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Lichtblick and Volkswagen To Build 'Swarm' Power Plants

samzenpus posted more than 4 years ago | from the 1000-tiny-smoke-stacks dept.

Power 327

Dr. Hok writes "As more and more renewable energy enters the grid, it gets increasingly difficult to match supply and demand 24/7. The answer of German power company Lichtblick and Volkswagen is a swarm of 100,000 flexible base-load generators. These fridge-sized CHP (Combined Heat and Power) generators that will be installed in people's basements in Hamburg starting early next year will feed electricity into the grid and the waste heat into their home's water/heating. The "ZuhauseKraftwerk" (HomePowerPlant) features a vanilla VW Golf natural-gas engine that generates 20kW electrical and 34 kW heat with an efficiency of 92%. The units are remotely controlled via a mobile network or DSL; they can ramp up in a minute if needed. A water tank ensures that heat is continuously available, while electricity is produced on demand. The swarm will replace two nuclear plants, they say. And your old oil heating needed replacement anyway."

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327 comments

Nigger Jokes Are Funny (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29375513)

even if you won't admit it.

Re:Nigger Jokes Are Funny (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29375783)

ha ha i bet those turd burglers cant stand that this was the first post. ha ha ha frosty piss you jackasses!!!!11!11!11!!!1oneone

Uh? (5, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375519)

"The swarm will replace two nuclear plants, they say"

So when we're all supposed to be scared to death of EVIL GLOBAL WARMING, the 'green' Germans want to replace two nuclear plants that emit no CO2 with... car engines... running on natural gas which will probably have to be purchased from the Commies?

Yeah, that makes perfect sense.

Re:Uh? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29375557)

Didn't you read the part about them being in basements? All that CO2 gas will just fill the chamber and they can take people they don't like down there. They can't deny it, yesterday was angry German day.

Re:Uh? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29375573)

Germany and Spain allow nice allowances for those that produce the power at home. For example, the price paid for residences in grid-tie solar systems is $.60 per KWH in Germany ("Solar is only economic for installation on rooftops because of the feed-in tariffs for solar electricity of 60 cents per kWh". http://www.edn.com/article/CA6432171.html )

Note that Germany is doing this even though solar is much less efficient there. Germany is located at ~ 51' N latitude . For reference, Great Falls, MT is at ~ 47' N Latitude.

If the US tariffed-in rates were set at even $.38 per KWH, solar would be a no-brainer investment for majority of homes in the US and coal and natural gas generation would die a natural death with no power infrastructure upgrade needed.

As a side note, the price of natural gas sets the world price for Ammonium nitrate - a product which uses natural gas as a major catalyst to produce. Therefore the price of Natural Gas has a great impact on the cost of food for most of the world. ( http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/icm/2003/4-14-2003/natgasn.html ).

That is to say: the electricity we use that is generated by natural gas, increases the price we pay for food-stuffs here and in the rest of the world.

Re:Uh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29375745)

As a side note, the price of natural gas sets the world price for Ammonium nitrate - a product which uses natural gas as a major catalyst to produce.

A catalyst by definition isn't used up, so you're full of shit.

Re:Uh? (4, Informative)

orzetto (545509) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375761)

Ammonium nitrate [is] a product which uses natural gas as a major catalyst to produce.

Here come the chemistry Nazis: natural gas is a reactant, not a catalyst, and not to produce ammonium nitrate. It is used to produce hydrogen, which is then combined with nitrogen to get ammonia, with which you actually get the ammonium nitrate when you combine it with nitric acid.

Though you're right that the price of NG has a large influence on that of ammonium nitrate.

Re:Uh? (4, Informative)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375893)

Is that why we here in AR have wildcatters coming out our wazoos? In less than 2 years we have had more than a half dozen natural gas wildcatters popping up all over town, and we are just a little speck on the map so they must be all over the place. I figured the price of natural gas wasn't high enough to explain all the rigs popping up everywhere, but if it is as you say and the natural gas is required for food production that makes a lot more sense.

Because everyone here has known for decades there was natural gas all over the place, just nobody bothered because the price of gas was so cheap. hell in the days of family wells out local fire dept was getting called out all the time because somebodies pump kicked on and the natural gas blew the well house sky high. I was wondering why all of a sudden we have natural gas companies building like mad here, and can't hardly move for all the semis carrying gas production equipment. A tie in with food production makes a lot more sense as to why we have suddenly become a boom town. Thanks for the info.

Re:Uh? (5, Informative)

gmthor (1150907) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375665)

The point is that nuclear plants can't be shut of in a few minutes (coal plants neither) and waters storing plants are not flexible enough. Because of that many windmills and water dams are shut of even thou they could produce green energy. So what it really means is that this technology will allow real green technology to run when ever it can.
Just a statistics i remember (i can not cite it anymore thou) is that about 40% of green energy is wasted because the electric grid couldn't handle it.

Re:Uh? (1)

FireFury03 (653718) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375797)

The point is that nuclear plants can't be shut of in a few minutes (coal plants neither) and waters storing plants are not flexible enough. Because of that many windmills and water dams are shut of even thou they could produce green energy. So what it really means is that this technology will allow real green technology to run when ever it can.

Alternatively, instead of having hundreds of thousands of CO2 producing generators with the ability to rapidly ramp up and down production, you could have a few nice green nuclear power plants and ramp up and down the load instead (e.g. by using the excess power to do useful stuff like cracking water).

Re:Uh? (4, Funny)

bickerdyke (670000) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375845)

Alternatively, instead of having hundreds of thousands of CO2 producing generators with the ability to rapidly ramp up and down production, you could have a few nice green nuclear power plants and ramp up and down the load instead (e.g. by using the excess power to do useful stuff like cracking water).

