Critical Section

alternative entropy

Monday,  12/27/04  12:20 AM

Ottmar Liebert noted Alternative Energy: "The world's biggest solar power plant went online in Mulhausen, Germany this month, putting out 6.3 megawatts of power."  From my comments on his blog:

Unfortunately this illustrates why solar power is NOT an interesting alternative source of entropy.  Mulhausen now has the world's biggest solar power plant, but at 6MW it is about 1/100th the power of even a small nuclear facility.  For example the San Onofre plant in Southern California was turned on in 1983, and has two 1100MW units, together providing roughly 400 times more power than the Mulhausen solar plant.  San Onofre is considered small and old by nuclear standards.  France currently has 59 reactors with an aggregate capacity of 63GW.

Similarly, wind power, which is another alternative entropy source often mentioned, is likewise too expensive and does not have nearly enough capacity to be a useful alternative.  The wind power installation in the San Gorgonio pass in California, just outside Palm Springs, is the largest in the world, with 4,000 turbines operating.  This is an area with strong winds, very dry, with lots of open land, and hence unusually suitable for wind power.  Unfortunately the aggregate power of this facility is 600MW!  Which puts it in the category of a small commercial plant in terms of its power output, but when you see those turbines covering hundreds of square miles, you know it was massively expensive.  It is also debatable how "clean" this source of power really is; although the environment isn't directly harmed by using wind as power, it is certainly harmed by having thousands of large steel structures erected, to say nothing of the associated roads, power lines, buildings, etc.  It is impressive but could be considered an eyesore, and I wouldn't be surprised to find it has significantly affected wildlife living in the area.

I really wish greens were on the other side of the nuclear energy issue.  Of all "alternative" sources of power, it is the only clean source of power which can practically displace burning fossil fuels (coal and oil).  The only other large-scale source of entropy is hydroelectric power, and the destruction caused by damming rivers is immense.

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