Plausible science-fiction energy ideas

There's currently a really good debate on here about our current and near-future energy strategies, dealing with wind, solar, tidal, nuclear etc.

I thought it would be fun and interesting to start a separate thread for speculation on viable energy sources a bit further into the future, say 50-100 years, for the whole planet, not just the UK.

Do you see the world moving from an oil-based economy to a hydrogen fuel cell ones for example?

Do you put your faith in new advances in wave power, for the next Renewable Big Thing?

How about bio-fuels? Will they be the saviour of mankind's energy needs?

Please limit your proposals to what you think is reasonably plausible in the next century, as otherwise many technical objections could be easily countered by saying "Oh, we'll have solved that by then" - which won't make for a very interesting debate!

I'll kick off by proposing that orbital-based solar PV will at least be seriously attempted. This is where the solar panels are located in orbit and the energy they collect is beamed to the surface of our planet via microwaves or laser. Note this is a renewable energy source the UK is unlikely to be world-leaders in, given our cloudy weather...

As far as I know, a desert climate and equatorial location is optimal for this kind of power transmission, I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to imagine which nations could benefit from this.

We have the technology to do this now in my opinion, but lack the space industry infrastructure to make it viable. This should be remedied in the next 20-30 years when the commercial space industry is more developed.

[The logical extrapolation of orbital solar would for me, be to locate it at the top of a space elevator thus dispensing with the need to beam energy to Earth - but unfortunately I think the engineering challenges of this would take us way outside of the timeline of this thread]

/\dam
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Replies

  • stoozeystoozey Forumite
    97 Posts
    We already have zero emission energy generation its called Nuclear.

    There are no other options.
  • edited 26 May 2011 at 3:30PM
    podcakepodcake Forumite
    116 Posts
    edited 26 May 2011 at 3:30PM
    stoozey wrote: »
    We already have zero emission energy generation its called Nuclear.

    There are no other options.

    I think that is a very short sighted outlook.

    Firstly, Nuclear technology DOES have emissions just not in the form of thick black smoke which you can see. You have a block (however small) of nasty stuff which must be dealt with.
    I DO agree that nuclear energy is the only realistic way (with present technologies) to provide the power requirements that modern society will require in the future (assuming that we continue in the way we have so far), but to say it has zero emissions is quite simply false.

    I am assuming that we are disregarding the construction of these 'zero emission' systems because a nuclear power station is actually hideously bad in terms of emissions in the construction phase. With the use of thick concrete walls (thick enough to attempt to prevent the passage of gamma rays and x rays, often with unusual aggregates added to aid this) thick sections of lead and large steel trusses.

    Anyhow, if we are disregarding the construction phase there are lots of 'zero emission' options, most of then geographically limited.

    Hydro (virtually never ending source as long as the earth doesn't stop in the cycles it has)
    Tidal ( not so continuous, but very predictable) -- see St Malo (France) for a case study, they have an awesome barrage
    Solar (we are even reaching the point that solar panels could be produced in factories almost entirely solar powered..) Aslo if you are interested look at the chemical deposition methods currently being researched by Prof I M Dharmadasa

    Geothermal- again completely free, just a case of channeling the heat from the earth

    the list goes on....

    My predictions ( not necesserily in this order):

    1) Solar pannels that work in the night as well as the day will become mass produced. (you can laugh but they already exist).

    2) The world's ecconomy will shift from being entirely oil based to being either silicone or hydrogen based also.

    3) (unfortunately) people will continue to think that the use of electric vehicles is the way forwards untill somebody figures out a way of storing the required densities of hydrogen in an acceptable way.

    4) The world will have a 'bio fuel' revolution with some contries trying to push forwards the fuel as a method of increasing national wealth. Some international organisation will realise this and people will be protesting in the streets en mass attempting to get it stopped.

    In all likelyhood though people won't shift on using oil until it nearly runs out (about 40 years by current predictions).
  • podcakepodcake Forumite
    116 Posts
    Sorry, something else just came to mind as a method of producing electricity. google 'Osmotic power generation' I think that will be another thing that is going to start sprouting up in the next 100 years..
  • celeritycelerity Forumite
    311 Posts
    podcake wrote: »
    I think that is a very short sighted outlook.

