Energy developments usually take a long time to mature, so the next big thing is probably already in existence.
As mentioned in the previous article, it could be drones mapping terrain in conjunction with seismic studies to improve oil exploration1, but while drones will be used for this purpose, it probably isn’t the next big thing.
Using space based solar power, while possible, and proposed by NASA, is not likely in the near term2.
Storage of electricity could be the next big thing, but batteries and other technologies are far too costly to be widely used. Experimenting will continue and get profuse media attention, but probably won’t result in any major breakthroughs. Storage will be just around the corner … for decades to come.
Here are the three potentially most important energy ideas between now and 2035:
Small Modular Reactors (SMR) could revive the nuclear power industry in the United States.
More likely, SMRs will be built and installed in underdeveloped countries that are in desperate need of electricity.
Babcock and Wilcox Company has received funds from the Department of Energy (DOE) for the development of its mPower reactor design.
Other companies, such as Westinghouse, are also working on SMRs.
General Atomic is developing a high temperature, helium cooled reactor, which is said to be more efficient, though construction costs may be higher than other SMRs.
SMRs can be buried for security reasons, have a four-year fueling cycle to minimize down time and exposure, and have passive safety systems that allow the units to shut down automatically without the need for external power.
While their cost in terms of $/KW are about the same as conventional nuclear power plants, the total cost for SMRs is much lower due to their smaller size, which makes it easier for underdeveloped countries to obtain financing.
New modules can be added as demand grows.
- Maintenance diagnostics by utilities
The application of information technology on the grid can improve grid reliability by preventing outages.
Sudden temperature rise on a transformer can indicate incipient failure. Excessive voltage drops can put equipment at risk. Power factor can indicate wattless power. Increases in vibration can indicate equipment is failing. These, and many more indicators, can be measured and analyzed to identify trouble spots.
Preventive maintenance has been a dream of industry and utilities for decades, but the inability to obtain real time data has always thwarted genuine and effective preventive maintenance programs. In the past, preventive maintenance has meant inspecting equipment on some predetermined schedule, which was costly and often became bogged down in administrative detail … and always seemed to be out of sync when failures actually occurred.
American Electric Power (AEP) has begun establishing an Asset Health Center for collecting and analyzing data. AEP intends to identify equipment on the verge of failure so that it can be replaced without causing an outage affecting customers. AEP will begin with transformers and circuit breakers, but will add additional equipment as time progresses.
While not glamorous, preventing outages and improving reliability would save huge amounts of money, for utilities and their customers.
- Sun spots recognized as cause of climate change
By 2035, it will be generally accepted that the sun controls the Earth’s climate … not CO2 emissions.
Ever since Sir William Herschel showed in 1801, that the price of wheat was linked to sun spots3, there have been those who believe the sun controls the Earth’s climate.
This belief was reinforced when the Maunder Minimum was linked to the Little Ice Age4.
The exact mechanism may still not be fully understood, but the magnetic fields around the sun and Earth are affected by sun spots, and this in turn can affect the entry of cosmic rays into the atmosphere, which could, in turn, affect cloud formation and temperatures on Earth.
This particular hypothesis is being supported by scientific experiments in Denmark and at the CERN particle physics laboratory.
Recognizing that the sun controls climate will have profound consequences on energy … from development to usage.
- Surveying with Drones, from, Point of Beginning, August issue.
- See Space Based Solar Power by National Security Space Office, October 2007 Report.
- The Sun Kings, by Stuart Clark.
- The Maunder Minimum was a period from 1650 to around 1725, when there were few, if any, sunspots.
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