Measuring Solar Power Output

I just got through reading an article regarding buying surplus solar panels and measuring output in watts. The article was completely wrong and made me cringe so I thought in the interest of education I’ll elaborate on why so hopefully people will avoid making this mistake.

People with a little electrical knowledge know that watts = volts × amps. This article suggested calculating the power output of a 12 volt solar panel by measuring the short circuit current and multiplying by 17, because 17 volts is usually approximately the open circuit voltage of a 12 volt panel under full sunlight.

This does NOT yield the power a solar panel can produce, the voltage will decrease as the load increases. Load the panel to the point where the load decreases the voltage to 12 volts, measure the current at that load, and multiple that current by 12 volts. The short circuit current will be higher than the current at normal load, and the unloaded voltage will be higher than the voltage at a normal load, but you get neither of those let alone both at the same time, under load, so those numbers are meaningless. The numbers that have meaning are those under normal load.

Global Warming – The Silver Lining

Talking to a friend last night, I learned something surprising… That after oil, the next largest traded commodity is coffee. That surprised me but then I don’t like coffee, so maybe if I were a typical Seattlelite coffee addict I’d see it differently.

It occurred to me that if it gets warm enough then the United States might have an appropriate climate for growing coffee. This could actually be good for America! Oh yea, we’d starve because we can’t grow food but hey and least we could all be wired while we’re starving.

So see it’s true, every silver lining does have a cloud, er yea that.

Might be a good time to invest in snowshoes though.. If you look at that graph in the previous post you’ll see that what follows every peak in CO2/temperature is a BIG decline in temp and that happens even if CO2 levels remain high.

I hope they’re successful with that attempt to clone a woolly mammoth, it might be just in time.

Global Warming

I know it’s heretical to suggest that we aren’t completely responsible for global warming but I’m going to make that suggestion. It would be happening to a substantial degree in our absence. I believe the relationship between CO2 and temperature is more complex.

Part of the problem is that we simply do not have good data. Look at the following graph (from Wikipedia):

Temperature - Carbon Dioxide Plot

I would like to bring your attention to several features of these plots. The first calls into question the reliability of the data, particularly when it comes to temperature determination.

There are two different sets of ice core data used, they overlap at 400,000 years ago. You will notice that the CO2 data between them agrees at least at that 400,000 year overlap.

Temperature determination is more problematic, I would suggest to the point of being essentially worthless except on a relative scale. Temperature determination is based upon deuterium concentration, but the deuterium concentration is nearly twice as high in the EPICA ice cores relative to that of the Vostok ice cores. At 400,000 years where these overlap, even on the adjusted scales, the levels are radically different. Perhaps it’s just me but this makes it difficult for me to trust the data.

The second thing I’d like to point out is that rising temperatures, as interpreted from deuterium concentrations, often proceed rising carbon dioxide levels and falling temperatures nearly always proceed, sometimes by a substantial time frame, the falling of carbon dioxide levels. My interpretation of this is that carbon dioxide levels are not the major determiner of global temperatures. If they were, rising and falling carbon dioxide levels would reliably proceed global temperature changes.

Global temperatures on Pluto are on the rise. Scientists in the linked article attribute this to lag, just as on earth where solar irradiation is highest at noon, but temperatures are highest at 3pm. I am skeptical of this explanation because Pluto lacks a thick atmosphere or oceans to retain heat, and certainly not for the fourteen years that it has been moving away from the Sun and simultaneously getting warmer.

Neptune, or at least it’s moon, Triton, is warming. Neptune itself also is warming. They blame seasonal changes, Triton they say is entering into it’s southern summertime which it does every several hundred years and it’s spring-time on Neptune. Uranus is also experience global warming. This two is ascribed to spring time on Uranus. Saturn is warming, so is Jupiter and Mars.

