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Germany's influential environmental movement has responded to the fallout of Japan's recent nuclear problems. They successfully lobbied their federal government and Germany's Chancellor has announced the phase-out of nuclear power generating in that country. Germany will seek to use domestic and imported wind, hydroelectric, solar and other forms of renewable power. That choice opens new opportunity for Iceland and also Greenland that urgently seeks foreign investment to build their national economies.
Previous studies have examined the concept of linking a submarine power cable across the relatively shallow waters of the Northeastern Atlantic Ocean, between Germany and Greenland. There is also scope to extend such a cable between Iceland and the eastern coast of Greenland, to the largest fjord in the world called Scoresby Sound with some 38,000 Km2 or 14,700 square-miles of water surface area. The tidal current through the relatively narrow entrance to this inlet is estimated at just over 2m/s, the minimum velocity needed for viable installation of kinetic turbines.
There is scope to slightly reduce the depth and width of that relatively desolate entrance, to slightly raise the velocity of the twice-daily bi-direction tidal current that flows for some 20-hours each day. A Florida-based research group has been developing what may become the world's largest-diameter kinetic turbine, originally intended for installation in the Florida Straits and may also be suitable for installation in the Strait of Gibraltar, the Canary Channel and the entrance to Scoresby Sound. A combination of ballast and a tension cable suspension system may enable turbines to operate below the winter ice at that entrance.
There are several high coastal mountains along Greenland's eastern coast, just across the Greenland from Iceland. Ongoing developments in high elevation, terrain enabled, terrain enhanced and airborne wind energy technologies promise to generate higher output at more competitive costs. There may be future potential to install such technology in high mountains along Greenland's eastern coast, to generate electric power in addition to the possible electrical output from the entrance of Scoresby Sound then export that power to Germany, via Iceland.
Iceland has over 2200MW of undeveloped hydroelectric potential, along with potential to develop geothermal energy resources along with high-elevation and airborne wind energy, plus oceanic tidal energy. The possible presence of on-shore and offshore natural gas at Iceland may include the possible presence of salt caverns in the Icelandic bedrock. Seismic testing would be able to confirm such a possibility along with the location, size and depth below surface of such geological formations.
The possible presence of one or more salt domes located near the Icelandic coast would be a definite plus to enhance the operation of seasonal CAES (compressed air energy storage) installations. A coastal location allows for the use of seawater-displacement in the emptied salt dome to increase seasonal energy storage capacity. However, there would be a need to develop some special light oil that would separate the highly compressed air from seawater inside the salt dome.
During winter, wind energy blowing over eastern Greenland's high mountains and off the Icelandic coast would be at its peak. There may be scope to transfer winter wind energy from Greenland and Icelandic offshore ocean wave energy into seasonal storage at Iceland. Recent developments in high-temperature seasonal thermal energy storage may serve as a basis to develop an expanded version of such storage for the purpose of storing the heat-of-compression produced by the pumping of air into CAES.
Some of this heat could be stored at heat of fusion using molten salt in an adapted salt dome. SENER of Spain is one of the leading companies to have developed molten salt thermal storage for the solar thermal power industry. The volume of some underground salt domes combined with future research may allow for large-volume, seasonal, high-temperature thermal energy storage. Such thermal storage would be used to pre-heat compressed air prior to it being superheated via the combustion of natural gas and subsequent expansion in a multi-stage power turbine system.
There are few countries that have excess electric power for sale, to which Germany can directly link a power line to import electrical energy. Iceland is a prime candidate to sell renewable electric power to Germany, via submarine cable. Given the likelihood of Germany's demand for electric power exceeding Iceland's generating capacity, there is scope to extend the submarine cable across to eastern Greenland for the purpose of importing oceanic tidal energy and high-altitude wind energy. Norway is blessed with many fiords where it may be possible to generate oceanic tidal energy for direct export to Germany.
A future nuclear-free Germany may have to examine the possible import of electric power via power cables that cross several international borders. Several Middle Eastern and North African nations have indicated an interest in exporting solar-thermal electric power to European markets, using UHV-DC power transmission. One power cable could cross the Eastern Mediterranean Sea to Italy, then Austria into Germany.
A precedent from New York State involves installing a submarine power cable under waterways between Montreal and New York City. A waterway that connects Stuttgart in Germany to Marseilles in France may include a future submarine power cable that would connect between Southern France to a point in North Africa. Future developments in more cost-competitive high-altitude wind power, solar-thermal electric power plus oceanic tidal power conversion may provide electric power to a future nuclear-free Germany.
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Germany is not going to get rid of nulcear. Neither are France and Switzerland. As for Japan, it wil be the last country in the world to dispense with nuclear.
But there is something of interest here. Ms Merkel studied physics, as did many other anti-nuclearites (e.g. Amory Lovins). But for those people physics is trivial. What they do not know is nuclear economics - they don't know it and are too dumb or lazy to learn it, which is why they buy into crackpot schemes like getting rid of nuclear.
