back to article Fusion boffins crack shreddy eddy plasma puzzle

Physicists in the US are patting themselves on the back today as they prepare to announce that they've got a grip on a knotty problem troubling anyone designing working nuclear fusion powerplants - which could solve pretty much all of the human race's problems, but have proved very difficult to actually achieve. The idea of a …

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  1. annodomini2
    FAIL

    There is more than one type of fusion reactor being developed!

    Sustained reaction is not a requirement for energy generation in all reactor types, just net energy production.

    I hope this helps Tokamak work, but there may be cheaper solutions arriving soon!

  2. Symon Silver badge
    Mushroom

    "the Sun, the ultimate source of all other energy used by humanity"

    Not all.

    Geothermal, powered by the decay of potassium 40. This potassium didn't come from our sun, and it isn't really fission because it decays to argon 40 by electron capture or positron emission, or to calcium 40 by beta decay.

    Tidal, powered by the tides generated mainly by the moon.

    Do I win £5?

  3. My Alter Ego
    Trollface

    All this talk of ITER

    And you've never even mentioned Andrea Rossi's E-Cat LENR device. He did after all succeed in providing 478kW - a mere shortfall of 522kW - whilst it remained plugged into a generator.

    Actually, it would be interesting to hear if Lewis has any opinions on the bloke and his mysterious device.

  4. Ech00hcE

    Interesting but...

    I'm watching Andrea Rossi's claims of cold fusion success with scepticism but hoping this isn't a sham...

  5. Arctic fox
    Thumb Up

    Now *that* is genuinely exciting.

    Stable containment has always been the bugbear given the chaotic behaviour of magnetic fields under those conditions. If they really have begun to get a handle on this then we may finally actually see usable fusion power in our lifetimes.

    1. Chemist

      "but hoping this isn't a sham.."

      It is

      1. brudinie
        WTF?

        "but hoping this isnt a sham.."

        I'll tell you what is more of a sham - the promise feasible hot fusion for over 60 years without a single watt of power gain and with billions (wasted) invested.

        Or, the subsidising of the nuclear arms industry by selecting enriched uranium fission reaction technology over liquid thorium fluoride.

    2. Andy Enderby 1
      FAIL

      Rossi.....

      Oh c'mon ! Buck up lad. Rossi has been staring down the barrel of investigation for fraud relating to previous businesses and given that neither he nor his collaborators can come up with a viable explanation for their current "reactor" and its workings are likely to end up doing likewise here too. It's too good to be true and coupled with his history and the goings on relating to E-Cat and pretty obvious google bombing of all related topics there is only one sensible conclusion.

    3. Lars Silver badge
      Joke

      How old are you

      Hope you are right though.

    4. Danny 14 Silver badge
      Stop

      not really

      neither of those compare with the power of the sun. It is like comparing the national grid tap with a PD across a piezo crystal

  6. Alister Silver badge

    Anyone know how much funding there is globally for fusion research, compared to the in vogue "renewable" energy generation technologies?

    1. Yet Another Commentard

      Subsidies

      Difficult. Wikipedia (may or may not be correct)TM reckons 15bn Euros on ITER, which is the main fusion, er, thrust. That is from all of the contributing nations, in total.

      I can't [be botheredto] find data at how much we hosed on windmills and solar power, but the Grauniad says "The savings from the subsidy cuts [to renewable energy] are likely to be small – they could be as little as £400m at the lower end, and no more than £1.3bn." which implies that it's Quite a Big Sum we give to them each year.

      ITER is about the same as an Olympic Games, or about one third of the subsidy we gave to the banks. That would seem to be a bargian. For the same price as a couple of hundred people poncing about in lycra, or the chief execs of one failed bank, we could have cheap, pollution free power for all.

      Good to know our Masters are sorted when it comes to priorities.

      Stop reading now - needless trolling follows:

      PS - Apple will still claim the patent on it as and when it happens.

      1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

        Manhattan Project

        We need a fusion reactor project equivalent to the Manhattan project. At today's money the spent 24bn in 4 years or 6bn a year. Afaik ITER is a 10 year project which makes it around 1.5bn a year.

        If we put our minds and money to it we could have a working fusion reactor in half the time and help solve the worlds energy needs.

        1. Alister Silver badge

          @Gordon10

          "We need a fusion reactor project equivalent to the Manhattan project. At today's money the spent 24bn in 4 years or 6bn a year. Afaik ITER is a 10 year project which makes it around 1.5bn a year."

          That's pretty much what I thought.

          Trouble is, fusion has the word "NUKELER" attached to it (yes, I know its nuclear) and therefore must be A-BAD-THING(TM).

          "If we put our minds and money to it we could have a working fusion reactor in half the time and help solve the worlds energy needs."

          wot 'e said...

          1. Danny 14 Silver badge

            indeed

            I am quite surprised that the oil barrons havent "clubbed together" in order to fund an ITER project, patent it then mothball it.