Alas, I can’t find any temperature trend data on Venus and Mercury, but if the seven planets (and various moons) for which data is available all show positive temperature trends, I think it’s a safe bet something more than carbon dioxide levels is responsible. That’s not to say that carbon dioxide levels have no effect, but it’s important to note that the carbon dioxide levels on Venus are around 300,000 times greater than Earths, so the effect on Earth from carbon dioxide levels probably is not that pronounced.

I think it’s far more likely that the bulk of global warming is due to increased solar activity. Please note that this does not necessarily equate to visible or infrared light. I believe there are other phenomena which are significant. The Sun’s magnetic interaction with the Earth is one of those factors. How is it that the Sun’s corona is millions of degrees when it’s surface temperature is only around 5600°K? Magnetic heating is how this is possible. Those magnetic field lines don’t end at corona, they continue out into space, interwoven into flows of particles, the solar wind, interacting with our planet and heating it. During periods of high solar activity, UV light output increases. UV is mostly absorbed in our atmosphere driving some chemical reactions but also producing heat.

Does this mean we should just relax and keep combusting hydrocarbons to provide for our energy needs? No, it does not, for several very good reasons. While there is no shortage of hydrocarbons, most of those that remain are inconvenient. They are either difficult to get at, requiring deep drilling, drilling in deep water, or complicated extraction, or they are contaminated with sulfur, or of an inconvenient molecular size, too large, viscous, and carbon rich, or gaseous. Yes, we do have technology for liquifying natural gas. We have technology for turning coal into gasoline or diesel. We have technology for cracking long chain hydrocarbons. All of these technologies are expensive but at the current price of oil not prohibitively so, but all of them are also polluting.

At current carbon dioxide levels of 380 ppm, we are also approaching the point where carbon dioxide levels are going to start causing substantial health problems. 500 ppm is considered the maximum safe occupational level. We’ve gone from 250 ppm to 380 ppm in the last century and the rate of increase is logarithmic so it will not take another century to reach 500 ppm. At 500 ppm, some people begin to experience discomfort, headaches and drowsiness. At 1000 ppm, many people are affected.

Carbon dioxide reduces the capacity for hemoglobin in the blood to carry oxygen. It also affects the acidity of the blood which has many health ramifications, most of which are unpleasant. For people who already have marginal capacity to oxygenate their tissues, this is literally a life or death issue.

The use of hydrocarbons for fuel also has scaling issues. It takes so much human energy and effort to generate energy in this manner that it limits economic growth and consigning many people to unavoidable poverty.

The changing climate will require even more energy consumption to adapt, we will have to irrigate regions that are dry to sustain food production. Water tables are already depleting faster than nature can replenish them so we will have to desalinate and pump water. This takes energy on a large scale.

Continuing to rely on hydrocarbons will result in more and more human labor going towards energy production, more health problems from pollution, and the hydrocarbons will become increasingly difficult to get at. Yes, we can drill to the mantel and extract more hydrocarbons, but doing so is expensive.

We should shift our energy needs preferably towards totally renewable sources like solar, wind, tidal energy, hydro, but also to long-term sustainable sources like geo-thermal, fission (if properly managed), and fusion. Fusion really is the holy grail of energy production since it can provide clean energy without substantial radioactive waste at a high density indefinitely. The Sun is a giant fusion reactor, it’s been providing energy for the last 4.5 billion years or so.

Nuclear fission is a dirty word, but our bad experience with it is largely the result of an industry managed by greed, doing things the least expensive way possible. If we move from one-pass U-235 fuel cycle to an integral reprocessing fast-flux actinide burning plants, we can have a supply of energy that can last millions of years and generate only short-term radioactive waste. Not as clean as solar or wind or fusion, but much better than current fission power plants.

Of the renewables I think wind is actually the most promising. It’s cheap, coming in at around 4.6¢/KWh, less even than coal, and much less than natural gas. The chief criticism of wind power, that it is an intermittent power source, has not stopped it from contributing substantially to Germany’s energy mix, and I think it could contribute to an even larger share here in the United States.

