Key words :
A totally electric America
21 Nov, 2008 12:13 pm
In introductory remarks to his first press conference, President-elect Barack Obama on November 7, 2008 said, ?The auto industry is the backbone of American manufacturing.? Automobile manufacturing and the requisite system of bus roads are an essential part of the nation?s economic system, however the nation also needs a new and improved electrical transmission highway that is so packed full of electrons that thenation can go totally electric.
Today, more economic and social activity whizzes around our nation and the world via electrons bouncing around in computers, cell phones, HDTVs, and on the web than travel by car down the highways and byways of the nation. The automobile is as important today as footwear long has been, but it is of no more or less importance that flip-flops, uggs or old-fashioned lace-ups. They help us get around and get around we must---but not always.
Our major industry needs to turn a part of its production capacity to the manufacture of equipment that produces a plentiful supply of electrons, and thus enable the nation to go totally electric by capturing and utilizing the same energy that over the eons turned an accumulating biomass into fossil deposits. This is the sun, wind and gravity that are a free natural resource, which transports them selves for nothing and will provide power for the nationís largest consumption need: fixed-place facilities such as homes, factories and other public structures. It is far more economical to bounce electrons back and forth at 60 cycles than to find, fight over, mine, transport, refine, distribute, market, consume and dispose of the waste of fossil fuels.
To accommodate going totally electric, the nation needs a new energy grid that facilitates the dispersed production of electricity from wind turbines, parabolic-mirror solar concentrators, sea and surf displacement generators, and thermal wells. This system needs to have a peak-plus capacity; the plus power being used for the online electrolytic production of hydrogen for fuel cell and turbine electrical generation when the skies are cloudy or dark, and the wind and sea are still. Electricity from thermal wells is continuous and, when combined with heat captured as a byproduct of smelting ore, casting metals and disposing of waste, has an estimated capacity to generate up to a third of the nationís current electrical needs.
The development of this infrastructure is essential if this nation is to once again provide American citizens with personally meaningful, financially rewarding and culturally beneficial jobs, management positions, and investment/ownership opportunities. Electric power inexpensively delivered to individuals and organization will provide the foundation of real wealth that underwrites value for some of the flimsy paper floating around in Wall Streetís house of cards. Regardless of how much money is poured into the investment funnel, value is not going to trickle down to give this nationís citizens the opportunity to work at the American Dream and enjoy its bounty.
To right the current economic mess, we need to look beyond upping the seasonal sale of consumer goods and toying with the market. The nation needs to invest in what foundations the production of all goods and services---human and physical energy. Doing this will put money in the pockets of consuming workers and provide low cost power to the business and industrial community that will find it of great economic benefit to stay and produce within our shores.
How quickly must the nations go totally electric? Within the same time period that it took the Greatest Generation to turn America into the Arsenal of Democracy: one four-year term of Franklin Delano Rooseveltís administration. At the dawn of World War II, FDR called his war production advisors together and informed them that he want American industry to produce 4,000 airplanes per month. Some demurred and insisted that it would take a year, but FDR persisted and in a short time the nation was producing 4,000 a month and they made some of the older aircraft look like kites. In addition, the nation produced thousand of tons of trucks, tanks, ships, munitions, SPAM and two things that citizens had never even hear of before, atomic bombs.
With a supply of electrical power that is almost free, what might the future show us: overhead trolley cables above interstates that let semi-trucks secure long-haul power, home greenhouses that facilitate the growing of edibles, heat produced inexpensively enough to feasibly produce biofuels from non-edibles, plug-ins on parking meters to charge battery powered hybrid cars, and maybe a free power lunch on a National Electrification Day commemorating the capture of electricity from the sun, wind and gravity---natural resources as free as the air we breath.
The Army Corps of Engineers and Combat Engineers in the challenging times of World War II had a motto that well reflected the can-do-spirit that made the WW II arming of America possible, ďThe difficult we do today, the impossible will take a little longer.Ē Aside from deciding to take the nation totally electric, there is nothing about the task that is comparably difficult or close to impossible as was that faced at the dawn of World War II---yes we can.
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You talk about hydrogen but it is unlikely to be here for 30 - 50 years on any significant scale and will probably never match the oil-driven provision of transport in total over land, seas and skies. Electric power could be used to run local tram and light railway systems and that would take the pressure (some of it) off personal transport.
Hydrogen has other problem too, in that even if all the other aspects can be resolved of storage and production etc., the present generation of PEM fuel cells would require en mass sufficient platinum that only around 10% of the current number of road-vehicles could be run on hydrogen even by 20 years time. Pt is a very difficult metal to recover and is unlikely to be produced at some hitherto unknown vast rate - currently 200 tonnes per year if "new" Pt.
I like what you are saying, Sam, it's just that this doesn't cut-it for the most pressing difficulty, which is to provide transport on a scale comparable to about 70% of the annually recovered 30 billion barrels of oil.
As you point out, the rate of recovery problem (i.e. how quickly this new electric-America could be adopted) is stupendous and dwarfs vastly the challenges that FDR had to deal with during WWII.
All in all, it does seem inevitable that we are going to have to adapt the whole of civilization to use vastly less than its current allocation of transport by a localization of societies... a very difficult issue, with its own rate of conversion problem.
The use of hydrogen in vehicles is not now feasible and may never be. Also a consumer inadvertently releasing hydrogen into the atmosphere is not a good idea (a hydrogen lake would over correct for global warming. On line hydrogen turbines and fuel cells are a feasible backup to a power grid when generation is low due to dark sky and still winds and seas. Its on-line storage and use would provide electrical power to the nation?s large need, fixed place facilities.
The generation of hydrogen is not dependent upon platinum electrodes, other metals are just not as efficient---with the abundance of sun and wind, efficiency is not a problem---the grid simply needs to accommodate a large peak plus capacity. Also, hydrogen turbines do not require platinum and fuel cells would only be needed in a limited number of specific situations.
We will need to find other means to power our automobiles. An abundance of electricity for heat does make it more feasible to produce bio-fuels from non-edible organic matter.