            1. Yag
              Trollface

              Indeed

              I am quite surprised that the oil barrons havent "clubbed together" in order to fund an ITER project, patent it then gain even more money thanks to it.

            2. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Two roadblocks.

              First, the outlays required for a fusion research reactor tend to be beyond the scope of even multinational conglomerates. The kinds of outlays needed tend to limit the potential buyers to sovereign states: and first-world ones at that.

              Second, since ITER is a state-funded project and therefore a product of governments, it's not subject to patents. Any private attempt to corner the market would be immediately made redundant if ITER itself succeeds, since the state can either overrule the patentability of the.design or simply release their own design to the public domain (for some governments like the US, this is the default by law for direct government designs).

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Apple patent?

        Nah, they'll be fine as long as they don't have to slide to turn it on...

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And all that without 4 extra limbs to contain the field...

    Yes, I'm leaving.

    Please don't try this at rooms with iron-lined panoramic windows.

  8. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

    Heard that before

    > A fusion-powered humanity would be so rich in energy that pretty much all its problems would be solved:

    Is very much like the promises that were given when Calder Hall was turned on back in the 50s.

    Back then they promised that electricity would be so cheap it wouldn't be worth sending out the bills.

    1. Filippo

      Those making that claim grossly underestimated the security and safety issues with fission. But those problems are actually much simpler with fusion. So this time the claim could actually come true - unless there's some other major issue that nobody can predict right now. But from what we know at the moment, it really looks like if fusion could be made to work, we could have huge amounts of energy for cheap.

      1. sisk Silver badge

        I'll believe it when I see it.

        The claims are how fusion SHOULD in THEORY work. In reality some rich bastard is going to get massively richer when the coal fired plant gets replaced with a fusion plant and the electricity bill doesn't change, or possibly even goes up to cover the cost of building the plant.

        Oh, and there's no such thing as an almost infinate supply of fuel here on Earth. That's what they said about oil a hundred years ago and look at where we are now.

        1. Tinker Tailor Soldier
          Thumb Down

          There's a lot of D in the ocean....

          Given a reasonable input element for fusion (e.g. Deuterium) its really hard to see how we could exhaust the supply.

        2. Danny 14 Silver badge

          aye

          but there is a lot more water than oil. Deuterium can be grabbed from water easier than it is to grab oil from coal (for example)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Unhappy

        Might be too cynical but...

        It'll be cheap for the producers, but they'll still screw us...

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        you forgot to factor in

        You forgot to allow for the major sink for energy funding - greed of the CEO, BOD, and shareholders. Expect the cost of energy to increase exponentially with time and ease of production as the capital outlay is paid off.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Cheap...

      but taxed to make it more expensive than ever. Especially in the UK.

    3. John Arthur
      Thumb Down

      Too cheap to meter?

      What they forgot was the cost of the transmission network to get the electricity to the consumers. That probably accounts for half the cost of our electricity bills. Neglecting the subsidies for the wind lot that is.

  9. Nick L
    Joke

    Eddies in the space time continuum?

    Where's his sofa?

    (My only excuse is that it is Friday afternoon)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      is he?

      The post is required, and must contain letters.

  10. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    "Sadly, so far these doughnut "tokamaks" have always required more power to run than they can generate."

    That is because none have been fitted with any generation equipment! Also very few (or only JET) have run with deuterium which is required for this type of fusion. Also the loses tend to increase with the surface area, but power generation increases with volume, so with ITAR being bigger, the efficiency will be higher.

    I thought that JET has actually had some short periods where the power generated by fusion within the plasma was more than the input power.

  11. Chris Miller

    A further problem

    is that D-T fusion produces energetic neutrons (~14MeV as compared to ~2MeV in a fission reactor). In a fission reactor there's lots of material around in the core (including moderator designed to capture neutrons) and most of the neutrons soon give up their thermal energy. But the plasma in which fusion reactions take place is a high-quality vacuum, so these energetic neutrons are either absorbed in the walls of the reactor or escape outside. In either case, capturing their thermal energy is problematic (science-speak for 'we have no clue how to do this').

    D-3He fusion produces protons, which are controllable electromagnetically - but we don't have a good source of light helium.

    1. Tomato42 Silver badge
      Happy

      >but we don't have a good source of light helium.

      Moon

      1. Danny 14 Silver badge

        deuterium (and tritium) is a bigger problem. that as china sits on most of the lithium.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Halfway right.

          Deuterium is the easy part. You can get that simply by cracking water (and it's easy to crack water). Tritium, OTOH, you're right about. The easiest way to go about it is to hit lithium-6 with a neutron (it's doubly good--any neutron can do the job and the process releases rather than consumes energy). Other methods are either energy-intensive or low in yield. Still, it may be worth checking out used nuclear fuel and heavy-water reactors to scrape up more sources. Ontario already does this with its HWR.