There are several reasons wind can make a larger contribution to our energy needs. First, geographical diversity. The United States is larger therefore when the wind isn’t blowing in one area, it’s blowing somewhere else. To fully take advantage of this we should build a new superconducting national super grid. The grid can be cooled to cryogenic temperatures by liquid hydrogen and serve simultaneously to transmit hydrogen and electricity.

We can take advantage of intermittent wind power by producing hydrogen during those times when the generation capacity exceeds our needs. We could also modify existing hydro projects by placing another dam downstream of the existing dam, creating a secondary reservoir, and during times of surplus generation, pump that water back from the lower reservoir to the upper reservoir to be used again to generate power when demand exceeds supply.

We could build desalinization plants to take advantage of times when production exceeds supply, and the same is true for water pumping stations. Smart metering in residential, business, and industrial settings could allow people to adjust their usage to target heavy usages to times when excess capacity exists.

In Germany, government subsidies have increased wind power usage somewhat, but really not a lot considering the costs. I think there are other things in the US that could be done to encourage wind farms. In Washington State for example, the best land for wind production is on the ridge southeast of Yakima, but that is at present part of an Army firing range. Surely, they could blow stuff up somewhere else.

I don’t know what the trick is but a better world for us and our children requires that we somehow get the political will to do this and wrestle control from the oil companies.

Practical Solar

Practical Solar

Keep seeing these pronouncements by the oil companies that solar doesn’t and can’t contribute to our energy needs in a substantial way.

Clothes dryers account for 6% of the average American’s household energy budget and that’s only counting the energy it uses directly. In addition to direct energy usage, dryers take air from the house that has been heated or cooled to a comfortable temperature and expel it outdoors. Cold air which has to be heated, or hot air which has to be cooled, then comes in from outside to replace that air.

So in addition to the 6% of the households energy that they use directly they account for an even larger share when you consider the indirect costs. But here, solar power is serving that purpose.

Nuclear Waste News

I have added a link to Nuclear Waste News because I think that it is important for people to understand the issues associated with the disposal of nuclear fission waste products.

The nuclear option is being seriously reconsidered in light of global warming. We can not address the issue of nuclear waste safely by burying it. We must implement the necessary technology to eliminate long term nuclear waste. If this is done then nuclear fission can contribute to our energy needs safely.

If we implement a combination of nuclear fast flux nuclear breeder reactors, along with on-site reprocessing, along with fast-flux actinide burning reactors, we can safely extract 60-70 times as much energy from uranium ore as we do presently while at the same time eliminating the long term nuclear waste stream and the threat of plutonium being used to build bombs.

Reprocessing that separates out all the actinides from the waste together allows them to be re-used as fuel without ever isolating plutonium-239, and thus provides a fuel cycle which provides no bomb building materials. Additionally, since all processing is done on site, the need to transport high level actinides is eliminates. Only fission products remain, and they are very hot initially but decay rapidly. They represent a storage liability of 300-500 years, far shorter than the 50,000 years or more for plutonium.

Stop The Hemorrhaging

Our economy is being destroyed by three separate but oil related factors.

  1. Our energy imports far exceed our exports of goods to other countries resulting in a huge trade deficit causing our currency value to plummet. In response to the plummeting value of the dollar, the fed can either raise interests rates, which will shore up the value of the dollar but cause our economy to go into a depression, or they can keep interest rates low, in which case our money becomes worthless and the cost of importing energy continues to go up.
  2. The cost of gasoline and diesel is rising in response to the low value of the dollar and increasing world demand, sapping what little life remains in our economy.
  3. The cost of the war in Iraq is draining our national treasury and enriching Halliburton.

The world can’t continue to depend upon reacting carbon with atmospheric oxygen for energy, at least not at a rate higher than that which other processes remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and and release free oxygen to the atmosphere.

In order to have the economic capacity to transition to other energy sources, our economy and the economies of the world need to be healthy.

