The world is already powered by renewable energy (the Sun). Third Option has a plan to plug into that power, by unplugging the power of those leading us astray.
By Robert Simmons
Step One: A Hostile Takeover (of the Corporate Kind)
The US power grid is a complex network of generation, transmission, and distribution, and unfortunately, 92% privately owned. The Federal Government only has its hands on 8% of total energy transmission. Nearly 80% of power generation is divided among 192 Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs), and 2,800 independent power producers. After that, there are still 2,900 Publicly-owned utilities and cooperatives, but they only account for 12% of total transmission.
Trying to get all this under control makes one begin to appreciate the convenience of totalitarianism. In our so-called Democracy, two options present themselves; the Economic option is to seek Economic Totalitarianism through a“hostile” financial takeover, basically achieved by building around the current grid, then pricing the competition out of the market. The Governmental Option is to declare some sort of Eminent Domain over the production of Electricity in General. To be safe, it is probably best to employ both methods.
The only entity financially powerful enough to run the other energy grid owners out of town is the federal government, and they still own 640 million acres in which to build wind and solar plants, or even hydro-electric dams, if this option is still viable (hydro-power has fallen out of favor with environmentalists). We the taxpayers could scrounge together a few trillion bucks from underneath our couch cushions, or better yet, The Third Option suggests we re-instate a National Public Bank and loan ourselves all the money we will need. You can read more about this plan here.
For government to get involved, there would have to be a good reason, like protecting the Earth’s ecosystems from changing climate before they collapse and take us with them, for example. If that isn’t enough, maybe we could claim that electricity is essential to life, and thus falls under our unalienable right to life. Since it is our government that made this “unalienable rights” claim, they would need to enforce it by taking over the energy grid. If anyone balks at electricity being an essential need, perhaps we could shut down the energy grid for a couple weeks, then ask the question again.
Another conversation starter might be to talk about the money all of us would make, and all of us would save. Again, The Third Option has run the numbers, and although the private sector claims these new green energy methods will be too expensive for the general public, in reality, if we remove all the profit-seeking, it appears we could keep energy consumption to a very modest 10 cents per kilowatt hour (currently we all pay around 12-13 cents per KwH). This alone would save households (who use nearly 11,000 KwH’s of electricity a year) $324 or more on their yearly Energy Bill.
The real closer in this deal would be explaining that if we run the cost of building our green energy grid through a National Public Bank, the eventual $4.42 Trillion loan would be paid back in 30 years by simply paying 10 cents for every KwH, and yield the American people $7.6 Trillion to split among themselves (National Banks are owned, operated, and funded by the people). In case you were wondering, your share of this would be about $23,000. When running the numbers, it turns out that the grid cannot help but also bring in a residual income of nearly $40 Billion a year, that could be used for whatever purpose the people see fit.
Okay. Let’s say you are convinced. We re-instate a National Public Bank. We raise carbon emission taxes up so high it drives oil and coal and fracking out of business. Then, within 8 years, we completely rebuild our energy grid, and put the states in charge of hiring their own residents to fill the many new green energy jobs produced. Perfect. So what would the logistics look like on such a project?
What We Have Right Now
Here is what our energy grid looks like currently:
- Solar – 27.2 gigawatts of solar power capacity [enough power to supply about 6 million homes]
- Coal – 285 gigawatts of coal capacity (this is our cheapest form of energy, only $25 per megawatt hour]
- Natural gas – 440 gigawatts [see a capacity of 440 gigawatts]
- Nuclear capacity – 98 gigawatts
- Hydroelectric capacity – 80 gigawatts
- Wind power – 74 gigawatts [see 74 gigawatts of installed capacity]
TOTAL = 1004.2 Gigawatts (current estimate is 1,100 GW)
In order to make our Energy Grid green in eight years, we would need to boost our solar energy by 50 GW a year, our wind energy by 16 GW a year, and (if allowed) our hydro-electric power by 8 GW a year. This would get us to 740 GW of net generation a year, which leaves us nearly 300 GW short; this is why we will need our nuclear scientists to get their stuff together and build us something safe and clean, which they are very close to achieving. More on that later. We will also look at hydrogen options, among others.