  12. ian 22

    Well done

    So now fusion power is only 20 years away? As ever....

  13. cnapan

    Not so sure...

    ...that "If ITER is successful it will generate more power than it consumes and a new era will dawn for the human race."

    Fusion will only be the new dawn when

    a) It works

    b) It costs less per kilowatt hour to buy fusion power than power generated by other means.

    I think ITER will crack (a), but the machine they're building will be one of the most complex and costly objects on the planet.

    Trying to build a *CHEAP* fusion plant to follow on from success at ITER will be another massive project. I don't think I'll see it in my lifetime (though I hope I'm wrong).

    I'm all for helping all alternative approaches like this too:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14842720

  14. Ray 11
    Flame

    Why produce Petrol?

    With a cheap electricity source, producing Hydrogen will be cheap to and we will have truly clean Hydrogen powered cars.

    1. tirk
      Alert

      @Ray 11

      Hydrogen is inherently less safe and more costly to store and transport. Hydrogen fires are largely invisible (it burns with and ultraviolet flame) and it storing it crogenically is rather more difficult than sticking petrol in a tank.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Less safe?

        Hydrogen leaking from a tank dissipates up, into the atmosphere. Gasoline/petrol runs out onto the ground and pools, a disaster just waiting for a spark to ignite it. If the leaked hydrogen is ignited, it'll most likely burn well over your head.

        The only people who died in the Hindenburg were the ones who panicked and jumped. The survivors – the majority of those on board – were the ones who waited for it to settle to the ground and walked out.

        Me? I'll take the "inherently less safe" hydrogen any day.

        1. Graydon

          hydrogen is only the answer if you live in theory; in practice...

          Hydrogen is an absolutely pain to handle in ways that are very hard to get around; it walks through most substances and has dire effects on most materials, because it's basically a soup of protons. It's also quite hard to use efficiently; the theoretical efficiency and the realized efficiency are not the same.

          The preferable proton-storage mechanism for synthetic fuel is probably anhydrous ammonia; we're going to need the circulating-carbon for things like plastics, lubricants and road tar more than for fuel, ammonia is already an important fertilizer and we're going to need a non-fossil source _anyway_, we have tons of experience handling the stuff and it's not very difficult to handle (nor does it readily freeze), the tech (while not presently ideally efficient) already exists to make it from air and water, the vapour rises, you can readily detect a leak, and the first demonstration of running a car off of anhydrous ammonia via an alkaline fuel cell happened in 1968. (Energy density about half that of gasoline; given a fuel-cell/electric drive train, you're fine because you're not saddled with the ~25% ICE practical efficiency limit on the drive train.)

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Anhydrous ammonia...

            It's a thought, but it has some hurdles of its own. For one thing, while detectable at first, the nose builds tolerance quickly, making it difficult to sniff out toxic concentrations if they build gradually. And you can't contain the stuff with alloys containing copper or zinc (that includes brass, which is common in gas fittings). It's also gaseous at room temperature, so you're gonna need a pressure vessel to contain it in a liquefied state--which presents puncture risks again. Speaking of which, it's also bad for the environment, since it seriously disadvantages aquatic life (which gets double-whammied; not only can't they handle high concentrations, ammonia is also quite soluble in water). Not ruling it out, mind you, but it's no panacea.

        2. Tim Parker
          Flame

          @AC : Less safe?

          "The only people who died in the Hindenburg were the ones who panicked and jumped"

          Utter bollocks - and the fact that you're inevitably bad-mouthing some of those people who died in rather horrific circumstances only makes it worse. AC ? Coward doesn't even come close..

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          huh?

          Gasoline itself won't ignite, only its vapors will do so. Granted, a pool of gasoline tends to give off plenty of flammable vapor, but at least it stays in one place.

          Diesel is even tougher to light. Fill a small container with diesel and try to light it with a match. Then try a lighter. Then try a blowtorch (do the last one outside and away from other flammables, please). IIRC, that's one of the reasons the military likes to use Diesel (safer if your vehicles have a higher than average rate of being shot at).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Correct on the diesel

            The famour Sherman tank was actually a deathtrap because it unfortunately used Petrol for fuel. The Germans called them "Tommy cookers" because they had a habit of exploding when hit while the German diesel tanks didn't

      2. Lance 3

        Produce it at home; Honda sells a unit to do just that for their Hyrdogen powered car. They have one that uses natural gas and another uses solar.

    2. GrahamT
      Boffin

      Why Petrol/diesel?

      Because hydrocarbons have a better energy density and are easier to handle than hydrogen. More importantly, there are millions of cars/trucks/buses on the planet that can use it.

      If energy was so cheap, CO2 could be extracted from the atmosphere and converted back to hydrocarbons so reducing global warming; the carbon particles from diesel could be collected at source and recycled into fuel too. (though there is no shortage of carbon above and below ground)

      However, I don't expect any of this to happen in my rapidly diminishing lifetime. I remember cheap energy being promised when I was at school 50 years ago.