To strengthen our economy we need to fix those things which ail it. Other countries have implemented a carbon tax to encourage alternatives and discourage consumption of hydrocarbons. I believe this is something we should consider doing but additionally but with several caveats. First, in order to prevent this tax from simply sucking more money from the economy, it should be revenue neutral. Second, I think in addition to a tax on hydrocarbons, there should be an additional importation tax on hydrocarbons such that to the degree which we still must rely on hydrocarbons, the oil companies are encourages to develop domestic resources.

I also believe that it is time to address our energy problems and our economic problems head on with massive federal programs similar to those invoked by Franklin D. Roosevelt that helped bring us out of first great depression. I’m not in favor of everything he did, but our energy and economic problems are not being solved by industries which have every economic incentive to maintain the status quo. We have homeless on the streets and people starving. We need to address the energy problem nationally and now.

I believe that we should launch a federal energy program that addresses our countries energy needs with the following elements:

Modernize the national power grid combining east and western grids and turning them into a super-grid combination super-conducting high-voltage DC power transmission system and liquid hydrogen distribution system. High voltage DC is superior to AC transmission because it eliminates radiative power loss. Superconductive transmission lines are superior because they eliminate resistive “copper” loss. Eliminating these sources of losses would be reduce electrical energy generation needs by approximately 15% nationwide while at the same time providing a national hydrogen distribution system.

Embark on a crash program of Apollo or Manhattan Project scale to develop controlled nuclear fusion. At this point the science needed to confine a plasma at the necessary temperatures and pressures for fusion to occur has been done. What remains now is some materials science research, determining how materials will stand up to intense neutron and ion bombardment that certain reactor components will be subject to, particularly a component known as a diverter which skims helium waste off of the plasma. ITER was to perform this function but it is twelve years before it will be online, we can not afford to wait this long to do the research necessary. ITER is also not the best design for this purpose. A spherical Tokamak would be a better choice because the confinement is approximately three times better in a spherical design. There are at least five other possible alternative fusion routes and we should be simultaneously exploring all of them as rapidly as possible.

Embark on a program to develop and build fast-flux breeder reactors that can make much more efficient use of uranium ore and burn transuranic actinides eliminating the long term nuclear waste instead of burying it. These would allow us to extract 60-70 times as much energy from the same amount of uranium or thorium ore, and at the same time eliminate the long term waste that must be kept isolated from the environment for 50,000 years producing waste that will be at the same level of radioactivity as it was when mined within only 300 years. In addition the volume of waste would be much less.

Embark on a program to gear up production of renewable energy sources that are already technically proven, primarily wind power which with the diversification that would be afforded by a national superconductive grid, could contribute a substantial portion of our energy needs. A superconductive super grid would allow excess energy to be made into hydrogen and stored. Emerging technologies, artificial photo-synthesis may make it possible to make hydrocarbons from excess electricity while simultaneously sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Embark in a huge research program that will create the necessary energy storage technologies to utilize intermittent power sources effectively and also to provide for our transportation needs. This will have the additional benefits of reversing the “brain drain” that presently is affecting our country by making jobs available for scientists here.

If we can solve our energy problems then we can also become an exporter of this new technology which will provide additional improvement in our trade deficit situation. We need to find the political will to tell the oil companies we will not continue with the status quo. They can either be part of the solution or they can wither and die.

Write your senators and representatives and tell them your vote is not for sale. If they want it they need to address these problems now.

The Cost Of Meat

I am not a vegetarian but I confess to feeling some serious guilt when I slice up a steak or even chomp down a hamburger.

Environmental costs of meat production are tremendous. Compared to soy protein, meat requires 6-17 times as much land, hydrocarbon fuels (oil), pesticides, and produces 6-17 times as much CO2 and water pollution.

You can only compare the environmental costs of meat production to soy or other plant based proteins when the land will support the production of plant based proteins. Humans are incapable of digesting cellulose. We can live on plants but we require protein and digestible carbohydrates.

While we can’t digest cellulose, cows and other grazing animals can. These animals then do provide human sustenance in regions of the world where the land will not grow suitable human food crops. We can hardly ask people living in these regions to stop eating meat because it’s unhealthy for the environment when they have no alternative.

