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  (Source: Reuters/Nichola Groom)

Razer Technologies is creating new green collar jobs in construction and operations and helping to provide America with clean, homegrown power. Here builders finish the cooling tower's foundation for the upcoming plant.  (Source: Razer Technologies)

Engineers from Razer Technologies and United Technologies Corp collaborated to complete the plant design.  (Source: Razer Technologies)

The first 10.5 MW plant will be fully operational by the end of the year, with 7 more coming next year.  (Source: Razer Technologies)
Geothermal is among the hottest alternative energy technologies today.

The tiny Utah town of Minersville is suddenly finding itself a hot topic thanks to its upcoming geothermal plant.  Geothermal energy, the process of using the earth's heat to create and/or harvest steam to produce electricity, is among the most intriguing alternative energy technologies today.  With fossil fuel prices high and with support from big backers such as Google, things are looking good for geothermal energy.

Raser Technologies Inc. at its initial public offering five years was a simple electric motor business with little intention of revolutionizing the alternative energy business.  Somewhere along its journey over the last several years, it had a vision of creating profitable green geothermal power according to Reuters, a dream which has consumed it ever since.  Now it is on the verge of fulfilling that dream.  Construction is nearly finished on the company's plant in tiny Minersville, which will go online later this year providing electricity to 9,000 homes in Anaheim, California. 

The company has no plans of stopping there -- it will complete construction on 7 more plants next year and expects to be turning a profit by the end of next year.  Chief Executive Brent Cook announced the news in an interview at Raser's Provo, Utah, headquarters last Thursday, stating, "After these first couple of plants come online I believe we will be cash flow positive."

While geothermal requires more complex infrastructure and takes more time to deploy, it has an advantage over wind and solar in that it provides steady power around the clock. 

Mr. Cook acknowledges that there were some initial difficulties when the company decided to transition into alternative energy mode in 2005.  He states, "In the case of geothermal... the execution of that plan is all in our hands.  The licensing side of our business requires convincing some other company to take the technology and deploy it into their marketplace, and that's a lot harder to predict."

At first the company tried to acquire geothermal startup Amp Resources; however, the deal fell through with Amp being bought instead by Italian energy company Enel SpA.  In the aftermath of the failed deal, Mr. Cook took the reins and went to work acquiring land leases and capital.  He found a big partner in Merrill Lynch, which signed on to finance up to 155 MW of Razer plants, including a $44M USD investment in the first plant.  Razer Technologies also partnered with United Technologies Corp, which is providing the power generation units. 

The key to Razer's completed approach is to build smaller geothermal plants capable of being constructed within a few months.  This makes the technology more growth-competitive with solar and wind installations.  Mr. Cook describes, "Geothermal usually takes much longer to be built. We've tried to go with an off-the-shelf type of plant design.  It's like Legos that come together."

The plants are expandable if additional capacity is needed.  The company also is unique in that it uses lower temperature water, using steam from a liquid with a lower steam point than water, thus allowing energy harvest from hot water below the 212 degrees Fahrenheit boiling point.  Mr. Cook says, "That allows us to exploit sites that frankly were passed over or thought to not be useful 25 or 30 years ago.  We are going back through and tying up a lot of those opportunities."

With over 200,000 acres in six Western states, Razer Technologies has plenty of room to expand.  Mr. Cook is confident his plant can beat one of its main fossil fuel competitors -- natural gas.  He concludes, "We're seeing a lot of utilities recognize that geothermal is much more competitive than natural gas and has zero fuel risk exposure."

The first plant will produce 10.5 MW when complete.  The projected plant lifetime is 35 years.  

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RE: Need bigger plants
By randomly on 9/3/2008 2:35:37 PM , Rating: 3
If you can afford a few thousand of these solar stations at nearly a million a pop, you can build a coal or nuclear plant instead.