      1. kventin
        Go

        "...CO2 could be extracted from the atmosphere..."

        nice idea.

        only i would suggest not doing it by some crazy chemical process. let's be more creative. this is 21st century, after all. so, let's create some kind of living organism, that would capture the CO2 for us. it could be kept in the places now taken by solar plants (which we won't need anymore). only you have to make it sedentary, so it cannot scamper away. the only problem would be to transport the super cheap energy there to feed it. but as the energy would be almost free...

        oh, and make the little critters green, that makes good publicity. (and don't listen to the idiots who would claim the big green areas replacing solar plants would destroy the countryside. they will get used to it. eventually. they always do.)

        well, i can dream.

    3. John 48

      Hydrogen is a PITA to handle though

      Much better to combine it with carbon sequestered from CO2 in the atmosphere and make synthetic diesel.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Optomistic at best

    'A fusion-powered humanity would be so rich in energy that pretty much all its problems would be solved'

    For about 20 seconds until Cameron and Co figure out how to tax us to the hilt for the privilege of using such power.

    You have to understand that anything remotely useful will be controlled by these scum.

  16. Richard Brown
    Alien

    Helium 3

    Need some scoop ships to mine Jupiter then don't we.

    1. Chris Miller

      Could get a bit expensive

      But there might be usable quantities on the lunar surface, trapped from the solar wind.

      1. annodomini2
        Childcatcher

        Better get them clones ready! ;)

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Economic industrial-scale fusion power generation is now surely only 20 years away!

  18. Max Sang
    Mushroom

    Calder Hall

    Britain's nuclear power stations' primary function was to produce the fissile materials for our nuclear weapons. The 'too cheap to meter' propaganda was exactly that - propaganda. Unfortunately nuclear power has been badly tainted by this secret agenda; if our reactors had been designed exclusively for the safe generation of power from the start, we might be in a bit less of a mess now. Less anti-nuke hysteria and more advanced tech would go a long way to mitigating our energy/CO2 pickle.

    1. JimmyPage Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Sadly (or ironically)

      While we swallowed the propaganda (which was almost certainly Soviet sponsored), the Russians didn't. Now they are outpacing us in the nuclear stakes

  19. bholder

    petrol?

    The comment about the "cheapest way to make petrol" is irksome - if we can control fusion, we don't need petrol / gas at all, we would need to go straight to all-electric or perhaps hydrogen / fuel cell technology to power vehicles. Using fusion energy to create replicas of fossil fuels is just stupid - they'd still be wasteful, dirty, and polluting, and adding unnecessary conversions just wastes energy (even with cheap fusion energy, the laws of thermodynamics still apply).

    1. Tomato42 Silver badge
      Boffin

      Batteries have pitiful energy density, are bloody heavy and unlike gasoline, don't take 2 minutes to fill up. Gasoline is much better energy storage device.

      Because you generate it from gases, it will also be much cleaner (no sulphur for one thing) and you just recycle the CO2 already in air, not introduce new one.

  20. Ben 50
    Mushroom

    Why does it need to be Cheeeeap?

    In return for limiting mankind's damage to its natural environment I'm prepared to pay many hundreds of % more for my electricity, and my food. If that means I can't afford to fly as much, or buy so many fancy gadgets and other luxuries, so be it. It's worth it.

    Maybe then I'll actually have the time I wish I had to get to know my neighbors better :-D

    Always aiming for better, cheaper, faster really isn't the way forward anymore. The side-effects are horrible.

    1. fishman

      Cheeeeap

      It's nice that you have enough extra income that you can afford to pay more for energy. There are plenty of people who already have to choose between eating and keeping warm or having lights on as it is.

    2. Critical Mass

      Critical Mass

      Wow,

      We have a person in this discussion with a little bit of vision. Seven billion people fueled by super cheap energy would burn up this poor planets remaining resources in no time. What a shame more people don't understand that. Good on you Ben.

      Charley

    3. Graham Dawson

      Perhaps you could forgo forcing the entire wrld to pay for the inentive to vissit your neighbours now and then and just go outside, you lazy bum!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Why the downvotes?

        I hope it's not because of some anti-environmentalist attitude.

        I'd prefer to think it's because of an understanding that cheap, abundant (as in will easily last for the rest of human life on earth) energy would actually allow us to reduce our other resource consumption due to the ability to recycle and synthesize.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dill-D...O.....Snigger

    Nuff Said ;)

  22. Critical Mass

    Hi All,

    This has been the dream for decades, hasn't it? An endless supply of nearly free energy that would jump start our sagging world economies, get us away from polluting energy resources and improve the lives of the poor around the world....right? It's hard to imagine how nuclear fusion could be anything but a good thing.

