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Power Technology

Lichtblick and Volkswagen To Build 'Swarm' Power Plants 327

Posted by samzenpus
from the 1000-tiny-smoke-stacks dept.
Dr. Hok writes "As more and more renewable energy enters the grid, it gets increasingly difficult to match supply and demand 24/7. The answer of German power company Lichtblick and Volkswagen is a swarm of 100,000 flexible base-load generators. These fridge-sized CHP (Combined Heat and Power) generators that will be installed in people's basements in Hamburg starting early next year will feed electricity into the grid and the waste heat into their home's water/heating. The "ZuhauseKraftwerk" (HomePowerPlant) features a vanilla VW Golf natural-gas engine that generates 20kW electrical and 34 kW heat with an efficiency of 92%. The units are remotely controlled via a mobile network or DSL; they can ramp up in a minute if needed. A water tank ensures that heat is continuously available, while electricity is produced on demand. The swarm will replace two nuclear plants, they say. And your old oil heating needed replacement anyway."
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Lichtblick and Volkswagen To Build 'Swarm' Power Plants

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  • Uh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 0123456 (636235) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @01:36AM (#29375519)

    "The swarm will replace two nuclear plants, they say"

    So when we're all supposed to be scared to death of EVIL GLOBAL WARMING, the 'green' Germans want to replace two nuclear plants that emit no CO2 with... car engines... running on natural gas which will probably have to be purchased from the Commies?

    Yeah, that makes perfect sense.

    • Re:Uh? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 10, 2009 @01:51AM (#29375573)

      Germany and Spain allow nice allowances for those that produce the power at home. For example, the price paid for residences in grid-tie solar systems is $.60 per KWH in Germany ("Solar is only economic for installation on rooftops because of the feed-in tariffs for solar electricity of 60 cents per kWh". http://www.edn.com/article/CA6432171.html )

      Note that Germany is doing this even though solar is much less efficient there. Germany is located at ~ 51' N latitude . For reference, Great Falls, MT is at ~ 47' N Latitude.

      If the US tariffed-in rates were set at even $.38 per KWH, solar would be a no-brainer investment for majority of homes in the US and coal and natural gas generation would die a natural death with no power infrastructure upgrade needed.

      As a side note, the price of natural gas sets the world price for Ammonium nitrate - a product which uses natural gas as a major catalyst to produce. Therefore the price of Natural Gas has a great impact on the cost of food for most of the world. ( http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/icm/2003/4-14-2003/natgasn.html ).

      That is to say: the electricity we use that is generated by natural gas, increases the price we pay for food-stuffs here and in the rest of the world.

      • Re:Uh? (Score:5, Informative)

        by orzetto (545509) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @02:28AM (#29375761)

        Ammonium nitrate [is] a product which uses natural gas as a major catalyst to produce.

        Here come the chemistry Nazis: natural gas is a reactant, not a catalyst, and not to produce ammonium nitrate. It is used to produce hydrogen, which is then combined with nitrogen to get ammonia, with which you actually get the ammonium nitrate when you combine it with nitric acid.

        Though you're right that the price of NG has a large influence on that of ammonium nitrate.

      • Re:Uh? (Score:5, Informative)

        by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday September 10, 2009 @03:05AM (#29375893) Journal

        Is that why we here in AR have wildcatters coming out our wazoos? In less than 2 years we have had more than a half dozen natural gas wildcatters popping up all over town, and we are just a little speck on the map so they must be all over the place. I figured the price of natural gas wasn't high enough to explain all the rigs popping up everywhere, but if it is as you say and the natural gas is required for food production that makes a lot more sense.

        Because everyone here has known for decades there was natural gas all over the place, just nobody bothered because the price of gas was so cheap. hell in the days of family wells out local fire dept was getting called out all the time because somebodies pump kicked on and the natural gas blew the well house sky high. I was wondering why all of a sudden we have natural gas companies building like mad here, and can't hardly move for all the semis carrying gas production equipment. A tie in with food production makes a lot more sense as to why we have suddenly become a boom town. Thanks for the info.

