The "Other" Renewables: Environmentalists Often Refer to Wind, Solar, and "Other Renewable Sources" of Energy. What Are These "Other Sources"? How Can They Contribute to Our Energy Future?
Hiserodt, Ed, The New American
Over the past several months, THE NEW AMERICAN has looked at some of what are deemed "renewable energy resources"--hydrogen, ethanol, wind, and solar--and found them wanting. Wind and solar power have been shown to be undependable, environmentally disastrous, and puny providers of industrial-grade electricity. Ethanol requires high-grade energy in the form of electricity, natural gas, and petroleum products to convert valuable agricultural products to an inferior and troublesome fuel. Hydrogen was exposed to be no energy source at all because there simply aren't any naturally occurring deposits of hydrogen, and it, too, requires wasting high-grade electrical energy and/or natural gas in its production to yield a thoroughly impractical, untransportable energy commodity. *
None of these would exist commercially in a free market with an informed public. Even though these "renewables" have received an immense flow of government subsidies and media hype, they are still unpopular with private entrepreneurs because they don't make fiscal sense. As shown in the pie chart (see page 26), "renewables" account for 10.4 percent of electrical generation in the United States. This is further broken down to show that solar and wind generation--after years of subsidies, grants, and other preferential treatment--still produce less than one percent of our total electrical power. So we've covered the most politically popular renewables and found they had major drawbacks. But what about the "others"?
The energy in falling water has been harnessed for centuries and was the primary source of nonhuman, nonanimal energy before Watts' steam engine. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, water power drove the New England mills, making that region a competitive force in many energy-intensive industries, notably textiles. Hydroelectricity came into its own in the United States in the early 20th century with the hydroelectric plants built in connection with the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Hoover Dam, and many other less well-known but crucially important hydroelectric projects.
One might consider hydroelectric power the ultimate source of electrical generation as it can be turned on and off in short order, is nonpolluting, and has rain and melting snow as its fuel. Of course, every power source must have some drawbacks and dangers since that is the nature of potential energy. Dams silt up over long periods of time, and dam failures caused by earthquakes or design flaws have annihilated communities in minutes. Then, too, the flow might be too low during the periods when energy is needed, but all in all, hydroelectricity is a solid, reliable contributor of about seven percent of U.S. electrical-energy production.
However, as a solution for meeting our growing energy needs, hydroelectricity is dead in the water. There are too few, if any, generating sites available with the topography for dam construction--requiring both a large volume of flow and a considerable vertical distance between the "head water" and the "tail water." (Hydroelectric energy is proportional to the volume of water channeled through the turbine, times the difference in reservoir levels.) In recent years, many dams have been removed, some because they have become decrepit and weren't worth refurbishing, others because of pressure from environmentalists to return the rivers to their natural states.
We all know that it gets warmer as we drill deeper into the Earth, so it seems a simple enough matter to drill a hole, pour water into it, and wait for the steam to come rushing out. Actually that's not far from what is done in a geothermal "Hot Dry Rock" system, except two geothermal wells are drilled with the rock between them explosively ruptured at a great depth. This is not a tunnel as such, just fractured rocks so the feedwater can come in contact with the hot rocks (with as much surface area as possible) before becoming superheated and being pumped to the surface where it is flashed into steam. …