    I'm amazed by the short sightedness of seemingly intelligent people today. Yes, the list of positive things that inexpensive energy could do for the world is long indeed, but if you put a bit more thought into the repercussions of super cheap fuel, things don't look so bright....especially with seven billion people doing all manner of things at hyper speeds. Houses could be MUCH biger......lower heating, cooling, lighting bills. Cost of manufacturing and transporting manufactured goods would plunge. People could afford much larger families and so on and so forth . All of this would begin burning up finite resources at alarming rates and likely trigger more regional wars over dwindling resources. If we could magically supply the world with cheap fusion reactor generated fuel starting tomorrow, I don't think you would recognize our planet ten years from now. There would be nothing left of it.

    Don't get me wrong, I think nuclear fusion is a good thing. I just don't think it's a good thing when it is fueling 7 billion people. Expensive energy isn't the problem. It's actually the only thing stopping us from completely destroying this poor planet. Virtually every super serious problem the world is facing is driven by our exploding population......climate change, pollution, deforestation, plant and animal extinction, lack of fresh water, the threats to all sea life, wars over resources, pandemic disease.....you name it. What is the up side to more and more people. The world population has tripled in my life time and I'm only 59.

    There is a solution. Use human greed to attack the problem. Replace ALL taxes worldwide with an Environmental Resource tax or impact tax. People who lead more sustainable lives and have small families or no children pay little or no taxes. Just imagine our world if we went back to one billion people......the oceans and forests restored and once again filled with food and other resources, abundant energy resources. Do I think the world is ready for this idea? No, not by a long shot. It takes us decades of discussion to resolve big problems, but we have to start the discussion first and that hasn't happened yet. We are always looking for funding and some new technology to solve our problems. This requires no money and no new technology. I know.....you can't stop progress, but you can redefine it. I think we need new definitions for "quality of life" and "high standard of living". Planet Earth is the gem of the universe and we are destroying it.

    The Fix is so Simple

    Charley

    1. Chris Miller

      Utter rubbish

      Most of the people responsible for population growth are too poor to pay taxes. They tend to have large families because:

      (a) they lack access to reliable contraception;

      (b) they are dependent on their children to provide for them in old age; and

      (c) childhood mortality rates are still too high.

      Fix those problems by improving their financial circumstances and (as we have proven innumerable times) birth rates will naturally reduce. Although world population may have tripled in our lifetimes (we share a birth year), the geometric rate of increase has reduced significantly over that period, precisely because some of these problems have been tackled for some people.

    2. Alex King
      FAIL

      Balls

      There's a pretty strong inverse correlation between standards of living and family size - that is, the more comfortably-off people are, the smaller families they have.

      I'm all for keeping population down, but what you're talking there is the precise opposite of sense.

      1. brudinie
        FAIL

        Balls - BS

        And where do you get the data to prove this strong inverse correlation? Sounds like total BS to me as I know plenty of well off people with very large families.

        1. Graham Dawson

          Brudine, whilst the correlation is not absolute, the majority of countries with a high average of children born per woman are third world, generally african and central asian.

          https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2127rank.html

          Next time, look before mouthing off.

  23. Erwin Hofmann
    Meh

    ... well, wel, well ... and this "good news" does not make you suspicious at all ... coming just about a couple of days after Andrea Rossi E-Cat "cold fusion" machine flushed the headlines of the worlds media ... must be a scary place, building a multi billion dollar research facility, to be outsmart by a simple physical principle ... I'm not quit convinced (both ways) but imagine that ...

  24. Zarrakan

    STOP BURNING STUFF! USE SOLAR POWER!

    If you own solar panels you are producing your own electricity by harnessing the power of the sun. If you sell that electricity back to your local power company you are engaging in a transaction no different from what your local fast food restaurant does. You make the electric cheeseburger with your solar panel stove, they pay you for it, and then the electric company stuffs it in it's fat face and eats it. Payment for services rendered!

    Harnessing the power of the sun does not make you a socialist, commie, homosexual, or any other closet bogeyman that stupid people are so afraid of. It makes you an intelligent human being that's able to understand that if you can legally get something for free then why pay for it? If you can make money by legally getting something for free, and then selling it then why not do it? Anything less is stupid.

    Put solar panels that create NO WASTE, and produce CLEAN ENERGY on your house. You will NEVER have an electric bill again, and if you produce enough energy you can charge it back to the grid, and GIVE the electric company a bill.

    Most states will allow you to make up to $1000 a month or more charging electricity back to your local electric company. That's a $12,000 a year direct income that coupled with savings from not having an electric bill would net you around $15000+ yearly.

    We should give all the middle/poor class people solar panels so they can charge electricity back to their local electric companies. Give them electric cars too so that they never have to pay for gas, and make sure those cars have solar panels on them so they are always charging. The financial offset alone would dramatically help our economy.

    Of course stupid people would rather you stay dependent on FILTHY energy sources like oil, and nuclear power. Solar power would upset the plans of stupid people to murder the middle/poor classes.

