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#329: Geekout: Renewable Energy Transcript

Recorded on Wednesday, Aug 4, 2021.

00:00 We're back with another Geek Out episode. Richard Campbell, a developer and podcaster who dives deep into science and tech topics, is back for our third Geek Out episode.

00:08 This time around, we're diving deep into renewable energy energy storage. And just what do we do to keep the lights on without frying our beloved Earth? I think you're really going to enjoy this deep dive into the science of renewable energy and energy storage. This is Talk Python to Me Episode 329 recorded August 4 2021.

00:40 Welcome to Talk Python to Me, a weekly podcast on Python, the language, the libraries, the ecosystem and the personalities. This is your host, Michael Kennedy. Follow me on Twitter where I'm @mkennedy and keep up with the show and listen to past episodes at 'talkpython.fm' and follow the show on Twitter via @talkpython.

00:58 This episode is brought to you by us over at Talk Python Training, and the transcripts are brought to you by 'AssemblyAI'. Richard, welcome back to Talk Python to Me, hey, Creek to be back.

01:08 Man, it's been it's been a year. Quite a year. Is I recalling it.

01:13 We're living in, like, dog years or something like that, right? Every year is like seven years. I don't know if we spoke about it, but I definitely joked that you know historians, when they come back and study this time frame, they won't be able to say what decade or what era they study. I'll be like, well, what part of 2020 did you study? What part of a 2021 did you study? Did you study the summer or was it the spring? Because that's a different specially.

01:34 Oh, yeah. And it is how much it's changed and that we're still living with a certain level of uncertainty at the time that we're recording this, the Delta variants having an impact. And I think everyone sort of leaning back again going, oh, how bad is this going to get? I don't know. A month from now, things could be very different either way.

01:55 It could go either way. That's absolutely right. Yeah. So I'm cautiously optimistic, trying to live life, be safe, but not be huddled in a corner for too badly.

02:08 And for your own sanity. One nice thing about being up on the coast is the view is impeccable.

02:13 We're right on the ocean. You'll probably even hear a bit in the recording. It keeps you sane to be able to be out here and breathe the air and just try and connect with folks, even if it has to be remote, that's all.

02:25 Yeah.

02:26 Well, for the audio podcast, listeners tell us how you are speaking to us via Starlink, though.

02:32 I got on the beta for Star link right at the very beginning. And because we're in this relatively remote location, we're opted in very early on.

02:40 There is cable modem service up here, but it's broken at the moment. And so the repairs trying to be done this morning, which is one of the reasons we delayed recording, but they have not been successful so far. So we're counting on Elon's Magic as now the largest satellite operator in the world, and soon he'll be more satellites than everybody else combined. It the rate is going, and it's been pretty good, but there are dropouts. It's never flawless. And what we're asking it to do, this real time thing is, of course, the hardest thing.

03:10 Right. We're going real time to space, which is pretty amazing, but it's kind of cool. I haven't had a chance to speak with anyone who's had real experience with Starlink.

03:18 It's need to have if you're part of the experiment now, friend.

03:23 That's right.

03:23 Here we are.

03:24 Exactly.

03:25 We were planning on using high speed wired Internet, but it broke up, and so it's a really cool fallback to have. And I think it's actually going to be really empowering for people in places where that's not an option.

03:38 Yeah. And certainly I've talked to a bunch of friends who are all very interested in because I'm right on the ocean. I have a very clear view of the sky. And that's the real problem with Starlink is you need an absolutely clear view of the sky. And often when you're in remote locations, you're surrounded by trees and trees and Starlink are not friends now.

03:55 And satellites definitely don't mix.

03:58 It just doesn't work well.

04:00 I'm really glad that we're able to make this happen. And I say that with fingers crossed for another 45 minutes or whatever.

04:07 It's going to be what the time we got? Absolutely. Let's hope the satellites are well aligned for this next period, and we'll have a good call.

04:14 Yeah. Absolutely.

04:15 So this episode is going to be like some of the previous ones that you've been on before, and then it's going to be one of these geek out episodes and the geek out episodes I learned about, which mostly, I guess, premiered on '.NET Rocks'. Is that right?

04:30 Right? Totally. My friend Carl's idea. I did not want to do these. I thought it was a bad idea, and I was wrong.

04:36 So the first Geekout was back in 2011, and it was about the shuttle ending and just my thoughts on what went right and what went wrong with the space shuttle. And it continued from there. It became a pleasure for me. I'm a researcher by nature, and I've always been organizing my thoughts around different technologies just because I like to read and research and this shows basically drove me to finish. Now make an hour long conversation about that technology.

05:06 Isn't that interesting about being able to present something? Yeah. You have to you have to close those loops that you're like. Oh, that's interesting. But I'm not going to dig into that corner or that corner of this thing. And then when you've got to stay absolute and present it, I feel like that's a great way to learn stuff in general, as people in technology, not just for the geek out thing.

05:23 You definitely end up better at. It one of the series that I'm very proud of. That absolutely. The process making the show is transformed.

