Tuesday, July 22, 2008



July 18, 2008

On July 17, 2008 Al Gore, former US Vice President, made an important US energy independent announcement. The main theme was to announce the timely and important initiative of converting all US electricity production to green energy in a decade, by 2018. The initiative is wise and admirable, but is it realistic? Is it achievable and how? Currently the US electricity generation is 70% by fossil fuel, 20% by nuclear power and only 10% by solar, hydro, wind and other forms of renewable energy. Gore’s ambitious goal is achievable if supported by concerted national efforts of Solar Stirling Engine programs to gradually replace existing fossil fuel power plants, large or small. Steam engine is for 19th century, internal combustion engine is for 20th century and Stirling engine is for 21st century. Stirling engine as an external combustion engine can be performed by all forms of energy including solar. You may say Stirling engine is omnivorous.

America is a country of vast resources and can do spirit demonstrated by the mass mobilization of WWII in airplane manufacturing capability. Half a century later the world has not yet caught up. In the urgency of the present national energy and climate crisis, the same ‘can do’ attitude can be applied to the Green Energy for Electricity Initiative (GENEI) for success. The GENEI policy will put US so far ahead in Solar Stirling system manufacturing that the world will not be able to catch up. The momentum of GENEI advocacy will make us the largest energy technology and Stirling Engine export nation in the history of world green energy technology and product export. The potential world market of GENEI technology and products together with our reduction in oil imports can be so great as to more than halve the current American trade deficit. The US is in great need of a president who will adhere to the mission and vision advanced by Al Gore.

Exactly twenty-four years ago I delivered a key note speech at the Second International Conference of Stirling Engines in Shanghai, China. The title of my speech was “The Promising Future of Stirling Engines in China”. This was referring to American Stirling Engine technology being transferred to China. The idea was for China to deploy nationwide, small size solar powered Stirling engines as an appropriate renewable energy technology. The most endearing and commanding source of external heat to power Stirling Engines without doubt is solar heat. Because of the simplicity of the Stirling Engine’s operating principle and construction compared to the conventional internal combustion engine, this is a winning combination from economical and renewable energy considerations. The operating gas in a Stirling Engine is hermetically sealed and heat is added to the outside of the engine cylinder. Thus mechanically, high efficiency Stirling Engines are very simple and maintenance free. Most of all, because of its high heat and power concentration capability, it is also particularly suitable for large electric utility applications compared to solar voltaic panels. Solar voltaic panels as alternative utility power plants have significantly lower thermal efficiency, higher cost and take up much more space for the same electricity power delivered.

As of this writing, the two largest Solar power Stirling Engine Utility Plants under construction are the Solar One Project being built for Southern California Edison at the California Mohave desert and the Solar Two Project being built for San Diego Gas and Electric at Imperial County at Southern California. The total designed power for these two projects add up to be 1750 MW, the size of two large nuclear power plants.

How does Solar Stirling Engine stack up against Nuclear Power plants? The solar Stirling Engine technology used in these two projects are called the SES SunCatcher system, they hold the record for the most efficient solar electricity generation technology in the world. The SES SunCatcher is a highly concentrating solar thermal technology that converts sunlight into electricity at a rate of 31.25 percent, significantly more efficient than its closest competitor. The cost of electric power for these Sun Catchers is 1/5 to 1/10 the cost of comparable photo voltaic panels. Each Sun Catcher dish is 38 feet tall, 40 feet wide and generates 25,000 watts of power, which means they occupy much less space compared to any solar voltaic panels on per kilowatt basis. The large space required for solar voltaic panels, high price and low efficiency, disqualified them as candidates for large utilities in competing with Solar Stirling Engine systems.

The cost of nuclear power plants is manifolds higher than the equivalent Solar Stirling Engine power plants because of the strict need and regulation requirements to prevent nuclear radioactivity leaks. All nuclear power plants must be housed in huge fortified containment housing, and all systems of hot and cooling water circulation must be heavily protected and isolated. The construction cycle is also unduly long. Despite all the built in safety factors for nuclear power plants, mechanical failures and human errors do occur. Accidents like Three Mile Island in the US and Chernobyl in Russia are unavoidable and the consequences are too dear to accept.