    Cheap solar depends on what you buy, and what you are willing to do to use it.

    They have private installation companies, and they even have one that's partnered with Lowes.

    Businesses/stores get a bulk solar discount which they (hopefully) pass on to you, but they tack on the price of labor.

    Doing it yourself saves you that cost, and it's really not that hard, but that does mean you have to do it yourself, and depending on your level of skill that can be worse than the extra cost.

    Get these two things:

    http://www.amazon.com/Black-Decker-TLD100-Thermal-Detector/dp/B001LMTW2S

    http://www.amazon.com/Black-Decker-EM100B-Energy-Monitor/dp/B001ELJKLE

    Find your ac/heat leaks, and seal them up. Then change out all your light bulbs inside/outside your house with LEDs. Preferably 1 watt, and white, but you can usually get better discounts with non-white colors. You can double up in areas that need more light.

    After that use the energy monitor to get a general idea about how much electricity you are using on a regular basis, and consult your electric bills. This will give you some idea about what you need as a minimum system for your home.

    You will notice power spikes when certain appliances are switched on (water heater, washer, dryer, etc), but you’re looking for what the “always on” KwH is like.

    Shop around once you have that information. You will want a system that generates .5 to 1.0 KwH more than what you actually need, and you will also want to address what your nightly power consumption is by having enough stored battery power.

    By doing all of the above, I have discovered that I can run my house completely on this 5 Kwh system

    http://www.amazon.com/Grape-Solar-GS-2300-KIT-Residential-Grid-Tied/dp/B0049SPBL2

    It’s $10K without installation, and batteries, but if I had this in place it would pay for itself in 3 years because I would not have an electric bill.

    PLEASE DO NOT FORGET: Whatever system you get, make sure you put a grounded lightning rod near your solar installation that is 4 feet taller than it.

    What I have described is for an off-grid solar system. Call your power company for details about on-grid solar systems if you are interested in being compensated for any excesses electricity.

    Subscribe to, and watch this guy:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/solarcabin

    Buy his book too. =)

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Such a shame to see someone so taken in by the hype

      A 5kW PV system can only generate that 5kW in perfect conditions - that is, direct strong sunlight on a cloudless day with the panels in perfect physical and electrical condition.

      In all situations the PV cells start to get dirty and dusty (within days) and degrade (over several years), so there are no 5kW installations that generate 5kW regularly.

      In Europe and most of the USA and Canada, we have clouds, rain and snow, and short days with long nights.

      In a real life you will never get anything like 5kW mean daytime power output from a 5kW nominal installation.

      You may wish to do some research into the actual, real-life output of such a system - not just when first installed, but several years down the line.

    2. Tom Maddox Silver badge
      Stop

      I'm generally pro-solar, but . . .

      "Put solar panels that create NO WASTE, and produce CLEAN ENERGY on your house. You will NEVER have an electric bill again, and if you produce enough energy you can charge it back to the grid, and GIVE the electric company a bill."

      Fortunately for me, the solar panel fairy will just deliver these at no cost, and they certainly consume no energy or rare earths during manufacture, nor does their manufacture create toxic wastes. Also, like everyone on earth, I live in a place where the sun constantly shines throughout the year, especially cold winter months, without interference from clouds, fog, or building shadow AND have sufficiently exposed square footage to generate enough electricity!

      "Most states will allow you to make up to $1000 a month or more charging electricity back to your local electric company. That's a $12,000 a year direct income that coupled with savings from not having an electric bill would net you around $15000+ yearly."

      Well, this certainly seems sustainable. I'm certain that the power companies and governments will be very willing to maintain these subsidies indefinitely.

      "We should give all the middle/poor class people solar panels so they can charge electricity back to their local electric companies. Give them electric cars too so that they never have to pay for gas, and make sure those cars have solar panels on them so they are always charging. The financial offset alone would dramatically help our economy."

      I would be interested to see your specific calculations on these figures. I suspect I'll be waiting a while.

      The problem is not that solar power is bad idea; there are many places on Earth where it makes a great deal of sense. The problem is that it is not feasible for all cases, and it certainly is not without its drawbacks. Your flavor of one-dimensional ranting screed does not help the cause.

    3. Peter2 Silver badge

      The fundamental problem with what your suggesting is that you expect the government to buy everybody solar panels, and you expect to get paid 4+ times more than the generation rate a real power plant is paid for putting energy into the grid between ~10AM-~4PM, which offsets the power that you then actually have to buy in the evening when your at home and wanting to use power.

      The problems with this approach is twofold. Firstly, tax works by everybody chipping in a little bit, and the resulting huge sum is then used for essentials that require everybody to pay for them, like policing, healthcare and the military.

      When you start wanting to give everybody more than they are paying in then the wheels come off of the system because we can't afford to pay everybody more than they are putting in.