05:30 It was the fusion series because I originally thought I do show on Fusion. But as I started really organizing all the materials, I realized there was there was three different shows there. There was a show about National Fusion, like the I Ter and Jet and the National Ignition Laboratories, all of these big government projects. And then there was the tech billionaire pet fusion projects, because you're not a cool tech billionaire if you don't have one. And so this a moment where I realized, Geez, every one of them has one, and they're all wacky.

06:01 And then I ran across a set of papers out of Misubishi labs about low energy fusion reactions, and that actually walked us into a real conversation about cold fusion, which surprised me. It's like pseudo science for a long time.

06:17 But the Mitsubishi lab experiments in the late 2000 at were very real. And repeatable. Mitsubushi was smart enough that when they realized they had something consistent, they handed it over to Toyota, their arch rival, and said, here, you reproduce this, because if anybody was going to punch holes in it, it was there arch rival.

06:35 And they repeated the experiment successfully. And if you listen to that show, I'll give away the ending. Yes, you can do lower energy nuclear reactions. They are a kind of fusion. It's a part of science that's not well understood. And it takes more energy to do it than it produces just the sort of thing you don't want from a power plant.

06:52 You can make it happen, but it doesn't produce net energy.

06:55 Yeah. The fun part of that show is I'm walking Carl through the product, and Carl is always a great every man for those kinds of things. And I actually talked about Muon catalyzed fusion, which is a different kind of low energy fusion and very repeatable workable and so forth. It's just that it takes more energy to make Muons. Then the fusion reaction produces, which it turns out, is every kind diffusion except stellar fusion. That's how it's always worked. It takes more energy to fuse that then it emits.

07:24 Well, if you got that much gravity, it definitely is an unfair advantage. So this is going to be another one of these geek out episodes, and we're mostly going to just focus on the energy side, so it's relevant that you're talking about fusion. Here the other thing, I guess that's worth just giving a quick shout out to is you're organizing the Dev Intersection conference, right?

07:45 Yeah. So we did a show back in June as a full hybrid show. So some attendees in person, some attendees remote, and some speakers in person, some speakers remote. So we know how to do that.

07:57 We're hoping to do more in person show in Vegas, but we're prepared to do hybrid again if necessary, because we pulled it off. But this is a developer show. We have a close relationship with Microsoft, so it's lots of .net content, but also web content across the board, plenty of Azure artificial intelligence technologies. And it's a very big, broad show and a ton of fun. And the MGM grand is a great location for it. Yeah.

08:22 That's really cool. I feel like last time we spoke, this was the pre Delta pre large scale vaccine, and we're sort of crossing over the hump.

08:32 And this is going to be like you'll be able to sort of put this back on, no problem. And then Delta and all that kind of again asked me in a month.

08:40 And maybe it'll be fine, but at the moment, we're all sort of holding our breath. It's like we know what to do if we have to.

08:47 Yeah.

08:47 I hope we don't have to.

08:49 Absolutely.

08:50 All right. So let's dive into our main topic since we are on a bit of a time crunch since we're going to space.

08:58 So on this one, I wanted to talk to you about energy. And I think there's lot of things happening around energy that both optimistic and amazing, as well as their setbacks and other things. So let's talk about sort of the story of energies, specifically mostly renewable energy these days. Like, how are we doing?

09:19 We're doing pretty well. I mean, obviously, the pandemic change things.

09:24 Power consumption overall, especially electricity, did decline, especially in the west during the pandemic, closing of malls and commercial spaces and so forth, because those spaces tend to be very efficient in the sense that you do shut them down. They reduced a lot of power, except now everybody went home and consumed more power at home.

09:46 But if you think about the normal work cycle where people are at home, then they go to work and then they come back again.

09:54 The home is typically not as diligently shut down as office spaces. So homes have a sort of always on certain amount of power consumption going on, and you can do better than that to be a little more efficient.

10:05 Yeah. I bet a bunch of people just leave their AC set to whatever.

10:09 Exactly. And you know, the real sin as I've been studying my house heated floors, those electrically heated floors consume a lot more power than you realize.

10:17 Interesting.

10:18 Do you learn how long it takes to get them to temperature and so forth so that you can shut them down when you're not home during the day and heat them up when you need them? That's a lot of power. That's a kilowatt per floor per day. Easy.

10:29 How interesting. Yeah. That is a lot of energy in the air conditioners, too. And I suspect that a lot of people don't shut them down. So I saw an article recently that talked about, oh, we're actually being set back by people working from home because we all now have our computers on in our lights, on in our AC or heater or depending on the time of the year at everybody's house instead of one giant office.

10:54 But I don't believe that took into account was the person who lives 45 minutes away from the office and commutes with an old suburban SUV that is burning extra gas. Right. I think it just looked at the energy of the office and the energy of the homes and said, oh, there's more at the homes.

