Renewable Energy and Tech Innovations

I think my next tech geek thing I’m going to nerd out on (since I feel I’ve exhausted most of the home automation stuff) is renewable energy stuff. A lot of this interest goes to a family cabin that is up in the mountains and doesn’t have any utilities. Above that though, as a breather of air in the SL Valley I am ready for us to be rid of fossil fuels.

Right now though I am a true beginner, just learning. A number of years ago I said to my son that we have all the renewable and clean energy the entire world population needs many times over and we’ve even gotten pretty good at capturing - the problem is storing it. The person/people who solves the battery problem will save the world from pollution and the energy crisis. I was trying to help him pick a career that would save the world.

We’ve made a lot of amazing progress in chemical batteries, but there remains plenty of issues from pollution after, to pollution in producing them, to the slowness of charging them and the limited life.

For our cabin we have a small spring on the property that goes into a stream. I did the calculations to discover that we have both enough water flow and the elevation that I could in theory power a mini hydroelectric plant that SHOULD provide enough power for the house to do most things. So, that may be a solution to look into. Of course the next consideration is wind and solar power. But the power storage remains the same.

Recently I was looking at a grandfather clock and its weights that power the clock and wondered about using gravity for energy. Turns out they’ve been doing this for years, using surplus power to pump water in hydroelectric dams back up to power. I also just saw an article about a wind turbine farm using excess power to raise basically train cars up a track filled with rocks and then using gravity to generate energy. So, gravity is a pretty cool and clean way to store energy. The problem of course is the space and the energy lost as you are generating the lift needed.

But with enough renewables, who would care, and this type of solution would be pollution free and last for decades. Basically you could have free power and the power storage without all of the trouble and problems of chemical batteries.

So, you physicists and engineers out there - why couldn’t I either build a tower or dig a hole to drop the weights down and do something like this? I’m wondering how much weight would be needed to store enough energy to power a house for, let’s say two days.

Something to dig into - but the reason I bring that up here is one NICE thing we have in Utah is plenty of elevation to do something like the if it was viable. We have the second most days of sunshine in the nation, plenty of windy canyons, and lots of hills and mountains. Big swaths of central Utah outside of Milford right now are turbines and solar panels.

But what if you could figure out an affordable way to outfit a home with its own power unit - solar and wind, surplus power goes into a gravity battery - you’d be completely green and self-sustaining. AND if you decided to dig a hole instead of a tower, you might even be able to harness geothermal energy to heat and cool your home - lessening your energy draw.

Any of you guys spent time on solar panels or done a self-install?

Natural Gas is nature’s pretty efficient storage of what was once solar energy. Scrubbers on smoke stacks have come a long way and likely can still improve more. Interesting to compare the environmental impact of burning gas versus disposal of lithium batteries. But that is not the problem you are trying to solve. My guess is if your water flow and elevation is enough to charge a tesla house battery that may be the best way to go particularly if you are not full time at the cabin. It is all a matter of scale. Hopefully, you have a year around spring. Either way, I am with you, clean air is absolutely a worthy goal.


I remember a while back they considered using electricity at night to pump water from Bear Lake to a smaller reservoir up a canyon east of the lake. They would then release it to generate electricity during peak demand hours during the day.

I remember thinking what a waste it would be, and wondered if they had ever heard of the laws of thermodynamics. But it was later explained that 1- there was excess electricity being generated at night, 2- the electricity generation was most efficient at full operation, and 3- it actually cost more to stop the generator and restart it than letting run all night.

So the reservoir was essentially a battery using water and gravity to store and release energy when needed. But it still seems really inefficient, and there are probably some ecological impacts.



Magna’s sister city in Japan generates peak load electricity for the Tokyo grid using a hydroelectric system like the one proposed at Bear Lake.

They’ve been doing it for almost 50 years.


Yup, these dams are pretty common and water is far more efficient than train cars loaded with stone etc.

So I have one goal for the cabin and then another for my home. It’d be pretty cool to get off the electrical grid. I also have a water share I need to exploit to reduce those bills (not potable water).

When I was a teenager my parents looked very closely at building a passive solar house. They looked at a number of different designs over the years. One that was particularly interesting was an earth berm house that was shaped like a giant wedge. Huge floor to ceiling windows across the front and some sort of heat sink along the back wall. The living room and kitchen ran parallel to the big front windows and the bedrooms perpendicular along the back. There was a gap between outer and inner windows across the front that would fill with insulation pellets to keep the heat in the house at night. The pellets would be sucked out during the day. It was also insulated enough that a single incandescent light bulb could keep it comfortable even in winter. It was an interesting idea but ultimately one my parents couldn’t pull off. There were a couple of similar designs built not far from where my parents lived though.

If you want to go down an interesting rabbit hole look up net zero or passive solar house on youtube. There are a lot of really cool things that people are doing in various places across the country and all over the world.

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On topic I found this article which is kind of cool.

It seems like the electric companies are doing everything they can to disincentivize homeowners from home solar while they are themselves building huge solar array farms developing geothermal wind and other resources. I wonder if it’s not unlike to turn the century with the inception of cars. There were probably a million arguments against having a car or a tractor instead of livestock. There were probably dozens of liveries in this town and a whole industry built around horses. It also seems to me that if every home in America was at least 25 to 50% self-efficient we are far less vulnerable to outside attacks.


I recently thought… what if we use solar power to desalinate ocean water then use the solarpower to separate the hydrogen and then use that hydrogen to power things. wouldnt that be a way to “store” energy?

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Fiberglass blades? They had to pick one of the most non-eco friendly, non-recyclable materials for the blades?

Just wow!

I remember this proposal, and it was advertised as a way to generate power. It pissed me off because, as you say, it was a net user of power not a net addition of power. If one uses purely solar or wind power to do this as a storage system it makes sense. If you’re burning coal to do it, you’ve made the problem worse.

Yes, because of multiple technical reasons. First off, you have to make those blades as light as possible for the highest efficiency, and you have to offset that with cost. Fiberglass/epoxy quickly becomes the engineered material of choice for this application (carbon/epoxy not making it on the cost vs performance improvement trade). The good news is that even if these are in a landfill, they’re amazingly stable.

As the story points out, however, there are some potential ways to repurpose these materials. They make great filler. The composites industry faces this problem every single day. Typically our yield on graphite/epoxy (that is, the mount of product we actually sold compared to the raw material we started with) was under 50%. Many years ago at a conference I was approached by a guy who was willing to give us $1/lb for our cured scrap. Our problem was we couldn’t even have put it in a pile for him to pick up for less than $1/lb so that was a business non-starter. So, for the most part, it was off to the landfill, and we were generating thousands of pounds of it per day on the A350 contract alone.

Airbus and other European manufacturers, and US big boys like Boeing, are actively working on this for end-of-life issues for the primarily graphite/epoxy airplane structures they have in the A350 and 787. It’s a big deal. The Europeans are doing it more intently because they’re required to. But none of it’s cheap. We went out to engineer a strong, tough, long-lasting material customized for its application. It’s not like steel that you just melt it back down and reform it.


From the article:

85% of turbine components, including steel, copper wire, electronics and gearing can be recycled or reused.

Not many things in the world meet that high of a recyclable rate, even if we can’t recycle the blades.