That's my point, there are many areas and situations where you CANNOT afford $1 Billion in one chunk to build a nuclear or coal plant It's those areas where small solar and windpower systems give those people at least something.

Per-MW generated, wind power requires more skilled technicians than nuclear. There's a substantial amount of maintenance required on several thousand windmills. And it must be well-trained labor, too, given you're working with massive moving parts, several hundred feet in the air.

Sure there is maintenance on solar and windpower systems, but it is not nearly as complex as nuclear systems and does not require as broad an educational background. An individual windmill is relatively simple and once you know how to handle one you know how to handle them all, they are just identical systems replicated over and over. Nor do mistakes have as nearly as far reaching impact that mistakes in nuclear plants have. Nor do you have the security concerns.
Would you rather trust a wind energy system to a third world country, or a nuclear reactor?

Of course it has. Every nuclear plant in the US has been storing its own waste on site for the past half-century without problem, and could continue to do with for centuries more. The amount of waste is incredibly small. . . and it would be ten times smaller still, if we reprocessed, and reburnt our fuel multiple times.

That's not a disposal solution, that's just storing it till we can figure out what to do with it. Just the high level waste alone is accumulating at something like 12,000,000 Kg a year. Relatively speaking that's not a huge amount but you can't just keep storing it in spent fuel pools near the reactor. You have concerns with accidental releases, theft, sabotage, etc.
Yucca mountain is a great spot, but you have no assurances that the waste will stay there for many 100,000s of years safely without getting into the water table or some other unforseen avenue. If it was only for 10,000 years I'd be a lot more confident. We don't yet have the knowledge or confidence to be sure about things on such long time scales yet.

Burial at sea is fool hardy, just because you don't think it will end up in the food chain or get dispersed by some unknown chemical, biological, or seismic pathway doesn't mean you're right. That avenue would need a lot more research.

If you burned the waste in a fast reactor to burn up the actinides you'd be left with only the short half life isotopes and the very long ones so the radioactivity would decay away to safe levels much more quickly. That kind of waste I could see putting into Yucca mountain.

But that brings up the other problem, nuclear proliferation. Fast reactors (breeders) and fuel reprocessing can reduce the waste disposal problem tremendously but you have much more danger of readily available weapons grade bomb material availability. Unfortunately it also raises the cost of nuclear power compared to the relatively cheap freshly mined uranium fuel. If the nuclear power industry had to pay more than the unrealistic flat rate of $0.01 per Kwh for waste disposal that they do now there might be some more development of those technologies.

Unfortunately it's clear that there will always be some segment of the world population that would be more than happy to build their own nuclear or dirty bombs and use them. You cannot sweep proliferation dangers under the rug anymore than you can the long term waste disposal problem. What is the motivation that drives fusion power research? It's certainly not the economics, nuclear power will be more cost effective for the foreseeable future. No the draw for Fusion power is solving the waste and proliferation problems of nuclear power.

As to the nuclear plants that practically run themselves? I'm not aware of any currently deployed commercial reactors in that category.
Sure there are the sodium cooled fast reactors, pebble bed designs, and molten salt reactors that are intrinsically fail safe with thermal shutdown but none of those technologies will be ready for commercial deployment for another 20 years.
I think we're talking about what are the best options for power generation that can be built now. Wind, solar, Geothermal all have attractive features that make them the best solutions in a variety of niches. No they are not a panacea but they are economically and technologically feasible and realistic and improving rapidly.

Should we keep developing nuclear? Absolutely. I would love to see a lot more money thrown at working out the problems on GEN IV reactor designs, thorium fuel cycles, waste disposal etc. But until then you have to make your decisions on power generation on the pros and cons of each technology. That includes the economics, the capital investment, the time scales, the environmental impacts, politics, human nature etc.

I have a lot of faith that if it makes economic sense, then people will put money into it, and if doesn't they wont. Right now nuclear doesn't seem to be attracting too much money. That may change in the next 20 years.

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