Saturday, July 23, 2005

cadillac summer

Summer heat setting records
LAS VEGAS, Nevada (AP) -- When it's 117 degrees, the beads of sweat feel as big as golf balls, and gamblers still want their cars parked. Casino valet attendants have only one hope: Pray for a Cadillac.
"Cadillacs are awesome. The Cadillac A/C just fires right up," Tommy Clements said as he shuttled cars at Boulder Station hotel-casino.

The looping ironies of this latter century are rich.

For now, in Phoenix and Nevada and L.A., there is gasoline to burn, swallowing the distorted air washing off the pavement. Ice cubes and pollution. One can easily imagine this heat is here to stay, this year and next year and the year after, a product of easy motoring, carbon expelling, gasoline burning Americans.

Is the lack of ocean upwelling contributing to the heat? The extrordinary ocean temperatures? I won't be the the one to get into a tug of war with the razor wielding Occam. Let's just blame it on underwater volcanos, and absolve ourselve from responsibility.

Five years out, ten years out, as producer countries flip and stop exporting oil in the massive quantities they do today, what will happen to the Desert Southwest?

The end could be swift. It may come faster than we can produce plastic solar panels for every roof top. It may come well before the first hybrid cadillac rolls off the line.

I feel sorry for people who have taken on thirty years of debt to buy a wood frame air conditioned hovel in the heart of this nascent maelstrom.

16 Comments:

At 2:48 PM, July 23, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jon, the desert has loads of sun! Solar electricity will keep people very cool. There are terrific technologies like pyron solar plants and solar concentration driven stirling engines that will deliver scads of power to keep people cool. Now moving people, goods and services are a different matter but the desert can still play a role. Plug-in biodiesel hybrids will be the first things we see followed up by hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles with the hydrogen produced by the excess of solar electricity if not directly by solar-driven thermochemical processes.

In five to ten years the problem will be mostly solved I think and the desert areas are possibly better candidates for sustainable energy production than other places.

 
At 3:30 PM, July 23, 2005, Blogger SW said...

Well bubba, I'm bullish on PV. I think we're gonna be making some kick ass stuff and with a half assed amount of support from the DOE we might even get some of it out of the lab in the next ten years or so.

But even under the best of circumstances, that is using concentrated light, and converters with upwards of 40-50% of the direct spectrum, the energy density generated means that we are going to have to be smarter about how we use the energy generated. We are going to have to learn to be a whole lot more efficient a whole lot less wasteful. And then there is the question of water.

So, yes, I'm optimistic that in the future the desert southwest will be generating a significant amount of electricity from solar. Maybe even more than Las Vegas sucks up. That would be a huge accomplishment.

 
At 3:43 PM, July 23, 2005, Anonymous step back said...

Went into a store today.
Mentioned to the clerk how hot it is.
He immediately went into this whole spiel about Global Warming.

I was impressed.
The message is getting out.

People are starting to understand that GW Bush stands for Global Warming Bush

As for desert areas being best for powering heat engines (Carnot cycles), whoa, it doesn't work that way. You need a source of cool (actually a heat sink) to keep those engines going. Hot alone, does not cut it. Power plants have cooling towers !!! Where is the "cool" in the desert on 115 deg. F day ?

 
At 5:45 PM, July 23, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

SW - Are you the same SW of DailyKos and NREL fame? In any case I agree with you that we need higher building efficiency standards and incentives. And yes, if we're going to crack water for fuel then we'll need to use water more wisely and the place to start is with agriculture.

Step back - Here's a picture of the solar concentrator in Las Vegas. I don't see the stirling engine. It could be in the adjacent building or maybe underground. I confess ignorance to the heat sink requirements of stirling engines but all the proposals include siting them in the desert.

 
At 6:19 PM, July 23, 2005, Blogger SW said...

mine are common initials. My views are unrelated to my employer's. My employer remains unnamed.

 
At 6:36 PM, July 23, 2005, Anonymous step back said...

Anon,
The Stirling is inside the black box at the top of the heliostat boom.
Nice picture.

Stirling engines rely on temperature difference just as do all heat engines

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnot_heat_engine

 
At 8:41 PM, July 23, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Step back - There's a bit of a closeup in this pdf.

Alpha, Beta or Gamma Stirling?

 
At 9:00 PM, July 23, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

Anon, to your original point, I think I need to write a clarifying point on my overall position.

