Viewpoints from the sciences; Delegates of 43 nations assess potential of renewable energy sources

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

While ministers of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries were deciding to raise the price of crude oil not long ago, representatives of 43 nations met in this subtropical city to exchange information on renewable energy sources and to strengthen the loosely knit international network of alternative energy proponents.

More than 500 scientists, engineers, and other professionals from the spectrum of energy arenas attended the third Miami International Conference on Alternative Energy Sources, according to spokesman for the Clean Energey Research Institute (CERI) at the University of Miami, sponsor of the event.

The conference is, according to CERI spokesmen, the largest of its kind in the world. Eight agencies, four of which are global, sponsored the three-day conference, which focused on state-of-the-art energy alternatives.

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Among the 350 topics covered were:

* Solar repowering of fossil-fuel utility plants. Some 10,000 automatically regulated mirrors (heliostats) would concentrate the sun's heat at the top of a 500-foot tower filled with special heat-holding salt. Heat from the molten salt converts water to stream to power turbines.

The system, now a concept, may be plugged into an existing utility at Saguaro , Ariz., for about $160 million. While the system can store heat for use during cloud cover, oil would fire the system conventionally during prolonged cloud cover.

* Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) platforms: Monstrous floating utility plants would convert marine heat into electricity.

A small OTEC is operating off Hawaii right now, but proponents hope the OTEC Conversion Act of 1980 will expedite full-scale systems because the act guarantees loans and cuts red tape.

OTEC qualifies for federal solar tax incentives since it relies upon sun-heated water.

There are also presentations on wind power, nuclear fission and fusion, and a variety of other topics that would inspire science- fiction aficionados as well as engineers and scientists.

Not every topic, however, was so exotic. There were presentations on economics and policy, utility funding, and the whole gamut of meat-and-potatoes energy. But in the last analysis the goal was the same. Simply, oil reserves are being depleted and it will take a variety of avenues to successfully reroute the nation's oil-based energy economy.

Energy experts from the Soviet Union, Japan, Turkey, India, and other nations , many of whom come in their native dress, differed from other attendants in that they exuded an aura of concern. In other words, they came to work.

Dr. T. Nejat Veziroglu, director of CERI, set the stage for a serious work-oriented conference when he opened the session by asserting:

"Produced fossil fuels still meet about 80 percent of all energy demands. In doing so they also pollute and degrade the environment. Since our last meeting a year ago fossil fuels have put out 20 billion tons of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide,and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere."

The CERI director said that lakes in Sweden, Canada, and the Adirondack area of New York State will no longer support life due to fossil-fuel fallout called acid rain. Recent studies, he went on, indicate the upper 60 meters of the world's oceans will not support life in 55 years due to the rain and that it is expected a similar peril awaits the farmlands of the country.

Dr. Verizoglu called on the attendants to quickly find economical solutions to alternate energy's three main problems: convenience, storage, and transportation.

Dr. Eric Farber of the University of Florida outlined the progress of the State Department-sponsored International Training Center for Alternative Energy located at the Gainesville campus. Dr. Farber's realism seemed to garner significant interest in the program geared to aid a global understanding of alternative energy.

Solar power is not the only answer, he said.* The world must rely on energy conservation first and them look for the best source of energy for the specific job. But, he cautioned, it must find solutions that are economical, renewable; and that fit the social structure.

Before the delegates got down to the business of detailing state-of-the-art findings in almost every alternate-energy arena, the executive director of the US Committee on Science and Technology asserted that the United States faces an indefinite commitment to alternative energy from the new administration.

Interestingly, a consultant to the science and technology committee presented a paper indicating an increased push toward fusion energy. Also, in another session a Department of Energy attendee challenged one speaker as pursuing a project which he though was unrealistic, only to find out the research was not only based on data prodived by DOE but was funded by DOE as well.

Plans are now getting under way for the fourth conference later in the year. For further information, contact Dr. Veziroglu at CERI, University of Miami, Box 248294, Coral Gables, Fla. 33124.

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