I guess I should buy stocks of every major paint company, just in case if someone really wanted to start building 'green nuclear power plants'. Wouldn't know of any other way to turn them 'green'

Re:Uh? (2, Interesting)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375951)

the term "green" has lost all meaning through over use.

if you mean "less impact on the environment" then nuclear power is almost as good as it get for anything that produces the kind of load needed to run a nation.

it has one by product which is easy to contain. coal emits tons of radiation and toxic gases into the air, geo thermal is limited to certain locations.

solar, wind and wave can't maintain a consistent load 24/7, so i'm curious as to what alternative you propose.

Re:Uh? (1, Insightful)

gmthor (1150907) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375979)

Nuclear plants do have an impact on the environment too. What do you do with the toxic waste? The problem here is that you need to store it somewhere safe for thousand of years. This is almost impossible to foretold. And don't reply that you can just use old salt stocks because they have been dry for millions of years already. The best example for this is Asse 2 [asse2.de] which is already starting to flood.
Another option are fusion power plant. The research did alot of improvement during the last few years and the radio active waste has got a half-life of only a few years not really worth mentioning.

Re:Uh? (-1)

Wastl (809) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376043)

I cannot here this boring argument about solar, wind and wave being no alternative repeated again and again. The argument does not get better over time. Had we invested a fraction of the research funding that we have given to nuclear power industries into renewable energy research, we would probably already have most of our energy from renewalbe sources.

Nuclear power is inherently dangerous, we do not know how to deal with the waste, the nuclear fossil fuel will last only a couple of decades, and huge power plants are as inefficient as it gets because of the long distances electricity is transported. By contrast, distributed generation of electricity as proposed by the article is much more efficient, because it happens very close to the consumer.

Solar-based energy is technically possible for Europe even with a 24/7 load. The initiative "Desertec" is following this approach, and there are several studies showing the feasability, financed by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conversation and Nuclear Safety, see http://www.desertec.org/en/concept/studies/ [desertec.org] . The reasons why this initiative might still fail are purely political, and for me, this is no excuse.

Re:Uh? (1, Insightful)

bickerdyke (670000) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376115)

the term "green" has lost all meaning through over use.

solar, wind and wave can't maintain a consistent load 24/7, so i'm curious as to what alternative you propose.

Simple. Dont call anything that produces CO2 or other toxic waste (liquid, solid or gaseous) green

Then take that "green cant provide sonstant load 24/7" strawman-argument and put it where the sun never shines. Ignoring that almost free energie sources, just because they won't satisfy 100% of your needs is plain stupid. Grab as much as you can get from that free energy pool and then throw in less-green power until you get 100% 24/7.

Diversity is the way to success here.

Re:Uh? (1)

Eunuchswear (210685) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375973)

Well, it's not green, but the mural on the cooling tower at the Cruas [wikipedia.org] plant near Montélimar took 4,000 litres of paint, so you should be able to make a bit of dosh.

(Most paint production is one of the least "green" activities you could imagine - petrochemical shit all over the place).

Re:Uh? (1)

gmthor (1150907) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375959)

The article didn't say that they want to shut off nuclear plants instead.
This relates to a different debate in germany where there are 3 nuclear plants that need to be shut down next year because of age. And one party (CSU) tries to pressure the other parties to allow the plants to run a few years longer. (last year, one of the plants was shut off for 100 days of thear year because of failures)

Re:Uh? (3, Informative)

nbert (785663) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375701)

The quote is a little misleading. They are not planning to shut down 2 power plants when the swarm comes online. They are simply stating that it will generate power equivalent to two average nuclear power plants.

Different story: Technically it might actually replace those plants, because the government decided in 2000 that all nuclear power plants will be shut down until ~2019. But we have elections coming up and it's possible that this decision gets revoked.

Re:Uh? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29375705)

In case you didn't get the memo, Russians stopped being "Commies" almost twenty years ago and are now a good capitalist dictatorship. Plus, there's a second pipeline project on the way (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabucco_pipeline) that'll provide access to more suppliers.

Also, in contrast to a nuclear plant, this swarm can react almost instantly to changes in supply or demand, thus complementing the fluctuating levels of power generated by wind and solar (try achieveing that with a centralized mega-plant). Also, this move will help to break up the cartel the four large energy providers have held for decades, so yes, it makes perfect sense indeed

Re:Uh? (2, Insightful)

Eunuchswear (210685) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375857)

Also, in contrast to a nuclear plant, this swarm can react almost instantly to changes in supply or demand, thus complementing the fluctuating levels of power generated by wind and solar (try achieveing that with a centralized mega-plant).

Talk to the French [wikipedia.org].

France currently produces 1/10 of the C02 per kWh that Germany does.

Re:Uh? (2, Interesting)

orzetto (545509) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376077)

How is that addressing the point of the GP?

France delivers a lot of cheap electricity to its neighbours because, having a mainly nuclear-based power system, they can only provide the base load. This means they have to produce more than what they need and sell the excess, even if the prices are not advantageous and would not justify the sale economically.

Nuclear plants are difficult to control. The reaction's dynamics are nonlinear and unstable, and you have only a 0.7% margin in which they respond with a 10-second lag (and are controllable). Should you get out of that zone, the reaction starts moving with a time constant in the range of milliseconds. Add to the mix that neutron radiation sensors (which are essential in feedback control) are slower at low reaction rates, and you get why nobody likes to run a nuclear power plant at part load. Yes, running a nuclear plant at low power is actually more dangerous than at full power. That's why starting up a plant is such a critical operation.