11:11 But eliminated the community. Well, but I don't think that's true either in some respects, you have the same computer, if not a less efficient computer at the office. And so those things were turned off. I think the move to the cloud actually ends up being energy efficient because business owned servers tend to be less utilized than cloud servers. So you're actually gaining efficiency in terms of power consumption by shifting those workloads into the cloud. Those machines run in a much higher constant utilization rate. So there's fewer CPU serving, far more workloads that way.

11:44 How many VPCs servers run on top of you? One piece of hardware? A lot.

11:50 Exactly. I mean, a lot. And of course, they're paid for their margin is in that optimization, where typically your own servers just don't have that same level of utilization. But I think the biggest thing that created in the West huge power drops was that folks shut down those buildings. They turned as much off as they could, far more reliably than anything else. The drop in oil, recognizing that oil consumption in the form of gasoline, kerosene, 50% of all oil is going into road transport and air.

12:22 And so that drop was tremendous during the peak of the pandemic in April of 2020. The oil interested calls that black April because in the west, it was like 30% reduction. On a typical day.

12:37 In 2019, the world consumed about 80 million barrels of oil. And in April of 2020, it was like 45 million.

12:47 Yeah, that's amazing.

12:48 And the thing is that oil moves all the time. And so if you recall, there was a crisis where oil actually went to negative pricing because nobody had anywhere to store it.

12:58 I remember that. And there was all these people investing in sort of indirectly in oil.

13:04 And what I think there were some of them they didn't realize that they were on the hook to store that oil.

13:08 Exactly. And then they got oil tankers arriving at refineries with nowhere to offload because the tanks were all full. And now the ship was effectively a storage machine like that's how bad it got for a month, and it hasn't fully recovered. Like oil consumption is still down.

13:25 They don't expect road transport consumption. And I'm referencing the IEA report.

13:30 This is the International Energy Association. It's very challenging to get good energy data, quality energy data this is a group they're operated out of Paris, but they're worldwide, and they're very agnostic. They're not owned by any energy companies. Typically, when you go looking for data like this, you will find energy companies telling you about how their energy is great.

13:51 This is sort of the most reasonable report you can get in terms of levelizing all of those numbers.

13:56 the clean natural gas.

13:58 Yeah, well, cleaner than coal relative. It doesn't it give them that it's about half the emission level of coal, but it's still with significant emissions, and it's cheap. That's why natural gas has done so well. So the IEA, they break down a lot of these pandemic details of one of the points they made. It's like road transport consumption will probably reach 2019 levels by the end of 2021, but air transport won't is air transport is going to take longer to come back of people aren't flying, and it's had a huge impact. Yes, we move a lot of stuff by cargo, but we move far more people by air.

14:33 And so a number of airplanes that are still parked and the decrease in consumption all around, it's not small. And so in that sense, our emissions have dropped a non trivial amount in the process.

14:45 And the the good news is when that power consumption drop happened, the power plants that got turned off were the dirtiest ones.

14:52 So coal consumption went drowned dramatically in 2020 because power consumption went down.

14:59 That's really good.

15:00 I mean, it makes sense that that was the plants that they turned off, except in China.

15:04 China actually added coal consumption because China increased their power consumption throughout the pandemic. They also take in fair credit to China. Well, they may have been 50% of the increase in coal consumption and 20 they were also 50% of the increase in renewables over 2020. So, I mean, China is growing very rapidly. They are building out a lot of infrastructure, and they did not stop through the pandemic.

15:29 They did a better job of containing the pandemic as well.

15:32 I don't know if that's true. What they certainly did was did a good job of containing any data about their pandemic.

15:39 They also have the freedom. That's not the right word. They have the flexibility to impose rules differently than the suggestions that we have, like in North America and Europe.

15:50 And one of the big cases, like the whole world, has benefited from the fact that the Chinese government chose to simply build gigantic solar power plants to manufacture solar at a massive scale and drove the price down of solar. It probably wasn't the most economically efficient way to go about it, but it's the advantage of having the sort of strict single party rule system that says, thou shalt built big solar factories. And they did and again sent the price of solar to the floor to the point where now in the west use solar differently. Once upon a time, solar panels were so precious, you put them on articulated arms to aim them perfectly at the sun throughout the day to maximize utilization. These days, you don't do that because those arms are fragile, they break and they're expensive. And Germany did this huge push towards solar as they started trying to wind down their nuclear power. They were putting all of these solar panels in all aimed south because they're in the fairly far north and they get the most light if they're physically aimed south until they were generating so much power at the middle of the day when they didn't need it, that it was actually a problem for their grid, and they don't do that anymore. They now point their panels east and west, which seems foolish because it means you get less utilization per panel. But what you're actually doing is smoothing out your power generation. You don't need as much power in on. What you need is more power in the morning and more power in the evening. And moving those panels using each panel less efficiently actually makes a more efficient grid.

17:20 How interesting. I think the area I really want to focus on with our conversation is that storage side, because I think that's the magic of unlocking things for before we do. Have you seen Project Sunroof?

17:32 I have it doesn't work in Canada. Unfortunately, that is unfortunate.

17:35 The sun is totally different there or. No, just kidding.