    I wouldn't worry too much about stoozey, he's been shown to troll in the original thread - personally I don't think it's worth arguing with him.
    My predictions ( not necesserily in this order):

    1) Solar pannels that work in the night as well as the day will become mass produced. (you can laugh but they already exist).

    Do you mean the ones that are next to piles of salts that melt during the day and radiate heat during the night, which the panels can absorb? I think this idea would only be of interest in extreme (desert) locations, but I could be wrong. When I looked into it the power from the radiated heat wasn't very much.
    2) The world's ecconomy will shift from being entirely oil based to being either silicone or hydrogen based also.

    How would a silicon economy work?
    3) (unfortunately) people will continue to think that the use of electric vehicles is the way forwards untill somebody figures out a way of storing the required densities of hydrogen in an acceptable way.

    I think I am more optimistic about electric vehicles than you :). What are your main objections to them?
    4) The world will have a 'bio fuel' revolution with some contries trying to push forwards the fuel as a method of increasing national wealth. Some international organisation will realise this and people will be protesting in the streets en mass attempting to get it stopped.

    Interesting, care to elaborate?
    In all likelyhood though people won't shift on using oil until it nearly runs out (about 40 years by current predictions).

    Sadly I think this is spot on :(.

    /\dam
  • celeritycelerity Forumite
    311 Posts
    After watching a decent segment on BBC News, I'm now more inclined to think that wave energy will start to shine at around the 2020-2030 timeframe. Some cool (and practical) research is being performed now in the Orkney Islands: http://www.emec.org.uk/wave_site.asp

    /\dam
  • edited 26 May 2011 at 5:00PM
    podcakepodcake Forumite
    116 Posts
    edited 26 May 2011 at 5:00PM
    Nice to see a reply, I had noticed the other poster's comments in other places, I think he needs to learn some diplomacy..
    celerity wrote: »

    Do you mean the ones that are next to piles of salts that melt during the day and radiate heat during the night, which the panels can absorb? I think this idea would only be of interest in extreme (desert) locations, but I could be wrong. When I looked into it the power from the radiated heat wasn't very much.

    Well, the panels that I'm referring to are these:
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20827915.000-is-night-falling-on-classic-solar-panels.html



    celerity wrote: »
    How would a silicon economy work?

    I'm not sure, I do know for a fact that solar panels (produced in the traditional way) require glass to encase them and a source of high quality silicon to manufacture them. As such I've got a feeling places with an abundance of these resources will start to more closely guard it.
    celerity wrote: »
    I think I am more optimistic about electric vehicles than you :). What are your main objections to them?

    Well, its probably best not to get me started on this. I have three directions that I can approach this from.

    1) I am a petrol head (not something I tend to mention too loudly in the same post as talking about saving the world). I feel that electric cars have no soul or character, they are far too clinical for my tastes. However, to prove i'm not entirely heartless, my toy (1971 Triumph) has caused less pollution to the environment in its logged 26,000 miles than almost any car built in the last 20 years as almost no plastics were used in its manufacture. Also a car in production causes roughly 80,000 miles worth of pollution, so I figure I'm still WELL in profit there.

    2) this one could be argued to be far fetched, but electric cars don't make any noise, which means that people who are 'stop look and listening' miss out one of these senses. Notably people with poor sight might not notice the electric car. This makes then a definite safety concern.

    3) I am an electronic engineer, and previously a parts fitter for a local automotive retailer, and I know all too well that batteries are bad news.
    Lithium ion batteries have a shelf life of something in the order of 1200 charge cycles (at a rate of one charge a day this means 3 years of use before they need replacing at significant cost both financially and environmentally).
    The emissions from the battery creation are horrendous. Next if we take, a hybrid (lets talk about the prius) it is effectively a petrol car (above 30mph when the motors aren't being used) which has a boot full of motors and batteries, as well as a special gearbox etc... which means the efficiency is significantly reduced. A prius returns 50mpg, a VW polo blue motion returns something like 80mpg..

    A FAR better solution would be the use of hydrogen, which can be used alongside present Internal combustion technology with just a simple modification.
    celerity wrote: »
    Interesting, care to elaborate?

