Thursday 26 June 2008

Car propulsion

In Europe average daily commute distance is less than 15 km. Even if we add another 20 for after work shopping, recreation and similar activities, we can still calculate that few cars have to go further than 50km on a typical day.
Internal combustion engines our cars have are known to perform the worst in these conditions. The engine is cold and there's a lot of acceleration and braking in the rush-hour congestion. Not to mention that the engine itself is never operating at it's optimal RPM.
This causes excessive oil consumption and pollution. Wouldn't it be a lot simpler if our cars had electric engines with just enough batteries to last some 50 km, coupled with a nice turbine to generate power when the batteries got depleted?
This way one could go to work, come back home and recharge the batteries in a standard power outlet. Longer trips would be sufficiently covered by the turbine and to top things off, the batteries could just as easily be partly charged by photovoltaic cells popped on the roof and hood of the car.
Instant halving of oil consumption, not to mention pollution...

Now wouldn't that be something?

Sunday 15 June 2008

On energy

A couple of weeks ago a most common event occurred. Something most people experienced at their homes at least once in their lives.
A valve started leaking. If I understood correctly, it was even supposed to do that, just not as fast. A kind of pressure valve I suppose. Of course, the culprit needed replacing. But since this particular valve was in a reactor of a nuclear plant, the event had to be reported to the respective authorities. The ordinary event turned into a ruckus because someone forgot to strike out a single word on the event report form. The word said: exercise.
Now, let's suppose for a moment that the event was an exercise. Somebody would have decided to train the personnell of the plant on valve malfunction. An odd exercise to be sure since the procedures dictate to stop the plant in such a case and that is certainly not a cheap thing to do with nuclear plants.
As it turns out, the leak was not an exercise and the plant had to shut down the reactor in order to replace the valve. One week, very expensive. But that's not the point.
Either way, exercise or not, the reactor was shut down. So in this particular case the final outcome was the same, regardless of the famous word being striken out. But the outcry of institutions, politicians and envirogroups alike was like we just experienced a meltdown ten times bigger than that of Chernobyl. Go figure.
There are a total of 197 nuclear plants in Europe with an additional 13 under construction. The Slovenian one is neither the biggers nor the smallest. I am pretty certain events like this happen on a weekly basis. Possibly not even being reported due to their insignificance. I may be wrong, but it doesn't matter, does it? The mistake was made while filing a report, not with the procedure that had to be performed in case of such an event. I'm sure every of these 197 plants has well trained personnell and plenty of redundancy so that such minor faults could never grow to real disasters. Chernobyl most certainly left an impression in form of fail-safes, redundant sensors, strict and clear procedures not to mention all the things I have no idea about.

This just shows how punily we react to a simple mistake. We are talking, after all, about the cleanest energy source known to mankind although, granted, it is also potentially the most dangerous. All while Europe's dependence on energy import is becoming alarmingly high. We already have two hundred plants, all operating safely and with less environment impact than any other energy source we have. Yet constructing a new plant seems similar to deploying a nuclear bomb judging by the reactions of various environmentalists. Nobody seems to be screaming when a new river dam is being built despite the fact that such a dam destroys an entire valley, brings tons of fog to nearby settlements, not to mention the possibility that any dam too may fail, causing quite a disaster doing so.

On the other hand I hear that Chinese have started building their plants en masse. They are even exporting the technology to neighbouring nations. They recognise the danger of being too energy dependent and are doing their best to avoid such dependence. Their plan is to bring as many as 30 new plants online in the next 15 years. While that surely isn't enough for such a power-hungry economy, they certainly are doing something about it.

So with cold fusion still at least 20 years away and with Europe's dependence growing to no end, I really think Europe's leaders should rethink their strategy. I'm not saying nuclear is the only way to go, but is sure seems like a good enough interim measure.

Meanwhile, radioactives and respective technology are my bet for mid-term financial investments.