All this means you cannot have a 100%-nuclear power system unless you can sell your excess power to/buy your peak power from someone (like France does), or are willing to produce peak power at all times and burn any excess. If Germany were to go 100% nuclear, who's left in Europe to buy their power?

Re:Uh? (0, Troll)

polar red (215081) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375717)

nuclear plants that emit no CO2

That's just plain WRONG see here : http://www.peakoil.org.au/news/index.php?does_nuclear_energy_produce_no_co2.htm [peakoil.org.au]

Re:Uh? (3, Interesting)

Nef (46782) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375829)

Normally I wouldn't feed the trolls, but OP is RIGHT. Nuclear plants themselves emit NO gases (unless there's a serious problem.)
Your link stacks up all the carbon emissions produced to mine, process, refine, enrich, clad (and the emissions from mining, processing, smelting, casting and welding the cladding), assemble, ship and swap a nuclear plants fuel source.
Fair enough, just let me in on the fossil fuels refill fairy and your secret's safe with me!

Re:Uh? (1)

polar red (215081) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376129)

Nuclear plants themselves emit NO gases

so you're saying that we only need to compare costs and wastes of the completed power plant ?
If I use that same reasonning for wind turbines and solar panels, I can conclude that those deliver completely FREE energy ...

Re:Uh? (1)

Eunuchswear (210685) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375941)

I just love this quote on that scaremongering site:

If you ignore the vehicles that the workers use to get to work, the reactor does not produce any CO2. But it does use electricity, as well as produce it, and to the extent that electricity is largely produced by fossil fuels, this needs to be counted in the energy balance.

So, since the plant needs electricity to keep the lights on, and so much electricity is generated by fossil fuels, you should count the CO2 emitted by a fossil fuel plant to generate the electricity used to keep the lights on in a nuke plant as if it were emitted by the nuke plant. WTF!

Every single argument(*) on that site is an argument for increasing nuclear power generation so we can use nuke's to replace the non-nuke powered steps.

(* except for the CO2 emitted by the concrete in the plant. And we all know that no other power generation technology uses concrete, so nukes are uniquely bad. Not.)

Re:Uh? (1)

polar red (215081) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376153)

Every single argument(*) on that site is an argument for increasing nuclear power generation so we can use nuke's to replace the non-nuke powered steps.

Yes, let's magically produce uranium,plutonium,concrete,steel,copper out of thin air then, shall we ? and let the waste products used also vanish into thin air ...

Re:Uh? (2, Insightful)

zblack_eagle (971870) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375943)

Seriously, reading that 'article', while they make a decent point, pretty much every human activity as it stands results in CO2 emissions. Extracting and refining the materials to build equipment to harvest renewable sources of energy? CO2 emissions. Transporting and installing equipment? CO2 emissions. From the 'article':

If you ignore the vehicles that the workers use to get to work, the reactor does not produce any CO2

I guess we're also ignoring the fact that the workers breathe and engage in other activities in living that emit CO2.

Nuclear energy couldn't possibly be made less carbon intensive, making solar panels involves toxic chemicals, wind turbines kill rare birds/bats, etc. Some people seriously won't ever be happy unless we rid the world of humanity.

Re:Uh? (1)

Eunuchswear (210685) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376007)

I guess we're also ignoring the fact that the workers breathe and engage in other activities in living that emit CO2.

The same argument is made in a stupid car ad - some loonies are living a "frugal" life trying to emit not CO2, and being interviewed - the guru of the loonies claims they've achieved zero CO2 emissions and the interviewer ripostes - "but you're emitting CO2 by breathing". The interviewer, and you, are only right if the food the breather ate was made from fossil fuels.

(Of course most of the food we eat these days is made from fossil fuels(*) - that's why we're all going to die when we run out of 'em, and that's why we're mad to be using them to generate electricity and heat our homes).

((*) Ammonia based fertilizers are made from natural gas).

Re:Uh? (1)

smoker2 (750216) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376155)

You must also take into account the massive mechanisation of farming since WW2. We simply do not have enough trained people to farm manually anymore. Can you imagine farming massive corn fields using only horses for ploughing and harvesting ? A lot of farmland can only be made useful by machines due to heavy soils and/or poor drainage.

As for your first point - he IS emitting CO2. Whether it is a net addition to the atmosphere is not mentioned, so you cannot deny the fact.

Re:Uh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29376059)

Are you a troll, or are you just gullible? Either way, shame on you.

That link is one of the stupidest things I have read, and I am now a little stupider for having suffered through reading it.

Uranium ore comes from mines carried on trucks -- trucks emit CO2! And truck tires hurt Mother Earth also!!! And so on and so on. And then, just to take a turn for the bizarre, it starts to have pictures of scary military people and vehicles; I think the idea was that since nuclear waste is dangerous, it needs to be guarded, oh no nuclear stuff is scary.

Well, we could also look at solar panel production, and I'll bet it involves a few trucks as well. (Solar panels are made in factories. Factories are staffed by humans! Humans eat food that is carried on trucks -- trucks emit CO2! And truck tires hurt Mother Earth also!!!)

It's stupid to worry about the CO2 emitted by trucks with respect to either solar panels or nuclear power. A solar panel produces no greenhouse gases while it is operating -- and neither does the nuclear power plant.

So, I just did a couple of Google searches. The average power produced by a nuclear power plant is about 12.4 billion kilowatt-hours in a year [doe.gov]. The amount of CO2 emitted by a coal power plant is 1.341 pounds of CO2 per kilowatthour [doe.gov]. That means that using a nuclear power plant instead of a coal plant saves, on average, 16.6 billion pounds of CO2 per year.