For the sheer amount of enormous energy needed for Green Energy for Electricity Initiative (GENEI), from a safety point of view, Solar Stirling Engine System utility wins hands down over other renewable energy choices. California has voted for Stirling Engines from expert experience and is moving ahead. Since the accident at Three Mile Island over thirty years ago, the US has consistently delayed building nuclear power plants. That is very responsible and to be commended. I was one time the China country representative of Combustion Engineering for the sales of moth-balled Tennessee Valley Nuclear power plants. The nightmares of TMI and Chernobyl still haunt me. The cost of disposal of spent fuel and its adverse effect of long lasting radioactivity on nature and mankind is well known. No nuclear power plant is permanent. The eventual need to tear down old dilapidated nuclear power plant for safety has also never been adequately addressed.

After the unprecedented severe Sichaun earth quakes, the construction of huge hydro power plants such as the three Gorges anywhere in the world will be most likely put off for a long time if not forever. Medium and small size hydropower stations are better alternatives.

Aside from the fact that Solar Stirling Engine for electricity generation is non polluting and renewable, the final merit is the economic pay back of its low life cycle cost due to ease of manufacturing and maintenance of the engine. Solar Stirling Engine systems have long life cycle and do not require the many additional ancillary accessories as diesel and steam engines. In a Solar Stirling Engine System the working gas is permanently and hermetically sealed. There is no replacement or treatment necessary of the working gas in the life cycle of the engine as is required in steam and internal combustion engines.

In conclusion, as a national and local GENEI policy to reduce environmental pollution, to steer away from long term radioactive degradation of the earth, and to reduce national financial burden, all point to the choice of using Solar Stirling Engine Systems as the most viable solution. Large Stirling Engine power plants can be incrementally added in small modular units. They are much more thermally efficient than Solar voltaic panels. The recommendation of using Stirling Engine alternative for GENEI policy is based on my over two decades of experience as a practitioner of international Solar Stirling Engine technology transfer. The US oil imports is 24% in the 1970’s and 42% in the 1990’s. Today we import 70% of our oil and at a staggering cost of $700 Billion. This increasing trend and heavy cost are absolutely unsustainable.

It is imperative for us to support Al Gore’s recommendations and advocate GENEI policy as a national priority. To play a responsible role as the leader of the world, the US must also set an example in her renewable energy policy. Other major fossil fuel consuming nations such as China and India will inevitably follow. With ample evidence as discussed here, not to include the Solar Engine Systems for consideration as a major part of US GENEI imperative is unconscionable. Financially the US will be the biggest energy technology transfer nation in world history and the beneficiary thereof.

In fact the US is already ahead of the world in Solar Stirling Engine technology. The GENEI policy will put US so far ahead in Solar Stirling system manufacturing that the world will be hard put to catch up. The potential export of Solar Stirling Engine systems to meet the pent up demand for rest of the world will be a great stimulus to the US sagging economy. Together with the reduction in oil imports, the US trade deficit can be significantly reversed. The summation of total reduction of oil imports as the world follows our GENEI imperative will no doubt instantly halt the oil price speculation. It will not be surprising that a world concerted GENEI effort will instantly drive the oil price down by more than half. Our next president must show the vision and leadership to endorse Al Gore’s recommendations and implement the GENEI imperative as our energy independence policy. Yours humbly is available for consultation by invitation from relevant national energy implementation departments and local government heads.

In Service of Energy Independence

Francis C W Fung, PH.D.
Solar Stirling Engine Partnership (SSEP)
Word count 1500

SOLAR ONE PROJECT, Capacity: 500 MW (for 300,000 homes) with expansion option to 850 MW
20,000 - 34,000 solar dish Stirling systems
20-Year Power Purchase Agreement
Sited in the Mojave Desert east of Barstow, CA

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