17:38 Well, he has a U and then his name. So what are you going to do?

17:42 Yeah.

17:43 So this thing let you go to your address or anyone's address and click on it and say it gives you a heat map of the roof of your house for the amount of energy it's going to receive. And unfortunately, here I'm also in the Pacific Northwest. And one of the things that I think is glorious about here is right in my yard. I have 150 year old trees that are super high, which are amazing.

18:08 Unless you want solar radiation.

18:11 Unless you want sunlight to hit places.

18:14 Yeah, exactly.

18:14 There's like a little sliver or Starlink, for that matter.

18:17 Yeah. Both are out for me. I actually had some solar people come out in Estimants. Does it make any sense to put the money aside? Does it even make sense just from a climate perspective? And they're like, you know what going to take five years to pay off the carbon to manufacturing? That just the panels go right.

18:35 You like, too inefficient to justify it, unfortunately.

18:39 But yields are just too low. And it's like if you really wanted to reduce your carbon footprint, spending that money on the most efficient appliances you could have.

18:48 Or redoing your installation or something like that.

18:50 Or even using things like Tesla power wall to run on battery during peak power consumption times. Those things represent. The problem with most grid power is that it pretty much generate the same amount of power all the time. Grid is not that flexible. It takes a while to spin up those big power plants, and so they produce for peak.

19:10 And the concept of power wall was, hey, if I can take you off the grid during peak, if I can store power at the cheap times and then use that power at the peak times, we can turn off a peak power plant.

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20:01 It seems completely reasonable. You know, there's been a lot of success, I think, with the grid scale utility level power pack that Tesla does.

20:11 Yeah. I mean, it's not a lot of success. There's been a few Australia being the famous.

20:15 Yeah, that's the one I was thinking of for sure.

20:17 They just had a big fire at one of them in terms of lithium ion Burns. Prolifically.

20:23 Yeah. I was going to call that out. Where was that one?

20:26 That one was definitely I guess I can't pull it up.

20:29 The biggest advantage of battery over all storage methods, period, is recovery. That it comes about 90% efficient. So put 100 kw in, you'll get 90 kw out in exchange for expensive. That's the issue is that they're expensive installations. They do have fire risks.

20:48 The availability of lithium is constrained, although we're starting to see some other battery technologies come down the pipe, as the big news stories at the moment are around ironbased batteries. So it's not the iron is not liquid, but it's a liquid electrolyte. Iron battery essentially rust batteries. So when you oxidize the iron, you can store electricity and then you Deoxidized release the electricity.

21:14 Oh, interesting. It's almost like electrolysis, but applied to iron.

21:18 And it's fundamentally that's what all batteries are, right? It's doing a chemical reaction that creates new compounds. You're not going to find iron batteries in your phone anytime soon. They are big. They are heavy, but they are very grid scale.

21:31 The most advanced batteries that I've seen that seem to have the best backing right now. Or a company called Form Energy. So they've raised about $125,000,000, which seems like a lot, and it is in this space.

21:44 But grid scale power is hundreds of millions of dollars, so they haven't got a deal yet, but it had some breakthroughs in their battery. Their typical battery unit is about the size of a dishwasher. So again, that wouldn't be good for a car, wouldn't be good for a phone. It's also because it has a liquid in its oriented really matter. So these are meant to be held in place, mounted on the ground. They are run pretty hot, not a sort of thing you want to be around, but they're cheap, like typically with lithium ion batteries. Today we're coming in around a hundred. It may be as low as $80 a kilowatt. And believe, me, when $100 a kilowatt was reached for vehicle class batteries, that was considered the point where now we are price competitive with internal combustion cars. And that breakthrough was in the past couple of years. These iron batteries are coming at, like, $20 a kilowatt.

22:37 So are they more stable than the lithium ones as well? Yeah.

22:40 They're far less fire risk and slow, steady discharging. So one of the claims to Fame for the Form Energy battery is full discharge took 100 hours. So the idea that again, if you think about what is a grid want, it's that ability to have stable power all of the time. And so being able to count on a long duration battery makes a lot of sense. So this is not the kind of battery you want in your home. Like, we have this Homebase. Hey, we're going to spend less on the grid. We're gong to put the solar panels, and we're going to put some power walls in, and we will use the grid as backup and take less pressure off of that. But grid scale power storage, you're starting to see different kinds of storage system. And this is the first battery technology I've seen that's really based on grid style storage and has that really high efficiency rating. But it's not the only way to store power.

23:28 Yeah. Before we move off, just the battery side, I do want to ask you if you use your Crystal ball and look into the future, do you see a world where we've got renewable energy locally generated, like on roofs in California and maybe a power wall on a house? Like, I could see California. Mandating, every house comes with some sort of local battery.

23:49 And they have mandated solar. You do have to apply for a permit to not put solar on your house, which perfect. It's cool.

23:56 California has often done these kinds of things. The battery technology is a little trickier. They are expensive, they are relatively fragile.

23:56 But yeah, it's possible, but it's easier solved with grid. Yeah.