    Well.. I am afraid to say I am as stubborn as a mule, and following an argument with a quite insistent vegetarian who accused me of everything under the sun I went away and proved mathematically that it was impossible for the whole world to be vegetarian based upon protein density, growing space etc....
    At the time it was quite rewarding to prove to him that HE was in fact the one being thoughtless, and not me who was 'killing' animals.
    (apologies if you are a veggie btw)

    anyhow the outcome of this was that I know for a fact that we do not have enough land mass for food for everybody if we all turned veggie, as such the natural conclusion of this trend is that soon enough we won't have enough food regardless of how much meat we eat for the population to be healthy. As such, setting it aside for fuel is ridiculous, and it is only a matter of time before a crisis hits and an international organization has to step in and 'fix' it.
    celerity wrote: »

    Sadly I think this is spot on :(.

    /\dam


    Also I apologize if I upset anybody with this post, I have some strong feelings on these topics. I tend to work on logic and actual answers, because I'm in a position to evaluate the info available where a lot of people have only got what is given to them as actual information.
  • Ken68Ken68 Forumite
    6.8K Posts
    Part of the Furniture 1,000 Posts Energy Saving Champion Home Insurance Hacker!
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    This is the future for Europe...huge investment , right in the war zone, we need to sort Libya first. Unlimited energy.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/jul/23/solarpower.windpower
  • MikeyMacbethMikeyMacbeth Forumite
    146 Posts
    Can't really think of anything to beat the SPS (Solar Power Satellite) idea as a medium term likelihood, I suppose fusion might be in with a shot but given that it's been "just 20 years away" for about the past 50 years or so it may be a long 20 years yet...

    I'd eleiminate the pseudoscience possibilities such as cold fusion or zero-point energy - they usually fall foul of 2nd law of thermodynamics whenever they get raised every so often :-)
  • edited 26 May 2011 at 6:59PM
    podcakepodcake Forumite
    116 Posts
    edited 26 May 2011 at 6:59PM
    @ Mikey, seeing as you bring up the zero point stuff that breaks the thermodynamic laws, heres an interesting thought for you.

    Fact 1) Ground source heat pumps pump heat from a cold place to a hot place and they have a theoretical apparent efficiency of 450% (ish, with a maximum theoretical possible value of 780%) - please note that us engineers call it a coefficient of performance because efficiency could confuse people.--

    this means that for every 1 watt of energy you put into turning the motor to make the pump work you get 4.5 watts of heat.


    Now, a Stirling engine is a device that does the opposite, it converts a heat into a motion, somewhat like a steam engine, but at low pressure and without the danger associated with steam.

    Fact 2) A good Stirling Engine (as found in micro CHP units) will have a thermal efficiency of roughly 30%.

    to translate: for every 100 watts of heat you put in you gain in effect 30 watts of rotary motion.

    so.. why can one not combine the two..

    use your 30w output Stirling engine to power the heat pump which will in turn provide 135w of heating, subtract 100w for the Stirling engine, and use the other 35w to heat the house.

    :rotfl::rotfl: see if you can get your head round that ;)
  • MikeyMacbethMikeyMacbeth Forumite
    146 Posts
    @podcake

    OK, I'll take a quick bite at this from my long distant physica lessons and too much SF reading (i.e. I like the spaceships in theory but don't ask me to plot the course...) :-)
    At a guess, what we're looking at here in terms of 2nd law stuff is the question of what is considered the system as a whole...
    In 1) pumping from "cold source" to "hot" : isn't that "apparent efficiency" related more to the larger quantity of heat collecting surface compared to a small heat emitting surface on the inside of the house, with the pump effectively "concentrating" the energy involved... net effect being no breach of 2nd law as you have a larger total amnt of energy at the collectors flowing with efficiency lost through the pump and thermal losses through intermediary piping etc
    2) Not too familiar with Stirling engine (rings a bell but a bit of googling to follow I suspect) but the idea seems similar to most other types of turning chemical energy via heat to mechanical energy - so far so pretty conventional and definitly no breach of 2nd law here

    1 & 2 combined - in order for this to be Perpetual Motion Engine(tm) we'd need the total numbers and limits for the system as a whole - I'd think that what would effectively happen is that you'd just more quickly locally cool the ground the heat pump is extracting from to the point where .... uh oh, just picked up on this - where is the Stirling engine getting it's heat from? hmmm....

    I think my brains to tired to work this one through... will have to reflect later on this, but hey, tell you what, you build us a working model and I'll swap it for this here Brooklyn bridge I have just here... :-)

    In the meanwhile - "Ye canna change the laws'a physics cptn!"
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