    • Re:Uh? (Score:5, Informative)

      by gmthor (1150907) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @02:10AM (#29375665)
      The point is that nuclear plants can't be shut of in a few minutes (coal plants neither) and waters storing plants are not flexible enough. Because of that many windmills and water dams are shut of even thou they could produce green energy. So what it really means is that this technology will allow real green technology to run when ever it can.
      Just a statistics i remember (i can not cite it anymore thou) is that about 40% of green energy is wasted because the electric grid couldn't handle it.
      • The point is that nuclear plants can't be shut of in a few minutes (coal plants neither) and waters storing plants are not flexible enough. Because of that many windmills and water dams are shut of even thou they could produce green energy. So what it really means is that this technology will allow real green technology to run when ever it can.

        Alternatively, instead of having hundreds of thousands of CO2 producing generators with the ability to rapidly ramp up and down production, you could have a few nice green nuclear power plants and ramp up and down the load instead (e.g. by using the excess power to do useful stuff like cracking water).

        • Re:Uh? (Score:5, Funny)

          by bickerdyke (670000) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @02:54AM (#29375845)

          Alternatively, instead of having hundreds of thousands of CO2 producing generators with the ability to rapidly ramp up and down production, you could have a few nice green nuclear power plants and ramp up and down the load instead (e.g. by using the excess power to do useful stuff like cracking water).

          I guess I should buy stocks of every major paint company, just in case if someone really wanted to start building 'green nuclear power plants'. Wouldn't know of any other way to turn them 'green'

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by timmarhy (659436)
            the term "green" has lost all meaning through over use.

            if you mean "less impact on the environment" then nuclear power is almost as good as it get for anything that produces the kind of load needed to run a nation.

            it has one by product which is easy to contain. coal emits tons of radiation and toxic gases into the air, geo thermal is limited to certain locations.

            solar, wind and wave can't maintain a consistent load 24/7, so i'm curious as to what alternative you propose.

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by bickerdyke (670000)

              the term "green" has lost all meaning through over use.

              solar, wind and wave can't maintain a consistent load 24/7, so i'm curious as to what alternative you propose.

              Simple. Dont call anything that produces CO2 or other toxic waste (liquid, solid or gaseous) green

              Then take that "green cant provide sonstant load 24/7" strawman-argument and put it where the sun never shines. Ignoring that almost free energie sources, just because they won't satisfy 100% of your needs is plain stupid. Grab as much as you can get from that free energy pool and then throw in less-green power until you get 100% 24/7.

              Diversity is the way to success here.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Rogerborg (306625)
                "Free" energy? Tell me, oh wise one, what is the payback time on unsubsidised renewable generation?

                Hydro, geothermal and wave, fine. Wind and solar? You still have to keep fossil and nuclear plants running 24/7, or eat the brownouts. Power generation figures for wind and solar are bullshit - show me the figures for reductions in fossil and nuclear generation in areas where wind and solar are "contributing" to the load.

                • Re:Uh? (Score:4, Interesting)

                  by KillerBob (217953) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @06:47AM (#29376737)

                  Hydro, geothermal and wave, fine. Wind and solar? You still have to keep fossil and nuclear plants running 24/7, or eat the brownouts. Power generation figures for wind and solar are bullshit - show me the figures for reductions in fossil and nuclear generation in areas where wind and solar are "contributing" to the load.

                  Actually, I have a friend who's got a cabin up in the hills that's completely off the grid. Septic system, well water, solar power, electric everything (including stove and bbq). The in-house lines have a natural 16V system which powers major appliances and lights, and there's an up-converted 120V power supply for things like TV or computer.

                  He uses these things called "batteries" to store extra energy that's generated during the day in order to power things at night. Coupled with turning things off at night, his system generates more than enough electricity to keep things going, and can go for about 2 weeks if the weather's overcast before he has to switch to the gasoline generator to charge the batteries.

                  Now while it's unusual to have 2 weeks' straight overcast weather, it's not unheard of. But you can get past that by building a distributed network that covers a large land area. We may have about 60% cloud cover in our atmosphere, up to 80% on some days, but it's always sunny somewhere, and you can use generation from places where it is sunny to help supplement the needs/generation where it's not.

                  If we were to get serious about conservation and turning stuff off when we don't need it, then we could switch to solar tomorrow. more practically, as the GP said, we should be using solar as much as we can, and use something that's not clean to make up the deficit.

                  And before you start talking about how dirty solar panels are, and how much energy is required to produce them, I'll draw your attention to this [power-technology.com]. There's other ways to use solar energy to generate power. This one uses nothing more dirty than concrete and mirrors, coupled with a large water tank and a turbine. It's so efficient that on a bright day as much as 40% of the mirrors are directed *away* from the focal point, as it produces far more energy than the system can use.