23:56 I was going to say, do you see that future or do you see a future where we have got massive grid scale type of generation and store?

23:56 I think it's going to be lots of both, because there's a good reasons for both now. And one of the challenges here when you start thinking about this micro grid behavior of having homes able to be on the grid is the grid needs to get much smarter. We need Internet technology applied to electrical generation, and utilization because it's peer to peer kind of problem.

23:56 And we're in computing, so we get that. But if you go talk to people who worked in power grids all their life, peer is bizarre to them. They're very much a fewest number of power plants necessary to supply the load, and a single set of wires defeated out redundancy is an expensive, often unnecessary thing, but that is clearly changing. We are creating more automation. So I think people will have a choice on how they want to consume in that respect.

23:56 But we're starting to perfect grid power storage. And mostly because our renewables don't deliver a levelized load. They deliver when they deliver, and we need to levelized with other strategies. And that's where storage comes in.

23:56 All right. Two other things really quick, maybe one altogether. So we had a lot of resistance in the US to putting up windmills wind farms off the East Coast because the people with their yachts, when they went a little farther out, they would see the windmills, and they really hated it. And then out in the desert in Nevada, though, what would have been a tremendously large solar grid scale solar is canceled because the electric. The article headline is The US Largest Solar Farm is Canceled because Nevada locals to want to look at it while they're out on their all train vehicles, which I love riding all train vehicles. I'm not against that. But, you know, it seems like some trade offs that aren't necessary.

23:56 Yeah. I mean, there is always an MB effect. What's interesting about a place like Nevada, New Mexico, is that they're doing Helio solar. So rather than using Photo Voltech, they're using reflectors to heat molten salt.

23:56 And what's interesting about that at that scale is the salt gets so hot that it still generates power through the night. I mean, there's a bunch of ways to use molten salt. It's used in nuclear reactors, is used in power storage systems. It's used in Helio systems. The thing that's powerful about salts, whatever they may be sodium based, all flooring based salt doesn't really matter is that there the operating liquid temperature. The temperature that they turn from a solid into liquid is around 400 degrees. Celsius varies from material, Laura, but their boiling point when they'll turn into a gas, is past 1500 degrees. So you have this huge operating range of liquid as opposed to water, which only has 100 degree range. And I'm using Celsius because I'm a civilized human for the liquid range, and that's not a lot of range. So the advantage being, I can do flash steam turbines against 500 degree Celsius salt just as easy as I can do. It gains 800 degree salts and so forth. And so they carry heat long enough that you can bridge nighttime with it.

23:56 Right. So that's even a form of storage, in a sense. But in the coast.

23:56 There is a mechanism if we have more solar than we know what to do with. Why don't we switch it to heaters to heat the salt up? Because after it gets past a certain temperature threshold, It'll generate a lot of electricity. Now. It's not because of that floor, that minimum temperature.

23:56 Molten salt storage is not as efficient as battery storage. Battery storage comes in into 90%. Molten salt is coming in 70%.

23:56 On the other hand, they're very persistent.

23:56 We've got a lot fewer risks.

23:56 They're a well known technology. So if you have the materials, it's a good solution. But there are more.

23:56 For years, we've been using pumped Hydro storage, where you use that excess electricity to pump water up a Hill. And then when you need it, you let the water come back down.

23:56 Right. So let's talk about some of the ones that are not straight up battery. Right. So like you said, that one's been pretty popular.

23:56 You need them in around a long time.

23:56 I was really blown away when I first heard about that. So the idea is you might be at the face of a mountain, and there might be a mountain Lake up right there. So you could have a Lake at the bottom and a Lake at the top. And as you generate the energy, all the extra just pumps the water to the top. And then when you let it out, you run it through some kind of Hydro electric thing on the way to put it through a turbine.

23:56 On the way back down, you get the power. And that's got about an 80% return. So more efficient in the mountain salt not as efficient as battery.

23:56 It's terrain specific. You need to have a handy mountain. Now, there's another gravity solution that doesn't need a mountain. It's called crane based storage, where they use a very tall crane. And they use the electric power to lift concrete blocks and stack them higher and higher and higher. And then when you want to discharge the power, you pick the block up and let it come down and spin a generator, generate electricity from it. That's kind of Nuvo.

23:56 The current efficient. Nobody's built one to scale yet, but the experimental ones again, coming into 80% range.

23:56 So there's challenges with the water one, right. You're moving water up high. And what if the dam or the pipes were to break in to flood the city that it was near? Or there's a drought, all sorts of things.

23:56 There's only so much water you can pump up. Like what happens when you run out of water? What happens when you run out a room? No, it's typically they're damned water storage. The damn can only hold so much, too. So it has limits. Where the crane based ones? As long as the crane can reach the blocks and doesn't get past leverage moments, you can put a lot of blocks in place. You can build a crane larger. You can put its arm out longer. So that's interesting, though. They're going to be more expensive and have more maintenance than your typical Hydro pump solution.

