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Re: East Coast outage?
From: Vadim Antonov <avg () kotovnik com>
Date: Mon, 18 Aug 2003 02:22:34 -0700 (PDT)


On Sun, 17 Aug 2003 hackerwacker () tarpit cybermesa com wrote:

Use hydrogen. One solar panel (which will last forever unless you drop 
something on it) can split H2O into H and O.

Solar panels do not last forever. In fact, they degrade rather quickly due
to the radiation damage to the semiconductor (older thin film panels were
guaranteed to perform within specs for 2-5 years, new crystalline ones
stay within nominal parameters for 20 years).  Lifetimes of hydrogen
storage products, and electrolytic converters are also limited.  Note that
exploitation of those involve creation and eventual disposal of toxic compounds.

Making those panels requires energy, and involves processes producing
pollition.  So does their disposal. Besides, solar panels convert
visible-light high-energy photons (used by the biosphere) into low-energy
(infrared) photons which are a form of pollution, and are useless for the
biosphere.  Fossil fuels and nuclear energy do not steal this source of
negative enthropy from the biospere (just a counterpoint - I'm no big fan
of those ways of producing energy, for different reasons).  Given the
relatively low power density of the solar energy, the full-lifecycle
adjustments are much higher on per-joule basis than for traditional energy
sources.

So when you talk about advantages of the solar (or any other renewable
power) you need to take into account the full energy budget (including
manufacturing and disposal) and ecological impact of the entire lifecycle
of the product, not just the generation phase.  Such analysis will likely
show that renewables are not as green or renewable as they seem to be.

It seems to me that the debate on superiority of different methods of
producing useable energy is high on emotions and very low on useful
data; it will be a horrible mistake to waste lots of time or resources on
an approach which may turn out to be worse than others in the final
analysis.

--vadim

PS My personal favourite option is to move power generation out to space,
   where pollution will not be a problem for a very long time.

   This option is technically feasible now, economics and political will
   are entirely different matters, however. Quoting from one of my
   favourite authors: "...most of people ... were quite unhappy for pretty
   much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but
   most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green
   pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it was not the small
   green pieces of paper that were unhappy." 


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