If we start building solar power plants at 50 Gigawatts per year, we will have several logistical issues to solve. A typical solar plant generates around 600 MW, so to build 50 GW worth of capacity, 80 new plants would need to be built each year.
Solar panels do not operate with 100% efficiency. Even the highest efficiency monocrystalline solar panels are only 22.8 % efficient at best, meaning only 22.8% of the sunlight that hits the panel is actually converted into usable electricity. On top of this, the panel obviously needs lots of sunlight hitting it. Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada can claim the most year-round solar photovoltaic capacity (around 26-29%). Alaska, on the other hand, operates at only 10.3% capacity, so is not a very cost-efficient place to build solar plants.
These numbers suggest that even in Arizona, if we want one Gigawatt of actual electricity, we will need to build four Gigawatts of actual capacity. Given that a one megawatt “solar farm” could take up as much as 5 acres of land, 4 gigawatts of capacity would require a whopping 20,000 acres, or 31 square miles of territory.
Get ready for this one: 4,000 solar panels are required for one megawatt of power, so potentially, we would need to procure 4 million solar panels for our 20,000 acres, each needing 72 monocrystalline solar cells, for a total of 288 million cells.
Needless to say, we will need to form businesses around the making of cells and panels here in the US, which is good for the job market, and also gets America back to being more self-sufficient. We are significantly better as a nation when our individualism comes from self-sufficiency and not self-centeredness.
There is one more business we will need to create: battery storage. Since solar panels produce electricity for only an average of five to six hours each day, Lithium-ion batteries are needed to store and deliver energy for the other hours of the day, or as back-up power, should other sources fail to generate the required electricity for any reason. Our government facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratories has an aluminum-ion battery that could replace Lithium-ion technology if necessary. Elon Musk’s Tesla 100MW/129MWh Powerpack project in South Australia managed to provide the same grid services as regular power plants, only cheaper, quicker, and with zero-emissions, so if Musk wants to help Americans with his many innovations, we are of course quite willing to listen.
Over the course of a year, wind turbines will typically generate about 24% of their theoretical maximum output (41% offshore), which is its capacity factor. More spatially efficient than solar, six megawatts of rated capacity can be generated on the same 4.5 acres that would house only one megawatt of solar power.
Smaller “wind trees” placed on individual homes can also help bring in extra electricity, at a very reasonable cost. They really don’t look much like actual trees, but either do those cell phone towers dressed up as pine trees. Are they less ugly, or just a different kind of ugly? Difficult to say.
80 GW of hydro-electric power has already been built, and there are only so many places left where hydro power is still feasible; perhaps another 60 or so gigawatts could still be built. Although the water supply for hydro power is endlessly renewable, the impact dams have on the fish attempting to spawn raises concerns for environmentalists, who also cite other damage to the rivers and streams themselves. The Catch-22 of building new green energy infrastructure is that we must use the old polluting forms of energy to get it all up and running. Once we get these initial energy generating systems built, however, this problem (and thus, this argument) will no longer be cogent.
According to Power Technology, Portland-based company Lucid Energy has been implementing micro-hydropower technologies to harvest the energy from specially designed in-pipe turbines. These so-called LucidPipes can replace pressure-release valves in drinking water networks, “capturing energy that has previously been wasted”. If we rebuild all of our crumbling water infrastructure through a National Bank as well, we may be able to use this concept more extensively, enabling us to steer clear of traditional hydro power sources.
There are many other methods currently being explored that may yet produce hydroelectric power in an acceptable manner. One is a “pumped storage plant”, where a power grid spins its turbines backwards to pump water from a lower reservoir to an upper reservoir, which stores the power until the water is released back down, spinning the turbines forward, activating the generators and producing electricity whenever needed.
