April 25, 2013

Low cost and increased supply of energy

Harvard business review looked at the the Spacex process for lowering the cost of space.

Spacex has a big goal, learned from the past, looking at the whole picture to find and prioritize opportunities, then refining key aspects of the space flight model to achieve their objective — is an approach that can make any organization more creative about cutting costs.

SpaceX approach innovates and transforms by looking at the entire business model instead of the parts. Cuts weren't just made to the physical rocket itself but to everything surrounding it — overhead, support services, development timeframe, and more.

* Sustaining cost reductions over many years
* Reinvest for more innovation

Applying to Energy

Canadian David LeBlanc (Transterrestrial Energy) is developing factory mass produced molten salt nuclear reactors.

LeBlanc envisions IMSR reactor sizes ranging from 25 MWe to 300 MWe.
* No fuel fabrication cost or salt processing = extremely low fuel costs
* Under 0.1 cents/kwh
* 200 small 300MWth MSR could be used to boost Canadian oil production by 6.4 million barrels per day

The 25 MWe version of the IMSR is the size of a fairly deep hottub

There are other factory mass produced nuclear fission reactors in development. China has a 210 MWe high temperature pebble bed reactor under construction and it should be done in about 2017. Initially it will not be cheaper than other nuclear reactors in China. Although China and South Korea have nuclear reactor construction costs that are about half the cost of other countries. China is also working on a Thorium molten salt reactor.

Most of the other small modular reactors will not be systems with the potential to radically alter the world energy mix or radically change the cost of energy.

Nuclear Fusion - Lockheed, Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, John Slough and others

Lockheed is developing a 100MW compact fusion reactor that runs on plentiful and cheap deuterium and tritium (isotopes of hydrogen). They are targeting a working prototype by 2018 and then to mass produce them like jet engines.

Currently a cylinder 1 meter wide and 2 meters tall. The 100 MW version would be about twice the dimensions.

Lawrenceville plasma physics is making progress towards a 5 MW Focus Fusion generator. They want to lower projected cost than any other energy tech $60/kW, .2 cents/kW-hr.

John Slough is working on a nuclear fusion system to achieve net gain (possibly this year) on a NASA space propulsion project. He has also built a one third scale system for fusion power generation. Success on the space propulsion project should then lead to funding for his commercial fusion system.

The chart is saying that a full commercial fusion engine would cost less than 100 million and is ballpark estimated at about $30-70 million

Various ideas on Solar to get to about 5 cents per kwh

There are several ideas that could reduce the material, labor and maintenance costs of solar thermal electricity. This would make solar competitive against natural gas, nuclear and coal as they exist today. The radically redesigned nuclear fission and possible success with nuclear fusion have more potential for the next 20 to 30 years.

Solar power continues to have innovation and further refinements to continue to lower costs are possible.

Kite energy for wind is an interesting radical departure, but it seems to be mostly stalled in its development.

Seamus Garvey has proposed redesigns of wind power generation to lower costs by 4 times.

There has been some slow progress on compressed air power storage.

There is also a solve for X proposal that is based upon compressed air power storage

An inexpensive, compressed air energy storage system with 60-70% efficiency could be widely scaled, hopefully enabling terawatts of grid energy storage in the next two decades.

Technology that might make it possible: Water is used to cool air temperature during compression and increase temperature during expansion, making the system more efficient.

This solution is well thought out and considers the response of the fossil fuel markets and companies. A large expansion of renewables will just cause fossil fuel prices to go down to the cost of extraction and processing. Reducing emissions down to 20% of current levels is sustainable. Fossil fuels could only be used for high value purposes.

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