Malcolm Rawlingson 8.15.11
I agree Fred. Remember the United Kingdom? Never going to build another Nuclear Plant..... now they are building 10 new ones. It is just political bafflegab. Should the Germans be stupid enough to buy into very expensive schemes like the ones Harry describes above the result will be the cost of making a BMW doubles and no-one can afford them. We will see how far down that path they will go. As we speak there are 62 nuclear power plants under construction and many many more on the books. China of course has the lions share. Perhaps the Chinese know something the Germans don't. Nuclear power is cheap and reliable, safe and clean with enough fuel to last for centuries. Perhaps the Germans will realise their mistake when the Chinese buy Mercedes. Malcolm
Malcolm Rawlingson 8.15.11
I forgot to add - the Germans are already importing electricity. From France - made in nuclear power plants just across the border. I am sure the French are making a killing on that. Malcolm
Graham Cowan 8.16.11
Germany will seek to use domestic and imported wind, hydroelectric, solar and other forms of renewable power.
It would be untoward if the central government ended up getting more natural gas royalty revenue, and perhaps excise tax revenue if it's imported from Russia, as a result of extreme lethargy in this seeking.
How did it work out for Italy, after that country swore off nuclear energy in about 1989? I suspect renewable energies and conservation were touted to take over for it there too.
Banning the use of a dollar's worth of uranium in a system of water-cooled reactors and -- where necessary -- enrichment plants can mean that $14 in natural gas is burned instead, and government gets more than $2 of that. But that is, I'm sure, something no-one in Germany wants to see, and in the ridiculously unlikely event that it does somehow happen, those whose cheques are fattened with the $2 will be almost too surprised to cash them.
constantin robitu 8.16.11
Dear Sir, I am apreciating very much the very first border of the knowledges analysis wich has a lot of unknowns into equation but may be one of many other future realistic scenarios. This construction of the article reflect also the willing to find the future into energy of one of the more developped countries, which will lead future changes on energy market. With respect and consideration, Constantin Robitu
Herschel Specter 8.16.11
Tides come in and tides go out. As a result there are periods of time then the velocity of the tidal water is at or near zero and therefore no electricity is produced. The author needs to talk to the people who operate the tidal electricity system at Nova Scotia's Bay of Fundy, site of the world's highest tides. He would find that this tidal facility only produces electricity about 30% of the time. This 30% may not even match electrical demands at the time it is produced. In any event, it requires a full backup system for the other 70% of the electricity that is needed...where is this going to come from? It certainly is not going to come from solar thermal systems. Such systems are to be located in high solar insolation locations like the southern deserts of California or, as the author suggests, in the deserts of North Africa. Such areas have low humidity which is also important for maximizing the captured solar energy, which also means that they can not be economically located in humid areas.
However, all thermal electric power plants (Coal, natural gas, nuclear,etc.), for thermodynamic purposes, need an ultimate heat sink, usually water. There is no water to spare in a desert and the economics of using very hot desert air as the ultimate heat sink do not look attractive. Further, solar insolation in southern California is about half in the winter as compared to peak summer months and North Africa's winter/summer variation might be almost as severe.So not only are there diurnal variations in the output of electricity, there are seasonal ones as well. Add to this questions of how solar panels are supposed to survive sand storms, particularly if they use rotating equipment to focus the parabollic mirrors.
A collection of impractical systems does not make an overall practical system.
Herschel Specter email@example.com
Don Hirschberg 8.17.11
Herschel, you make many good points. Your “A collection of impractical systems does not make an overall practical system” is a gem and reminds me of the guy who was losing money on every item advised to make it up on volume.
I have been thinking for years about how to run an efficient condensing turbine without a water heat sink. I have made no progress. It is a daunting engineering problem, perhaps without a solution. (Tell me again, isn’t it lack of water that makes deserts deserts?)
Professor Banks, I was amused by your pointing out that Merkel and others had “studied physics.” Which in turn reminded me of what 70 years ago went to the very definition of engineering, i.e. the ECONOMIC application of science. At the time I felt a bit insulted, as if I was merely Gunga Din carrying water for the important people as if engineers were merely the handmaidens of economists. It was even more bitter as engineering flunk-outs often became economists. To make it worse physics and chemistry students had far easier courses and could play bridge in the Union.
I find it regrettable that the German government is so venal as to so readily pander on this important issue to ill-informed people.
Michael Keller 8.18.11
By way of a few observations: (1) A combustion turbine's heat sink is the air. (2) A desert isn't necessarily devoid of water, there just isn't a lot readily available. Yet, we find civilization in the desert and that requires water. Cleaver engineering does find a way to get water, including building dams, recycling, etc.
As far as Germany is concerned, they seem to have a track record for collectively making poor decisions.
From a crass American's standpoint, by all means let Germany get rid of nuclear and go all renewable. By doing so, Germany becomes a has-been competitor and we in America can sell more of our goods and services! America has plenty of fuel resources and I confidently predict the renewable "bubble" is about to pop here in the US.
