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Monday, November 30, 2015

Alternative Energy: creating solutions or potential disasters?

National Geographic Channel invited the Zero Waste in ACTION Blog to join a virtual discussion on the exciting progress in the field of alternative energy. The conversation ties into the upcoming new episode, "Breakthrough: Energy on the Edge" premiering Sunday, December 6, at 9 pm ET on the National Geographic Channel.

The discussion is centered on the following question:
Do you think that by tapping into the new alternative energy sources we can reverse most of the damage we have done to our environment?
As The IMPACT Blog was also invited to join the discussion, Elemental Impact used a point-counterpoint approach to answering the question on alternative energy.

After watching the excellent documentary on alternative energy or "new ways to spin the wheel", Ei was most impressed with the tremendous strides in energy technology along with the significant investments in pilot programs.

From a zero waste perspective, Ei has strong concerns on the life cycle of these new technologies, especially with disposal of by-products and worn out equipment.

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At the 
Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project (CDSEP), a 110 megawatt net solar thermal power project located about 190 miles northwest of Las Vegas,17,500 heliostat mirrors collect and focus the sun's thermal energy to heat molten salt flowing through an approximately 540-foot (160 m) tall solar power tower. According to their website, the solar plant has a 30+ year operating life. 

The plant produces roughly 20% of the electricity generated by a typical coal plant. How many of the solar plants are required to play a significant role in replacing current power plants? At a cost of approximately $1 billion, are the plants cost-effective?

What will happen to 17,500 heliostat mirrors at the end of their 30+ year life, a minuscule moment in the Earth's life? Do the mirrors contain hazardous materials? What type of labor would be required to dismantle the mirrors for reuse | recycle options? 

In August, the CDSEP applied for a five-year permit to discharge up to 0.5 million gallons per day of industrial process wastewater to three double-lined evaporation ponds. Where does the CDSEP pull the water from in the middle of the dessert? Is it depleting vital aquifers in an area nearing (or in) a water crisis?

... and then there are the migratory birds combusted in-flight. On-line videos show the birds turning bright white in the plant's solar flux before literally disintegrating in mid-air. There are concerns the evaporation ponds will attract water and other fowl who may experience similar spontaneous deaths.

With many of the new alternative energy technologies it appears the companies work within an "energy tunnel," without concern for their broader and long-term environmental impact.

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Of particular concern is the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), a geothermal project established in the year 2000 by a consortium of the National Energy Authority of Iceland (Orkustofnun)(OS) and four of Iceland's leading energy companies, with the aim to improve the economics of geothermal energy production. The IDDP inserts cold water into a deep well near molten rock, which produces hot steam over 800 degrees Fahrenheit.

In 2009 the IDDP unintentionally drilled into the magna reserve causing a thermal explosion. Is there reason for concern the IDDP drilling and thermal wells could instigate earthquakes, thermal explosions and | or other geologic phenomena?

At the National Ignition Facility, a large laser-based inertial confinement fusion (ICF) research device, scientists are working to create a mini-Sun that will provide a continuous, self-perpetuating energy source. What are the dangers associated with a mini-Sun made using fusion technology? As stated in the documentary: 
Matter is being heated past the point physics knows how it will behave.
It is imperative alternative energy scientists | companies break out of the "energy tunnel" and focus on the broader humanitarian, environmental and economic impact of their emerging technologies. There is no one answer to the pending energy crisis. Lifestyle choices and human population play a vital role in crafting a solution mosaic.

Thank you National Geographic Channel for producing Breakthrough: Energy on the Edge documentary and opening the virtual discussion. 

... and the IMPACT Blog article, Alternative Energy: embracing the creative spirit, gives the counterpoint. 

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