Meat is also largely bad for our health, colon cancer, clogged arteries, stroke, heart attacks, meat contributes to these diseases. Some meats are much worse than others. How an animal is raised affects how healthy it is for you.

One thing that really puzzles me, given the much larger resource requirement for animal based proteins, why is it that fake meat patties, soy based, are more expensive than real ground up cow?

I’m trying to cut back but the expense of what should be cheaper alternatives makes that difficult.

Why Fusion?

I know a lot of people will ask, why a technological solution to problems technology caused? We can have a agrarian utopia with what nature providers, sunshine, wind, water, good earth.

I don’t wish to interfere with anyone who has that vision. They are welcome to purchase land, farm it in a sustainable manner, live with whatever level of technology they choose. I do believe the rest of us have an obligation to not pollute the planet so for those people who wish to live in that manner it is possible.

However, millions of people are living on land now that can’t support them, in Africa in particular. For those people to have a decent lifestyle they need to be part of a larger system involving trade, so that they can trade things they can make or do for food which they can not, on their land, produce in adequate quantities.

In order to bring those people out of poverty, the world economy needs to expand further; that can only happen with an expansion of the energy supply. If we expanded the energy supply by burning more hydrocarbons we’d hasten the demise of our ecosystem. We need a clean expandable energy source.

Expandable is a key word here, the density of solar power limits the degree to which it can be expanded. I have no doubt that solar and wind together could provide for our current energy consumptions with the appropriate infrastructure. However, by the time China and India scale their economies up to a level where their citizens can have a decent standard of living, and then also Africa, I do not feel as comfortable that these sources will scale adequately.

We are using water from the water table faster than it is replenished by nature. Soon, it will be necessary to desalinate and pump huge quantities of water in order to maintain the agriculture upon which we are dependent for food. Even with no economic expansion this will require large amounts of energy.

If not fusion, then I think we will be forced to rely on fission. Nuclear fission could be done cleanly and could provide power for millions of years through a combination of fast flux breeder reactors, on-site reprocessing, extraction of uranium from seawater, and the use of thorium fuel. With all the actinides re-used in fast-flux breeder reactors, there would be no actinide wastes, only fission products which decay to the same levels as they were when we mined the ore in 500 years, a much more short-term problem than the existing one-pass fuel cycle used here in the United States.

If we do not make either of these options happen, then I think we will doom many humans to poverty and starvation and I’d rather not see that happen, and of those two options fusion is infinitely cleaner and safer. There is zero possibility of a runaway reaction with fusion. There are no nuclear wastes produced as products of the reaction though with neutronic fuels there is some neutron activation of reactor structures so those will need to be dealt with when the reactor is dismantled. Even so that’s a trivial waste burden compared to fission reactors and most designs call for a lithium blanket to absorb most of the neutrons to breed tritium and shield reactor components simultaneously. Aneutronic fuels eliminate this issue entirely.

Fusion Energy Methods

I believe controlled fusion to be the Holy Grail of energy production for the human race given our current understanding of physics. I believe that when we understand physics better that may come with the ability to manipulate gravity, inertia, and time, and those abilities may render hydrogen fusion obsolete.

There are those who believe controlled hydrogen fusion is not possible or practical, I am absolutely not in that camp. I believe if we wanted to throw the resources at it, the type of resources we put towards the Manhattan project or Apollo, that we could have it online feeding power to our electricity grids within five years.

We are not throwing that kind of money at it. The US contribution to ITER, the first magnetic confinement confusion reactor that will operate at commercial power levels, is equal to what we spend on oil imports in two days. Two days worth of oil import money over twelve years for what could be the most important technological development in human history.

At this point, we know how to confine a plasma in a Tokamak good enough, we know the scaling laws, and we can engineer a power plant that will produce power. What we do not know is how some components will hold up under sustained neutron and ion bombardment. ITER will primarily be a materials research experiment to work out material issues and make any necessary refinements to components to operate in a sustained mode.