But wait! Coal gets hauled on trucks, too! Then it gets put on trains! And you need billions of pounds of coal to burn to make those billions of pounds of CO2, so that's a lot of trucks and trains! But wait! Burned coal makes ashes, and the ashes need to be hauled off and disposed of! Millions of pounds of ashes! Hauled on trucks!! With tires!!!

I may not be a scientist, but it sure looks to me like a nuclear power plant has a tremendously smaller CO2 footprint than a coal plant. If you are serious about reducing CO2, you had better plan on building lots of nuclear power plants.

Just to be crystal clear: the GP post said nuclear power plants produce no CO2 as a side effect of operating. This is completely correct. The link you cited shows that the total CO2 footprint cannot be said to be zero. This is true, but stupid.

Effectively 100% gas - electricity conversion (3, Insightful)

nniillss (577580) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375751)

You failed to consider that the target applicants are already using gas for heating purposes anyway. Now the heat production of the engine will be exactly matched to this need (same as before). All extra gas consumption is fully transformed into electricity (which is possible, even for only 40% raw conversion efficency, as long as the electrical output is much below the heat load).

So, overall, the extra gas consumption (compared to conventional heating) is transformed with 100% efficiency into electricity which is a vast improvement over all competing technologies with similar flexibility.

Re:Effectively 100% gas - electricity conversion (1)

FireFury03 (653718) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375813)

Now the heat production of the engine will be exactly matched to this need (same as before).

How do you "exactly match" the heat production when heating and power requirements fluctuate all the time? I'm sure that will be "exactly matched" really well in the height of summer when all the offices have their aircon on....

Re:Effectively 100% gas - electricity conversion (2, Interesting)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375905)

There's not much air conditioning going on in Germany in the summer. Maybe for two weeks we use some fans, and in the rest it's not that warm to turn on any aircon or fans. It's also not that cold in winter anymore. A friend of mine basically uses no heating or cooling at all during the whole year, because his apartment is pretty well isolated by being on the first floor of a high-rise.

Re:Effectively 100% gas - electricity conversion (1)

FireFury03 (653718) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376015)

There's not much air conditioning going on in Germany in the summer. Maybe for two weeks we use some fans, and in the rest it's not that warm to turn on any aircon or fans.

Germany is slightly further south than the UK (where I live), and airconditioned offices are reasonably common here (which is why I specifically said _offices_, not homes).

It may not be blisteringly hot in the summer, but I seriously question the ability to "exactly match" the heat generated (up to 34KW per generator) with the heating requirements of homes during the summer (probably not far off 0KW - the amount of heating required for peoples' showers during the summer is pretty tiny compared to the amount of heating required for most homes in the winter).

Re:Effectively 100% gas - electricity conversion (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376137)

They are talking about 92% overall efficiency which is not high for modern gas-fired heaters. Some even quote >100% efficiency, which is because they also recover heat by condensing the water that is produced by burning the gas. However the efficiency is likely far better overall when comparing separate power and heat production.

Re:Uh? (1, Insightful)

Dr. Hok (702268) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375755)

So when we're all supposed to be scared to death of EVIL GLOBAL WARMING, the 'green' Germans want to replace two nuclear plants that emit no CO2 with... car engines... running on natural gas which will probably have to be purchased from the Commies?

Yeah, that makes perfect sense.

There is one thing that nucular plants can't do, namely ramp up in a minute. But that's is a prerequisite if you want to use wind and solar power when it's produced. AFAIK only water and gas plants can do that. So the CHP swarm is green because it enables the massive use of green energy. Nuclear plants take a few hours to get going, which is just not fast enough. Plus, I live close enough to Chernobyl to know that nuclear power is simply not acceptable. Unless you just love thyroid cancer.

I'll grant you that being dependent on Russia is dangerous. Germany currently buys 32% of their natural gas from Russia (who are not exactly commies any more BTW). The German government plans to replace 10% of the natural gas by biogas in 2030, so the amount of gas we need to buy from them decreases. And biogas is CO2 neutral, i.e. green.

Re:Uh? (5, Insightful)

FireFury03 (653718) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375847)

I live close enough to Chernobyl to know that nuclear power is simply not acceptable. Unless you just love thyroid cancer.

Massively flawed reactor designs being run by complete idiots is simply not acceptable. Modern reactors are extremely safe and (in the West) well regulated. If you're going to ban the modern nuclear industry on public safety grounds, you'd better ban the whole chemical industry too since that deals with chemicals that are way more harmful and is far less well regulated. Replacing all the coal fired power plants with nuclear plants would massively cut pollution (coal plants put up a *lot* of particulate pollution into the atmosphere, much of which is radioactive and/or highly toxic, not to mention the environmental concerns of the toxic and radioactive fly ash which has to be disposed of - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingston_Fossil_Plant_coal_fly_ash_slurry_spill [wikipedia.org] for why this is bad).

Re:Uh? (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375849)

Plus, I live close enough to Chernobyl to know that nuclear power is simply not acceptable. Unless you just love thyroid cancer.

So just because some incompetent bureaucracts intentionally push one power plant beyond its intended use, all nuclear plants everywhere must shut down?

Re:Uh? (2, Interesting)

trickyb (1092495) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376089)

So just because some incompetent bureaucracts intentionally push one power plant beyond its intended use, all nuclear plants everywhere must shut down?