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by drinkypoo (153816)

                  Hydro, geothermal and wave, fine. Wind and solar?

                  Solar could pay back the energy cost of the production of the panels back in the 1970s. If you are going to try to tell me that we can't build solar plants that will pay back the energy cost of their entire production in less than a decade today, I am going to tell you that you are a liar and/or an idiot.

                  Wind farms to date have not been all that effective, but we haven't been really applying ourselves to making them work for very long, either. So they're not a fit for all our power generation needs, so what

          • Well, it's not green, but the mural on the cooling tower at the Cruas [wikipedia.org] plant near Montélimar took 4,000 litres of paint, so you should be able to make a bit of dosh.

            (Most paint production is one of the least "green" activities you could imagine - petrochemical shit all over the place).

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Dr_Barnowl (709838)

            You should buy stocks in the ones that make white paint. Painting roofs white to increase their albedo is a perfectly valid geoengineering technique.

    • Re:Uh? (Score:4, Informative)

      by nbert (785663) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @02:15AM (#29375701) Homepage Journal
      The quote is a little misleading. They are not planning to shut down 2 power plants when the swarm comes online. They are simply stating that it will generate power equivalent to two average nuclear power plants.

      Different story: Technically it might actually replace those plants, because the government decided in 2000 that all nuclear power plants will be shut down until ~2019. But we have elections coming up and it's possible that this decision gets revoked.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by iamhassi (659463)
        " They are simply stating that it will generate power equivalent to two average nuclear power plants."

        That's good, so if I'm helping them pay for two nuclear power plants, I'm getting paid for the use of my basement, or at least getting it for free, right?

        FTFA: "Households would pay around $7,250 to have the generators set up along with an appropriate heating system."

        W...T....F.... so, I save them the billions it costs to build a nuclear power plant [csmonitor.com], and they want me to pay them to save them money
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by fforw (116415)
          Because a new heating system alone wouldn't be significantly cheaper?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Doctor O (549663)

          Someone explain how this works, why would anyone sign-up for this?

          Because $ 7.250 already is significantly cheaper than a regular heating system with condensing boiler technology (nothing else makes sense from an efficiency point of view), plus you get money for the electricity you produce. So you save on two fronts. You know, there's a law here in Germany which says that the grid *must* take the electricity I produce, and at a fixed price, which conveniently is higher than the price I pay at the moment.

          So, it's pretty much a no-brainer. The only thing that makes me a bit

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      In case you didn't get the memo, Russians stopped being "Commies" almost twenty years ago and are now a good capitalist dictatorship. Plus, there's a second pipeline project on the way (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabucco_pipeline) that'll provide access to more suppliers.

      Also, in contrast to a nuclear plant, this swarm can react almost instantly to changes in supply or demand, thus complementing the fluctuating levels of power generated by wind and solar (try achieveing that with a centralized mega-plant)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Eunuchswear (210685)

        Also, in contrast to a nuclear plant, this swarm can react almost instantly to changes in supply or demand, thus complementing the fluctuating levels of power generated by wind and solar (try achieveing that with a centralized mega-plant).

        Talk to the French [wikipedia.org].

        France currently produces 1/10 of the C02 per kWh that Germany does.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by orzetto (545509)

          How is that addressing the point of the GP?

          France delivers a lot of cheap electricity to its neighbours because, having a mainly nuclear-based power system, they can only provide the base load. This means they have to produce more than what they need and sell the excess, even if the prices are not advantageous and would not justify the sale economically.

          Nuclear plants are difficult to control. The reaction's dynamics are nonlinear and unstable, and you have only a 0.7% margin in which they respond with a 10

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Eunuchswear (210685)

            How is that addressing the point of the GP?

            Follow the link. The (G)GP said:

            Also, in contrast to a nuclear plant, this swarm can react almost instantly to changes in supply or demand, thus complementing the fluctuating levels of power generated by wind and solar (try achieveing that with a centralized mega-plant).

            but he's wrong. EDF does actually run some it's nuke plants in load following mode - it's not as efficient, but when you have a lot of plants why the hell not.

            If Germany were to go 100% nuclear, w

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by MartinSchou (1360093)

              All the other idiots who got rid of their nukes and now do nice green things like burn lignite to make power (yes Denmark I'm looking at you).

              I don't see why you're looking at Denmark. They've never had any commercial nuclear reactors and the only experimental one in Risø was shut down a few years ago.

