Small Hydro Power, Solar Energy Project, and Other Energy News

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Rising fossil fuel prices have made small hydro power plants economically viable again.

The following energy news items were drawn from multiple sources.

Small Hydro Power Returns

Small-hydro power is on the way back. Many of America’s 50,000 dams once generated electricity, but most were abandoned as energy producers during the heyday of cheap fossil fuels. Now that oil prices are higher, however, the small hydroelectric plants can, once again, provide economical power. The U.S. Department of Energy has received proposals to develop 50 separate plants of less than fifteen megawatts, and hopes to have 1,500 Mw of this “water power” in operation by 1985.

Solar Energy Project

A government-sponsored solar energy project will bring electricity to the Schuchuli (Arizona) village of the Papago Indian tribe. The federally funded power system will use photovoltaic (PV) sunlight conversion to light the settlement’s fifteen homes. Solar power will also run the group’s communal refrigerator, wringer washer, and sewing machine. The entire energy consumption of the “town” will be less than 75% of that used by a typical U.S. urban family over the same period.

Industrial Wood Furnace

A wood furnace for small industry has been developed by Paul Kalenian of Massachusetts. The heater—designed to use green and/or scrap lumber—burns with an impressive 90% efficiency and heats for half the cost of an equivalent oil-burner. Paul is optimistic about his future. “After all,” he says, “the energy situation is only going to get worse.”

Alternative Energy Policy

“Energy policy as if it really mattered,” a new report from the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service, advocates extensive federal procurement of alternative energy systems. The study states, for instance, that the U.S. could save eight million barrels of oil a year if half the federal motor-vehicle fleet were composed of electric cars. Copies of this report—which also calls for government purchases to “enlarge and underwrite” the market for alternative energy sources—are available from Rep. John Dingell.

Electrodeless Fluorescent Lamp

An electrodeless fluorescent light bulb, developed by theoretical physicist Donald Hollister, can produce nearly as much light as a standard 100-watt bulb using only eighteen watts! Hollister has approached the major electrical equipment manufacturers with his invention and found a marked lack of interest. The physicist isn’t surprised. “If I had a ‘cash cow,’ I wouldn’t want it to go dry,” he says.

Nuclear Fault

More than twenty-four small earthquakes have occurred on a fault line which runs within 3,000 feet of the three Indian Point nuclear reactors near New York City. According to a Columbia University report, there is a 5% to 11% possibility that a “quake large enough to exceed the plants” design safety limits will occur sometime within the installations’ projected 40-year life span.

Saudi Oil Shortage

The Saudi Arabian oil squeeze will tighten its grip in the 1980’s, predicts U.S. Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger. World demand could reach 16 million barrels a day by 1985, but even the most optimistic Saudi officials don’t expect production to approach that level. Arabian Finance Minister Mohamad Ali Abalkhail put it this way: “Your shrinking dollar makes oil in the ground look like a better investment than paper assets in the bank.”

Solar Steam Generator

“sunshine is the resource we need to utilize” says Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) president Jerry Geist. His utility is the first in the nation to press ahead with steam-generating solar equipment. PNM is currently assessing solar technologies under an $800,000 grant. This grant has brought criticism to the company, notably from Patricia White of Energy Consumers of New Mexico, Inc. Ms. White contends that such grants should go to smaller individual operations, “So we can get away from dependence on utilities.”

Gasohol Formula

Alcohol and gasoline don’t mix? George Tsao, a Purdue University chemical engineering professor, thinks that they can mix, and do so practically. Tsao has developed a process to extract alcohol from grain and crop residues, a technique that could make “gasohol” commercially viable. Pilot programs in Nebraska and Illinois report that cars run on a one-to-five mixture of Tsao’s alcohol and gasoline perform well and, possibly, pollute less.

In Brief

Solar training in stir has begun at Connecticut’s Somers maximum security prison. The institution has started to train inmates to design, sell, and set up solar energy equipment …. Dire, a small town on the Niger River in Mali, will soon install an 80-kilowatt solar power station, which will supply much of the village’s energy …. The dung from five elephants in the Bronx Zoo now heats—through its decomposition—greenhouses in the New York Botanical Gardens. After it decomposes, the manure is used as fertilizer …. “Church energy kits” are available from Katherine Seelman of the National Council of Churches. The kit is designed to help churches use energy conservation methods …. A number of solar bus tours—organized by the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Association (University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia)—will take the curious to visit solar-heated homes and factories …. up to 30% of new york state’s electrical needs could be met by the development of its small-scale hydroelectric potential, says a report from the New York Energy Research and Development Administration …. Six Philadelphia hospitals have saved 5500,000 in annual fuel costs with the use of energy conservation techniques.