Vote For Our Next IE Questions Topic: What’s Holding This Energy Tech Back?

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When it comes to modernizing our energy systems, we’re often forced to  wait on new technology to mature (Think: nuclear fusion or energy storage). But sometimes, technologies already exist, yet aren’t always used to their full potential.  Some examples include nuclear power, hydroelectric dams, long-distance transmission line. Why aren’t these technologies more widespread?

Help us decide which of these audience-submitted questions will become our next IE Questions feature by voting for your favorite below:

A closer look at each of the topics

Why doesn’t the U.S. convert more non-powered dams into powered dams?

Most dams in the United States don’t generate electricity – but many of them could. A Department of Energy study identified more than 50,000 non-powered dams that could contribute 12 GW of generating capacity. (For comparison, the U.S. has about 80 GW of installed hydro capacity total.) As Inside Energy reported, some are pushing for micro-hydropower and retrofitting existing dams to generate electricity. But there’s also been momentum for the removal of dams. In this landscape, what’s the outlook for hydro?

Would transmission losses be too high to sustain an international grid?

Imagine sending electricity from solar panels in Australia to Singapore, or from wind turbines in Alberta to New York. This dream could be achieved with a supergrid: a massive system spanning continents that could quickly move electricity from where it’s being generated to where it’s being used. Is this dream on its way to becoming a reality, or are the costs – and political hurdles – too high?

Why is nuclear power not part of the current conversation on energy?

In 2016, Watts Bars 2 came online in Tennessee, the first new nuclear reactor in two decades. Nuclear energy has been struggling, facing competition from cheaper, newer gas-fired plants. But there have been hints that the Trump administration could be favorable for the nuclear power sector. Why did nuclear power leave the energy conversation in the first place, and might it be making a comeback?

Comic: In the energy waiting room, nuclear power knits a scarf, transmission towers play poker, and a hydroelectric dam takes a nap.

Jordan Wirfs-Brock / Inside Energy

What goes on in the energy waiting room? Nuclear power knits a scarf, transmission towers play poker, and a hydroelectric dam takes a nap.

What happens next?
You vote on your favorite question. Then, the Inside Energy team will produce a story answering the winning question. (See some of our previous IE Questions here, here and here.)

But wait! I have a burning question that’s not in this voting round…

Great! Submit your question below, and it could become a future IE Questions story.

  • (Help me understand)
    Why is it energy advocates like proposed fusion designs that may ultimately one day have promise (like ITER, Polywell, or LPP dense plasma focus) over fusion reactor designs that are based on current proven fusion technology which reliably produces fusion energy with gain on demand when needed (like ICF fusion technology adapted, reduced in yield for convenient power plant operation, and evolved from military fission-fusion)?

    Why do people insist on funding for multiple decades at $500 million a year levels MCF and IEC fusion approaches that have never successfully produced any net energy from fusion – even after hundreds of machines have been built and hundreds of thousands of test shots have been made. Why do the overwhelming majority of energy advocates refuse to consider adapting the only working Inertial Confinement Fusion technology available to mankind that is well characterized and understood and is practical (ICF fission-fusion – or with some additional work pure ICF fusion).

    Why do people have such an aversion to practical fusion technology that produces convenient amounts of fusion energy in a series of controlled fusion bursts?

    In modern implementations[1], Fission Ignited Fusion can use as little as 0.25 grams of fissile U233, U235, or Pu239 to ignite about 16 grams of Deuterium using D-D fusion and produce, with help of a fusion driver, a fusion burst of about 100 Gigajoules per shot (the energy released in efficiently burning about 779 gallons of gasoline).

    People are comfortable routinely driving cars based on internal combustion engines that produce power over time as the result of hundreds of small controlled fuel-air explosions per minute.

    Why do people resist, and refuse to fund, practical ICF fusion approaches like fission-fusion that actually work today and could be very rapidly adapted to build reliable fusion power plants in less than three years with a little help from LANL or LLNL National Labs?

    [1] – Winterberg, F. “A Third Way Towards the Controlled Release of Nuclear Energy by Fission and Fusion” – http://www.znaturforsch.com/aa/v59a/s59a0325.pdf