Last night, I watch a ten year old Open University broadcast presented by James May. It was about our insatiable appetite for energy and power.
The important part was what we can do about it and which technologies are most likely to help.
This is an area that I have a keen interest in and try and keep abreast of the latest developments. The program, though old, does show some interesting ideas, kites that go high up, tidal steam turbines, solar thermal generation, wave machines, energy storage and the likes. All good stuff for a techhead, but most are impractical and fundamentally too expensive.
Because of my prejudices of wanting reliable and cheap energy I thought I would have a look at how a couple, or three, of those technologies where fairing. I stall start with those kites.
The Airbourne Wind Energy Industry Association International has a website, www.aweia.org but these seem to be dormant with no recent submissions since 2011.
Hydrogen was the next one I looked at. It seems that there are currently 3 cars available: Toyota Mirai, Hyundai Nexo and Honda Clarity. Now this does not come as any surprise to me. We know how to make electric cars, and also know how to make fuel cells. Hydrogen production, storage and distribution is the real problem here. It is just too costly and in the medium term, battery storage will be the medium of choice, as we already have a good infrastructure that only requires more sockets being fitted.
Finally I had a look at wave machines to generate electricity. This is an area that is physically close to my heart. Hayle, where the Wave Hub is located is only a few miles from my home. It costs a few millions to set up this 'socket on the sea bed', but to the best of my knowledge, no electricity has been produced there. It was only a testing ground, but still, a few more installations would have been nice. I did hear an engineer once comment when asked about the lack of progress by saying 'it is a bit rough out there'. Seatricity's Oceanus 2 device broke free in 2014, stopping that trial. Was not even stormy when it happened.
There was a wave machine, in fact it was the one that James May looked at, the Pelamis, they went bankrupt, 4 years ago. Rather than try it out at Wave Hub, they decided that Portugal would be better. Sunnier and they have great waves at Nazare to surf, puts Newquay's 'Cribber' to shame.
So all in all, not a good picture for 'disrupting' technologies. Part of the reason for this is that we do have some renewable technologies that work very well. Wind and Photovoltaic. It is true they they both have limitations and drawbacks, but so do gas fired and hydroelectric generation.
And as for nuclear fusion, it is 25 years away, and always will be.
To see James May's show, go here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTzsv_OwR2I