Don Hirschberg 8.18.11
Michael, I was a being a bit too cute. Sorry. (Deserts are defined as places of low precipitation – as Antarctica, Death Valley and the Sahara.)
But my point is that the best thermal solar energy locations are very often locations without cooling water. What do we do with the heat? No matter what the fuel, whether coal or uranium. It is ordinarily used to make steam to turn condensing turbines. With water doing the condensing. Lots of it, even if in a cooling tower closed system. We need to evaporate about a pound of water in the cooling tower (hence the great plumes) for every pound of steam sent to the turbine.
Michael Keller 8.19.11
I think the Rankine (steam) cycle is a mature technology that has been overtaken by more efficient methods, specifically the gas turbine.
While a gas turbine combined-cycle unit does employ a steam turbine, the station's overall water needs are much smaller than an equivalent thermal plant. This is due, in part to the air being the gas turbine's heat sink, with the gas turbine providing about 50% of the plant's output. Also, an air cooled condenser, while somewhat impacting overall efficiency and cost, can be and is being used with combined-cycle plants.
In hot desert locations, evaporative cooling of the gas turbine's inlet air requires water, but those needs are relatively modest. Use of some form of chiller system is also possible, but some cooling water is also generally needed. Combined-cycle plants in the US Southwest employ such methods while rountinely using recycled sewage water. Incidentally, the Palo Verde nuclear plant (with it's huge water needs) employs such a method, with the treated sewage water obtained from Phoenix, some 60 or so miles from the plant.
In the larger context, I think some water can always be obtained (e.g. from desalination of sea water as rountinely done in the MiddleEast), as long as one is willing to pay the extra cost.
Ultimately, however, the Brayton cycle requires much less water than conventional steam plants while using significantly less fuel. As such, the gas turbine technology is replacing conventional thermal plants. Also, for a whole host of reasons, I predict the nuclear Brayton cycle will ultimately replace conventional nuclear power.
Don Hirschberg 8.19.11
Sure Michael, no argument about the cycles but I thought we were talking about using solar energy in places like the Sahara to off-set fossil fuel usage. Where do you get the fuel for your gas turbines? And if you are not going to make steam out of the solar thermal energy what are you going to do with it?
As for desalination of sea water I suspect that the costs for the quantities we are talking about would be astronomical besides being energy hogs.
There is an enormous but essentially finite supply of fresh water on this planet. But no finite amount can satisfy an exponational demand, and a population of 7 billion and still growing at about 0.1 billion per year.
Len Gould 8.22.11
Regarding solar thermal in the Sahara, about 100 km west of the Nile and 100 km inland from the Med is a great dry depression well below sealevel and with excellent insolation resources (as good as anything in the SW US). With minor pumping costs to compensate for friction, cool seawater from fairly deep offshore intake pipes can be readily delivered to the site. The seawater can then readily be applied first to condensing the evapourite from the condensers to provide desalinated water for farming, then directly to the condensers to condense the turbine steam, then laid out in huge evaporative beds to provide sea salt for marketing. (Incidentally, if the huge amounts of pure sea salt thus produced could be marketed at present world prices, it would provide a greater income stream than either the electricity or the farm produce). Only serious downside is that the nearby Egyptian market for electricity is presently quite depressed, and the pricy Italian market requires transmission through some fairly politically unstable regions.
Len Gould 8.22.11
Of course the obvious solution to the transmission problem initially is to install an aluminum smelter, and use part of the product to construct new generation plants. Problem there is that the smelters would rapidly swamp the world market for aluminum, back to square one. One unit of about 80 MW would be just right to produce enough aluminum to reproduce the entire solar collection system ten times per year... a complex but interesting proposition that of course will never get done.
Don Hirschberg 8.22.11
The condensate from a condensing steam turbine exhaust becomes boiler feed water. It does not leave the system except for a small bleed to control mineral buildup and the small loss through a vacuum pump or steam jet to remove any accumulation of small quantities of noncondensible gases such as nitrogen. This condensate is at about 1 psi absolute (a pretty good vacuum) and < 100 F to attain good thermal efficiency. To get this condition the cooling medium, i.e. the sink, has to be significantly colder than 100 F. To replace the boiler feed water bleed there needs to be a source of desalinated water treated to boiler feed water specifications.
To make aluminum one needs lots of cheap electricity and bauxite ore (alumina, A2O3) from a nearby mine or port.
I didn’t think we were considering energy generation boutiques here. I thought we were considering the replacement of generating capacity needed to replace nuclear sources.
Don Hirschberg 8.22.11
Correction. In my dotage I am not very good at editing my comments. Alumina is of course AL2O3, not A2O3 as I posted above. (Those of us who were in high school in the early '40s know that the symbal for aluminun is Al.)
Len Gould 8.24.11
Don. It actually works. You're on the wrong track discussing feedwater quality, that's obviously a closed circuit as far as seawater coolant is concerned. Provided air is excluded from the sink side of the condensers (think it through).