Well, over the lifetime of a power plant (40+ years) it's a certainty that there will be at least one deep economic recession - during which time there will be extreme cost cutting, attempts to push the plant's output, and savage headcount culls. A perfect environment for breeding 'incompetent bureaucrats'.
A reminder from history - Chernobyl happened when the Soviet Union's economy was dying.

Re:Uh? (1)

The_mad_linguist (1019680) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375873)

Plus, I live close enough to Chernobyl to know that nuclear power is simply not acceptable. Unless you just love thyroid cancer.
Plus, I live close enough to the Hudson Bay to know that air travel is simply not acceptable. Unless you just love getting crushed to death.

Re:Uh? (1)

Eunuchswear (210685) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375889)

There is one thing that nucular[sic] plants can't do, namely ramp up in a minute.

So, I've got one of these thingies, it's high summer, everyone turns on the aircond - bam! My house heating system turns on. WTF!

As for "Nuclear plants take a few hours to get going", like I said elsewhere - talk to the French. The EDF run some of their plants in load following mode, they have just so damn many of them.

Re:Uh? (1)

Vintermann (400722) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375985)

Germany is pretty cold compared to most of the US, and it has more of a coastal climate (warmer winters, colder summers) than inland (warmer summers, colder winters). Few people have AC.

Re:Uh? (1)

smoker2 (750216) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376117)

So you don't use hot water at all in the summer then ? Explains a lot.

Pro-tip - central heating uses radiators which can be turned off !

German Technical Achievement (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29375775)

Why have the Germans achieved so much in science and technology? Albert Einstein explained the photoelectric effect. Leibnitz co-invented calculus with an Englishman, but the German genius' notation is the one that has prevailed to this day. A German invented the first jet aircraft and the first guided missile, which became the basis for the Saturn V that delivered an American to the moon. Now, the Germans have invented an electrical grid that better matches supply of and demand for green energy.

Compare the Germans to the Africans (or African-Americans). Why have Africans accomplished so little in science and technology?

We know that the IQ of the typical African is about 20 points less than the IQ of the typical Japanese or German. Could this IQ deficiency explain African failure across a wide spectrum of human endeavors?

Re:Uh? (1)

codeButcher (223668) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375823)

This is secondhand info, since it comes from a relative in Germany, but - consider that most German homes are heated by burning natural gas or "heating oil" (diesel fuel that is sold at a much cheaper rate than the fuel used for cars - and marked with a dye so that it can be detected if some clever guy fills up his car with it) in any case, then burning the same stuff and getting some electricity out at the same time does not seem such a bad idea.

I was quite interested when visiting, since where I live we use very little heating and only 2-3 months of the year, but this relative had a huge storage tank for the fuel in his basement, and the apparatus for burning it and heating the water in the heating system that circulates through his house.

Various units are available on the market that consist of an internal combustion engine running on either of the fuels, turning an electricity generator, and with a heat exchanger to capture the heat from the engine's exhaust. You'll also be amazed how quiet those units can be made in operation - in short, not noticeable that there's an engine running.

Uh? (1)

texpat (1519959) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375971)

And how is this insightful? Come ON... this is a troll if I ever saw one. Commies?. Dude, you should read a paper now and again, or watch the news on telly. Whereas I could possibly see a point in saying that they're not cutting down on carbon emissions by replacing nuclear with gas, you fail to understand that the Germans don't like nuclear. They think its a very bad idea and they have some pretty good points arguing so (mainly to do with waste disposal). And yes, they are probably making themselves more dependent on Russian gas supplies, which has its risks, but then again we're all dependent on fuel supplies from potentially risky 'partners' and Russia seems no worse than any of the others.

Re:Uh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29376125)

there is one important tidbit of information missing: they run on natural gas now - but they can run on biogas too (as in cowfarts). the engine is not an ordinary golf engine but rather *based* on one. it's ment to run on a wide variety of gaseous fuels. i wouldn't be surprised if it can run on pure hydrogen too.

the idea behind it is to use allready existant infrastructure to introduce the technology and then phase in other fuels when they are avaiable or the market is big enough to *make* them avaible.

92% efficiency?? (3, Insightful)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375541)

"generates 20kW electrical and 34 kW heat with an efficiency of 92%. "

since when is heat generation anything but 100% efficient. Now delivery to where you want it perhaps not. ANd it might go up the stack. but citing a 92% efficiency does not tell me much about the electrical generation efficiency.

Re:92% efficiency?? (1)

gedw99 (1597337) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375559)

The idea od generating everything you need at home is great - no doubt about that. Some aspects to considr though: 1. Noise. Its a generator and last time i ran a genset, it was still pretty noisy. 2. Using Natural Gas instead of nuclear or coal. Are we not just substituting another non sustainable fule here ? 3. Reliablility. You electricity and hot water are pretty important ? i applaud the fact that they are using the ecconomoy of scale principle by partnering with an automotive manufacturer so the system can be scaled and affordable.

Re:92% efficiency?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29375587)

They'd burn the gas anyway, to heat their house. If they burn it to generate electricity, 92% of that energy will go into electricity instead of heat (since electrical energy is more valuable than heat energy). However, since 92% efficiency is probably impossible, it's likely bullshit.

Re:92% efficiency?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29375561)

its around 30-35% efficient for electricity cuz its basically a car engine.

Re:92% efficiency?? (2, Insightful)

norpy (1277318) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375583)

I think the other 60% efficiency is because you arent' just cooling away the hot water in a radiator but storing it in a tank for your radiators/showers/washingup

Re:92% efficiency?? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29375611)

Well,

you could use math...