The ocean can produce both thermal energy from the sun’s heat, and mechanical energy from either the tides, or from wave power. Tides are driven by the moon’s gravitational pull, while waves are more wind-driven. The heating of the ocean’s surface can be harnessed into electricity conversion by using either a closed or open cycle, or a combination of both (a “hybrid” system). All electricity generation is ultimately created by turning a turbine that activates a generator. Our oceans are probably where we will eventually go for more energy generation; wind power is more efficient, the ocean surface is massive (for harnessing solar energy), and without pissing off the surfers, perhaps power could also be collected near the shore if necessary.
Even with our ambitious plans to use the above green energy sources, we fall quite a bit short of our total energy output goal. Nuclear power has become a dirty word, but scientists have been working quite a bit to create nuclear options that are “walk away safe”, meaning there is no way a breach could lead to any significant release of radioactivity.
The reactor with the most promise is the Molten Salt Reactor (MSR). MSRs are the safest design, and even burn all their radioactive byproducts as well, through fission, which become physically bound to the hardened coolant, so could never escape the reactor site. MSRs can be used to dispose of current stockpiles of nuclear waste by using those stockpiles as fuel. Even stockpiles of plutonium can be disposed of this way. This immediately makes MSRs invaluable. Meanwhile, they are capable of using nearly all of the fuel in their fuel rods, where the old conventional reactors typically used only 3-to-5% of their available energy.
These reactors can also use uranium-238 as fuel, which makes up 93.3% of all natural uranium. Conventional reactors use only uranium-235, which makes up a minuscule 0.7% of natural uranium. Variants of these reactors can even burn thorium as a fuel source, which is safer and more efficient than mining uranium. Currently, there are more than 700,000 MT of depleted uranium in the United States. This is a huge reserve that, with MSR reactor technology, can be directly used for energy production.
THE CASE FOR HYDROGEN POWER
There are at least a few promising sources of hydrogen. One is called Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Electrolysis (PEM). It will be able to produce a massive amount of hydrogen per hour, all of it“green” (CO2-free) because the electricity used for electrolysis is generated from renewable sources.
Natural Gas Reforming creates a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and a small amount of carbon dioxide by reacting natural gas with high-temperature steam. The carbon monoxide reacts with the steam to produce additional hydrogen. This method is the cheapest, most efficient, and most common way to produce hydrogen in the US currently.
Hazer Group in Australia has found a way to use iron ore and methane to create hydrogen along with a solid form of graphite (which can potentially be used in battery storage). This method completely bypasses electrolysis, cutting the cost to produce hydrogen in half. Liquid hydrogen burns clean, leaving only water as a byproduct. All the above methods could be used as fuels for vehicles, or as a stand-alone energy source if we deem it necessary.
For hydrogen to become a large-scale solution to our clean energy needs, money must be spent on better methods of distribution. Most hydrogen is produced very close to where it is used, because it is expensive to liquify it for transportation.
While liquified hydrogen tankers or even high pressure “tube trailers” currently transport hydrogen using our system of roads, the best way to scale up our use of hydrogen is to build pipelines designed to distribute and deliver it in much larger volumes. With a National Bank, the more we invest, the more we profit together.
THE POWER GRID ITSELF
The U.S. electrical grid has been called “the largest interconnected machine on Earth”: it is 200,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines and 5.5 million miles of local distribution lines, linking thousands of generating plants to factories, homes and businesses. At this point, many of the components of the grid are 30 to 40 years old, and need replacing soon.
High-voltage direct current (HVDC) technology is a new affordable option, and is more efficient when used for the long distance delivery of current, which will be necessary in order to get solar or wind power, for instance, to remote areas of the country. HVDC power can also be buried underground, making it less problematic than above-ground lines that must crisscross through private property.
With our new energy system being rebuilt “green”, through a National Public Bank, lesser taxes can be turned into eventual dividends, while We the People would save hundreds of dollar each year in electric bills, help save the planet, and create many new local jobs. Additionally, important future innovations in green energy, rather than getting bought out and buried by private competitors, would instead be brought to light, and potentially become useful solutions we can all invest in together.