Friday, July 25, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Rock doc: Hot diggity dam

By
From page A6 | January 02, 2012 |

E. Kirsten Peters mug

Peters

As the long season of darkness sweeps over the country, it’s a natural time to think about lighting – and how dependent we are on electricity during this dim time of year. You can heat your home with several different energy sources, including natural gas, heating oil or wood. But unless you’re living off-the-grid, the lights throughout your abode burn brightly because of electricity from the grid.

Yes, I have a couple of candles, a flashlight and two kerosene lamps in my household. But I don’t use them. Instead, like more than 99 percent of us, I just flip up a switch to turn on electric lights throughout my house.

Of course people use electricity for many other purposes. We run all the equipment in emergency rooms on electricity — and when I’m trying to wake up in the morning I sometimes think it’s almost equally important that we run our coffee makers on electrical current, too.

It’s commonplace to note that the landscape of energy is changing in this country. But it’s harder to get agreement on where we should get our electricity in the coming years. People disagree about that, and for some good reasons. But no matter what you feel about our various energy options, some basic facts about solar energy are worth review.

We could start by noting that most of the energy we use is ultimately solar in origin. Fossil fuels, after all, represent solar energy that Mother Nature stored deep in the Earth over whole geological eras. One down side about fossil fuels is that once we use them, they’re gone.

Engineer Bob Olsen of Washington State University recently explained to me his view that we have quite a wonderful system of “renewable solar” energy in place, especially in the Western parts of the U.S. and around the region of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

“That’s the case not because of solar electric panels, but because of the world’s largest solar collector — seawater,” Olsen said.

Because we live on land, we don’t often think too clearly about the seas. But the oceans cover about two-thirds of the planet. They absorb a lot of heat energy when light shines on them. Each day they soak up enormous quantities of energy from the sun, warming and evaporating as they do so. It’s evaporation from the seas that fills the sky with clouds. Water in the clouds comes down as rain or snow.

Olsen sees precipitation as the linchpin of renewable solar energy. That’s because the rains flow into major rivers across which we’ve built hydroelectric dams. By running the water behind the dam through turbines, we generate electricity. Electric utilities take that energy and move it from the dams to our kitchens and workplaces.

The dams have several good features. One is that they have the ability to cheaply store a great deal of energy. The vast reservoirs behind each dam are natural storage devices. Solar electric panels on a roof don’t have this feature unless linked to expensive batteries that degrade over time. Simply put, dams can easily produce electricity when the sun isn’t shining, a clear advantage in having them power the grid.

If we ever get a large slice of our electricity from windmills and solar panels, I think there will still be room for the dams. They — like fossil fuel and nuclear plants — are able to produce juice on a still night when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. Because we want large amounts of electricity at our fingertips 24-7, windmills and solar panels cannot be our sole source of electricity.

Another positive attribute of the dams is that they make a lot of electricity without producing any greenhouse gases. And once the basic investment of constructing the dams is finished, they are economical to run because their “fuel” is freely supplied by Mother Nature. That’s essentially why those of us who live in regions of the country with dams have relatively cheap electric rates.

From where I sit, the hydroelectric dams are gifts that keep on giving — every time we switch on the lights.

Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. Follow her on the web at rockdoc.wsu.edu and on Twitter @RockDocWSU. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.

Comments

comments

E. Kirsten Peters

.

News

District 2: Candidates debate jobs versus lifestyle

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Accident: 1 bullet hits 2

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1

 
 
Scaffolding issue makes for contentious meeting

By Wendy Schultz | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Help available for breastfeeding mothers

By Health and Human Services Agency | From Page: A3

 
El Dorado County School Board vacancy

By El Dorado County Office of Education | From Page: A8

 
.

Opinion

The weekly Daley: A good time to be there…

By Chris Daley | From Page: A4

 
Something to think about: More than what you see

By Wendy Schultz | From Page: A4

Popular science

By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A4

 
.

Letters

Watch whom you’re calling ‘conservative’

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5Comments are off for this post

 
Fake ‘small farms’ steal from residential EID customers

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5Comments are off for this post

People of Placerville

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

 
Computer scam phone calls

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

Support of Director Prada

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

 
Uphold the Third Amendment

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

Bureaucracy

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
Imagination Theater’s play

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

.

Sports

Quarter century later, Rypien wins ACCG again

By Andrew Hazard | From Page: A6 | Gallery

 
Outside with Charlie: Paddle time

By Charlie Ferris | From Page: A6

Midget Lites join tomorrow’s action

By Bill Sullivan | From Page: A6

 
El Dorado rallies for last-inning victory

By Mike Bush | From Page: A6

Sports Scene: July 24, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

 
Rush sit a win from Series

By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A7

Tasmanian Devils go undefeated

By Patty Pope | From Page: A7

 
.

Prospecting

El Dorado wines win in Amador

By Democrat Staff | From Page: B1

 
Suds entice the taste buds

By Krysten Kellum | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Things to do: July 25, 2014

By Democrat Calendar | From Page: B2

 
Rhythm and Views goes bluesy

By | From Page: B3

Have an Hawaiian vacation at Carson Road wineries

By Carson Road Winery Asociation | From Page: B3Comments are off for this post | Gallery

 
Summer fun is happening in Twain Harte

By Fire On | From Page: B4Comments are off for this post

Manzanita doubles the music

By Table Nectar And Manzanita | From Page: B5

 
Recording artist at Busby Cellars

By News Release | From Page: B6

Hands4Hope hosts school supply drive

By News Release | From Page: B6

 
Supergroup plays Harris Center

By Carrera Productions | From Page: B6

Artists invited to go western

By Art On The Divide | From Page: B7

 
Visit Tahoe artists during tour

By Special to the Democrat | From Page: B7

Reggae on the River celebrates 30 years

By Reggae On | From Page: B7Comments are off for this post

 
.

Essentials

Building permits 7/7-11/2014

By Michael Raffety | From Page: A2

 
Lake levels 7-24-14

By Michael Raffety | From Page: A2

Crime Log: July 11-13

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A2

 
.

Obituaries

Wallace Murrel Thomas

By Contributor | From Page: A2

 
.

Real Estate

How to have a garden party, minus the whining

By Marni Jameson | From Page: HS3

 
Most common mistakes homebuyers make

By Ken Calhoon | From Page: HS4

.

Comics

Working It Out

By Contributor | From Page: A9

 
Shoe

By Contributor | From Page: A9

Sudoku

By Contributor | From Page: A9

 
Rubes

By Contributor | From Page: A9

TV Listings

By Contributor | From Page: A9

 
Speed Bump

By Contributor | From Page: A9

Tundra

By Contributor | From Page: A9

 
Horoscope, Saturday, July 26, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A10

Horoscope, Friday, July 25, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A10

 
New York Times Crossword

By Contributor | From Page: A10

Horoscope, Sunday, July 27, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A10

 
.

Home Source

How to have a garden party, minus the whining

By Marni Jameson | From Page: HS3

Most common mistakes homebuyers make

By Ken Calhoon | From Page: HS4