Monday, March 29, 2010

Our Electrical Energy Future

One of the things that we take for granted in BC is our supply of cheap, clean energy. We are blessed in BC to have an abundance of hydroelectric power and I don’t think many British Columbia’s realize how luckily we are. Electricity generation accounts for 2% of our green house gas (GHG) emissions in BC. Nationally, 19% of our GHG emission are from electrical generation. On average 42% of GHG emissions in the USA are caused by electricity generation.

In 6 more years the BC government has committed that existing thermal generating power plants will achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions and that 90% of our electricity will be from renewable sources (These include sources of energy that are constantly renewed by natural processes, such as large and small hydroelectric, solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, wood residue and energy from organic municipal waste.) We will see no nuclear power plants in BC. That means in BC we could only see 10% of our electricity from something called clean coal.

In most of North America power is generated by coal or natural gas, and switching to clean energy is more of a challenge than in BC. One of the solution proposed is something called clean coal. The idea is that instead of pumping the emission from thermal generation plants into the air, we pump it into the ground. It’s called carbon sequestration. FYI: This is how we mine coal today.

You can read about how they remove mountains to mine coal in North America. There are some major ecological concerns about this kind of mining. There are also some concerns with carbon sequestration. Geo-sequestration (storing carbon in the ground) presents some major risk. The major concern is that the carbon storage in the ground could leak back into the atmospheres or could cause groundwater acidification. There have even been documented causes of naturally occurring carbon leaks killing people who happen to be in the area where it leaked. Acidified groundwater is no fun either.

The future of power generation, in most parts of North America, will be with the distribution of our power system from big central power generation stations to micro-generation. Imagine if a place like the Los Angeles started installing solar panels on building and all these building could feed back into the system. We have the technology to manage this kind of system today. This is the future...


Anonymous said...

Pumping greenhouse gases underground is building a time bomb for a future generation.

Solar panels are not a good long term solution either. The material needed to make efficient panels is exceedingly rare and could be entirely used up in the next decade if there's a major push for solar power.

I believe we need to move to energy sources that will be reliable for the foreseeable future.

As long as the earth remains inhabitable and for several million years thereafter the moon will orbit and cause the tides. Tidal power generation requires materials in relative abundance and well understood hydrodynamics.

Wind is another natural phenomenon that's assured to the end of human existence. Generating power from the wind is also relatively easy and makes use of abundant materials.

Nathan Pachal said...

Yes, it will be really exciting to see how tidal power works. I know that there are a few demonstration projects being work on right now.

What I hear about wind power is that it kills birds and bats, I guess there is a negative to everything.