23:56 Yeah. You can build more cranes. You could dig a hole in the ground and have this giant block, a concrete or whatever, go up and down a hundred meters underground, right?

23:56 Yeah. With lots of blocks. So when you have excess power, your lifting blocks is stacking them high and more and more and more of them. And then when you need the power, you're letting them come back down, one after the other. You have to realize the power. Like there's some tricks to it. It's not a simple solution, but it works anywhere that you've got some flat land.

23:56 Which with simple dozers.

23:56 Almost anywhere with some enthusiasm and some Dynamite. You can make anything flat.

23:56 That's right.

23:56 So that seems like a really good solution. So this is the thing that I really am excited to talk to you about, because I get so frustrated when I hear things like, well, it would be great if this pipe dream you had could come true. And you could run stuff on solar and wind, but it's never gonna work because I want to watch TV at night and not be cold at night.

23:56 So it doesn't work. It's unsafe. And there's all this creative stuff going on, like pumped Hydro, like molten salt, like, we could just dig a hole in the ground. And you use some really complicated transmission.

23:56 You take the mixture of the iron base batteries, the $20 per kilowatt hour battery with winded solar, which are now so cheap and have grown a lot through the pandemic, too. They're now the second largest source of power, and they had the biggest growth.

23:56 And admittedly, the largest renewable is still hydroelectric. But solar and wind are growing rapidly and had been very, very successful. That the offshore wind power movement is an interesting one where they're getting not just in the water right now. When they go in the water with wind power, they're doing near shore, not too deep, 100ft, 200ft stuff they can anchor to the bottom on. But they've now hit a point where they're ready to start using more of the oil rig technologies to do floating turbines. So now you can go a couple of hundred miles offshore or more off the continental shelf and run the turbines out there.

23:56 You two of the challenges that I saw when I was thinking about that was one you've got to dig down into the ground and you're disturbing the ecosystem of oysters and whatever, right. That might be there if you're going to Mount these things to the ground the other way with these giant windmills.

23:56 When I was in Germany, we were around these huge windmills all over.

23:56 The sense of being near them is really crazy here.

23:56 Ominous. And believe me, the offshore ones, I mean, twice the wingspan of 747, like these ten megawatt turbines, they're so big, you can't even get your head around how big they are.

23:56 Yeah.

23:56 They're just tightens. They're just incredibly large. But to have them on a floating platform away from everyone where the noise, whether sea life is not as plentiful, where the sea birds or not. Yeah.

23:56 That's what I was going to say. The other one is people would say, look, these are harmful to all the birds because there's so many bird strikes, but 10 miles offshore, there's not that much bird traffic.

23:56 Well, now we're talking 200 miles option even further. You're off the end of the continental shelf. So you're way out there. The bird traffic is substantially lower, and that's a far less disruptive technology all around.

23:56 It increases costs, but the equipment is getting cheaper and the power generation is valuable, and it's minimally disruptive. They're smart enough to survive severe weather. So that's continuing to grow dramatically for a reason. And taking the known technology for working offshore and turning into automated platforms for it makes a lot of sense.

23:56 Yeah, absolutely.

23:56 So when struggling background, when I hear people in the news or whatever say we can't have this renewable feature because there is so much fluctuation and uncertainty, I feel like it's just a lack of creativity.

23:56 These are old arguments. We've been solving them steadily.

23:56 Exactly like we put people on the moon with risk to watch level computing. Surely we can build some cranes or build some batteries and put well.

23:56 And we also did it in a very dangerous way. The way we sent people, the moon was extremely risky. That's why we stopped.

23:56 We want power that's safe and reliable, and that's fairly hard and were missed not to talk a little bit about nuclear because nuclear can be safe. It just hasn't been we stopped spending money on it.

23:56 We stopped spending money almost at the moment that we were moving beyond, like, water based nuclear, where stuff would fail safer rather than Fukushima type fail.

23:56 Sure. Well, here's the funny thing about Fukushima. There was actually six reactors of Fukushima, and people only talk about one to four. Four was offline and one three, three melted down. Nobody talks about five and six. Five and six were exactly the same design, but they had been modernized to have passive cooldown. And so when they were scrammed the same way, one through four were, and then they lost their generators, just like one through four, for they cooled down on their own without a vent.

23:56 How interesting. I didn't realize that that's cool.

23:56 Yeah.

23:56 And they're undamaged right now. The question is, why didn't one through four have passive cool down? Because when through four were several years older and the upgrade kits to make them passively cooled down were expensive and took two years to install. And since the plants only had about five six years old lifespan, it within. It was a financial decision not to install the passive cooldowns by TEPCO probably something they want to take back if they could. Yeah. But that's true of a lot of things.

23:56 I'm pretty sure.

23:56 In Three Mile Island, the operators had asked for an indicator light for the pressure relief valve to show what it was opened or closed. And they put the light in, but they wired it to the switch, not to the valve. So when you push the button, the light turn on you. But it turned off. Nobody knew what the valve was doing. And the valve sat open and allowed allow water to escape from the vessel and to the point where the core was exposed and partially melted down.