If 20kW+34kW is 92%, then the total input energy is 58.7kW, therefore the electric efficiency is approximately 34%.

However, natural gas boilers for heating and warm water are very common in Germany, so replacing some (and 100000 is "some") of them with units that can also generate electricity is not such a bad idea.

Cheers,
Sirius

Re:92% efficiency?? (5, Informative)

gmthor (1150907) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375619)

Yes it can be that efficient.
You are right about the electric efficiency which is of cause bad. But what happens to the waste energy? All the rest is heat is stored in a big water tank for your home warm water. Only 8% of the energy escapes that system and will leave your chimney.

Re:92% efficiency?? (0)

dwye (1127395) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375683)

> But what happens to the waste energy? All the rest is heat is stored in a big water tank for your home warm water.

What about during summer? Or are German summers much cooler than they are in the Mid-Atlantic states of the USA?

How efficient will it be to run the gas generator, using the waste heat on your hot water heater, then crank up the air conditioner when it gets too hot?

Not quite an epic fail, but close.

Re:92% efficiency?? (4, Informative)

tancque (925227) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375733)

I live nextdoor to Germany, in the Netherlands, and here airconditioning in homes is not very common. I assume it's the same in Germany.
It can be hot, of course, but never for very long. "Airco" is considered to be a luxery. And hot water is still needed in the summer.

Just be sure not to install such a system near your carefully stored wines in the cellar.

Re:92% efficiency?? (4, Informative)

Halo1 (136547) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375749)

Very few homes in (North-)Western Europe have air conditioning, and the warm water tank would obviously not be placed in your living room. Average summer temperatures are between 20 and 30 degrees Celcius. And while the system would probably be overall less efficient in summer than in winter, you will still need some warm water anyway to do the dishes, to clean, to take showers, etc. There are also washing machines and dish washers nowadays that can take warm water as "input" rather than cold water that is subsequently heated using electricity.

Re:92% efficiency?? (1)

gmthor (1150907) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375885)

The system is actually just as efficient in the summer.
What they do is sore all that energy in a water tank and as soon es it is full they obviously won't use your generator until you used some warm water.
It is a grid technology and this only works out if you have got enough households with that generator. And you can calculate quite simply how many generators you need at least and how big the tank size needs to be, so that this can work out.

Re:92% efficiency?? (3, Informative)

dkf (304284) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376111)

What about during summer? Or are German summers much cooler than they are in the Mid-Atlantic states of the USA?

How efficient will it be to run the gas generator, using the waste heat on your hot water heater, then crank up the air conditioner when it gets too hot?

Summers are much cooler in NW Europe than in the Mid East Coast states. Like 30F cooler on average. Because of that difference of climate, AC is really not common in homes (those that have it probably do so for its dehumidifying properties FWIW) and peak power demand comes in the winter.

Re:92% efficiency?? (1)

M8e (1008767) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375725)

When you don't burn the fuel to 100%, or when you get losses in other ways(Vibration/sound, light, electricity etc).

20kW+34kW=53kW
20kW/57,6Kw=0,347
34kW/57,6Kw=0,59

Electrical generation efficiency=34,7%
Heat generation efficiency=59%

Re:92% efficiency?? (1)

Plunky (929104) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375921)

20kW+34kW=53kW

hmm, surely 20+34=54?

20kW/57,6Kw=0,347
34kW/57,6Kw=0,59

perhaps you should show your workings because I'm not sure where you got the 57.6 from?

Electrical generation efficiency=34,7%
Heat generation efficiency=59%

don't forget to mention that electricity and heat generation are happening concurrently so you need to add those two figures together to get an efficiency figure relating to the actual amount of energy that we are extracting from the fuel..

finally, it would be useful to compare this against figures from other devices that produce either heat or electricity or both.

Russia and natural gas (2, Interesting)

seifried (12921) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375579)

Natural gas is easy to deliver (the infrastructure already exists), and you can make extremely small power units (this is a perfect example, personally I was looking at a 5kw unit to power my house but power is reliable enough so why bother). The problem however is that most natural gas in Germany comes from Russia, and every time they are feeling tetchy they have this tendency to turn off the gas (literally). Hope it works out, personally I think the higher up front cost of nuclear is more than offset by the stability it provides (typically you have enough fuel on site for quite some time).

Re:Russia and natural gas (2, Insightful)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375659)

personally I think the higher up front cost of nuclear is more than offset by the stability it provides

Not sure about that. Uranium is a finite resource too, much more finite than fossil fuels in fact. If the world suddenly switched massively to nuclear power, there would be about a decade worth of uranium to extract. See this page [wikipedia.org].

So in short, yes you're right, nuclear is great *for you* (and inhabitants of a few other rich politically stable countries), provided (1) it stays fairly unpopular and (2) other countries don't have access to the technology, so that *you* keep enjoying it for a long time.

Re:Russia and natural gas (4, Insightful)

Mr. Roadkill (731328) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375741)

Uranium is a finite resource too, much more finite than fossil fuels in fact. If the world suddenly switched massively to nuclear power, there would be about a decade worth of uranium to extract. See this page [wikipedia.org]

Not quite. That's assuming a "once-through" fuel cycle, and ignoring things like the newer generations of breeder reactors that burn waste from other reactors. Depending on a number of factors, estimates range between 80 and five BILLION year.

I quite like Bernard Cohen's take on things, cited in that same article, that effectively suggests that we can keep getting uranium from seawater at least as long as the time we have until the sun burns out. I don't quite know how realistic it is, but it's certainly interesting and worthy of further examination.