      Secondly, as a results of these schemes power bills are having to go up a lot over what they would otherwise be at because everybody else has to subsidise you. This means that those covering the cost of these green schemes are worse off and the people who can't afford the higher bills (ie, the old age pensioners) are going to have to go without heating this winter. Newspapers are warning rising power bills will result in OAP's freezing to death.

      Personally, I think that's a travesty in the 21st century. However, I am SURE that the solar brigade are going to calmly accept they caused the situation, accept responsibility and allow their schemes to come to an early end in the interest of making sure that the worst off in society aren't having to freeze while the solar brigade keep their heaters on (subsidised by those actually paying the higher bills, obviously). I mean, what sort of tosser would create that situation and then stand around with a holier than thou attitude blaming energy companies for being greedy and putting the bills up?

      1. LionelB
        Coat

        @Peter2

        FFS it's "you're" ... that's "YOU'RE"

        Sorry, bad day...

        1. Tom Maddox Silver badge
          Coat

          You're

          . . . a towel?

    4. Tomato42 Silver badge
      Boffin

      In real life you'll be struggling to get 10% of rated energy output averaged over a year because of rain, clouds, snow, etc..

      Add to that we don't have a energy storage system with efficiency exceeding 50-60% and in the end you'll get about 5% of energy from your panels. So you'll need "a bit more" panels that can fit on your roof to be self-sustainable.

      Then add ageing of both panels and batteries...

      While I have to agree that fossil are filthy and are killing more people we are comfortable to admit, nuclear is safer than coconuts (as in kills less people).

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      TL; DR (most of it)

      Got bored after the suggestion that Solar panels are free.

      Also, I am "middle/poor class" and live in a flat, like a lot of people in this country, a building which I don't own (like many people in the 'middle/poor class') and which (even if i wanted to) I would not be able to attach solar panels to.

      All well and good if you live in a lovely large house (that you own), and can afford the initial outlay, and get the planning permission to get them installed in the first place.

      The people who could really use the "around $15000+ yearly." would never be able to afford to get a system like this in place.

      Oh, and we use "£" round here........

  25. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    I await the rich harveset of plaasma physics PhDs from this research.

    As I do *every* year.

    It's relatively easy to get inside most forms of alternative energy and work out their cost structure. However as this is still in R&D that's not so possible.

    Does *any* one have any clear idea of how *far* the state of the art is from where it is predicted to need to be to achieve this goal?

    BTW the fact that a significantly more efficient mode has taken 2-3 *decades* to get some in depth research done on it suggests that there is a distinct lack of cooperation between the various research groups involved. In contrast some of the *key* breakthroughs in biology and biochemistry were made by multiple groups meeting and agreeing a "divide and conquer" strategy which does not seem to happen in plasma physics.

  26. BDub
    Alert

    No it ain't

    "This is the process which powers the sun,..."

    Well - No it ain't. Fusion? Yes. Magnetic confinement fusion/tokamak/ITER,etc.? - No.

    The sun is 'powered' by graviational and inertial electrostatic confinement - which are the naturally-occuring processes. Maybe there are some eddy currents and such that make little tokamaks floating around in the sun's outer layers, but that's not the primary process.

    1. Chris Miller

      A bit harsh

      the tokamaks are needed to reproduce the conditions inside the sun (since shovelling 10^30kg of hydrogen together is a bit beyond current technology levels), where fusion is undoubtedly taking place. The real difference is that stars like the sun fuse plain vanilla hydrogen into helium, whereas we're using deuterium and tritium.

      Fusing ordinary hydrogen is possible, but very, very inefficient. You can overcome the Coulomb repulsion to force two protons together, but (luckily for us*) 2He isn't stable, so you have to rely on (oversimplifying somewhat) one of the protons beta decaying to a neutron during the very brief period that 2He holds together. This happens so infrequently that an average hydrogen nucleus can hang around in the sun's core for a billion years before being fused into deuterium, but once this has been achieved the fusion process continues to 4He relatively quickly.

      * By one of the weird anthropic coincidences, the strong nuclear force is just too weak (relative to electromagnetism) to hold two protons together without any neutrons. If it were a few percent stronger, the diproton would be stable and nuclear reactions in stars would run to completion in a few million years, giving (presumably) insufficient time for complex lifeforms to develop. Look up 'diproton disaster' if you'd like more info.

  27. pdt

    The type of fusion currently being developed is not the panacea suggested in this article. This fuel cycle requires tritium which is derived from lithium. Lithium supplies are much more limited than deuterium supplies. Also, lithium is useful for other purposes, so turning our lithium reserves into helium might not be the best idea. While other fuel cycles exist, they are much more difficult attain.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_power#D-T_fuel_cycle

    1. annodomini2

      Missed a bit

      Tritium can also be produced from the Deuterium used in Heavy water reactors, but there is the same issue in order to supply fuel to the D-T fusion reactors requires keeping fission reactors online.

