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Burning the Future

In Burning the Future: Coal in America, writer/director David Novack examines the explosive forces that have set in motion a groundswell of conflict between the coal industry and residents of West Virginia.

Burning The Future: Coal in America
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Many supporters of clean energy don't have the facts at hand to convey the attributes and opportunities about clean energy - or they receive information from a narrow segment of interests. While the broad commentaries focus on global and national policies and markets from 60,000 feet, they are practical aggregations of information in an easy-to-understand format.

June 16, 2007


Security implementation can be viewed from many perspectives.  But whatever the issue and implementation approach, the supply and access to energy is a critical component.

This paper explores the options using distributed energy, primarily from renewable energy.

The three security areas covered are:

     • low-power sensors, cameras, motion detectors
          and chemical sniffers -  detection

     • hardening infrastructure and buildings such as
          back-up power, sensors, uninterruptible
          power, and power quality – prevention

     • scanners, electric fences, communications and
          emergency preparedness – offensive and
          defensive preparations and actions

In the ultra-high-security arena, advanced batteries, solar, small wind, and even on a more limited basis, fuel cells are utilized today. But in industrialized country settings, most is still interconnected with the electric grid or through the use of diesel generators.

From perimeter defense to remote sensing – all sorts of devices are utilized. These devices, in general, are small power to run cameras (traditional to night vision), heat and motion detectors, chemical and biological sensors, and audio taps. As these devices have become solid state, digital, and miniaturized – use of batteries and transformers to grid interface is very common.

Obviously, batteries have limitations for long duration uses. So use of photovoltaics primarily have immense options in adding to the life batteries through trickle charging near or far from the units. Even mini-wind turbines and handheld fuel cells have begun to enter the picture.

The real issue faces the sophistication of terrorists in deterring these devices. Using explosions or “arcs” that emit high electromagnetic pulses can essentially overpower many of these devices. But more easily, is pulsing through grid interconnects of electricity which more naturally burns out sophisticated equipment.  The more that is detached from the grid and can be made “longer life” will be far more agile and resistant.

Newer systems can also be hardened from electromagnetic pulsing as part of the package if forethought is given.

The higher and harder to reach any sensing and detection equipment is placed, the harder t disable.  PV , mini-wind, and micro-fuel cells all have great capacity to be co-located with these devices and hardened themselves appropriately.

Traditionally wired systems are easy to disable, and greater care needs to be given to the more sophisticated and better trained individual.

The military and intelligence agencies have had vast expertise with advanced distributed power technologies which have a solid record of performance.

Systems that provide rust prevention (cathodic protection), pipeline protection (density sensors), spill and agent pre-detection (chemical and biological sensors), and crime and penetration sensing (heat and motion detectors, cameras and night vision) – as stated earlier – are generally run off of grid-intertied systems, conventional battery banks, and diesel engines.

These larger systems used in prevention of damage to pipelines, electric grid, area and perimeter security, building and facility defense – are even easier to disable than small detection systems.

Diesel engines, aside from their unreliability, generally must have their fuel tanks outside. Aside from fuel disruptions and general breakdowns, any individual with low training skills can damage diesel tanks. Not only can they disable diesel generators, but they can induce the flammable fuel to combust outside the tanks – and all this can be done from afar.  Natural disasters have also shown diesel to be an absurd back-up strategy for emergency prepared- ness since they are susceptible to flooding by water and their fuel floats on water.

Larger systems that are grid intertied can have wires cut or transformers disable (which can be dome from afar). Battery banks are reliable for short power outages but not long ones.  On-site PV along with small wind systems and even small fuel cells can lengthen battery life for long periods, and in some  cases, indefinitely.

Clearly, it is time to invest in renewable-based back-up systems for police, fire, regional homeland security communications, and infrastructure hardening devices – in all its aspects.

Blending energy sources and having redundancy in sensing, communicating and powering should be the basic principle used by federal, state and local government – and private sector – approaches to security.


“Drop and Plop” power for the military and traditional emergency preparedness is based upon the reliance of diesel generators.  In the military, more than half the support structure relates to fuel delivery. Over-reliance on diesel will cause the cost and back-up logistical to become astronomical as we face homeland security challenges as well as trends to harsher weather patterns relating to global climate change.

Primarily PV and lately fuel cells are used by the military in “theater of war” activities. NASA employs these technologies in very harsh environments. Other technologies including solar absorption cooling, heat engines, micro wind turbines, micro hydropower, and modular biomass systems are all on the verge of becoming more easily available. Aggregated purchasing and training, will lower costs, increase availability, and enhance user confidence.

Systems that provide aggressive protection such as electric fences, eye scanners, and molecular sensors must be used in a more aggressive fashion to protect critical infrastructure. These systems can only be inviolate if power systems can be co-located and have low-maintenance and minimal fuel requirements.

Noise of traditional diesel systems actually create a lure for individuals wishing to cause disruptions. Power lines dropping from transformers are listed in most handbooks as to “what to look for” if anyone wants to disable security systems.

For those relying on diesel after natural disasters, always comment on the harsh environment of being housed near big diesels with their noise and fumes. A more sophisticated approach is needed in even traditional emergency response planning, and now a range of technologies are commercially available.

Lower weight photovoltaics, small fuel cells on hydrogen and methanol, small wind turbines that an be snapped on existing light and telephone poles, and freeflow microhydro systems that can be dropped on pontoons – are all now in the market place for very small niche applications.


The world is not a safe place but more technologies are available now than in any time in the past to provide reliable power for an increasingly digital age.

Market signals that allow US industry to evolve, hybridize, and harden technologies to meet security needs are critical.

Smarter training of procurement officials and security planners are critical to know what new technologies are available.

Military users of these new technologies must be allowed to be available for security planners and local governments, so they understand the options, limitation and benefits of these new technologies.

Greater technical support for potential users by experts within the security, distributed energy, smart controls, and wireless communications sectors must be encourages and funded.

Reliance on old technologies is a luxury that can no longer be supported. These traditional technologies – standard battery banks, diesel engines, and grid-intertied systems – are too easy to disable, are unreliable, and do not have long term “staying” power necessary for the emergencies we all  may realistically face.

The Stella Group, Ltd.
Phone: 202-347-2214 fax –2215,  E-mail:  This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Website:  www.thestellagroupltd.com
Last Updated ( May 06, 2008 )
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