How will power, clean water, and fuel be generated in the future?
Hi! My name is Ajilli Hardy and I am one of GE’s new and enthusiastic blog editors! I belong to the Energy Systems Laboratory and work on improving or developing technologies for power, water, oil and gas systems. Part of what we do in the Energy Systems Lab is imagine how power, clean water, and fuel will be generated around the world in the future. What will primary infrastructure systems look like in 30 years? Where will we get our electricity from?
How will water resources be re-utilized, at home and in industry, to maintain tightening standards for environmental cleanliness? How do oil and gas systems both provide for our living standards and fit into a changing portfolio of sustainable energy technologies for the planet? These are the challenging and intriguing questions that I hope we can tackle as an online community. There’s no end to what we can imagine about infrastructure systems in the future. I look forward to connecting with you about issues that affect all of us.
In the United States, we’re generally able to pour a glass of clean drinking water when we’re thirsty. This is not true in many water stressed nations around the globe, particularly in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. A country is said to experience water stress when supplies drop below 1700 cubic meters per person per year, according to the Falkenmark water stress indicator. Water demand already exceeds supply in even some of the richest parts of the world, including large portions of the United States, and this condition expected to worsen and spread as populations continue to rise. If current trends continue, 1.8 billion people around the world are expected to live in absolute water scarcity by 2025, and two-thirds of the population will be subject to water stress. We have a big job to do to.
Peak water trends and peak oil trends are highly correlated. What do you think of Hubbert curve for peak oil?
The responsibility to redefine how we use, re-use, and clean our water supplies doesn’t lessen when we consider our power generation systems’ growing demand for water. Coal-fired, natural gas-fired, nuclear, hydroelectric, and solar power plants all need significant amounts of water per kilowatt generated for cooling. The amount of water required per plant depends on the specific power-generating technology, and the design and size of the plant. Thermal electric generating facilities make electricity by converting water into high-pressure steam that drives turbines. Once water has gone through this cycle, it is cooled condensed back to water and then reheated to drive the turbines again. The process of condensation requires a separate cooling water body to absorb the heat of the steam. Condensation can occur in large heat exchangers, typically consisting of banks of thousands of one-inch tubes, through which cooling water is run and on which steam condenses. Condensation can also occur in large cooling towers, which can require even more water than the shell and tube heat exchangers. Steam driven power plants draw more than 200 billion gallons of water per day in the United States alone.
The production of fuels, oil and gas, also require large quantities of water, even the “sustainable fuels”. What’s the difference between the oil produced in the Middle East versus the bitumen produced in Canadian oil sands? What’s oil shale and how much oil is there beneath Wyoming, Colorado and Utah? Oil production is an environmental, economic, and highly charged political issue. We are interested in understanding what technology developments are required to make currently unconventional resources more accessible, more economic, and less disturbing to the environment.
We have a lot of ground to cover! Please post your questions and comments, and let the discussion begin.