Sunday, April 28, 2013
There's a long running joke about nuclear fusion. It will be ready in 20 years -always has been always will be.
This recent article about nuclear fusion hasn't changed the joke much.
The promise of nuclear fusion is a seductive one. A fusion reactor would produce no nuclear wastes and be safe from meltdowns. The problem is that scientists have great difficulty producing more energy than it takes to run the process. Fusion devices are huge and complicated. The current International project is the second most expensive ever, only surpassed by the space station.
Let's say they are successful. Pretend they are able to construct reactors that are commercially viable. All that does is a keep a crappy system in business. Electricity users would still have to send out payments to a giant corporation. The whole inefficient distribution system would still be in place. The grid is rickety now, with overloaded and antiquated systems. It needs a a lot of investment and upgrades. Guess who'll pay for that?
Even if the grid was in good shape, two thirds of the power generated is lost in transmission. The whole giant power plant/grid system is a hugely inefficient model.
There is currently off the shelf technology to provide for most of our electrical needs with renewable resources. Power generated on site eliminates the horrible transmission losses. Most people could be provided with adequate electricity using a local decentralized system. Ask someone who lives off grid of they miss their monthly bill. Most are more than happy to put up with the limitations of their off grid system.
Of course, that doesn't fit the big business model of all those monthly payments. There's no incentive for power companies to put themselves out of business. It's not about providing power. It's about collecting payments.
Why should be put our hopes in a system that continues the status quo?
Maybe there is a use for fusion reactors. Build them to power things like aluminum refiners or massive computer server farms. Cluster the big power users and the fusion plant all together to reduce transmission losses. That might make some sort of sense -assuming fusion isn't perpetually 20 years in the future.
As for the average person, they'd be much better making their own power and disconnecting from the system. The best part is that it works now, not 20 years in the future.