Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My disappointment in ways of generating electricity...

Back in my university years, I was quite amazed in electrical engineering classes at how easy it is to convert electricity to mechanical energy and vice versa. A magnetic field and a few wires moving around in almost any configuration, and you've got current flowing. This was amazing to me.

Then, I started looking at all the different ways we generate electricity. They are pretty disappointing, sorry, but nuclear energy - you think Star Trek and an anti-matter generator or the naquida reactor from Stargate, but just a bit less advanced. Somehow, we are taming the atom! This is exciting. Nope, all we do is boil water. It's the same as with coal and oil, all you do is heat some water up and pass it through a turbine and that spins some wires in a magnetic field (see paragraph 1).

What? You mean to tell me that you'd just boiling water? How iron age! How pedestrian!

There are exceptions to boiling water, and all but one use a turning turbine (see paragraph one) to produce electricity. Hydro-electric (you have to create an artificial lake and I don't like the damage), wind-turbines (I don't like the horizontal turbine's bird strike problem - vertical is ok, but not as efficient), tidal (again, it damages the environment, and lots of fish get chewed up in the mechanisms).

Then, there's solar. Solar panels directly convert the sun's energy into electricity. That's exciting. Guess what? Solar thermal (where they use mirrors to gather heat) is more efficient and cost-effective. Guess what? They boil water!

I don't know why, but the excitement just goes out of me when I hear that. It is really like the Roman empire decided to generate electricity by building a hollow, bronze statue of a cow with a turbine where the horns are.

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