ITER was also to be the first reactor to use superconductive magnets for plasma confinement allowing longer operation. Current Tokamak’s are limited to one minute or so because they use copper coils which rapidly overheat. However, China built a reactor last year, EAST, using superconductive coils and so ITER will not be the first to do that.

ITER could be built more quickly if it were well funded. It is expected to be the last step between existing research reactors and a true power station reactor. So there is one path that if properly funded could bring us workable fusion soon.

ITER is a conventional Tokamak. There is an improvement on the standard Tokamak design called a Spherical Tokamak. In a normal Tokamak the plasma is donut shaped, short and wide. It was found that Tokamak designs where the plasma was less wide and taller, nearer to a sphere, performed much better, and in fact the idea plasma shape which turned out to be nearly spherical resulted in confinement that was more than three times better for a given magnetic field strength.

An UK based research group first designed a spherical research reactor called START, it out performed it’s design objective but was not designed for high power operation or break even. They then went on to design MAST, again not designed for break even but was designed for higher power operation so that plasma physics could be studied at higher power levels. MAST also outperformed design objectives. This same team then went on to design a commercial power reactor. As designed it would be less expensive to construct than a fission power plant of equal power. Given the track record of this group I find it odd that someone hasn’t offered to provide funding yet. So here is another route to fusion power that is sitting waiting for funding.

Then there is a reactor designed by Dr. Bussard, and I’m not aware of any name given to it yet so for now I’ll just refer to it as the Bussard reactor. Years ago there was a device invented by Dr. Farnsworth called the Farnsworth Fusor. This device used two concentric grids to accelerate deuterium and tritium atoms towards the center of a sphere where some collide and fuse. While useful as a neutron source, this device can not achieve high power levels because ion bombardment of the inner grid melts it.

The Bussard reactor is a very clever design that is based upon the fusor idea but sidesteps the problem of melting grids by creating virtual grids through magnetically steered electrons.

Many people who look at it believe it is an alternate approach to magnetic confinement fusion. It is not. The beauty of the Bussard reactor is that only electrons are magnetically confined. Electrons have a high charge to mass ratio compared to a proton or deuteron, and so a relatively weak magnetic field will suffice. The electrons are used to create a charge gradient that deuterons fall into and out of and oscillate through. This reactor uses electrostatic acceleration and confinement.

Prototypes were built, all performed as expected, scaling laws were understood, but funding ran out before a full scale version could be built. These reactors are super cheap to build compared to Tokamaks. This type of reactor is theoretically capable of reaching much higher collision energy levels making operations with aneutronic fuels possible. This in turn makes possible relatively compact designs because huge neutron shields would no longer be required.

The Levitated Dipole is a relative newcomer that is still highly experimental. It uses a levitated superconductive magnet to create a dipole field similar to the Earth’s. As with Dr. Bussards design, this method of confinement also may be capable of achieving energy levels that would allow the use of aneutronic fuels. This design hasn’t been tested sufficiently to really understand it’s potential yet.

Bogdan Magnich invented another approach referred to as Migma fusion. Two very low power particle accelerators aim two beams of deuterium ions at each other where they collide. The prototype found that the cross-section of the reaction was low and many ions missed each other and escaped. Maglich revised the design to trap deuterium ions in a magnetic trap that caused them to orbit in a circle in such a way that orbits intersected. Funding ran out and so far Dr. Magnich has not been able to find funding. This is yet another potential avenue towards controlled fusion as a power source and like the Bussard reactor and the Levitated Dipole reactor, this method has the potential of achieving the necessary energy levels for aneutronic fuels.

The above are pretty the limit of options that I believe have a short-term chance at being a practical source of electrical energy via fusion. But that’s five different avenues that I think are viable and four of them I believe could be brought online in a short time frame. The Levitated Dipole reactor is too new to really know it’s potential.