              Now, is it stupid that they are using that much coal power? Yes, that it is, but on the other hand they are also one of the leading nations when it comes to adopting renewable energy sources, like wind po

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by TheRaven64 (641858)

            If Germany were to go 100% nuclear, who's left in Europe to buy their power?

            Well, we would over here in Wales where we have at least one storage system that pumps water up to the top of a mountain using cheap power and generates electricity via a hydroelectric dam when the demand is high. This kind of system smooths out demand spikes because it can be turned on and off very quickly. Given the amount that it rains in Wales, the same system also generates some power for free by impeding the rainfall on its way to the sea.

          • Re:Uh? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @07:58AM (#29377297)

            Nuclear plants are difficult to control. The reaction's dynamics are nonlinear and unstable, and you have only a 0.7% margin in which they respond with a 10-second lag (and are controllable).

            Oddly enough, nuclear power plants used by the US Navy work just fine when the power demand spikes (or is reduced suddenly) without becoming uncontrollable.

            Proper design ftw.

    • by nniillss (577580) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @02:27AM (#29375751)

      You failed to consider that the target applicants are already using gas for heating purposes anyway. Now the heat production of the engine will be exactly matched to this need (same as before). All extra gas consumption is fully transformed into electricity (which is possible, even for only 40% raw conversion efficency, as long as the electrical output is much below the heat load).

      So, overall, the extra gas consumption (compared to conventional heating) is transformed with 100% efficiency into electricity which is a vast improvement over all competing technologies with similar flexibility.

      • Now the heat production of the engine will be exactly matched to this need (same as before).

        How do you "exactly match" the heat production when heating and power requirements fluctuate all the time? I'm sure that will be "exactly matched" really well in the height of summer when all the offices have their aircon on....

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Hurricane78 (562437)

          There's not much air conditioning going on in Germany in the summer. Maybe for two weeks we use some fans, and in the rest it's not that warm to turn on any aircon or fans. It's also not that cold in winter anymore. A friend of mine basically uses no heating or cooling at all during the whole year, because his apartment is pretty well isolated by being on the first floor of a high-rise.

          • There's not much air conditioning going on in Germany in the summer. Maybe for two weeks we use some fans, and in the rest it's not that warm to turn on any aircon or fans.

            Germany is slightly further south than the UK (where I live), and airconditioned offices are reasonably common here (which is why I specifically said _offices_, not homes).

            It may not be blisteringly hot in the summer, but I seriously question the ability to "exactly match" the heat generated (up to 34KW per generator) with the heating requirements of homes during the summer (probably not far off 0KW - the amount of heating required for peoples' showers during the summer is pretty tiny compared to the amount

      • by wvmarle (1070040)
        They are talking about 92% overall efficiency which is not high for modern gas-fired heaters. Some even quote >100% efficiency, which is because they also recover heat by condensing the water that is produced by burning the gas. However the efficiency is likely far better overall when comparing separate power and heat production.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Dr. Hok (702268)

      So when we're all supposed to be scared to death of EVIL GLOBAL WARMING, the 'green' Germans want to replace two nuclear plants that emit no CO2 with... car engines... running on natural gas which will probably have to be purchased from the Commies?

      Yeah, that makes perfect sense.

      There is one thing that nucular plants can't do, namely ramp up in a minute. But that's is a prerequisite if you want to use wind and solar power when it's produced. AFAIK only water and gas plants can do that. So the CHP swarm is green because it enables the massive use of green energy. Nuclear plants take a few hours to get going, which is just not fast enough. Plus, I live close enough to Chernobyl to know that nuclear power is simply not acceptable. Unless you just love thyroid cancer.

      I'll grant you th

      • Re:Uh? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by FireFury03 (653718) <slashdot@nexusGI ... minus herbivore> on Thursday September 10, 2009 @02:55AM (#29375847) Homepage

        I live close enough to Chernobyl to know that nuclear power is simply not acceptable. Unless you just love thyroid cancer.

        Massively flawed reactor designs being run by complete idiots is simply not acceptable. Modern reactors are extremely safe and (in the West) well regulated. If you're going to ban the modern nuclear industry on public safety grounds, you'd better ban the whole chemical industry too since that deals with chemicals that are way more harmful and is far less well regulated. Replacing all the coal fired power plants with nuclear plants would massively cut pollution (coal plants put up a *lot* of particulate pollution into the atmosphere, much of which is radioactive and/or highly toxic, not to mention the environmental concerns of the toxic and radioactive fly ash which has to be disposed of - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingston_Fossil_Plant_coal_fly_ash_slurry_spill [wikipedia.org] for why this is bad).