Re:Russia and natural gas (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376055)

I quite like Bernard Cohen's take on things, cited in that same article, that effectively suggests that we can keep getting uranium from seawater at least as long as the time we have until the sun burns out.

Sounds a lot like how we can replace fossil fuels with biodiesel. On a small scale yes, to supply the world with energy? Right. I don't know how few parts per million there is in sea water, but good luck on that.

Re:Russia and natural gas (1)

The_mad_linguist (1019680) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375853)

Those are reserves. Not resources. Above and beyond seawater uranium, there are tons of locations that haven't been prospected yet, chiefly because uranium was so ridiculously easy to locate they stopped looking for it sometime in the '50s or '60s.

And given how little of the price for nuclear power is due to fuel, even a tenfold increase in uranium prices would hardly have a noticeable effect.

Re:Russia and natural gas (1)

FireFury03 (653718) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375881)

Uranium is a finite resource too, much more finite than fossil fuels in fact. If the world suddenly switched massively to nuclear power, there would be about a decade worth of uranium to extract. See this page [wikipedia.org].

*known reserves* of U235 are pretty limited, but we have stacks and stacks of U238. Maybe you missed the bit in the article you pointed at that states: "We thus conclude that all the worldâ(TM)s energy requirements for the remaining 5Ã--10^9 yr of existence of life on Earth could be provided by breeder reactors without the cost of electricity rising by as much as 1% due to fuel costs. This is consistent with the definition of a âoerenewableâ energy source in the sense in which that term is generally used."

Re:Russia and natural gas (4, Informative)

Libertarian001 (453712) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375915)

With all due respect, nothing on the wikipedia page you cite actually supports the argument that we're going to run out of uranium any time in the near future. Did you just put up a link and assume that no one would read it? "Uranium depletion is the result of extracting and consuming uranium, a finite resource. However, uranium resources may never be fully depleted as the economically-recoverable reserves (including those in seawater) may be effectively inexhaustible." (opening statement) And remember that the sky-is-falling crowd have, for the last 40 years, been claiming that we only have 40 years left of oil. IOW, knock it off with the FUD.

Re:Russia and natural gas (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29376061)

>The problem however is that most natural gas in Germany comes from Russia, and every time they are feeling tetchy they have this tendency to turn off the gas (literally).

This Russia-Does-Extort-Germany theme seems to be liked very much by some 'interested parties'. (Hint:Murdoch media, British North Sea oil producers, et al) Anyone remember OPEC in the 80s? Russian natural gas was seen as, and *is* in fact, a way to diversify from dependence on OPEC oil. They turned off gas delivery after Ukraine sipped off gas from the pipeline for years and neither the EU nor US or anyone else wanted to get involved in that dispute.

Re:Russia and natural gas (1)

dunkelfalke (91624) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376067)

and every time they are feeling tetchy they have this tendency to turn off the gas (literally)

Not for paying customers. The problem is that those nonpaying customers tend to steal gas because they need it regardless of whether they can pay for it or not. That's why Gasprom is so hot about the Baltic sea pipeline.

Re:Russia and natural gas (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29376093)

well I have a problem with any calculation about profitability of nuclear power as none of those actually includes government spending on security, basic research and disposal of waste is usually also subsidized. Add to it regular lies on side of government whether about security or costs and nobody trusts that anymore. It may be our main energy source in near future but the way things are done I say fuck the incompetence and waste and invest our (also tax) money elsewhere.

Future for gas engines ? (2, Insightful)

moon3 (1530265) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375599)

Fearing the EV revolution behind the door, the motor engineers are finding ways to stay relevant, but the idea of a Volkswagen gasoline engine running in every home is questionable, fossil fuels are not something people want to stay here forever (nor in their homes).

Re:Future for gas engines ? (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375897)

Here it is "gas" as in the stuff that is not a liquid and not gasoline. Other than that, good point, however a fixed speed and load lets the thing run better than it would in a vehicle.
It's not an entirely insane idea since peak loads are the problem and a lot of these may replace a base load station that isn't doing much 75% of the week anyway but is still burning some fuel over that time. That base load station it replaces is going to either be running fossil fuels or will be a very old nuclear installation that is going to be shut down soon anyway, so it's almost always going to be natural gas vs coal which is a bigger improvement in CO2 than you would expect. The new expensive base load plants are all going to be run until they have paid for themselves so the inevitable comparisons with upcoming nuclear not even in the prototype stage will be misleading bullshit.

Re:Future for gas engines ? (1)

moon3 (1530265) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376019)

Good point with the "gas" thing, I agree it might provide the fix for today, but I doubt fossil fuels are politically or environmentally viable in the long term, also consider dependency on eastern "gas" powers, gas resources are something Germany is not very well known for.

Swarm of CHP flexible base load generators (3, Insightful)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375603)

They sure have a great marketing team at Lichtblick and Volkswagen: so much rah-rah to describe a generator made out of recycled WV engines, that's pure genius.

Re:Swarm of CHP flexible base load generators (1)

morari (1080535) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375737)

Those old air-cooled Beetle engines can do anything if you put your mind to it.

Re:Swarm of CHP flexible base load generators (2, Insightful)

Atario (673917) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375929)

Not "a generator". A system of 100,000 generators, scattered throughout the country, centrally managed via data links. Which is the point.

