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Energy crisis. Wait or act?

18.12.2006
Life is impossible without energy. The life of a contemporary person - even more so. To consume power, one should produce it. Traditional resources for that are unfortunately exhaustible, but in order to pass on to alternative energy, a lot of problems should be solved. Has the energy crisis begun? If so - what should be done about it, if not – how should we get ready for it?

Answers to these questions were sought for by the participants of the academic cafe in Ekaterinburg. The cosy room of “Coffee House # 7” brought together the leading specialists on power engineering of the Ural region and journalists. The presenters – Lubov Strelnikova, editor-in-chief of the “Chemistry and Life” journal and of the InformNauka Agency, and Sergei Katasonov, supervisor of the site www.radionauka.ru – asked anything but simple questions.

The extent the life of a contemporary person is dependent on power can be judged by the facts cited by Vladimir Begalov, Director of the Institute of Regional Power Engineering (Ural State Technical University) in his speech. The facts are as follows. The life span in different countries is directly proportional to energy consumption per head. For example, in Canada, where the average life is approaching 80 years, 8 tons of equivalent fuel are consumed per man a year. Therefore, high living standards require a lot of energy, there is nothing to do about it. As for Russia, we are leading the world in terms of power intensity of produce (as compared to Japan, it is higher by more then twice). We do not count or save energy, assuming that we have enough of it. At the same time, for example, in metallurgy, up to 40 percent of production value accounts for energy enclosed in it.

Specialists believe that the nature of Russian power consumption is formed by three factors. These are peculiarities of our economy that counts on minerals export, climate severity on the major part of territory and technology backwardness, due to which we simply lose energy.

Industrial Ural region is traditionally attributed to the regions of high energy consumption. As of today, energy mix in the Urals is as follows. 40 percent of energy is obtained by coal firing, 50 percent – by gas burning, the rest of it falls on bioresources - firewood, timber industry waste. There is one nuclear power-station. Hydro-electric engineering is on the decline: in the Soviet epoch, dozens of dams were built on the Ural rivers, but only a few hydroelectric power stations are working. The scientists emphasize that people in the Urals have now begun to control energy consumption seriously, and that yields fruit already.

Alternative power engineering in Russia is in its infancy, while in Europe it is thriving. Lubov Strelnikova (presenter at the cafe) demonstrated that in her short presentation. The European Union countries seriously stake on the energy of the Sun, wind, water, interior of the Earth and on hydrogen energy. On the screen, the participants to the cafe saw wave electric power stations functioning in Europe, “solar towns” in Almeria (Spain), installations for the Earth heat extraction, future thermonuclear reactor being erected in France, and the first success in hydrogen energy. Efforts in the area of hydrogen energy in Russia were described by Anatoly Demin (Institute of High-Temperature Electro Chemistry). According to all estimates, thermoelectric power stations’ efficiency factor in Russia does not exceed 30 percent. Efficiency factor of hydrogen fuel elements is significantly higher, and their price will gradually decrease. In Anatoly Demin’s opinion, tremendous potential lies in hydrogen energy in package with thermonuclear power.

Energy crisis, in opinion of Victor Kozhevnikov, Director of the Institute of Chemistry of Solids, is taking place primarily in people’s minds. It is necessary to reorganize consciousness and the human values hierarchy now. In particular, it is necessary to understand that selling fuel - raw materials (gas) and burning gas – it is the same as to “stoke a fireplace with banknotes”. An alternative to burning gas, the most important raw material for chemical industry, may be gasification of coal, which is in abundance. This should be underground gasification accompanied by producing gas synthesis – the source of hydrogen and raw materials for chemical industry.

Among other kinds of alternative energy, which can actually be used in near future, V.A. Begalov mentioned thermocompressors, which can be installed, for example, in the main drainage pipelines where thermal discharge takes place. Considerable amount of energy can be generated while burning biofuels received, among other things, from splinters and sawdust. Wind turbines in the Urals would justify themselves only in the mountains, where strong winds blow all the year round and there are no other means for producing power. On general, he believes that power engineering should be multiform. One should not stake on a single resource or use different sources in one location.

Three factors: resorce, ecological and economic ones determine power engineering evolution, said Yuri Nemihin (deputy head of the Chair of nuclear power, Ural State Technical University). In the overall potential of renewable sources of energy of the Sverdlovsk Region, it is hydro-electric engineering development that takes perhaps the leading place. Hydraulic installations should be built on forsaken dams. It if comes down to other alternative sources, the Kamensk-Uralsk plant has already arranged output of solar collectors.

It seems all participants to the academic cafe touched upon savings in their speeches. It is clear that it is necessary to save energy but how can this be achieved? What will that provide? According to V.A. Begalov, three groups of actions are needed: energy management (administration), energy monitoring (control) and finally new technology implementation and retrofit installation. How much can we save if we are eager to do that? According to specialists’ estimations, only everyday economizing (such as switching off the bulbs, using heating appliances rationally, etc.) can provide up to 20 percent saving. Vladimir Begalov told a funny story about his friends. They commissioned their son (who is a schoolboy) with controlling electric power consumption in their apartment. They promised their son to give him all the money saved due to decrease of electric power consumption. “Our family is at real war now because of each switched on electric light bulb. We spend the major part of the day without lighting”, says a friend of Vladimir Begalov with laughter.

It was Andrei Pazderin (Ural State Technical University) who was to describe the picture of Apocalypse, which could be caused by cutting mankind off electric power. The entire world lives based on global power grids. Large-scale ‘blackouts’ that stroke the US first and then Europe within several recent years make us think about our vulnerability. On every occasion, time the reason for electricity supply network blackout is the mode interruption, as a result of which the power grid becomes unstable. If in economically developed countries such accidents caused catastrophes, it is fearful to imagine what would happen in Russia if electric power is switched off instantly in several regions. There will be no lighting, no equipment will operate, including the equipment in hospitals, there will be no water, which is pumped, there will be no communications, no foodstuffs, the sewerage system would stop working... In short – end of the world.

So, to live long and well, mankind should have stable and multiform power engineering based on utilization of diverse resources, and should update technologies permanently and save, save and save. In perception of that did the journalists and guests of the academic cafe go away in order to buy power-saving bulb without delay.

Nadezda Markina | alfa
Further information:
http://www.informnauka.ru

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