      • by CRCulver (715279)

        Plus, I live close enough to Chernobyl to know that nuclear power is simply not acceptable. Unless you just love thyroid cancer.

        So just because some incompetent bureaucracts intentionally push one power plant beyond its intended use, all nuclear plants everywhere must shut down?

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by trickyb (1092495) *

          So just because some incompetent bureaucracts intentionally push one power plant beyond its intended use, all nuclear plants everywhere must shut down?

          Well, over the lifetime of a power plant (40+ years) it's a certainty that there will be at least one deep economic recession - during which time there will be extreme cost cutting, attempts to push the plant's output, and savage headcount culls. A perfect environment for breeding 'incompetent bureaucrats'.
          A reminder from history - Chernobyl happened when the Soviet Union's economy was dying.

      • Plus, I live close enough to Chernobyl to know that nuclear power is simply not acceptable. Unless you just love thyroid cancer.
        Plus, I live close enough to the Hudson Bay to know that air travel is simply not acceptable. Unless you just love getting crushed to death.

      • There is one thing that nucular[sic] plants can't do, namely ramp up in a minute.

        So, I've got one of these thingies, it's high summer, everyone turns on the aircond - bam! My house heating system turns on. WTF!

        As for "Nuclear plants take a few hours to get going", like I said elsewhere - talk to the French. The EDF run some of their plants in load following mode, they have just so damn many of them.

        • Germany is pretty cold compared to most of the US, and it has more of a coastal climate (warmer winters, colder summers) than inland (warmer summers, colder winters). Few people have AC.

        • by smoker2 (750216)
          So you don't use hot water at all in the summer then ? Explains a lot.

          Pro-tip - central heating uses radiators which can be turned off !
          • So you don't use hot water at all in the summer then ? Explains a lot.

            I don't use much of it for heating the house. I have a children so insane amounts of it get used in the shower every morning while they try to wake up before school.

            Pro-tip - central heating uses radiators which can be turned off !

            So what happens when your hot water tank hits 100 and all your radiators are turned off?

            This system cannot be used for load following - you can't pump unplanned amounts of heat into peoples houses, they have to

    • This is secondhand info, since it comes from a relative in Germany, but - consider that most German homes are heated by burning natural gas or "heating oil" (diesel fuel that is sold at a much cheaper rate than the fuel used for cars - and marked with a dye so that it can be detected if some clever guy fills up his car with it) in any case, then burning the same stuff and getting some electricity out at the same time does not seem such a bad idea.

      I was quite interested when visiting, since where I live we

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      This kind of power is really not a replacement for nuclear. The thing about nuclear is that it is great for baseline power: a nuclear plant is very hard to start or stop, or even to reduce output. Coal or gas fired plants can be started and stopped relatively fast and easily.

      These generators can also start up and shut down fast, and way faster than a gas/coal plant. They are great for substituting wind and solar. When there is a cloud in the way, solar production drops suddenly and quickly, then these guys

  • 92% efficiency?? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by goombah99 (560566) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @01:41AM (#29375541)

    "generates 20kW electrical and 34 kW heat with an efficiency of 92%. "

    since when is heat generation anything but 100% efficient. Now delivery to where you want it perhaps not. ANd it might go up the stack. but citing a 92% efficiency does not tell me much about the electrical generation efficiency.

    • Re:92% efficiency?? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 10, 2009 @02:00AM (#29375611)

      Well,

      you could use math...

      If 20kW+34kW is 92%, then the total input energy is 58.7kW, therefore the electric efficiency is approximately 34%.

      However, natural gas boilers for heating and warm water are very common in Germany, so replacing some (and 100000 is "some") of them with units that can also generate electricity is not such a bad idea.

