Be Patient: NextGen Energy Technology Coming Soon


A new generation of advanced technologies reaching the commercialization stage could enable Virginia to generate all the electric power it needs without air pollution and carbon-dioxide emissions. While the dialogue over “alternative energy” focuses mainly on wind and solar power, new technologies such as small, modular nuclear reactors and electric generators using waste heat could provide viable alternatives as well.

Rob Hartwell, president of Hartwell Capitol Consulting, highlights some of the more promising technologies in a new paper, “New Technologies for Coping with Climate Change in Virginia,” published by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

Mini nukes. The next generation of nuclear power, Hartwell asserts, will come in bite-size portions — less than 300 megawatts per unit, which makes them more economical because capacity can be brought on incrementally, as needed, rather than in gargantuan chunks. New designs are said to be even safer than conventional nuclear power and to be less vulnerable to catastrophic failure.

Waste heat. Berken Energy, a Colorado company, has developed a promising electric generator using waste heat as a power source. “Almost every industrial process in the world … creates wasted heat. Even the most efficient power plants are roughly only 30% efficient, thus losing nearly 70% of their initial baseload power in creating electricity,” writes Hartwell. As much as 20% of the power in electric generation can be recaptured through thermo voltaic power generation. Building costs are comparable to the cost of fossil fuel plants but there are no fuel costs, no moving parts and virtually no maintenance costs.

Waste-to-energy. eCycling USA, a Vienna, Virginia, company, is bringing the most advanced raw materials recovery processes from Germany to the U.S. Not only can its technology capture valuable resources such as copper, gold, platinum and aluminum, Hartwell writes, “even our garbage (all organics and plastics) can be turned into fuels and any ash or glass left over into insulation. In short, nearly 100% of all items in our waste stream can be converted to energy, raw materials or usable commodities to be sold and reused again.”

These technologies, Hartwell contends, will allow Virginians (and everyone else) to use carbon-based energies significantly more efficiently and in environmentally sensitive ways. “Virginia and our nation should find a way to formally test and evaluate these technologies to help them get to market sooner,” he writes.

Bacon’s bottom line: Hartwell’s paper has obvious implications for the debate over Renewable Portfolio Standards, which some people would like to make mandatory in Virginia. If Virginia electric companies were required to adopt solar, wind and biomass power at current cost levels, we would lock expensive energy into our rate base for the full life-cycle of those assets — in other word, for decades. If we were willing to wait just a few years, it is possible that these new technologies could provide comparable environmental benefits at lower cost. In effect, we can have our cake and eat it, too — cheap, abundant energy and less impact on the environment.

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3 responses to “Be Patient: NextGen Energy Technology Coming Soon”

  1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    The problematic nature of alternative energy also now combine with the rapidly falling costs, and expanding supply, of gas and oil to greatly magnify the point of this article.

  2. it’s hard to believe all of this is a single point of time – on/off switch rather than a continuum.

    where is Dominion on the continuum? what do they see as promising enough to start thinking about?

    I think DOminion feels “threatened” rather than wanting to be in that continuum… they so totally invested in coal and obsolete nukes that they refuse to think about next steps.

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    This Mr. Hartwell is NOT an energy expert. He is a long-time, Republican-affiliated lobbyist with experience in chain drug stores and health care associations.

    WHy are you pitching his thoughts as some kind of panacea for energy problems? Why do you keep dealing with the Thomas Jefferson, whatever, is is simply a cadre of Republican lobbyists in Northern Virginia with no particular expertise in ANYTHING?

    Posts like this make me ask if I want to continue to be linked to Bacon’s Rebellion.

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