23:56 People make mistakes. But part of this is reactor size, the push to make reactors into 300 megawatt class, because that's the size of the coal power plants. They knew how to operate that size. They knew how the turbines worked. So they made these bigger nuclear reactors. And that's problematic because they are hard to cool down. Now, we've learned to cool them down with more modern versions. But as soon as you shrink the down to a more natural size to the 60 megawatt class, you just don't have that problem. And those are the reactors you find in in aircraft carriers and in submarines, those kinds of places. And that's what you're seeing in small modular nuclear reactors are the 60 megawatt class. And these are the kinds of reactors that you build in a factory rather than build on site. So they're not bespoke they're standardized. They're built with machines. They're consistent. They're easy to test and validate. And so they're very reliable. You fuel them once they run for 20 years on the fuel. So no refueling. Every year, you run them solid for 20 years. They are passively shut down because they're small enough, but the control rods in place, they will simply go cold. And so the folks, I think, are further along in the modular nuclear that actually got their clearance contracts. They got certified by the Atomic Energy Association last year is new scale. And they actually have a contract in Utah to build out the first modular plan. And their plan is to actually put twelve of these together on the site.

23:56 So that you get that same kind of 300, 400 megawatt power generation that is normal in grid. But they just have multiple, small, redundant reactors that they can swap them out as they need to be replaced. And at the end of 20 years, you don't refuel it. You remove it, you lift it back out of the ground. You take it back to a factory where it is reprocessed, and you put a new one in place.

23:56 This is a very different approach to nuclear gonna have to break a lot of stereotypes and fears.

23:56 Yes.

23:56 Right.

23:56 But the Atomic Energy Association has now signed on with that because one it has passed. And so the Utah project, by the way, is struggling now for new scale for the simple reason that costs have gone up. And so some of the municipalities that signed on to buy power for them, and they're now finding out the new power price is higher. And they're like, hey, I can get a natural gas plant for less than that. Like, why am I paying for this? And that's part of the challenge here. Price is everything.

23:56 And solar is getting cheaper. Wind getting cheaper. Natural gas has always been cheap. So these guys are always struggling with as they develop these new technologies. They're trying to get those costs absorbed by their early sales, and people don't want to pay for it. Yeah.

23:56 It's a tough chicken and egg. Right. So let's talk about some more storage. I do think the nuclear side is really interesting because it's been shunned so badly since the 70s. But it is carbon. It's zero carbon, right.

23:56 Does not admit carbon.

23:56 Yeah, exactly.

23:56 It consumes carbon to if you're going to mine uranium or find uranium, ship uranium.

23:56 Those are issues. It still has a consumable. Although the efficiency of that consumable, it's hard to get your head around how efficient it is in comparative how little you refine uranium it takes to run a power plant compared to the amount of coal or natural gas it takes to run a power plant. And the problem is that the reactor design that's most mature, that most people familiarize, the pressurized water designs, Lightwater designs were really meant to produce plutonium. The reason that the United States matured that technology was to make bombs. They make electricity while they're making electricity. They get plutonium out of their course. And so it was designed to be disassembled every six months. Have the core is reprocessed, get the plutonium out, make new cores, and load them back in again. And then they stop reprocessing cores. During the Ford administration, when Carter was running against them with the antinuclear proliferation Ford's attempt to get reelected, he said, I'll do what Jimmy wants us do and stop reprocessing cores. And America has never reprocessed a fuel core sense. They just store them in a plant. And it was a political game.

23:56 No.

23:56 The French, who 80% of their power comes from pressurized water nuclear have continued to monetize their plants. They always have reprocessed their course. In fact, they now reprocess plutonium into their core. It's called a mock core. And so they're actually burning plutonium. And so they don't have the radiation storage problems. They're not because they're reprocessing their fuel. And by the way, when Germany decided to stop using their nuclear plants after Fukushima to have enough power, they bought nuclear power from France.

23:56 That's how that worked.

23:56 Modernizing, not that nuclear plants have their problems. And they need to be modernized, and they need to be more efficient than they are. And there are better technologies that still should be insured. But these small modulars deal with most of that. And with very, relatively little new research needs to be done. And still, it's a struggle.

23:56 A super interesting.

23:56 We only have about five minutes left, but I do want to talk about some more energy storage stuff that's really interesting that people maybe don't think about is what if I just got a giant, really balanced piece of steel and spun it really fast or something like the flywheel solution? Exactly.

23:56 Well, and modern fly wheels are better than ever these days. They use air bearings. Some of them have even seen versions that have superconductive bearings, so that and then they're in vacuum.

23:56 The whole trick with a flywheel is minimizing friction. Like, how fast can we get it spinning and stay in shape?

23:56 And how long do we extract it now? They're not as efficient as batteries. They're close 80 85. They have their own mechanicals, like the stuff that needs to be taken care of. But essentially, they're a part of a motor. You only have to put a field coil around that flywheel to extract power from it. So they're expensive to manufacture, and they take specialized operators to run batteries in some respects, while expensive also are easier.

