Top Ten Technologies for an Alternative Energy Future

Note: These are just my favorites… if your favorite isn’t on the list, leave a comment… 

10. Combined Heat and Power

The muscle car of energy efficiency.  Combined heat and power isn’t sexy… it’s just using the “waste” heat from your powerplant for some useful purpose.  Like cooking your lunch on you car radiator, but using every bit of waste heat you can…  Combined heat and power can use 90% of the power in your fuel source for useful work.  And now you can have it in your home.

9. Solar Chimneys

They’re tall, they’re low-tech, and they’re baseload power.  They don’t pollute, and the fuel is free.  What’s not to like?

8. Molten salt thermal storage

It’s cheaper to store heat than electricity, and molten salts can store a ton of BTu’s very cheaply.  And concentrating solar power can produce a ton of heat… without pollution or fuel.

7. Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)

More lumens per watt… now that’s energy efficiency. 

6. Vehicle to Grid

Our energy efficient cars can make the electric grid work better.

5 & 4.  Cellulosic Ethanol and Biodiesel from Algae

The two technologies that have real hope of replacing gasoline and diesel as liquid fuel for our cars…  We’ll still need massive efficiency gains and Plug-in-Hybrids to reduce our total fuel use, but even with those, corn ethanol and biodiesel from traditional oil crops just can’t produce enough volume. 

3. Time of Use pricing and Demand Side Management.

Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest.  To make the best use of wind power, we can store power until it is needed, or we can give people incentives to use it when it is available. 

Time of use pricing is also a great boon for solar, because solar energy tends to be available near times of peak demand.

Finally, time of use pricing shaves peak demand, which means that we can delay building new fossil fired generation, while renewables get cheaper by the year.

2. Terra Preta

Discovered by aboriginals in Brazil, thousands of years before Columbus, mixing carbon into unproductive soils can make them much more productive… and the carbon stays there for thousands of years.  Using charcoal dust as a fertilizer not only holds the hope of a replacement for fertilizer based on fossil fuels, but it is also an easy way to sequester carbon.

1. Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs

Where else can you get a 1000% payback with little or no risk?

22 Comments

  1. Big Gav said

    This looks like a pretty good list to me – although I remain a little dubious about solar towers for now – I think I’d put in wind, tidal or geothermal power instead of that one – or maybe combine LEDs and CFLs as “efficient lighting” and put 2 of them in.

    (In reality, I suspect that wind will be the most important alternative energy source a decade from now, with solar slowly catching up)

    TK: I don’t think there’s any doubt about wind… unless you include CHP, as I do. I tried to include a lot of technologies that people weren’t thinking about, rather than ones they already know about.

    There are so many possibilities, I think I’ll make a “Shadow top ten list” with all the things people write in…

    Thin film solar is also a contender for a spot in the list.

    TK: I think we’re going to see crystalline silicon as “quaint” in 20 years… thin film and CPV will probably take over in almost all applications.

    Thanks for the comment!

  2. CSMiller said

    Thanks for including a few of my favorites on your list.

    It is amazing to me when I read complaints about one technology or another not being “the answer” to a particular problem – like ethanol not being the “cure” for our oil addiction. Nothing has to be a total solution – in fact it is better for mankind if we start deploying many different approaches suitable to the culture, climate, geography, and geology of each specific location.

    I think bloggers provide a new communications/educational medium that can be a big help in focusing on individual solutions and spreading the technological information.

    From my perspective, I think 2007 will be a transitional year for biofuels – one that finally starts to value waste biomass for conversion to cellulosic ethanol, heat, and electricity. In the next few years we should see the retooling of our wasteful infrastructure with emerging carbon-neutral technologies.

    TK: I couldn’t agree more. If I wanted to include everything, I’d have needed a “top 100″ list… but I’m hoping the comments here will get people thinking (and doing!).

    Thanks for blogging in 2006. I’m a frequent reader.

  3. jcwinnie said

    Conspicuous in its absence — photo voltaic panels, especially thin film, multi-junction ones.

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  7. HOG said

    The 800 pound gorilla of all alternative energy technologies has been left off the list–the Atmospheric Vortex Engine (AVE), which “electrifies” the Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE) found in the Troposphere. Its output can be augmented by any waste heat you can find to feed it, including that from cooling towers, weak geothermal fields, warm seawater, or even urban “heat islands”.

    This technology will literally leave the self-choking solar tower in its dust–Enviromission, are you listening?

    HOG

    Editor’s note: I was thinking of the next two decades, not the next two centurys. Good material for science fiction, though.

  8. [...] 2Top Ten Technologies for an Alternative Energy Future [...]

  9. Ceptgitle said

    Привет.
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    Всё чисто, не одной жалоб. Сделан на утерянные документы. Всё законно.
    Если нужно, то есть сертификаты ещё.
    Стучацо в личную почту на Вебмани.

    Это не спам. Не пишите на мой WMID жалобы в арбитраж Вебмани.

  10. Ceptgitle said

    Привет.
    Продаю персональный сертификат WebMoney за $99.

    Можете проверить: WMID 322973398779 Redfern

    Всё чисто, не одной жалоб. Сделан на утерянные документы. Всё законно.
    Если нужно, то есть сертификаты ещё.
    Стучацо в личную почту на Вебмани.

    Это не спам. Не пишите на мой WMID жалобы в арбитраж Вебмани.

  11. eddy said

    hydrogen is my future along with solar offcoarse

  12. Naruto Uzumaki said

    FOSSIL FUELS ARE DYING.

  13. Are there stock funds that are diversified throughout the altenative energy prospects? Ones that are run by people like Khosla, or Tata, or yourself?

  14. Tom said

    Ronald: see this article.

  15. dave said

    I think there should be a some modular ways of adding power into your own home. For example, if you have a solar power generator, wind generator or waste heat, there should be an easy way of plugging it into your own electrical supply – feeding the extra back to the local utilities and receiving a check for it.

  16. [...] each January (See the 2008 and 2009 lists. The Cree-free 2010 list is here.) LEDs have been among my favorite alternative energy technologies even [...]

  17. [...] each January (See the 2008 and 2009 lists. The Cree-free 2010 list is here.) LEDs have been among my favorite alternative energy technologies even [...]

  18. [...] each January (See the 2008 and 2009 lists. The Cree-free 2010 list is here.) LEDs have been among my favorite alternative energy technologies even longer.Complete Story » Published Tuesday, January 19, 2010 1:45 AM Filed under: Tom [...]

  19. [...] each January (See the 2008 and 2009 lists. The Cree-free 2010 list is here.) LEDs have been among my favorite alternative energy technologies even longer.Complete Story » Published Tuesday, January 19, 2010 1:45 AM Filed under: Tom [...]

  20. [...] each January (See the 2008 and 2009 lists. The Cree-free 2010 list is here.) LEDs have been among my favorite alternative energy technologies even longer.Complete Story » Published Tuesday, January 19, 2010 1:45 AM Filed under: Tom [...]

  21. Rhona said

    Just been looking at the future of steam engines & stirling engines. Both are being used at present as alternative power generators and both are undergoing development for future power generation.

  22. Muhammad Zubair said

    Hello everyone, I am a Master student at German university and I have to do research work over renewable energy, Please guide me what topic I should chose ? I want to work on some latest techniques that are being employed in Renewable sector. I am willing to work on projects that are going to be the future for renewable energy. Please provide me with an appropriate topic at (zubair_108@yahoo.com). Any help in this regard will be highly appreciated, Many thanks inadvance :)

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