The short version:

We HAVE the technology.

It just isn't where it needs to be, and these things take time. Instead, Pheonix has 10 million conventional AC units, and it needs Stirling engines instead? Or at least stirling engines and the proper electrical connections to power up the old infrastructure?

So what are the capital costs? How much time is involved in manufacturing?

Is anyone even PLANNING on doing this?

This is where the dissonance comes from. I am not anti solar, or anti Sin City.

 
At 9:01 PM, July 23, 2005, Blogger SW said...

To me, the most impressive part of these systems are the optics. The weak point is the sterling engines. Of course I'm biased. I've been working on PV arrays that fit into the same receivers. Right where the Sterling engine is located. The guys we work with are in Australia. Again I'm biased. I think that you've got this wonderful optical system and then you use a 19th century conversion technology that has a rather dicey reliability track record. I mean, if they can make it fly, that is great. It is all about creating options. But I like the idea of having a converter with no moving parts that is just as efficient (or better) and modular, with components that plug in like light bulbs (with pins).

 
At 9:32 AM, July 24, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

mg - Exactly, what's going to drive this? Natural gas supply is getting dangerously short. Utilities are always looking to peak shave. People want to stay cool. A lot of them are tired of record-heat days, global warming and the attendant high electricity bills and even the fatalities! Public policy makers are trying things out like requiring a percentage of renewables not just because it's better for the environment but also because they want to encourage new industries for jobs and tax revenue. Joe Sixpack can change things by writing his state legislature representative, utilities commission , congressman and senator - just getting plain mad and demanding something be done about it.

Is anyone planning? Not sure. But many, many people are aware of the problem and pressuring for solutions including a lot of politicians. I'm surprised at the critical mass that's forming.

And yes no infrastructure transformation happens overnight but you'd be surprised at how priorities change. In the late eighties no one thought so much fiber optic would strung around the country to make reasonable broadband possible.

sw - good point about the moving parts and the reliability factor. Some other commenter on another blog suggested a 10 million dollar prize for the best solution, i.e. most power per unit of land with the lowest overall cost or something like that.

 
At 1:30 PM, July 24, 2005, Anonymous step back said...

sw & all
We are all in agreement that technologies already exist for switching away from fossil fuels (and greenhouse gases)

The real problem is human institutions

How do we get Joe Sixpack to wake up and vote eco-aware candidates into office?

How many heat deaths in Phoenix is going to take?

p.s. thanks for the link to the sterling solar article

 
At 3:16 PM, July 24, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

step back - We all have to make some kind of effort to wake up Joe Sixpack because he's sleep-walking into the future. That store clerk you met was at least partially awake. Strike up a conversation with him, encourage him to wake up his family and friends. All of us have to make a conscious effort to turn away from burning fossil fuels.

Organize a demonstration of fossil fuel independence at a local school. Kids are the easiest people to reach, much easier than the comatose couch potato watching Fox News. Who knows - an energized kid might wake up his parents.

My .02 for what it's worth.

 
At 6:41 PM, July 24, 2005, Blogger WHT said...

anon:
Regarding making air conditioners out of solar technology, remember that this uses heat (i.e. visible and ultraviolet light) to transfer heat to regions of higher heat density. When you look at it this way, it seems preoposterous in the long run.

Think about who will provide the outdoor air conditining at Palm Springs for instance.

 
At 10:18 PM, July 24, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

WHT: Not me, I hope. (I guess organic air conditioning is `green', right?)

Certain of my ancestors arrived from Slovakia. Some of those vast tourist free spaces and cool alpine meadows are looking kind of attractive right now.

 
At 3:39 AM, July 25, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stirling Gensets:

SES has more years of solar-based concentrators, but SOLO in Germany was 'selling' them to the 'public' for $7k Euros ($14K cost - $7k local gov. match)

Stirling engines asa Combined Heat and Power system is an option. WhisperGen makes a unit, and will sell ya one for $13K.

And the sun can be used for cooling. The Ammonia/Water cycle, and a unit was costing $5k a few years ago.

 
At 5:25 PM, July 25, 2005, Blogger WHT said...

MG:
No, not you (i.e. preposterous). The efficiency losses in providing air conditioning compound at every stage that energy is transformed.
It's one of those topics that makes me think out loud.

 

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