      1. pdt

        Good point

        Thanks for the correction. I wonder what power fission reactor would be needed to supply the tritium for a hypothetical 500 MWe D-T fusion power reactor?

      2. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Other alternatives.

        There are also plenty of potential sources of lithium around (and having Lithium is not just good for getting Tritium, but it helps contain the radioactivity). While most of the easy deposits are in places like China, Bolivia, and Chile, there are a number of known untapped resources as well. There just hasn't been enough economic incentive to start digging around to try to get them out of various brines or to try to extract lithium from seawater. Another thing to note is that, apart from quantities used to control radioactivity, the amount of lithium that would need to be converted to tritium to power a D-T reaction is actually comparatively small, since if the ITER test works to spec, it would only take about 16kg of total fusible mass to continually produce 500MW thermal for a whole year (ballpark estimate).

  28. Mallorn
    Boffin

    General Fusion

    If you are interested in fusion research you should have a look at General Fusion - a company based in Vancouver. They are developing a different type of reactor which uses a spinning ball of lead which is symmetrically compressed by steam pistons to compress injected plasma toroids to the point of fusion. A lot of the neutrons generated are trapped by the molten lead which is laced with lithium to breed tritium fuel.

    No idea whether the technology will work well enough to let them succeed but the basic physics principles look sensible (to a physicist, but not a plasma physicist).

  29. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Boffin

    fusion is the perfect energy source for *big* energy companies.

    *Huge* barriers to entry mean that *only* the big boys can play. No trouble with any "micro-generation" nonsense forcing them to lower prices (competition I think it's called).

    No hardware in foreign parts to fall into the hands of any grubby locals who think they should be paid more for "their" raw materials.

    Actually there's only *two* problems with fusion as ideal energy source.

    1) It doesn't work.

    2) It doesn't have a fuel supply originating from a group of unstable political regimes who make tracking price of commodity against output so difficult it's impossible to work out how much profit they are making. In contrast Deuterium and Tritium production costs are available.

  30. Paul Johnston
    Mushroom

    Pardon

    "We found that the turbulent eddies on the surface of the plasma produced surface flows that eventually grow large enough to shred the eddies, turning off the turbulence," says Schmitz. "Much like the population of predators and prey find a balance in the wild, we find that the plasma flow and the plasma turbulence reach an equilibrium in the tokamak plasma."

    Err ?

    I thought the whole point of Lotka–Volterra equations were their ability to generate totally unstable outcomes.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I already thought of that, and had the foresight to register a patent. So that's a 100 trillion dollars to anyone who's interested.

    Seriously though, is nuclear fusion still dependent on materials that haven't been invented yet?

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Actually, patents shouldn't apply.

      Since IIRC the ITER is STATE-funded. As in directly funded by a number of sovereign states. There are a few things that are not subject to patents, and government-funded projects usually count among the exceptions. Products of the state usually fall into their own category (with its own rules on use) or become public domain (usually the case in the US).

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    LFTR? It's got to be easier that fusion...

    I mean, really. Just sort the corrosion issue out and and we'll be off.

    It'll use up all the old nuke waste as fuel, clean up the place, and give us time to sort out fusion.

  33. jab701
    Mushroom

    Not sure about this

    "The usual means of doing this is to confine a superhot plasma of appropriate light nuclei under massive heat and pressure inside a doughnut-shaped vessel using magnetic fields to suspend the plasma and prevent it destroying the structure. Sadly, so far these doughnut "tokamaks" have always required more power to run than they can generate."

    I sat through a seminar while I was doing my postgraduate degree at uni, we had a guy from JET coming down and talking to us for 3 hours. The question of the hot plasma destroying the reactor came up.

    The fact of the matter is that the thermal mass of the plasma is low despite it being very hot. The actual problem is that if the plasma touches the walls of the reaction vessel it will cool down and the reaction will stop. A single proton hot proton touching a lump of metal will not heat the metal up very much, the proton will just cool down.

    Also the reason for building a bigger reactor is that it is easier to contain the plasma in a larger space.

    I second point is they tend not to use tritium right now because they want to go inside the reactor vessel to inspect it after the experiments. High energy neutrons can be captured by the walls of the reaction vessel and create radioactive isotopes making it dangerous to then go inside and inspect it. They tend to only use deutrium which doesnt release as much energy.

    I do remember they said that the amount of lithium in a laptop battery would power the UK for a year or something ridiculous like that. It was impressive....the commercial timelime they layed out in this seminar was 2030 - 2050 for power being generated by these reactions powering the national grid. We are still a long way off!

  34. Fenton

    Polical fall out

    Should fusion become a reality at the vast scales we'd love to achieve it will create and absolute nightmare polically around the world.

    The middle east will loose its income becoming even more unstable than it already is.

    Those countries without the technology will not be able to compete thus becoming unstable.

    I hope to god that if we can get it to work the patents will not be inforced allowing everybody to use the technology and not create an even worse two tier world.

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