Anthony made a great comment on the blog post about battery companies from a couple of days ago, regarding the rationale for a Chinese company to possibly buy A123 batteries. It is ironic for the U.S. government for a company they supported as ‘the future’ to be bought out buy a Chinese company, but it is not at all ironic for the Chinese. As Anthony pointed out, electric vehicles and some forms of alternative energy are make much more sense in other parts of the world. The sprawling environmental disasters we call cities here in the U.S. were built around the gasoline powered automobile and it is very hard to change. Assets such as roads, buildings, pipelines, and cables, are hard to move or re-arrange. For countries starting with a cleaner slate, it makes sense to NOT adopt the American sysytem of suburban sprawl. Building the infrastructure is very expensive and the price of oil remains elevated.
As I have blogged about before, solar power makes much more sense than fossil fuels for many areas of the world. Here is a more recent video of how off-grid energy is being installed in remote areas of Thailand and southeast Asia.
These small scale installations in less populated areas are wonderful, but for greater adoption in the developed world, we really need better ways to store the energy created by alternative energy (mainly solar and wind). It is a theme I have been reporting on for a few years now. Many ideas have been offered and here is one of the latest and perhaps the most ingenious I have seen. Several companies and researchers have suggested storing energy from solar and wind, in the form of compressed air in large caverns and even in air bags underwater. LightSail proposes using tanks but with a twist (something I wish I would have thought of – and should have dreamt up considering I am a meteorologist). They spray a dense mist of water into their tanks when the air is being compressed. This simple use of thermodynamics doubles the efficiency of compressed air energy storage (according to Light Sail). Here is their company page explaining the process in more detail.
For those unconvinced that we should try to implement more alternative energy in the U.S. (maybe with the help of LightSail), how about this reason: traditional power plants, including nuclear of course, use A LOT of water, and this year, water is becoming a little short in supply (just to tie this thought in with some recent blog posts, ethanol production also requires a lot of water). Solar panels and wind turbines don’t require water for their operation.
Have a good Wednesday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.