      Cheers,
      Sirius

    • Re:92% efficiency?? (Score:5, Informative)

      by gmthor (1150907) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @02:00AM (#29375619)
      Yes it can be that efficient.
      You are right about the electric efficiency which is of cause bad. But what happens to the waste energy? All the rest is heat is stored in a big water tank for your home warm water. Only 8% of the energy escapes that system and will leave your chimney.
  • by seifried (12921) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @01:53AM (#29375579) Homepage
    Natural gas is easy to deliver (the infrastructure already exists), and you can make extremely small power units (this is a perfect example, personally I was looking at a 5kw unit to power my house but power is reliable enough so why bother). The problem however is that most natural gas in Germany comes from Russia, and every time they are feeling tetchy they have this tendency to turn off the gas (literally). Hope it works out, personally I think the higher up front cost of nuclear is more than offset by the stability it provides (typically you have enough fuel on site for quite some time).
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      personally I think the higher up front cost of nuclear is more than offset by the stability it provides

      Not sure about that. Uranium is a finite resource too, much more finite than fossil fuels in fact. If the world suddenly switched massively to nuclear power, there would be about a decade worth of uranium to extract. See this page [wikipedia.org].

      So in short, yes you're right, nuclear is great *for you* (and inhabitants of a few other rich politically stable countries), provided (1) it stays fairly unpopular and (2) other

      • by Mr. Roadkill (731328) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @02:25AM (#29375741)

        Uranium is a finite resource too, much more finite than fossil fuels in fact. If the world suddenly switched massively to nuclear power, there would be about a decade worth of uranium to extract. See this page [wikipedia.org]

        Not quite. That's assuming a "once-through" fuel cycle, and ignoring things like the newer generations of breeder reactors that burn waste from other reactors. Depending on a number of factors, estimates range between 80 and five BILLION year.

        I quite like Bernard Cohen's take on things, cited in that same article, that effectively suggests that we can keep getting uranium from seawater at least as long as the time we have until the sun burns out. I don't quite know how realistic it is, but it's certainly interesting and worthy of further examination.

        • by Kjella (173770)

          I quite like Bernard Cohen's take on things, cited in that same article, that effectively suggests that we can keep getting uranium from seawater at least as long as the time we have until the sun burns out.

          Sounds a lot like how we can replace fossil fuels with biodiesel. On a small scale yes, to supply the world with energy? Right. I don't know how few parts per million there is in sea water, but good luck on that.

      • Those are reserves. Not resources. Above and beyond seawater uranium, there are tons of locations that haven't been prospected yet, chiefly because uranium was so ridiculously easy to locate they stopped looking for it sometime in the '50s or '60s.

        And given how little of the price for nuclear power is due to fuel, even a tenfold increase in uranium prices would hardly have a noticeable effect.

      • Uranium is a finite resource too, much more finite than fossil fuels in fact. If the world suddenly switched massively to nuclear power, there would be about a decade worth of uranium to extract. See this page [wikipedia.org].

        *known reserves* of U235 are pretty limited, but we have stacks and stacks of U238. Maybe you missed the bit in the article you pointed at that states: "We thus conclude that all the worldâ(TM)s energy requirements for the remaining 5Ã--10^9 yr of existence of life on Earth could be provided by breeder reactors without the cost of electricity rising by as much as 1% due to fuel costs. This is consistent with the definition of a âoerenewableâ energy source in the sense in which that term

      • by Libertarian001 (453712) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @03:10AM (#29375915)
        With all due respect, nothing on the wikipedia page you cite actually supports the argument that we're going to run out of uranium any time in the near future. Did you just put up a link and assume that no one would read it? "Uranium depletion is the result of extracting and consuming uranium, a finite resource. However, uranium resources may never be fully depleted as the economically-recoverable reserves (including those in seawater) may be effectively inexhaustible." (opening statement) And remember that the sky-is-falling crowd have, for the last 40 years, been claiming that we only have 40 years left of oil. IOW, knock it off with the FUD.
    • and every time they are feeling tetchy they have this tendency to turn off the gas (literally)

      Not for paying customers. The problem is that those nonpaying customers tend to steal gas because they need it regardless of whether they can pay for it or not. That's why Gasprom is so hot about the Baltic sea pipeline.

  • by moon3 (1530265) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @01:57AM (#29375599)
    Fearing the EV revolution behind the door, the motor engineers are finding ways to stay relevant, but the idea of a Volkswagen gasoline engine running in every home is questionable, fossil fuels are not something people want to stay here forever (nor in their homes).
    • by dbIII (701233)
      Here it is "gas" as in the stuff that is not a liquid and not gasoline. Other than that, good point, however a fixed speed and load lets the thing run better than it would in a vehicle.
      It's not an entirely insane idea since peak loads are the problem and a lot of these may replace a base load station that isn't doing much 75% of the week anyway but is still burning some fuel over that time. That base load station it replaces is going to either be running fossil fuels or will be a very old nuclear installa
      • by moon3 (1530265)
        Good point with the "gas" thing, I agree it might provide the fix for today, but I doubt fossil fuels are politically or environmentally viable in the long term, also consider dependency on eastern "gas" powers, gas resources are something Germany is not very well known for.
  • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @01:59AM (#29375603)

    They sure have a great marketing team at Lichtblick and Volkswagen: so much rah-rah to describe a generator made out of recycled WV engines, that's pure genius.

