to another. The heavy reliance upon personal vehicles will still demand a greater and greater consumption of energy. We will simply move the source of local pollution away from drivers, but how will [it] bring energy consumption down and minimize environmental destruction? "

First of all energy is found in many forms, many of which we name and think of as substantive, but they are not substantive. Electricity is equal to the movement of your hand, is equal to sun shine, is the heat coming off the highway, the differences are just spectral.

Energy is energy and it can not be created nor destroyed, it is merely converted. The second law of thermodynamics could not say that energy is lost when transformed from one form to another because that would violate the first law. The second law deals with entropy which can be stated more clearly as, energy disperses from being localized to spreading out if it is not contained or recaptured. This energy stuff is hard to understand because we have wrapped language around it that is more metaphor than a correct understanding of energy. Movement is energy that can be converted into other forms of energy such as the movement of water through a water mill wheel moves the grinding stone to make flour, (mechanical energy) so can the movement of water through a water turbine move a dynamo to produce electric energy, movement = electricity.

In the hydro-energy cycle the sun heats up water that converts to vapor, vapor is less heavy then air so the vapor travels up into the atmosphere where its heat energy is dissipated into the atmosphere, and it condenses back into water and ice around small particles of dust, once heavy enough it returns to earth in the form of rain and snow it collects in the streams and flows down hill by the force of gravity. We capture gravitational energy and covert it to mechanical energy as in the form of a flour mill or in the turbines that produce electricity. Huge dams don't have to be built to capture this cycle. It is humans who have built dams. By making small structures over various places along a river that allow the river to flow freely and yet capture its movement we can harness the power of the hydro-cycle with minimal impact to the environment and without endangering wildlife and vistas. It is only poor engineering and shortsightedness that has given us the giant hydro-electric dam.

Solar panels are truly one of the most benign forms of energy capture. You have a roof that gets sunlight on it anyway. Why not use the surface to make electricity? In my solar electric car I have two solar toys in window, a little fan to keep the car cool and a garden light. If they weren't there the sun's rays would just go to waste? Yes. Any where that sun isn't captured to make electricity or hot water it is going to waste. Kind of.

Winds in many areas tend to be so consistent and strong that bend trees like the one above

Wind power makes sense since the wind blows trees, leaves and dust around. In Ocean City, Maryland near where I live the trees are all bent over in one directions because most of the year the wind blows constantly and in one direction. Going to the beach in the winter is amazing. All the flags are tattered because of the constant heavy wind. I looked at the power lines coming from some far away power plant where literally tons of coal is burned every day to produce electricity for these sea shore edifices, all the while through and over and around the buildings flows thousands of watts of wind power only being used to provide the flapping motion in flags. There are other sources of energy that have minimal environmental impact and have gone largely unused. There are wave action conversion systems, tide conversion systems, systems to take advantage of the steady ocean currents, harnessing the power of the jet stream and ambient temperature conversion systems. WE ARE BATHED IN ENERGY. We don't have to burn a single thing to get useful energy, and ELECTRICITY is the cleanest and most universally useful form of energy. It can produce heat, light, radio waves, microwaves, electron beams, motion and on and on. The greater reliance on personal vehicles in an ever growing population does create other problems such as traffic congestion and with out good recycling programs vehicles become trash, but out side of that electric vehicles are good.

The World Solar Challenge has just finished in Australia. If you have never heard of this it is the "Super Bowl" race of cars that run only on solar power through photovoltaic cells. These vehicles ran for more than 30 hours at average speeds of around 60 miles an hour, powered only by sun light. 30 hours was only the length of the race, these vehicles can travel continuously on the power of the sun. For example, The Power of One (xof1) project will demonstrate this by traveling 14,230 miles (22,900 kilometer) through Canada using only the power of the sun and traveling almost continuously. What this proves is that we can make vehicles that can get most of their electricity from their surroundings. We just have to think about energy in a different way.

The xof1 can travel continuously using only the sun's rays landing on its surface.

Energy is found in many forms but only a tiny fraction of a percent is convertible into electricity. Regenerative braking is part of that out of the box thinking. Before regenerative braking stopping a car meant converting momentum energy into heat energy through brake pads and transferring it to the air. Brakes stop cars by turning the friction of the brake pads and disks to hot air. With the advent of regenerative braking, currently only used with hybrids and some experimental electric cars, now braking means taking momentum energy and converting it into electric energy, depositing that energy in the batteries or a super capacitor and then using that energy to over come inertia at startup again, which then deposits the energy in momentum energy again. When I look at the Metro rail trains around Washington the most evident feature of their undercarriage is their huge disk brakes. I look at those and think what an absolute waist. The Metro trains using regeneration could help power the trains going up hill with the energy from the trains trying to slow down going down hill. They just don't seem to get it.

The idea of one central location providing the energy needs for a wide area, especially by using fossil fuels, to me seems ludicrous. Tesla made it possible with AC power, but energy is abundant and all around us. We don't need to do it that way anymore. The water movement in your pipes when you are taking a shower has energy in its motion. Recaptured it could power a clock. We see the heat of the day move Mercury up the thermometer, ambient heat turned into the motion energy of an expanding fluid. To capture the movement of expanding fluid you would just need a float on top of the Mercury as temperatures go up or down the float could pull on a cord that would turn a turbine. This is only theoretical mind you, but the energy is there. It goes on and on. To solve the power plant problem we need to arrive at a more distributed or self generated form of energy. This new way of thinking of and capturing energy can be for all of us. It is only a matter of investment, smart design and strong political action. Even if we don't fully move to a renewable and distributed form of energy production, it is infinitely easier to regulate and convert a single power plant then millions of power plants traveling our roads and highways in our cars, and electric cars, even when being powered by coal in a power plant are about far more efficient then gasoline powered cars. More efficiency means less pollution.

Public transportation is a collective way to reduce the harmful ways that we produce and use energy, but it is not the sole solution. Public transportation is not in the equation for those of us who do not have easy access to it. Powering public trains with the energy gleaned from fossil fuels is not really that much better than an efficient electric automobile. In fact big trains have to run whether there is only one passenger or 50 to meet a schedule. Isn't it a waste of energy to run a big train for only one passenger? Wouldn't it be better if the energy used for motive power be more personal? One person uses the energy needed for one person and 50 for 50? There is a fusion concept that combines the efficiency of public transportation with the convenience of personal transportation that would be easy to implement, but that is my invention. Safe it to say, there are solutions that can be a win-win for all parties. As a debate point we can go on and on, but forcing people to use public transit and not solving the huge amount of pollution coming from cars is not a solution.

Tags: alternative fuels, coal, Energy, nuclear, Oil, power, renewable, solar, wind (all tags)


1 Comment

Re: Think of Energy in a New Way

Any method of saving energy, electrical, mechanical, etc., will entail some lossage, of course. One rather startling new approach to storage is startlingly simple, and involve using carbon composite tanks to hold compressed air -- just compressed regular air.

by blues 2007-03-23 04:22AM | 0 recs


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