Re:Swarm of CHP flexible base load generators (1)

twosat (1414337) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376023)

Whispergen in New Zealand has been making Stirling engines with a special "wobble yoke" for many years in my city that does something similar. I should think that their much-simpler engines would be more efficient. Their website http://www.whispertech.co.nz/ [whispertech.co.nz] and a Flash animation showing its operation http://www.whispergen.com/content/library/whispergen.html [whispergen.com]

Nothing new (2, Informative)

ctrl-alt-canc (977108) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375623)

In 1973 FIAT (the italian car company) put on the market this device [wikipedia.org] (sorry guys, but it is in italian). There are still some cogenerators working around there, but from a commercial point of view it was near a failure. It will be interesting to see what happens to WV generator.

Re:Nothing new (1)

orzetto (545509) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375799)

I read they used the engine of a 127 [wikipedia.org] in the early seventies. Those engines were awfully inefficient: I remember that only in the eighties car commercials started bragging "This car satisfies the American efficiency requirements, the strictest in the world!" (they don't say that anymore), so I assume that engine was way less efficient than any US gas guzzler. No surprise it did not pan out. Now, if you try that with a modern VW, the result may be better.

Re:Nothing new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29376037)

I remember the TOTEM being promoted around 1980 in North America. It was a very interesting idea then, but FIAT's reputation wasn't exactly encouraging. I've often wondered what happened to the idea and why it wasn't picked up by better organized engineering firms like Honda. Perhaps the concept has been tied down by patents and is just now resurfacing through Lichtblick & Volkswagen?

Re:Nothing new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29376121)

Our landlord had invited an expert once and they showed us some presentations on the possible heating system options. Apparently such combidevices make perfectsense but only if two conditions are fulfilled :

  • there is somebody that takes off the surplus electrical energy - a problem that is solved in germany most likely by the state forcing giant networks to buy electricity from you.
  • demand for heat must be big enough so that unit is also big enough, this according to calculations presented few years back was defnitely not a single family house, nothing (except regulations) is stopping anybody from organizing heating/energy production on small scale in small settlements of course. In some countries (like Poland) you would probably need a license to produce and sell energy if at all possible difficult to obtain

And when it's all gone, then what? (1)

jack2000 (1178961) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375697)

Natural gas isn't infinite.
For our life spans solar energy cand be considered infinite.
Let's save ourselves the pain and adopt solar energy FASTER.

Re:And when it's all gone, then what? (2, Informative)

bickerdyke (670000) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375917)

Thats exactly what they want to do. "Lichtblick" is basicly a energy company selling renewable energy. They simply found out that if you want to sell lots of solar energy, you better should have a backup for ..say.. nighttime. Espescially nights that aren't windy...

Nordstream (1)

piotru (124109) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375699)

Oh, isn't that a coincidence that the former german cancellor, Gerhard Schroeder at his new job works with russian Gazprom to pull a very expensive and environmentally risky gaspipe under the Baltic Sea directly from Russia to Germany?
The cost of such gaspipe will be a multiple of one running through Belorussia or Ukraine and Poland, but the geopolitical windfall for Putin is priceless. Shouldn't Volkswagen try to help?
The Tzar won't forget a favour. Legends of "Global warming" will be put aside for a moment I guess for this important undertalikg.

Re:Nordstream (1)

qc_dk (734452) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376013)

Well isn't it in Western Europe's interest? Why should we be dependent on Russia's relationship with Ukraine or Belarus etc. Why should we allow ourselves to be taken hostage and used as bargaining chips in former USSR political fights?

Re:Nordstream (1)

dunkelfalke (91624) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376079)

The pipeline is still cheaper than paying contractual penalties when Ukraine again decides to steal gas from the land pipeline.

8% noise (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29375769)

92% efficient at heat generation... Bet the left over 8% goes on generating noise. Can't wait to have one in my basement keeping me awake all night remotely controlled by my mostly broken ASDL connection

ZuhauseKraftwerk? (1)

Krupuk (978265) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375781)

At least they use babelfish! I would translate HomePowerplant with 'HeimKraftwerk'.

Re:ZuhauseKraftwerk? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29375821)

"ZuhauseKraftwerk" isn't exactly regular german language. It's marketing speech, so raping german language was imperative.

So now I can... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29375843)

Recharge my electric car from this amazing power source!

Why now? (2, Insightful)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 4 years ago | (#29375977)

What I am curious about is why this technology is being deployed on a wide scale now. Cogeneration, where a heat engine's waste heat is used to heat a structure has existed for a long time. There's no reason that natural gas generator/heater couldn't have been installed in your basement in 1970. It would have made your house more efficient then much as it would now. So what has changed over 40 years that make the arguments for/against shift in favor of doing it? The biggest change I can think of is maybe better communications makes it easier for the power company to remotely control the generator. (since it wouldn't do any good to only have a generator in your basement for supplying power to your own house, wouldn't get enough return on investment...that power needs to be sold/credited to other users as well)

Re:Why now? (1)

What the Frag (951841) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376083)

What they are trying to do is very clever. The main target audience are large householders which have old, gas powered heaters. The replacement cost is relatively low.

The problem which the power suppliers see in the future: A rising amount of electricity is generated by wind and solar power. Some of Germany's nuclear power plants are getting old and may not get an approval to run further / or to build a new one in the future.

So, with rising amount of "natural" energy, there must be a solution to compensate if those solar/wind power plants are not generating power. Having lots of those small remote-controlled power plants on the network can easily and quickly compensate this.

Bummer on the name (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29376041)

"ZuhauseKraftwerk" - I was hoping that it meant the band was coming to my house! :)

Well (2, Funny)

mx_mx_mx (1625481) | more than 4 years ago | (#29376045)

That really gives new meaning to word 'botnet'
Imagine a 'swarm of power plants' controlled via DSL

Ah, and imagine a Beowulf cluster of... skip it

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