Power Plants First, Green Technology Second

Automologist ATHERTON thinks we shouldn’t put the “electric cart” before the “power horse”.   “It’s much easier for society to make h...

Automologist ATHERTON thinks we shouldn’t put the “electric cart” before the “power horse”.  

“It’s much easier for society to make hundreds of power plants better than change the hundreds of millions of cars in thousands of cities.”—Qin Lihong, President of NextEV.  

The wave that is causing a seismic movement towards electric vehicles (EV) is pretty overwhelming at times, to say the least. Every day, we are bombarded with green technology messages and visuals—green cars, green buildings, green environment and the like. However, do we truly grasp what it all means? 

Let’s start with basics. In order for the above to happen, we first must look at the main power source of green technology—power plants (also power stations). Power plants convert lumps of coal and drops of oil into electricity, to charge our phones and our EV cars, power our homes and entire cities and countries.   

Coal, one of the forms of fossil fuel, apart from petroleum and natural gas. 

Most of the things we do every day and many of the stuff we use draw power from gigantic energy factories, which turn fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil) into electricity. These days, we think of power plants as ‘mechanical devils’ that defile our pristine planet Earth by pumping pollution into air, land and water. But we often forget that these power plants keep our homes, schools, hospitals and offices lighted, warm and humming with electricity. A single large power plant can generate enough electricity (about 2 gigawatts, 2,000 megawatts, or 2,000,000,000 watts) to supply a couple hundred thousand homes—almost the same amount of power you would need 1,000 large wind turbines to make.

To put matters into perspective, a kilogramme of coal or a litre of oil contains about 30MJ (Megajoules) of energy, which is a massive amount, equivalent to a few thousand 1.5-volt batteries! The job of a power plant is to release this chemical energy as heat, use the heat to drive a spinning machine called a turbine, and then use the turbine to power a generator (electricity-making machine). Power plants can produce so much energy because they burn huge amounts of fuel and every single bit of that fuel is packed full of power.

And herein lies the problem—these mega factories are so huge and exist in vast numbers throughout many countries, but many of them are not very efficient. Only about a third of the energy locked inside the fuel is converted to electricity and the rest is wasted. Even more electricity is squandered during the journey from the power plant to your home. Adding all the losses together, only about a fifth of the energy in the fuel is available as useful energy in your home. Imagine all that waste.

About 62 percent is lost in the power plant itself as waste heat. A further 4 percent disappears in the power lines and transformers that carry electricity from a power plant to your home. Once the electricity has arrived, your home appliances waste a further 13 percent. All told, only 22 percent of the original energy in the fuel (green slice in the above pie chart) turns into energy you can actually use. (Source: Figures from "Decentralizing Power: An Energy Revolution for the 21st Century," Greenpeace, 2005.)

Smog is one of the byproduct of that waste and now you have electric vehicles being churned out in the thousands, most of which get their juice from these waste-spewing factories.

A series of studies by Tsinghua University showed that electric vehicles charged in China produce two to five times as much particulate matter and chemicals that contribute to smog versus petrol-engine cars. Aha! The studies also call into question the aggresive promoting of vehicles which the university said could not be considered environmentally friendly for at least a decade in many areas of China, unless grid reform accelerates. This problem is not special to China, but is the same for many countries around the globe.

“International experience shows that cleaning up the air doesn’t need to rely on electric vehicles,” said Los Angeles-based An Feng, director of the Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation. “Clean up the power plants.” 

READ THIS! The Inconvenient Truth About Banning Petrol Engines.

So, if we want to skew people’s minds towards going green, we need to first start with the basics, which is to clean up the power plants. Governments and power plant operators all over the world are seeking solutions on how these power plants can run efficiently and not destroy Mother Nature. It’s still a long way to go but worth the effort.

Image source - pixabay.com 


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