Then there is inertial confinement laser initiated fusion which while it keeps a lot of scientists employed around the NOVA laser system, a system of insanely powerful lasers that focus on a tiny pellet containing deuterium and compress it to one third it’s size and heat it to several hundred million degrees initiating fusion. While this approach works for one-shot and might be a way to trigger a nuclear fusion bomb without using a fission device, in terms of providing controlled nuclear fusion for energy generation I do not believe it has a chance in hell. It requires huge capacitor banks be charged which limits the cycle time and it is destructive.

Then there is are low power contenders, cold fusion, I am absolutely convinced it’s a real phenomena, I am absolutely convinced that it can’t be scaled up sufficiently to be a commercial power source for the grid even if reliability issues could be resolved. If reliability issues could be understood and resolved, it might be useful as a power source for small scale apparatus and possibly even vehicles provided it is both aneutronic and does not produce significant quantities of radioactive substances such as tritium.

The most familiar cold fusion experiment involves electrolytic cells in which deuterium ions are driven into a palladium electrode using electric forces. The theory has it that when the loading of deuterium into the metal is sufficient some form of fusion occurs. However, neutrons are not produced but excess heat and and helium are, also it seems some tritium and that may be problematic. This form has not been reproduced reliably but it has been reproduced. Some researchers have identified at least some of the variables so it can be made to happen more reliably but still not 100%.

However there are other cold fusion schemes that produce reactions, deuterium gas pressurized inside of a nickle tank produces neutrons. It is a very low power level howerver.

Bubble fusion, an off-shoot of sonoluminescence. Basically, when certain liquids are excited by ultrasonic sounds, little bubbles glowing blue are produced. This blue glow is caused by the bubbles being compressed and heated by the ultrasound acoustic energy. There is some evidence that fusion can be obtained in this manner. Not at high enough levels to be anything other than a laboratory curiosity, possibly a neutron source, but not a power source.

Crystal fusion.. I have to admit I like the name of this, but no it’s not a new age fusion reactor, it’s a device that uses special pyroelectric crystals which generate a high static charge when heated to produce a high voltage that accelerates deuterium atoms sufficiently to fuse. There is no reason to believe at this point that this would scale to commercial power levels.

This sums up the methods I am presently aware of. I’d welcome input from anybody that knows of others (preferably with pointers to online information).

Of these methods I believe the standard Tokamak, Spherical Tokamak, and the Bussard reactor are all immediately exploitable. On these reactors enough science has been done on the plasma physics and scaling laws to know how to build reactors that will produce power. Of these the Bussard reactor is the least developed but it is at least two orders of magnitude less expensive than the others so it is deserving of funding to produce a power producing prototype. The Spherical Tokamak has not had as much operational experience as standard Tokamaks but the experience with it has been very good. Because it is 3x as efficient at confining a plasma with a given magnetic field, it would be considerably less expensive than a standard Tokamak to build large enough to achieve a burning plasma. The Standard Tokamak is the most well researched, only some material questions remain and ITER will answer those.

Migma fusion is dirt cheap and for that reason alone it should be funded because we don’t have to gamble a lot to complete the research. A high school student with appropriate engineering knowledge could build one of these. This method is light and compact and could be a power source for ships, trains, planes, maybe even large trucks.

Levitated Dipole has the potential for being a useful power source but it is very immature at this time and not ready for prime time just yet, but if adequately funded that could change.

Peak Oil Debunked

I included a link to Peak Oil Debunked, not only because this person has taken a comprehensive look at the world energy situation and decided that not only is peak oil not immediately upon us but that civilization can continue even when that point is reached.

It is the demonstration of the latter that is of particular interest because many practical alternatives to oil as our primary energy source are pointed out and many of them are less obvious.

Here in the states, the ones we tend to hear about are only those that big corporations can make money on, and not so much the things we can do as individuals, or changes that can be “designed in” to new construction.

I think it’s a good resource so although on the surface it might seem to reinforce an oil economy, a good part of his argument is actually, “so what?”, with respect to peak oil, because here are all the alternatives…