23:56 But these are flywheel has been around a long time when I was a kid and trying to get computer time in the University, that computer backup system was a flywheel for power. Oh, wow. 200 kilowatt set of fly wheels. Yeah. We went down to the flywheel room one time and to talk about that threatening flywheels hum in a way to let you know if something goes wrong here, you're not even gonna feel it when flywheels disintegrate. That's a lot of mass moving in a hurry. So they're interesting machines, and they're an interesting approach to storing power. I think each of these power storage solutions has merit, depending on where you are and what materials are expensive at the time. Flywheels count on heavy ferrous metals being inexpensive, and those sophisticated bearing systems to allow them to spin well and good feel coal control so they can spin them up and spin them down. They're absolutely viable.

23:56 I feel like they've gotten outer nice quite a bit recently.

23:56 Well, everybody, it is the Repco superconductive bearings that made a huge difference because you're floating on a barn with no friction because it's not touching anything. It's an evacuated space. The basically means you get up to speed.

23:56 And the way, like you said, you extract energy is through magnetic stuff. Not like no physical contact bears. Yeah. Yeah, that's fantastic.

23:56 Yeah. It's a very modern way to think, but they make sense at a grid level. They need to be large. They need to be professionally operated and professionally maintained.

23:56 The other one, I'm not sure if I have a picture of it here. Actually, I don't think I do.

23:56 The other one has to do with not storing water, but storing compressed air.

23:56 Yeah. So where we see, these are where they have air tight, large spaces, like old salt mines, for example, where they've done mining the salt. But effectively, the space is air tight, and so they can pump pressure into them. They have efficiency problems because you start to have a minimum pressure. So you've got a pump for a while before you get to a pressure that would spin a turbine, they come in into 70% range, a little bit lower. But if you have the space, the expensive part would be making the tank.

23:56 Right.

23:56 Pumps are not that expensive and not that difficult.

23:56 But if you've got a huge volume of air tight space, it's worth utilizing that. Let me throw one other idea at you. There's one hand. There's the idea of we're generating electricity, and we need to store it for when we can't generate it. Then there's also we're generating more electricity. We need. Where do we put this? But if you didn't need it for electricity, why would you bother story into battery? Can you turn excess electricity into something valuable? And so one of the areas of research going on right now is water desalinization. We have a fresh water problem. So why not? When you have excess electricity available, use electricity. Desalinate water. If you're turning that excess power into something valuable. Fresh water. There's a version of this. It's actually a kind of pump storage solution. So we pump seawater up to a high level, and then the drain system for that to lower it back down again. It actually has a reverse also the most of this filter on it, and it just uses gravity to extract the fresh water.

23:56 Yeah. How interesting.

23:56 So taking existing designs of pumped power storage, and instead of using a turbine without water coming down, using it to extract fresh water from salt.

23:56 Well, that's a lot of options. A lot of different flexibilities for where you're located. Are you by Mountain Lake? You have an old mine.

23:56 Or do you do a standard pump to reverse Osmosis is another solution. It just consumes more energy. If you have the excess energy, why not? And if you need the water, water desalinization is getting more popular at the time. You think about the drought that's going on in Southern California. The Israelis are leading the world. And what water desalinization? It's a desert climate. It has water problems, but they don't have a water problem anymore. About 25% of their water is now desalinated water. They use the reverse Osmosis systems for the challenge is that most of these mechanisms take a while to get up to speed.

23:56 So it can take a day to get a reverse Osmosis system stabilized and pumping well. And if you're trying to use the three hour window where you're making too much solar, the system is efficient for that for making water.

23:56 Yeah. It doesn't respond fast enough. Right.

23:56 So there's a push to modernize to update these systems so that you have a 20 minutes uptime. Within 20 minutes, we can be making water with this. So that three hour window in mid day where we have more solar we now do with we can put it over to the Reverse osmosis plant to make fresh water with it.

23:56 Awesome. Well, Richard, thank you so much for being here and sharing all these ideas and doing the research for us.

23:56 Yeah, he said it's a pleasure when you ask me, because these are all notes on keeping, but then I spend a few days sorting them out into a set of narrative.

23:56 What are the important tens of all that? So it's a pleasure for me to it's really fun to talk to you.

23:56 Yeah. Yeah. It's always great to have you here and who knows what we'll talk about next time, but it's great.

23:56 Costs are a subject. You know, I'm interested in everything.

23:56 I do know, that for sure. All right. So thank you for being here, as always, and have a good day. And, hey, we actually made this work from space. Yeah.

23:56 Yeah. It was a little cranky at the beginning, and it seemed to hell out after that.

23:56 That's right. All right. Bye, Richard.

23:56 See you.

23:56 This has been another episode of Talk Python to me. Our guest in this episode was Richard Camel, and it's been brought to you by us over at Talk Python Training, and the transcripts are brought to you by Assembly AI.

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23:56 This is your host, Michael Kennedy. Thanks so much for listening. I really appreciate it. Now get out there and write some Python code.

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