    • by morari (1080535)

      Those old air-cooled Beetle engines can do anything if you put your mind to it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Atario (673917)

      Not "a generator". A system of 100,000 generators, scattered throughout the country, centrally managed via data links. Which is the point.

  • Nothing new (Score:2, Informative)

    by ctrl-alt-canc (977108)
    In 1973 FIAT (the italian car company) put on the market this device [wikipedia.org] (sorry guys, but it is in italian). There are still some cogenerators working around there, but from a commercial point of view it was near a failure. It will be interesting to see what happens to WV generator.
    • by orzetto (545509)
      I read they used the engine of a 127 [wikipedia.org] in the early seventies. Those engines were awfully inefficient: I remember that only in the eighties car commercials started bragging "This car satisfies the American efficiency requirements, the strictest in the world!" (they don't say that anymore), so I assume that engine was way less efficient than any US gas guzzler. No surprise it did not pan out. Now, if you try that with a modern VW, the result may be better.
  • Why now? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ShooterNeo (555040) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @03:28AM (#29375977)
    What I am curious about is why this technology is being deployed on a wide scale now. Cogeneration, where a heat engine's waste heat is used to heat a structure has existed for a long time. There's no reason that natural gas generator/heater couldn't have been installed in your basement in 1970. It would have made your house more efficient then much as it would now. So what has changed over 40 years that make the arguments for/against shift in favor of doing it? The biggest change I can think of is maybe better communications makes it easier for the power company to remotely control the generator. (since it wouldn't do any good to only have a generator in your basement for supplying power to your own house, wouldn't get enough return on investment...that power needs to be sold/credited to other users as well)
  • Well (Score:2, Funny)

    by mx_mx_mx (1625481)

    That really gives new meaning to word 'botnet'
    Imagine a 'swarm of power plants' controlled via DSL

    Ah, and imagine a Beowulf cluster of... skip it

  • What a stupid idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @06:13AM (#29376591) Journal
    First, this is a Japanese idea and we covered it here already. Second, this is a waste. They are trying to combine heating and power to increase overall efficiency. Cool. Except that Germany does not have much in way of natural gas so imports it. Mostly from Russia who has already shown that they will use it as a weapon. Instead, they should be pushing the use of geo-thermal heat pumps. Or if in town, then do a steam exchange (Germany has high enough density in most of their towns to make it worthwhile). Once they move to a heat pump, their hvac can be used for AC as well and has much higher efficiency. From that point, they can focus on a variety of power generation; Wind, Solar PV/Thermal, Geo-thermal; Nukes; even natural gas backing up solar thermal or geo-thermal (increased efficiency during day to generate more power).

    Once they add these expensive units, ppl will NOT want to change until the price of their natural gas goes up. That is the mistake that America has. We typically install Natural Gas/AC which together is about 6-10K. Nobody wants to put out 10K again.
  • AT&T does this. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @11:45AM (#29380109) Homepage

    AT&T has "distributed generation", and not just in central offices. Some in-ground network nodes have a small engine fueled from a gas line. This provides backup power if commercial power goes out. In some areas, there's been grumbling about this; somebody in the subdivision gets stuck with the big green box in their yard.

    It's mostly a problem in high-density suburban areas. In urban areas, there are underground vaults and commercial basements in which infrastructure equipment can be placed. In low-density suburban areas and rural areas, big metal boxes that make small amounts of noise aren't that bothersome. But in areas where everybody has their little patch of lawn and little else, there are complaints.

    I have one of these nodes at the end of my driveway. I get landline phone and DSL through it. It's about 1m x 2m, projecting about 30cm above ground, with a big exhaust vent. I've seen the box open; it looks like a server rack. Normally, it just produces fan noise; the engine is only run for tests and power outages.

Stinginess with privileges is kindness in disguise. -- Guide to VAX/VMS Security, Sep. 1984

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